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How to get a car running that has been parked for 30 years?

Enos189Enos189 San Luis ObispoPosts: 3
edited February 23 in General
I have a 1955 Ford Thunderbird that has been sitting for 30 years. To my knowledge there was nothing wrong with it when it got parked. This car has been in my family for 45 years. I have already ordered a new fuel tank just to get started. I would like to bring this beauty back to life on my own.

Best Answers

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,450
    Accepted Answer
    I see you're already off to a good start--a new fuel tank! Now you'll have to, at the very least, blow out the fuel lines, replace the fuel filter and any fuel screen that may be in the carburetor fuel inlet. Whether you have to rebuild the carburetor right off depends on a few things, such as how well it was covered all those years. Perhaps it will "run" with the carb on as is, but even if it does, it probably won't run well. But at least you can run it long enough to assess the engines condition.

    You'll need to carefully inspect the engine bay for rodent damage--you don't want sparks or fuel spraying all over the place. You don't need coolant in the radiator as long as you're only planning to run the engine for a few minutes. Naturally as you progress in your work, you'll need to replace all the belts and hoses.

    The most important thing NOT to do is just slap a battery on it and try to crank the engine. Rust can form in an engine, and if the piston rings are stuck to the cylinder walls, they'll snap right off on the first crank. So you'll have to massage the engine back to live. A few spoonfuls of automatic transmission fluid in the spark plug holes, sitting overnight, might be enough to allow you to hand-turn the engine the next day with a socket wrench on the crank pulley nut. This will be easier with the spark plugs out. If the engine turns, re-lubricate the holes and turn the engine a complete revolution or two.

    Now you'll need a new distributor cap, points, condensor, spark plug wires and spark plugs.

    But before you do a "live crank" with the battery, I'd suggest cranking the engine over with the coil disconnected and grounded, to test if there is any fuel pressure coming from the fuel pump. You can disconnect the fuel line at the carburetor and run the line into a clear bottle--just briefly, to see when/if fuel arrives.

    Always have a fire extinguisher at the ready at all times!

    If you have fuel delivery, then spray a little (don't overdo it!) starting fluid into the carburetor but then replace the air filter (you don't want a backfire and possible fire, and the filter will suppress this). Make sure the choke is working. If not, try to free up the choke flap with some WD-40.

    Once the engine starts, don't rev it up. Just keep it going at minimal speed.

    If it idles on it's own and isn't making horrible noises, then you can go on to adding coolant, replacing hoses, draining old oil, adding fresh oil, and running it longer. Use cheap oil for the first oil change, since you'll only be running it at idle for about 1/2 hour before you dump that oil out as well.

    Remember, your primary goal is to revive the engine without damaging it. That, and safety, safety, safety.

    Let us know how it goes.

    I'm sure other members here might add some things to do that I've forgotten.

    Once the engine is purring, you can focus on cooling system, brakes and tires, all of which will need attention before you attempt to move the car anywhere. Of course, if you're just going to drive a short distance, you can try to inflate the old tires, to go a few hundred feet at slow speeds.

    Once the car can start and move forward and back, then come up with a plan for ordering parts and for storing parts you take off. Always focus on the mechanicals first--the cosmetics come later.

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  • Enos189Enos189 San Luis ObispoPosts: 3
    Wow! Thank you so much. This is plenty to get started with. Thankfully the body and interior require no work, they are almost perfect. Mechanical work only. I am no mechanic, I have done a few things on newer cars but I am looking forward to the challenge. 
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 64,450
    Just take your time and quit for a while if something frustrates you or you are getting ried. And always use the right tool for what you're doing. No vice grips (well, rarely), no adjustable wrenches (they slip and bust your knuckles) and work safely.

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  • Enos189Enos189 San Luis ObispoPosts: 3
    Sooo, I broke one of the discharge nozzles in the float bowl of the carburetor while I was attempting to rebuild it. It is a Holley 4000 “Teapot”. I cannot find these discharge nozzles for sale anywhere online. Any suggestions?
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 4,955
    When parts like that break, your best option is to have a second used carb from which to access a replacement. You can always source a remanufactured carb.

    As far as the engine oil goes, change the oil and especially the filter before any attempt to run the engine is made. The biggest concern would be deterioration of the filter media which could break free and then restrict flow inside of the engine. You have to be careful choosing your oil, todays engines use oils that are also designed to protect the emissions system and do not contain sufficient levels of ZDDP additives that are required to protect the older engines. That's why you see recommendations like using Shell Rotella 15W40 diesel spec oil. Having sat as long as this has, it's probably going to have to come apart anyway, but at least give it a fighting chance.
  • texasestexases Posts: 8,753
    Have you joined the classic TBird forums?  I think they’d have contacts for carb parts. 
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