We all know that these cars are fairly old now. Considering that over half of them, maybe more, are gone forever due to accidents and high scrap metal prices, our OEM parts supply is quickly dwindling. And with virtually no companies making new or restoration parts, you can see that your task of keeping your Cougar in tip-top shape is rather daunting.
But you need fear not, because we’ve got lots of experience with restoring Cougars. Use this section as a guide for keeping your Cat looking new again, and as stock-appearing as possible. In the future we’ll be adding more all-new articles to help you.
Please remember that you’re restoring your car at your own risk and we assume no responsibilities for your actions (see our disclaimer for more details). If you have some information that you’d like us to add here, or have a general comment about restoring, feel free to contact us.
Note: Info listed below is for all 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird models, unless specified otherwise.
We’re basing this section on the general maintenance of factory performance specs. In other words, you’re not trying to soup up the car or squeeze every last possible horsepower out of your engine (for that, see the Modifying section). You’d just be rebuilding or replacing for stock specs, and no more.
The good news is that nearly everything is still available in one form or another for your car’s engine, no matter which version or fuel delivery type that you have. Ford produced so many 3.8L V6 and 5.0L V8 engines that rebuilds and bare blocks are readily available. The same goes for cylinder heads, camshafts, rockers, distributors, etc. Basically, if your engine is tired and needs rebuilt, there should really be no issue finding correctly specced parts for it. (The 2.3L turbo-4 is a little different; we’ll discuss that later).
The good news is that nearly everything is still available in one form or another for your car’s engine.
And therein lies the big question: to rebuild, or to buy an already remanufactured engine? That is usually a question that’s answered by your budget, but that aside, it’s all about convenience and time. If you have the time to have the engine removed and rebuilt by a quality machine shop, then by all means, that’s the way to go. However, you might be under a deadline or you might have a tighter budget, and that’s alright. Pre-rebuilt short- or long-blocks can be cost effective, and you usually will get a decent warranty with them as well.
For either situation, you will likely see a very slight bump in overall displacement, which is common. A standard rebuild will see cylinder bores honed out at .010″ or .020″ over, just enough to clean up the cylinder walls and get them evened out. Stock pistons, if still good, can be reused and fitted with slightly larger rings to make up for the larger gap. Or, if needed or desired, new pistons are available at .010″ or .020″ over. It’s not a huge difference in displacement and is safe for cylinder wall thickness. Also, bear in mind that a .010″ over block can usually be bored out again later on, if need be. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always ask a competent engine builder for advice. Just FYI—we aren’t big fans of having the cylinder block sleeved, as that can cause a multitude of issues. Please try to avoid that at all costs.
Stock-spec camshafts are still available. This will ensure that your engine’s computer will perform as expected. Anything over a mild stock cam upgrade can result in timing and fuel delivery issues, so be very careful here. And as always with a rebuild or remanufactured engine, be sure to insist upon a brand new double-roller timing chain to ensure longevity and consistent performance.
Similarly, cylinder heads are available in plentitude and we would highly recommend considering new heads instead of used ones. You can get remanufactured heads, and that’s fine also. But new casting heads, particularly with the aluminum 3.8L V6 heads, are much better because they’re straighter and can be engineered to resolve some factory flow and cooling issues. They will appear as stock, and perform as stock, but be brand new with a warranty…and there’s no greater peace of mind than that. Some are sold bare while others are fully assembled. It’s up to you as to which will work for your situation, but fully assembled heads drop right on with no transferring parts from the old ones, save for the rockers and pushrods. That might be a wiser choice for you in the long run, even if they’re a bit more costly. No affiliation but we’ve had very good luck with heads from Clearwater Cylinder Head, and they’re very affordable. Please see their site or call them for more details.
Your intake(s), throttle body, injectors, etc. can all be reused if they’re still good. Same goes for the exhaust manifolds. All of your accessory brackets and pumps will bolt on (but make sure all the required threaded holes are in the new block and/or heads, or you’ll be drilling and tapping).
Now about that 2.3L turbo-4 engine: you’re either going to have an easy or difficult time finding parts, depending on what they are. A lot of non-turbo 2.3L parts just won’t work, even though that engine was way more plentiful. However, there are plenty of other options out there, including performance shops like Esslinger, websites like NATO, and many Facebook groups that are all dedicated to turbo 2.3L performance. If you need parts, those are the places to look. Keep in mind that there may not be a lot of new part options but used parts seem to be available more than you may think.
If you’re planning to compete in regional or national shows where as much of the car needs to be stock-appearing as possible, they you’re going to need to dedicate a lot more money, time, and patience in keeping the engine and surrounding engine bay looking factory fresh.
As time goes onward, finding technically “correct-looking” parts for your engine can get a little more difficult. This means, correct dated hoses, factory-style wiring looms and tape, correct markings, etc. Let’s face it: these cars, as luxury-oriented as they tended to be, were also common as daily drivers, so parts were replaced often. The good news is that a lot of other Ford vehicles shared similar components with our cars, so the parts themselves are generally easy to find: water pump, throttle body, EGR valve, etc. However, to be technically correct, you’d need to shell out more money for genuine Ford parts if they’re available. And that’s the trick.
As time goes onward, finding technically “correct-looking” parts for your engine can get a little more difficult.
Ford generally does not manufacture or stock parts for very long, even with new cars, so dealerships probably aren’t going to carry most new parts for our cars any longer. Some exceptions are heater cores and radiators. So you’d be looking for NOS (new old stock) parts which therefore means finding the correct part number and hunting from there. It’s not easy to do this, folks. We know of someone that’s been looking for NOS dated belts for over a decade. Dated hoses are also tricky. Some of them have dates but they are a decade or more after the car’s model year, which means there’s no hiding the fact they’ve been replaced. However, as long as you have a dated hose that came from Ford, generally that’s acceptable as a replacement part and you shouldn’t get penalized. That same philosophy goes for other high-demand, often-replaced parts like belts, other hoses, and especially the battery.
Yet some parts can be had with either a Ford logo or part number. Usually they are smaller mechanical parts, such as the idle air controller (IAC), idle bypass valve, EGR valve, MAP sensor, and so on. Your local parts store might just be the ticket for these, as many of them used older Ford cores for remanufacture. This is going to require a lot of pulling parts out of boxes to visually inspect them. But you might get a good payoff in the process.
Also, don’t forget that some Fox Mustang restoration companies such as LMR, Fox Mustang Restoration, and CJ Pony Parts carry some new parts with more or less correct date stampings and should be acceptable for originality. Especially for the 5.0L V8 engine, this can be a blessing. Be sure to compare your stock part with the offerings from these companies to make sure they’re going to work for you.
So is it ever okay to put on a used part to replace yours? That really depends. We liken this analogy to installing used tires: sure, they’ll work for awhile but eventually they’re going to fail, and usually at a very bad time. But you may also have no other choice if the part you need isn’t available new. So long as it doesn’t impede performance or increase the likelihood of failure, you might just be alright.
