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SEMA 2019 Project Update: Driven Restorations’ ‘Mom’s T-Bird’ 1959 Thunderbird

(Image/Driven Restorations)

The 2019 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, NV is less than four months away, something the folks building display vehicles for the show know all too well.

Steve and Molly Gursky of Driven Restorations are hard at work getting a 1959 Ford Thunderbird finished in time to make the show.

Steve and Molly opened Randoph, WI-based Driven Restorations in 2009. They’ve built everything from muscle cars to classic trucks, many of which have sentimental value to their owners. The Thunderbird is one of those cars.

The Colonial White car was purchased in 1961 for the current owner’s mom to use as a daily driver, thus earning the name “Mom’s T-Bird.”

The Thunderbird fulfilled its duties faithfully for three decades until mechanical issues forced the family to park it the early 1990s. The car was mostly summer driven and stored for the majority of its life, so it was complete when it arrived at Driven Restorations in late 2018.

“When the family got in touch we were thrilled to hear the story behind this car,” Molly Gursky said. “They asked us what it would take to bring it back to her former glory and add a little more ‘oomph’ under the hood. They wanted to make it safe and comfortable for cross country travel while not having to stop every 50 miles for fuel.”

Steve and Molly’s idea was to keep the T-Bird stock-appearing on the outside with a modern chassis and drivetrain underneath. The decision was made to go with a Scott’s Hotrods and Customs full-frame chassis that has custom-built front and rear coilover suspension and Wilwood disc brakes.

That meant some serious metal surgery was required to mate the car to the chassis. The 1958-60 ‘Squarebirds’ have a unibody design with the sheetmetal structure acting as body and chassis. Adapting the ’59 to the new chassis meant cutting out the floor, transmission tunnel, and subframe assemblies and then building a new underbody structure.

“There has been a whole lot of adapting and troubleshooting,” Molly Gursky said. “We had to make all the structures on the bottom of the car to make it safe and strong.”

The benefits—a much stiffer car that allows the suspension to work properly and can handle more power than the original 352 FE made—more than outweigh the extra work.

Speaking of power, Mom’s T-Bird gets a Ford Performance GEN 3 Coyote 5.0L Power Module. The Module mates a production Gen 3 5.0L engine to a 680R six-speed automatic. It comes with the ECU and wiring harness, Boss 302 alternator kit, starter, bellhousing, billet flywheel, and clutch kit for a (relatively) easy install. The engine’s 460 horsepower and 420 ft.-lbs. of torque gets routed to a Ford 9-inch axle with a Moser Engineering third member fitted with 3.25 gears and an Auburn Gear limited slip differential.

Steve and Molly are both handy with a welder, which was a good thing as the Thunderbird needed a lot of rust repair and metal work. In addition to the usual dents and dings, rust had eaten through the rockers, the lower rear quarter panels, and trunk extensions on both sides of the car. You can see how bad it was in the photos below.

Once the bodywork is finished, the Thunderbird will be painted pearl white with a charcoal gray top. The upholstery will be upgraded to leather in the factory black with white inserts pattern. Charcoal accents and embroidery will tie the interior to the paint scheme. Other interior upgrades include updated gaugesVintage Air A/C, and a factory-appearing radio with Bluetooth.

As you’re reading this, Steve and Molly have finished up the major sheetmetal work. A group of 10 female car enthusiasts showed up in mid-July to help with some welding, body panel fitment and alignment, and final bodywork to get the Thunderbird ready for paint. That leaves driveline installation, paint, interior, and final assembly to do before Mom’s T-Bird is loaded on a trailer for a trip to Vegas in late October.

No sweat, right?

