Help me pick a project car

October 1, 2008 | By Richard Prince


All my life I’ve wanted to restore a car. I watched my dad do it and helped him here and there, but never did one myself. I found a deal on a 1967 Thunderbird and I can trade my old truck for it. Also, I found a 1965 Ford Galaxie, which has been stored in a barn since 1978. They both need work, one more than the other. My question is, which one can you get parts for faster and would be worth fixing up? The reason I ask is I just want to be able to afford this on my budget, and don’t want to be in a jam with it, and don’t want to be in a spot with the need of parts.

My final question is, I have a 1988 Dodge Ram van that has been wasting gas like crazy and it blows black smoke. What can be done to stop this problem?


Some of the more common restoration parts are readily available for both the Galaxie and the Thunderbird, but when it comes to most common items and especially harder to find things and N.O.S. or used original parts the Galaxie does have a distinct advantage. One important reason for this is the comparative production figures; Ford produced approximately 77,956 Thunderbirds for model year 1967, and more than 564,000 Galaxies.

Also, though the 1967 Thunderbirds look similar to subsequent years, an inordinate number of parts used for ’67 were not used before or after that model year. The front fenders, exterior mirrors, door panels, instrument housing, gauges, radio and many other parts were unique to 1967.

In most instances later-year parts can be made to function on 1967s but they are not entirely correct and therefore, in the eyes of many collectors, devalue the car.

As far as which car you are considering is “worth fixing up,” that depends in very large measure on the details about each car—which specific model is it, what exactly does it need, what options does it have, and so on. In 1967 there were three different versions of the Thunderbird. And, as was typical of the time period, there was a long list of available options, ranging from a potent 428 cid engine and “SelectAire Conditioner” to the very rare “Rolling Door Lock” system (this option, which automatically locked the doors when the car reached a speed of 8 mph, was discontinued on January 6, 1967). In 1965 there were six different series and 17 different models for the Galaxie. Is the one you’re considering a Ford Custom (the base model) or a Galaxie 500XL convertible? Is it powered by a 240 cid six or an ultra high-performance 427 cid engine? Does one car need minor body work and paint while the other needs absolutely everything?

You mention wanting to be able to afford the car you buy and not wanting to “be in a jam,” so please be aware that it’s pretty easy to spend considerably more than you anticipate regardless of which car you buy.

As a rule of thumb, however, it is almost always best to buy the car that needs the least amount of work and parts. There are, of course, exceptions, especially if you can do all or most of the needed work yourself and enjoy doing it.

Regarding the van, it is obviously running way too rich, and that could be for

a wide array of reasons ranging from a bad computer to a bad sensor to a bad carburetor (if it is a carbureted engine). You need to start with the basics—a search for any trouble codes, a visual inspection to see if anything is obviously broken or missing (disconnected vacuum lines, broken sensor wires, etc.), and so on. And don’t overlook the simple things, such as a basic tune-up, which may go a long way in improving fuel economy.