Automatic Transmission Restoration
REBUILDING AN AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
Rebuilding is usually the way to go with a Ford transmission. This is because many of the parts used in rebuild kits are better and stronger than the original Ford parts, which means increased longevity and better performance longer. This isn’t a do-it-yourself situation unless you’ve had extensive experience with rebuilding transmissions. So you’ll need to find a reputable transmission shop or two and get price quotes. Expect the cost to be…well, not cheap. If you believe your transmission is worth saving then that might just be the price you have to pay.
REPLACING AN AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
Often, though, you will be offered a pre-rebuilt transmission. That’s okay as long as it comes with a good warranty. But you may need to compare that warranty vs. the one for having your transmission rebuilt, and see which one is the better long-term deal. Generally we don’t have a problem with pre-rebuilt transmissions but because they’re already finished, you don’t really know what kind of job was done internally. Whereas a shop can rebuild yours with their own preferred kits, and sometimes they’ll even let you see the old and new parts for comparison.
Or you could take a chance and find a used transmission, whether from a private seller, eBay, Craigslist, or a salvage yard. Please bear in mind that you will be taking a great risk on this, as you truly will not know how (or if) the transmission will work until it’s installed and the seller has his or her money already spent. You may end up with a gem, but it could also be junk.
Your choice all comes down to money, and the best deal you can get for it. You’ll have to do your homework here.
Visually you’ll be fine, as a Ford casing and pan will be supplied either way (via reuse or a core).
Shift Kit / Torque Converter
The temptation to have a shift kit and/or a higher stall torque converter may be presented to you. A very mild shift kit actually helps improve shifts a bit, with less slippage and therefore less heat, so that’s actually a good idea if possible. A higher stall converter might be okay in conjunction with the shift kit, but we’d recommend no more than 100-200 rpms over stock (which is usually in the 1500-1800 rpm range). Don’t forget, the converter has to work along with the cam, so going with too high of a stall speed may bog your car down. Be very careful here.
For the Ford AOD transmission, a new performance valve body could also help improve shifting and performance. While they can work in conjunction with a shift kit, they should be installed alone for easier service. Again, this is an added expense but may help solve any issues you’ve been having, plus you will likely enjoy the snappier shifts. There may also be C5 kits available for all cars equipped with such transmissions, as the C5 and popular C4 were very similar.
Fluid should be at least Dexron/Mercon (originally at version II but at this writing it was up to IV, which can be safely used retroactively). Aftermarket performance fluid should be alright so long as it doesn’t void or otherwise interfere with the warranty on the rebuild/replacement.
Transmission Cooler (Aftermarket)
An aftermarket transmission cooler is a good idea, because heat is the number one killer of transmissions. You do have a factory one, sort of: the side tank on the radiator has hookups for your factory transmission lines. It’s not the most efficient way of cooling the transmission fluid but it’s better than nothing. Your stock lines can be adapted to go into an aftermarket cooler, which can then be attached to your stock radiator or a/c condenser. It’s good insurance but not a necessary thing if you’re just going to occasionally drive the car, or if you’re not going to be running at high speeds.
Cables & Brackets
Please be very adamant that your stock kickdown cable/lever and all brackets are reused! These parts are very uncommon these days and are nearly impossible to find new. Lokar does make a generic kickdown cable that can be modified to use in our cars…it’s about the best and only solution out there now, as the original Ford cables are unavailable now.
One last item: especially with the AOD, there were two versions: standard tailshaft and long tailshaft. The longer tailshafts were used in Lincolns and some Ford trucks. Be sure to specify that you need a short tailshaft version, as that’s the only kind our cars had. Otherwise you’d be looking at a new driveshaft getting made, which adds to the overall expense and will delay the return of your vehicle.
Rear Axle Restoration
All Dana-sourced rear axles used on these cars left the factory with a metal tag installed on a differential cover bolt, and that tag included codes for the rear end size, gear ratio, differential type (locking or open), and production date. You can see the chart at this site to decode the information. If your tag is missing or broken off, or is rusted so badly that you can’t read it anymore, you can still look on the driver’s door tag for the axle code character and decode it using this link.
We’ve discussed the rear axle housing situation a few times before (see here for more info), but in a nutshell, there were three different width axle housings used on our cars between 1983-88, and fortunately they’re well defined:
- 1983 to Feb. 1, 1985: Fox Mustang 7.5″ width (all engines) / ~ 59.25″ width, flange to flange
- Feb. 1, 1985 to 1988: Unique Cougar/Thunderbird 7.5″ width (all engines) / ~ 61.25″ width, flange to flange
- 1988: Fox Mustang 8.8″ width (5.0L V8 only) / ~ 59.25″ width, flange to flange
NOTE: These figures refer to the bare axle housing only, NOT the overall width of the rear axle with axle shafts and brakes installed! Please verify your housing width vs. the new one, as there can be slight variations in widths.
If your housing somehow got bent or damaged and you need another one, the information above is what you’ll need to get a replacement. We haven’t really run across “new” housings but there seem to be good, used bare ones available. It’s also possible to use an aftermarket housing but it likely won’t appear as stock.
What defined the overall width of the rear track was the length of the axle shafts. Our cars had a unique axle shaft width that really wasn’t shared with any other 4-lug Ford passenger car of the era. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something of which you’d need to be aware if getting a new shaft. This width axle shaft was consistent, regardless of the housing or model year. All factory axle shafts were 28-spline.
So why would you need a new axle shaft? Well, over time they can rarely warp (usually from excessive heat or low fluid), or maybe you accidentally hit a curb too hard with the rear tire, or maybe you’ve been in an accident. Any of those can twist up the axle shaft to the point where it’s too wobbly to reuse. Or, it could be that the rear bearings have worn the shaft out so badly that even “axle saver” bearings (which move the bearing contact points) cannot be used. A bent axle is an unsafe condition and should never be used on a daily basis!
Rear axles can be purchased through parts stores, Summit Racing, eBay, Amazon, etc. but be sure you have the correct length! Check that the new axles have a good warranty. If you can only find a performance-brand axle, that’s okay as well, so long as it’s 28-spline and has the correct 4-on-4.25″ bolt circle. It would be very wise to get new bearings as well.
NOTE: You will need to find your car’s manufacturing date on the driver’s door tag and use it to align with the following information:
1983 to Feb. 1, 1985: The shaft needs to measure 30-1/2″ from the end of the spline to the outside stud face. The original Ford part number is E3SZ-4234-A. The same axle shaft was used for both sides of the 7.5″ rear end (there were no R/L specific lengths).