The Colonial White 1959 Thunderbird as it arrived at Driven Restorations. The car was purchased in 1961 for the current owner’s mom to use as a daily driver, thus earning the name “Mom’s T-Bird.” (Image/Driven Restorations)
At some point the seats were recovered and the inserts were changed from white to black. Steve and Molly will be redoing the upholstery in leather with the factory style white inserts. Charcoal gray accents and embroidery will tie into the exterior paint scheme. (Image/Driven Restorations)
It doesn’t happen often, but this car came to the shop with all of its original trim and interior parts ready to use as-is or in good enough condition to refinish and restore. (Image/Driven Restorations)
Steve and Molly found the Thunderbird’s build sheet and decoded it. The car was built on June 23, 1959 with a 352 cubic inch V8, Cruise-O-Matic transmission, and 3.10 rear axle gears, then delivered to a dealer in Richmond, Virginia. Other ‘treasures’ were found too, including ‘Battleship’ game pieces, a bouncy ball, and a wrapper from an M&M Lime Chewie—the forerunner of the famous Starburst candy. (Image/Driven Restorations)
The tinworm spent some time in the Thunderbird’s sheetmetal. Rust rotted out the rockers, lower rear quarters, and the trunk extensions on both sides of the car. (Image/Driven Restorations)
This is what the driver side wheelhouse looked like after the body was stripped. Even though the car is getting a full frame, all of that structure has to be repaired to maintain the body’s integrity. (Image/Driven Restorations)
More rot. This is the driver side rocker and doorjamb area, all of which will be cut out and replaced with new metal. That entire floor area will be cut out and remade to accommodate the new chassis. (Image/Driven Restorations)
Molly Gursky getting to work on the passenger side rear quarter’s inner structure. She specializes in metal repair, welding, and body refinishing, and is also the shop’s business manager. (Image/Driven Restorations)
Here is the chassis from Scott’s Hotrods and Customs. It features TIG-welded 2” X 4” tube frame rails, a one-piece front crossmember, and an 8-point round tube chassis crossmember. The Scott’s-designed front suspension is tubular A-arm with Aldan American coilover shocks and springs. Out back is a Moser 9” Ford axle housing suspended by a 4-link with coilovers and a Panhard rod. It’s almost a shame to hide it under the car. (Image/Driven Restorations)
A Ford Performance Coyote 5.0L Power Module is lowered onto the frame. The Module mates a production Gen 3 5.0L engine rated at 460 horsepower and 420 ft.-lbs. of torque to a 680R six-speed automatic. (Image/Driven Restorations)
That’s Steve Gursky checking out what’s left of the Thunderbird after the floors and other inner structure was removed in preparation to lower the car onto the chassis. Once the fitment is confirmed, new floors and mounts will be custom-made. (Image/Driven Restorations)
Car meets chassis. This is pretty much how the Thunderbird will sit at ride height. (Image/Driven Restorations)
Here you can see where more sheetmetal surgery is needed to accommodate the frame. That subframe rail just above the frame will be removed. (Image/Driven Restorations)
The metal removal is even more extensive at the front of the car. The entire front subframe section was given the heave-ho. (Image/Driven Restorations)
We fast-forwarded a bunch to show you the progress Steve and Molly made on the floors and transmission tunnel. Virtually every panel you see was fabricated in-shop. (Image/Driven Restorations)
Steve begins the time-consuming process of fitting and aligning the outer panels like the doors, hood, and trunk lid. Once that is done, the car gets final bodywork and paint prep. We’ve hardly touched the surface of all the work Steve and Molly have done so far. They’ve documented the entire project in this build album. (Image/Driven Restorations)
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3 Comments

  1. Daniel Wilson says:

    The 1959 Thunderbird is a true classic in every sense of the word and all of the planned modifications will make this a spectacular car upon completion. The chosen Powertrain seems logical but for maximum effect, one of the many available supercharger packages would make it a civilized beast !

  2. I have been following this build through Instagram, I find it an outstanding project, massive undertaking that is looking to be top notch with incredible quality. These fine folks should be very proud of their work, after all this project doesn’t come with replacement parts, or instructions.

    • A HUGE THANK YOU to Summit Racing and their marketing team for the support of our shop and our SEMA build! The countdown is on and we are feeling the stress of a short time line but can’t wait to share the results with everyone in Vegas this November!

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