Feb. 1, 1985 to 1988: The shaft needs to measure 29-9/16″ from the end of the spline to the outside stud face. The original Ford part number is E5SZ-4234-A. The same axle shaft was used on both 7.5″ and 8.8″ rear ends, and for both sides of the rear end (there were no R/L specific lengths).
If your have a 1985 car and the build date is close to February or March 1985, you can have either width rear axle. That’s due to the supply of the older vs. newer width rear ends as they got used up on the assembly line. To quickly be able to tell which one you have, safely jack up the car and remove a rear wheel. Earlier rear ends used rear drums with a raised “hat” section in the center; later cars had no raised section. This applies to both the standard 9″ drum as well as the optional 10″ drum.
Above: 1983-mid 1985 9″ brake drum with raised hat section.
Above: Mid 1985-1988 9″ brake drum with flat hat section.
RING & PINION GEARS
If you hear a howling sound from the rear axle as you drive, it could be that the ring and/or pinion gears are going bad. They generally last a long, long time but can fail for lots of reasons (low fluid, excessive heat, accident, etc.). New Ford ring and pinion sets are available and we’d recommend the Ford gears over most aftermarket ones, simply because they’re engineered for these cars and they tend to fit a lot better. Most of these cars had the 7.5″ rear end with either a 2.73 or 3.08 gear ratio and an open differential. Turbo-4 cars could be optioned with 3.45 gears and Traction-Lok (limited slip). The 1988 5.0L cars had the 8.8″ rear end and 3.08 gears. We have never found any lower (numerically higher) factory gears for that rear end. Please refer to the rear axle chart here to decode your gear ratio.
While the gears are getting replaced, it would be very wise to install new shims. These shims make sure everything is where it should be, with no excessive play in the gears. Sometimes the old shims can be reused, and if they’re in good shape, that’s okay but we suggest planning on a new shim kit just in case they’re needed.
LIMITED SLIP (LOCKING) DIFFERENTIAL
Cars that have an “L” in the lower lefthand line of the rear axle tag are equipped with a limited-slip differential, which Ford called Traction-Lok. In normal situations this allowed both axles to engage simultaneously for better off-the-line traction and power application to the ground. It was an option on most of the lower-model cars and standard on the XR7 models, for both the 7.5″ and 8.8″ rear axles. Cars with the optional towing package usually had this option as well. The locking 7.5″ unit is considered to be somewhat more uncommon in these cars.
If you suspect that the Traction-Lok differential is not behaving properly, such as excessive slipping or noise, please have the unit inspected. With age and usage, it’s common for these units to begin failing and be in need of replacement. Stock-type units are available pre-rebuilt for easier installation. Also be sure to have the clips (S-clip in the center, C-clips for holding the axles in) inspected for uniformity and to make sure they’re not bent or missing.
REAR DIFFERENTIAL COVER
The stock rear differential cover is stamped steel and is identical to nearly every other Ford passenger car of the era. Nothing special here. None had an external drain plug. These can be found new, used, in salvage yards, eBay, etc. so they’re plentiful enough to find should you need one.
Ford specified a 75W-90 weight gear oil for these cars. You can run any quality rear axle fluid so long as they meed all standards and specifications. For those cars with a locking (limited slip) differential you MUST run Ford friction modifier in the rear fluid! It’s available through the Ford dealer or online. Fluid doesn’t necessarily need changed often, but if you do a lot of towing, long trips, or climb a lot of hills, it may be a good idea to change the fluid more often than the recommended 75,000 miles. All 7.5″ rear ends used 3.5 pints of fluid, and 8.8″ rear ends used 3.8 pints.
It’s usually not necessary to use synthetic fluid unless your car meets severe use conditions (constant low or high speeds, towing, excessive idling, etc.) but should you wish to use synthetic, it’s safe to do so.
Fortunately for us, with the passage of time Ford used a lot of parts engineered for our cars on other vehicles, with the most prominent being the 1994-98 Mustang (SN95). This means a good supply of factory and aftermarket replacement parts for us. We’ll explain below what interchanges and what can be substituted safely.
Please note that, by now, a majority of these parts are only going to be available as aftermarket pieces through parts stores. Ford dealerships usually do not carry most of the components listed below. Sometimes you can luck out and find some NOS or good used parts on eBay if you’re diligent enough. Ultimately it would be great to rebuild the suspension using new Ford parts but we think that ship sailed a long time ago, so aftermarket is going to be your best bet. At least you can still get most everything—we have to count our blessings!
The front control arms used on 1983-86 Cougars and Thunderbirds were originally produced by Rockwell in either their Newton Falls, OH or New Castle, PA plants. They are 100 percent identical to those used on 1979-93 Fox Mustangs (and 1979-86 Mercury Capris), which interchange with no issues. You can usually purchase them with bushings installed, and with or without ball joints. For correctness, it should be purchased without the ball joint, or you can remove the new ball joint once you get them. That way you can run the correct ball joint (see below) even though Fox Mustang-style ball joints will work fine.
The OEM ball joints used on our cars were “sealed for life” and did not require lubrication, but if the factory seal failed then they would leak fluid and cause premature joint failure. We had that happen a few times and take it from us, that is not fun. Be sure to inspect the seals on your factory ball joints and tie rods on a regular basis to make sure they’re not leaking. You should be able to get a similar-type replacement ball joint or tie rod new should you desire them again. (We’ve had better luck with the non-factory, but greaseable, style on our cars). By the way, Fox Mustang/Capri ball joints were identical but with factory grease fittings. The SN95 ball joints are metric and aren’t long enough to fit into our spindles.
The modified MacPherson front struts were initially unique to our cars, since the point of maximum deflection (a.k.a. the “sweet spot”) was a bit longer in travel versus a Fox Mustang. Therefore you can still get specific struts for our cars brand new. However, sometimes parts books will interchange a 4-cylinder Fox Mustang strut with our cars, since the 10″ (25.4 cm)brake spindles are alike. You could technically use this strut since it’s close in spec to ours, but we prefer our own specific strut just to make sure the ride quality stays at the consistent levels that we expect.
Since the Mustang got a bit larger with the SN95 platform, it’s been reported that a 1994-98 Mustang strut can be used safely in our cars. Physically its compressed and uncompressed lengths are very, very close to our cars. The only caveat: a spacer will be needed between the strut and spindle, since our spindles are thinner compared to the later Mustang’s thicker mounting point. Sometimes new struts will come with spacers (washers) or you can make your own. Other than near compatibility, we don’t see any advantage to using these struts when perfect stock replacements are still available for our cars.
New strut mounts are available for our cars and may in fact be the same used throughout other Fox vehicles. We had no problem getting them for one of our cars not that long ago.
The factory front sway bar for non-turbo cars was 15/16″ (2.38 cm) and interchanges with a 4-cylinder Fox Mustang (and possibly other, earlier Fox vehicles). For the XR7 model, the sway bar was 1-5/16″ (3.33 cm) and identical to those used on the Turbo Coupe and 1986-93 Fox Mustang 5.0L V8 cars. In either case, our end link kits seem to be a bit longer than those used on Mustangs so be sure to get the correct kit. Stock end link and sway bar bushings are rubber, but we’ve learned from experience that replacing all sway bar bushings with urethane will greatly increase handling and also last a lot longer.
The factory front springs, initially made by TRW, were tailored for each engine and overall weight of the car with options. Initially there would have been a tag affixed to each spring with a code; that code could then be cross-referenced in dealer shop manuals to reveal the spring rates. The driver’s door tag also has spring codes listed directly next to the transmission code in the lower righthand corner of the tag which can also be used to decode the spring rate. Over time, some of this information has been homologated into general purpose replacement aftermarket springs, since the variations were so close to each other from the original Ford specs. Therefore, in the aftermarket you will find only a few different styles instead of the myriad that Ford installed from the factory.
Aftermarket replacements will come in two styles: constant rate and variable rate. These cars never had variable rate springs out of the factory. If you would like to try them, that is fine. To be more technically correct the constant rate springs should be used. Either kind should get the car’s ride height very close to factory specs; be sure to take before and after measurements and photos to double check, as sometimes springs can lower the car unexpectedly.
That being said, we do like the MOOG brand, as they seem to be the closest to factory in quality, but any good name brand is fine so long as you get a decent warranty with them. Most springs are sold in pairs for convenience.
MOOG front spring information (stock ride height, constant rate):
- p/n 8598: 1983-88 2.3L turbo-4 and 3.8L V6, standard duty, without a/c, spring rate 415 lb/in, load 1660 lbs.
- p/n 8600: 1983-88 2.3L turbo-4 and 3.8L V6, standard duty, without a/c, spring rate 415 lb/in, load 1740 lbs.
- p/n 8602: 1983-88 2.3L turbo-4 and 3.8L V6, standard duty, with a/c, spring rate 415 lb/in, load 1820 lbs.
- p/n 8606: 1983-88 5.0L V8, standard duty, without a/c, spring rate 462 lb/in, load 1900 lbs.
- p/n 8658: 1983-88 5.0L V8, standard duty, with a/c, spring rate 417 lb/in, load 1695 lbs.
Since the SN95 Mustangs are closer in size and weight to our cars, there has been a movement as of late to use springs from those cars in ours. The general consensus is that they do indeed work, but V6 and V8 Mustang factory springs lower the car a bit (sometimes 1″/2.54 cm or more). The V6 convertible springs are higher rate and seem to do a better job in keeping the stock ride height for our cars. We at COOL CATS have not tried these springs and have no experience with them. From what we’ve seen, there’s a lot of experimentation going on and there is no clear-cut formula for which spring to use in which car. If you’re a tinkering type, there’s some information on the message board here that may help you; otherwise it may be wiser to stick with Cougar/Thunderbird springs.
As far as interchanging goes, you can generally use a 1987-88 Cougar/T-Bird spring with no issues. They are a bit different but not enough to affect ride height or quality. These are the only known Ford direct interchange springs.
New spring isolator kits are available; you’ll probably have better luck ordering them for a Fox Mustang. Replacements are generally urethane but they last a lot longer than stock rubber. Places such as LMR carry Mustang-based kits that can be used for our cars with no issues.
Upper Control Arms
The rear upper control arms used on the Cougar/T-Bird Fox chassis were unique to the cars (1983-88). Center-to-center of the mounting holes measures 10.25″ (26cm). They are longer than those used on Fox Mustangs by about an inch. However, a GM 1968-72 G-body upper control arm is within 0.040″ (0.10 cm) of our uppers and fit quite nicely. We haven’t heard whether SN95 uppers interchange.
Lower Control Arms
Similarly, the 1983-88 rear lower control arms are longer than a Fox Mustang by about 0.75″ (1.9 cm). They measure 18.2″ (46.2 cm) from center to center on the mounting points. While we’ve heard of the Mustang lowers being used (and we’ve even used them ourselves long ago), you must check the pinion angle to be sure it will not bind up the rear axle. A pinion angle from 0 to +4 degrees is acceptable; otherwise, don’t use it. We are not aware of any other lower control arm that directly interchanges.
The rear shocks for our cars, again, were unique. New shocks are available without issue. It may be possible to use an SN95 rear shock as well; that has not been verified. Fox Mustang shocks are too short.
If you have an XR7 (or Turbo Coupe) with the rear stabilizer (“quad”) shocks to help with rear lateral deflection, you can still get them new but they may not be listed for your car. Instead, search for a Fox Mustang GT or LX 5.0 car and you’ll find them, perhaps listed under “axle damper”. The framerail brackets are unique to our cars and do not interchange with any other vehicle.
Most (read: V6) cars did not have a rear sway bar even though the provisions are there to mount one. The V8 cars had a very thin (~ 1/2″/1.25 cm) bar. The XR7 and Turbo Coupe got a thicker 13/16″ (2.06 cm) bar that was identical to those used on 5.0L V8 Fox Mustangs.
The rear springs used on 1983-86 models were a little underwhelming from the factory. This is due to the longer overhang and trunk area on these cars. The constant-rate springs generally had a difficult time keeping the back of the car at a consistent height, especially when it was loaded down, and the cars appeared to “sag” after awhile, even with the trunk and back seat empty.
You can directly interchange rear springs from 1987-88 Cougars and T-Birds, as their revised spring rate helped keep the back end at a better ride height. They will give a factory-style ride without sacrificing practicality. Aftermarket replacements list the same spring for all 1983-88 cars anyhow and seem to be available only in constant-rate.
MOOG rear spring information (stock ride height, constant rate):
- p/n 8599: 1983-88 all, standard duty, spring rate 249 lb/in, load 926 lbs.
An interesting alternative spring is a heavy-duty variable-rate version known as a cargo coil. We’ve been using cargo coils since the mid-1990s and love them. They solve all of the problems with these earlier cars without sacrificing ride quality. The more weight in the trunk (or back seat), the more these springs try to push upward. They are well worth the money and effort to hunt them down. While not technically “correct” for judging, this is one case where solving a glaring problem and handling situation can be more important than factory correctness. The old MOOG p/n was CC823 (spring rate 340 lb/in, load 808 lbs.); it has been discontinued but we’ve found them on eBay and Amazon before. If you’re not going to have a lot of weight toward the back of the car then you’re probably better off with standard, constant-rate replacements.
Just as with the front, places such as LMR, Fox Mustang Restoration, and CJ Pony Parts carry rear spring isolator kits. Urethane will be fine.
The 1987-88 Cougar and Thunderbird have revised, longer front control arms that are 100 percent identical to those used on 1994-98 Mustangs (all engines). They will interchange with no issues.
Just like the earlier cars, the 1987-88 ball joints are available new. See the 1983-86 info above for more information.
Specific front struts for the 1987-88 cars are still available brand new. Again, it should be possible to use an SN95 strut.
New strut mounts are available for these cars as well.
All 1987-88 3.8L V6 and non-XR7 5.0L V8 cars got the thinner 15/16″ (2.38 cm) front sway bar, while the XR7 model (and similar Thunderbird Turbo Coupe) got the thicker 1-5/16″ (3.33 cm) sway bar.
See the information on 1983-86 cars above. You can generally interchange 1983-86 front springs in these later cars with no issues. Again, those are the only known direct interchange springs.
Upper Control Arms
Just like the earlier cars, the rear upper control arms are unique to the Cougar/T-Bird Fox chassis. You can use uppers from an earlier car with no problem.
Lower Control Arms
The rear lower control arms are unique to the cars. Earlier lowers will interchange.
New shocks are available for 1987-88 cars without issue. There was a very slight difference in length vs. the 1983-86 cars but one of those shocks can easily interchange.
Same as the earlier cars (see above).
See the information for 1983-86 cars above.
The rear springs for 1987-88 cars were thankfully revised from Ford to allow for more weight in the trunk. We think this had a lot to do with the new trunk pan, which moved the spare tire to the driver’s side of the trunk well. Regardless, these springs were much better in performance and keeping a consistent ride height.
You can directly interchange the older 1983-86 Cougar/T-Bird springs should you desire to.
Otherwise, the same information for 1983-86 cars above concerning aftermarket replacement springs applies to 1987-88 cars. Same goes for the spring isolators.
For a lot of the components listed above, you may be able to reuse your control arm but replace the bushing instead. That is very common as these cars age, and if your control arm is still in good shape then it makes more sense to just change the bushing out. Keep in mind that, no matter what control arm you have, the bushings are pressed in and can require the same for removal and replacement; however, some replacement kits provide just the bushings for reuse in the factory shells. The bushings themselves are identical to those used in corresponding Fox Mustangs. For example, the rear lower control arm bushings for your car and for a Fox Mustang are all the same size and can interchange perfectly, even the oval ones. You can also get the (pain in the backside) rear end upper control arm bushings. Stock bushings are rubber throughout the car. If you want to upgrade to urethane or Delrin, that is your call but be prepared for a slightly harsher ride quality. You can find stock-style bushings at parts stores or online, or sometimes through Mustang parts sites such as LMR, Fox Mustang Restoration, and CJ Pony Parts.
If your suspension bolts need replaced, again, Fox Mustang bolts will work. See the Mustang sites listed above to find them. We are not sure about SN95 bolts as they may be a different length or style.
Most of the rubber components do not have a provision for lubrication. The best time to do that is when it’s all apart, and be sure to use a grease that is waterproof and will cling to the surface well. You really cannot easily grease up any suspension components with them still on the car.
The OEM manufacturer of our exhaust systems is Walker, who has since become a parent company to Dynomax (now both part of Tenneco). Therefore, an equivalent Walker replacement part is more or less what we had as stock. Now, to be fully honest, the OEM exhaust systems were steel and were not expected to last more than a few years, particularly in snowy regions. But they were fairly thick gauge steel which helped delay total rust-through as long as possible.
We’ve got a sister article about exhaust system upgrades here, but if you’re interested in just stock or stock-appearing parts, read on.
Steel tubing should still be plentiful for these cars. However, most of the industry has moved over to aluminized or stainless steel. For purists, it’s steel or nothing; however, aluminized is acceptable enough for judging and better longevity, if they’re available. Stainless is usually custom bent and, truthfully, it’s overkill for a stock car. Save your money.
Most of the exhaust pipes, from the converters back to the tailpipes, are easy to find via a Walker catalog. Most muffler shops can get them without too much trouble. The 1988 5.0L split dual exhaust could be a bit of a challenge but we can’t think of much else that would be difficult to obtain. Pretty much all of the stock piping was ~2″ (5 cm) or 1-7/8″. In doing research for this article we found that most of the exhaust piping used on these cars is aluminized now, and we feel that’s the perfect solution for these cars anyway.
Again, these are standard Ford-type mufflers that were used on other cars, so if they’re somehow not in stock, they’ll be easy to order in. The Mustang and the Mark VII are two other Fords that used the same mufflers in some cases. In fact, we’d bet that the majority of other Fox-chassis vehicles used this very same muffler. Again, these are mostly available in aluminized for long life. The mufflers were center inlet/offset outlet (2″/5 cm for both), approximately 15″ (38 cm) in length. Standard Fox hangers were used, nothing fancy.
Some of our cars had one catalytic converter, some had two, some had three (two small and one large) depending on the model year and engine. Probably the toughest to find would be dual 1985 5.0L converters, which were very long and narrow and used just for that model year. However, we’ve not really seen too much of an issue with other converters, as far as finding them. Keep in mind that, by now, the OEM converters are usually superseded by a higher-flow converter, which has a relatively stock appearance from the outside but will allow more flow internally. These are just fine for normal, stock applications and should actually be your first choice, as they’re much less prone to clogging. All converters are expensive so be prepared for that.
Probably the trickiest component to find is a stock exhaust manifold. None of our cars left the factory with any type of header, so we’re talking cast-iron brutes here. We did share them with other 5.0L engines but not all (the Mustang got headers; our cars had more in common with the Town Car, Grand Marquis, and Crown Victoria, but the manifolds seem to be set up more for our exhaust systems). It appears that Dorman still makes replacement manifolds for around US $100 each.
Unless you absolutely need to reuse a clamp, please pay for new ones! They’ll seal up a lot better. Our cars always used the U-shaped bolt on clamp. Exhaust hangers can still be purchased via Mustang sites (LMR, Fox Mustang Restoration, and CJ Pony Parts), as well as rubber bushings for them.
But you do want to make sure that, if restoring, you get the most correct parts possible. This section will help you do just that.
As mentioned, the factory front brake rotors used on all 1983-88 Cougars were 10″ (25.4 cm), regardless of engine size or model year therein. This simplification makes obtaining parts very easy, and as a bonus, the same parts were used on 1987-93 Mustang 4-cylinder vehicles. Keep in mind that brakes, like tires and batteries, are considered to be normal replacement items. It’s not impossible to use all Ford parts but as time goes on, it’s going to be more difficult to do so, therefore you must use the parts that are readily available to you.
For a replacement front rotor, look for a good quality brand such as Bendix, Wagner or Raybestos, with a long warranty and preferably American-made as the Chinese-made rotors cannot typically be turned. It still may be possible to get new rotors directly from the Ford dealer; they will likely be very expensive. Motorcraft rotors, at last check, were available at Rock Auto but be warned that they carry only a 1-year limited warranty.
New Ford-stamped calipers may be possible to buy via the Ford dealer; however, as most calipers are remanufactured these days, it’s very likely you’ll find that a Ford-stamped core was used when purchasing calipers in the aftermarket or at parts stores. Also keep in mind that it may be cheaper to buy loaded calipers (with pads included) than purchasing the calipers and pads separately. Our cars used semi-metallic pads as standard equipment.
Again, look for semi-metallic brake pads for stock performance. Organic pads will be fine but they create more brake dust. A quality name brand will work perfectly. Be sure to use new anti-rattle clips supplied with the pads; the old ones will likely not be tight enough to reuse.
While not being known as a part that wears out, we’ve had our experiences with sheared caliper pins before. Replacing the pins will go a long way for peace of mind. The 10″ (25.4 cm) caliper used a Torx (star) head pin with a round barrel front. There was never a hex head on the front of our caliper bolts. Earlier cars (at least 1983-84) seem to have used T-47 Torx bits in the OEM pins; later cars used T-50. Replacement pins that are very similar to factory are available at parts stores—be sure to check the fitment of your Torx bit. Some aftermarket pins, like the ones shown here, use an Allen bit instead of a Torx. Also, aftermarket pins tend to be a hair shorter than factory; usually that does not affect performance as the smaller end is inside the rubber boot anyway. Occasionally we’ll see Ford caliper pin kits on eBay so keep your eyes open (it’s unknown if those kits are still available from Ford). By the way, if all you would need is the slider pin rubber seals, those are usually available in a disc brake hardware kit sold in stores and online.
SEALS + BEARINGS
There’s nothing really surprising here—just get good quality, name-brand outer and inner bearings and you’re fine. One thing to note: beginning in 1986, Ford started using nylon outer bearings in the rotors. When they wear out they produce a really distinctive high-pitched wail. We’re not sure if those are even possible to get again; we’re big believers in steel roller bearings anyway so we’d recommend ditching the nylon bearings regardless.
Geniune Ford brake hoses may be difficult to find so prepare to purchase aftermarket units. Really there’s nothing special to know except to get a good name brand with a long warranty (some may be lifetime so keep the receipt). Be aware that brake hoses known to collapse from the inside, and can also show exterior cracking. When replacing, a factory-correct line will be rubber with pressed, zinc-coated steel ends.
You’ll find clips, washers, banjo bolts, etc. at your local parts store or online. Sometimes they’re under the Help! brand. Nothing special or out of the ordinary about these parts.
Now here’s something most people never think about replacing, yet you may need to. Although our dust shields are metal from the factory we have seen OEM-style plastic shields with Ford part numbers. Those would be acceptable for restoration purposes. They may be only available as a restoration part at LMR or Fox Restoration, or possibly Rock Auto.
Replacement dust caps are readily available in the aftermarket and online. OEM was steel, not plastic; zinc coated is just fine.
BRAKE DRUMS – 9″ (22.9 cm)
The 9″ (22.9 cm) brake drums are the same used on 4-cylinder Mustangs from 1987-93. They are finned on the sides for visual reference. However, there were two different types of 9″ (22.9 cm) drums, depending upon your model year/rear axle:
1983 through February 1, 1985:
February 1, 1985 through 1988:
BRAKE DRUMS – 10″ (25.4 cm)
Beginning in 1988, just about all Cougar/Thunderbird V8 cars received 10″ (25.4 cm) rear drums. They were available in earlier cars that had the optional towing or suspension package; we’ve also had reports of some 1988 V6 cars that had them as well. The 10″ (25.4 cm) drums have no fins and are smooth sided.
Regardless of whichever drum setup you have, just like the front rotors, be sure to get a good quality name brand rotor with a long warranty. We don’t know if there are any Motorcraft drums out there; it’s possible but again, they will not be cheap.
Again, get good name brand brake shoes. Be sure to buy new, not relined, and we always recommend bonded/riveted shoes. You can also get severe duty shoes for a little extra durability.
Any other drum hardware part (spring holddown, return spring, bar, etc.) can be easily purchased online or at parts stores; no need to hunt down Ford parts.
Cars with both the 9″ (22.9 cm) and 10″ (25.4 cm) drums use wheel cylinders with a 3/4″ (1.9 cm) bore. Be sure to get a good quality brand name with a decent warranty.
BRAKE LINES & UNDERHOOD
One of the most difficult things to deal with is a broken steel brake line. Brake hard lines were found between the master cylinder and proportioning valve; between the prop valve and the front brake junctions; between the prop valve and the rear brake junction; and between the rear junction and each rear drum brake on the axle.
Should you run into a ruptured or severely rusted line, you really shouldn’t attempt to have it spot repaired; the entire section of line needs to be replaced. Fortunately we’ve found a source for new steel lines, Classic Tube. You can get complete kits front to back for all 1983-88 Cougars and T-Birds.
Just FYI, Fox Mustang lines were slightly different and shorter in some spots and are not recommended.
REAR BRAKE JUNCTION
The brake junction is a flexible rubber line, similar to a front brake line, between the rear hard line and the rear axle. A Mustang-style junction should be acceptable to use, but double check for your application.
The proportioning valve used in our cars should be the same used in 4-cylinder Mustangs. We’ve not seen a Ford unit lately, although a Motorcraft unit may be available at the Ford dealer. You may also have to reuse your brake light sending unit.
UPDATE: We understand that these are getting a lot tougher to find used, let alone new.
Our brake booster seems to have been unique to our cars; Mustang boosters are not as wide but deeper. We’ve yet to find another Fox vehicle with a similar sized booster (although Rock Auto lists some earlier Granadas and Fairmonts as being the same, though we don’t have any evidence of that). Therefore you will need to get one specifically made for our cars. Original Ford boosters are very rarely seen; you will need to look to the aftermarket for one. Also, be sure to get a new vacuum check valve with the new booster. If it doesn’t come with one, that is available under the Dorman/Help! brand, among others.
We again luck out, as the master cylinder for our cars is the same as many other Fords from the era. A good aftermarket m/c is easily obtained. We’ve yet to see a 1983-86 Motorcraft (p/n E4DZ-2140-A) master cylinder show up at a parts store but it’s possible that the dealership can order one. The 1987-88 style was shared with Mustangs, among other cars, so they’re readily available in the aftermarket as well as Mustang sites. The new m/c should come with a new cap but you can reuse your old one. Most parts places will have the master cylinder you need in the stock bore configuration.
BRAKE LIGHT SWITCH
The brake light switch is available online and in parts stores. Motorcraft does sell a new switch (p/n E9ZB-13480-AA or E9ZZ-13480-A). Fortunately they are cheap; unfortunately they’re not easy to install. Wiring tends to fray, split or break off completely from this switch so be sure to inspect your wiring and repair as necessary.
BRAKE PEDAL COVER PAD
Yes, you can get the brake pedal cover pad, under the Dorman/Help! brand at auto parts stores. They are pretty much identical to OEM. You can also get a parking brake pedal cover pad (which doubles as a clutch pedal pad) as well.
And that’s saying quite a bit because, as good as the cars were, the wheels sometimes left a little to be desired. The good news is that 13″ wheels were gone forever—the base wheel was now 14″, with upscale models like the XR-7 and the 20th Anniversary getting 15″ wheels. And there was even a level above those, sort of, with the TRX wheel option (390mm, or approx. 15.3″). The 1987-88 Turbo Coupes got a relatively massive 16″ wheel.
This means that you have a good variety of stock Ford 4-lug wheels from which to choose. The Fox chassis was known for its unique 4-on-4.25″ (108mm) bolt pattern, so any rear-drive Fox wheel will fit your stock car, and also clear the brakes easily.
From the factory, our cars came with three basic wheel types: a 14″ steel wheel with a corresponding hubcap; a 14″ rubberized road wheel; and an aluminum styled wheel in various sizes. All three have unique restoration qualities that we’ll explore in-depth here.
14″ Steel Wheels
The steel wheel was a basic staple of cars for many years, and it still endures on some lower-end vehicles to this day. Sure, just about everyone and their brother wanted a nice factory aluminum wheel, but that was not always an affordable option when these cars were new, and trust us, it took quite a while for some nicer factory Cougar aluminum rims to become plentiful enough at salvage yards without breaking the bank. So the economic solution (from both the buyer’s and manufacturer’s viewpoints) was a basic all-steel wheel, given a quick rust-resistant coat of paint, and finished with a hubcap. It was cheaper, efficient enough, and got the job done. It was not so much aesthetically appealing, however. That was the job of the attached hubcap.
Restoring the steel wheel itself is not a huge undertaking. Rust removal consists of sanding, sand or media blasting, or even a wire brush (by hand or tool). If the rim isn’t terribly rusted then the old paint can sometimes serve as a good base coating for the new paint. A bonus: noticeable bends in the wheel that may cause tire seating problems or even flat tires can usually be hammered back out with good results.
Restoring the steel wheel itself is not a huge undertaking.
For paint refinishing on all but the base 1986 steel wheel, we have used VHT gloss black wheel spray paint (SP187)with excellent results and would recommend it. Other brand wheels spray paints should be fine as well. Just be sure the paint is made for wheels, as it will have better rust resistance. A correct finish will be satin-to-semigloss, front and back. (The 1986 base steel wheel was black on the back section, but the front was painted Ford argent. That argent paint is readily available for a factory-correct finish—see the rubberized road wheel section below for argent paint details).
Now restoring a hubcap can be, well, not fun. Most of them were aluminum and were prone to dings and dents. Sometimes you can get lucky and gently pound them out from the reverse side. The finishes were typically brushed, and that’s pretty difficult to replicate at home using hand tools, so you might be better off hunting eBay for replacement hubcaps. The ever-popular spoked hubcap tended to stay together well, although spokes can break or get knocked out easily as these cars get older (ABS plastic gets brittle over time). Again, finding good replacements might be the way to go here.
14″ Rubberized Road Wheels
We’re not 100% sure what Ford’s thinking was when they created the rubberized road wheel back in the early 1980s but we suspect it had something to do with cost savings. Essentially these wheels began as a normal steel wheel over which a mold was fitted and a urethane rubber solution was poured in. When the final casting was complete, you had a steel rear section but a front side with something that resembled a more expensive-looking wheel, yet was made of a more flexible rubber material. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, but Ford found magic in that formula because it was used in nearly all of the Fox-chassis cars (and even on some front-drive cars in their lineup).
The good news? These rims tend to hold up well over time, although the paint can fade and chunks of rubber can be taken out with even normal use. However, we’ve refinished them back to factory specs before and can say that they’re not horrible to work on. It does take a little more time than usual to refinish them, generally due to the material.
We’re not 100% sure what Ford’s thinking was when they created the rubberized road wheel but we suspect it had something to do with cost savings.
To fix any chunks or divots in either the wheel or the center cap, we used urethane bumper repair kits with great results. The two-part mix will give you a good working material although it can be fast setting, so you don’t have a lot of time to apply it. Also, you will need to sand between applications and you will need multiple coats to build up the holes and sand flush. That is the longest part of the refinishing process. Otherwise, sanding the rubber section with a red Scotch-Brite pad is all that’s usually required to knock the paint down on the rubber side.
The back side is still steel and can be refinished just like a steel rim (see above). Again, finish type is wheel black with a satin-to-semigloss finish. To be technically correct, this section should be painted before the front section.
On the front, once the wheel is sanded, prepped, and cleaned, the correct spray paint is Ford Argent (PM-19K207-AA). This is a color that’s been in Ford’s arsenal since the 1960s and is what was used from the factory on the road wheels. To be correct you don’t want a high metal flake in the paint, like on newer cars. Now we’ve had issues with the Ford spray cans clogging up the nozzles; it seems to be a common problem. Fortunately VHT also makes a correct Ford argent wheel paint (Ford Argent Silver SP188) that is absolutely perfect in match and finish. We’ve used both and like both, but the VHT paint is more commonly found (local parts stores) and tends to be less expensive. Either paint is flexible when dry, so you need not worry about the paint flaking off. There should be no topcoat/clearcoat; how the paint comes out the can would be the correct final finish.
One last finishing touch would be the accompanying beauty ring found attached to the outer part of the wheel. They actually go on the rim last, after the tire has been mounted. It’s kind of a pain to attach them, which is why a lot of tire shops tended to not reinstall them, so if yours are missing that’s likely the reason why. We have found replacements on eBay, sometimes even NOS. Be sure to check them for the mounting clips and also dings and kinks. You can use any Ford 14″ beauty ring from the 1980s, as they all seem to interchange. The ring is approx. 1″ in height for a reference.
Our rims were covered in dirt and grime and, um, other material while they were in storage. Thank you, raccoons.
However, after a little soaking in Simple Green and a wire brush, the wheels cleaned up fairly well. It was still apparent that they needed a new coat of paint though.
After lots of sanding with red Scotch-Brite pads, and the aforementioned urethane bumper filler applied, we were ready for the Ford argent spray paint. Here is a completed rim, with the back of the rim painted black first.
The “spokes” still need blacked out, however. This is how the factory did it, and likely with some kind of template in place. Since we didn’t find a good way to produce a template, we opted to simply tape off the areas around the spokes and apply the paint via airbrush. Any flat black, flexible paint will do the trick. We used black lacquer interior paint. It’s okay to be a little sloppy with the application here, as the factory didn’t always do a neat job with this detail.
A close-up of the finished spoke painted in.
The completed wheel, with all spokes painted. At this point the wheel is ready to have the tire installed.
Close-up detail of the center cap. The cat head emblem on the center cap is usually painted in from the factory; we have used careful masking (or custom-cut vinyl masks) and then painted them with a flat black lacquer paint. We’ve even gone so far as to use an airbrush to paint them in because we had access to one. Either method is fine so long as you make sure no overspray gets on the argent part.
The finished wheel with tire mounted and balanced, beauty ring installed, and center cap in place. Looks like brand new!
Aluminum Styled Wheel
The factory aluminum wheels offered on our cars were more or less shared with other Ford vehicles, so that means getting them refinished isn’t as complex as it once was. In fact, it might not even be worth your time to attempt to refinish them yourself anymore. For the cost involved, there is a better solution out there now.
On the Cougar, there was a 15″ 10-hole rim found on Mustangs; a 15″ 16-spoke “turbine”-style rim; and a unique 390mm TRX rim with 3 sets of triple slots. The Thunderbird had an additional aluminum rim available on some 1984-88 models, an 8-hole 14″ wheel with a TRX-style center cap. And of course there is the aforementioned 1987-88 16″ Turbo Coupe rim. Save for the TRX rim, all of the other wheels are available refurbished. A company named Keystone is actively refinishing these rims and selling them through various national vendors including Rock Auto (NOTE: this link is for Thunderbirds; you may need to search for 1985-89 Ford Mustang for other results). We have seen them in person and can attest to their quality—these wheels are as factory new as you can get. It is well worth the money (which isn’t as bad as you think, by the way) to purchase these wheels instead of trying to redo yours. They may have a core charge so be aware of that.
It might not even be worth your time to refinish your aluminum wheels yourself anymore—there is a better solution out there now.
Also, LMR has recently started offering new 15″ 10-hole wheels with new Ford center caps. You can, of course, use the Cougar-specific center caps on this wheel, and they’re easily found on eBay.
Now about those TRX wheels…the Cougar/T-Bird version was unique in appearance. We have never seen a reproduction of them and likely never will. It’s just too specific of a wheel that are too few in number to begin with. One gentleman we know skillfully cut out the fronts of the rims and mounted them inside hoops to create true 15″ wheels with the correct Cougar/T-Bird TRX look. He did an excellent job but that sort of thing is beyond a lot of peoples’ skill sets. So if you have to have your factory TRX rims refinished, you’ll have to seek out a rim refinishing company that can brush the front and reapply the clearcoat.
Another option for the TRX wheel (technically not correct for the car model but correct for the era) is the new 16″ reproduction TRX rim from LMR. This is the Mustang/Capri style of the TRX wheel. Again, we’ve seen them in person and they’re awesome. And honestly, back in the day we ran the Mustang-style TRX wheels on a few of our cars and loved the look. So if you’re not into being correct for the car but still want to use TRX-style wheels, this is the ultimate solution for you. They run a normal 16″ tire instead of the ultra-expensive 390mm reproduction TRX tire. Be aware that the LMR center caps are unique and you cannot reuse your old ones, nor can they interchange.
Since we are well into the 21st century now, there are much better solutions out there for things like wheel weights. Please have them applied on the back side of the wheel if possible. Stick-on wheel weights are a great solution as well. Sometimes a wheel balances better with weights on the front and that’s okay. It’s just a much cleaner look with them on the back of the rim if you can have it done that way instead.
Valve stems should be simple and black in color, as factory. We never had factory chrome-style valve stems, although they do look cool and can enhance the rim’s appearance. That’s your call.
The 1986 base steel wheel had a unique beauty ring and center cap. Actually both were shared with the SSP/police Mustangs of the era and there are reproduction (or sometimes new) centers and rings available for those cars. They’re not cheap but they are correct for that style of wheel. It’s actually quite a rare wheel on these cars, being one-year-only, but it’s nice to know you can properly restore them.
Molding Restoration & Replacement
In general, these moldings were the same thickness from top to bottom. The very top of the molding was dedicated to a chrome strip that was protected by a thin clear plastic layer. The bottom of the molding was then painted in a unique dark grey color that was specific to the Cougar/T-Bird. All side pieces were made from vinyl. The bumpers were urethane.
BUMPERS (FRONT AND REAR)
The bumper molding for your car (front and back) is formed into the bumper cover itself; it is not removable or replaceable. If the paint on the molding is faded or you see the yellow bumper cover material showing through, then it just needs a simple repaint—see Refinishing below.
The chrome strip—technically called a “rub strip”—is replaceable, however. Finding correct NOS rub strips is pretty much futile at this point, but there is an excellent substitute for them. Under the Sherman Brand, p/n 547-354, is a universal rub strip meant for a mid-1990s Grand Marquis. It is an identical profile and fit for our cars, both front and rear. The only caveat is that the pre-applied double-stick tape is actually on the wrong part of the rub strip. You may have to remove it and reapply using a good (3M) double-sided tape. And it’s missing the factory-style metal clips, which you really don’t need. But that’s it…otherwise it is 100% the same as what we had from the factory. We’ve seen it applied in person and it’s perfect. So this should be considered a permanent solution. You can find it on eBay, Summit Racing, or possibly Rock Auto.
Thanks to Matt for the info.
SIDE MOLDINGS (ALL)
All of the side moldings used on these cars were applied with double-sided tape from the factory. On the back of the molding was an aluminum strip, and that’s where the tape was applied. This aluminum strip kept the molding flat and also prevented it from expanding and contracting with the elements. But we’ll be honest: even from the factory the molding started to curl up in places. We know original owners who have cars with curled molding since back in the 1980s. So this isn’t a new issue but it is something that everyone likely deals with at some point. (And please don’t put a screw through the molding and into the sheetmetal to hold the molding on. That’s just wrong on so many levels).
To make things worse, a majority of cars had a chrome accent piece on the top of the side moldings. Even though there was a clear factory protective layer applied on top of the chrome, the sun’s UV rays eventually breaks down the chrome into powder, and fading is quite common. Unlike the bumpers, however, this chrome piece was not replaceable. So even if your molding is somehow not curling on the ends, it’s possible that your chrome has disintegrated, which leaves you still in need of replacement molding.
We hate to say this but all of the side moldings are getting increasingly difficult to find new, or even used. If you do find good used pieces, you have about a 50% chance of having good aluminum strips still attached, and about a 100% chance that you’ll have to painstakingly scrape the old adhesive off said aluminum strips. No other cars shared our molding, and no aftermarket replacements have been made.
That being said, we are big proponents of reusing your existing molding if at all possible. The grey part is usually pretty easy: repainting is simple enough, even if you have to use a little flexible bumper filler. For shorter pieces you can technically reapply them without the aluminum strip(s). It then just becomes an issue of how to fix the chrome situation.
And therein lies the problem. Despite the different 3/4″ chrome accent tapes out there, we have never found a perfect one. The tape likes to peel off or come loose, and around curves it tends to pucker or bunch up. Even if, somehow, you get it to lay flat, the chrome is still going to fade under UV rays and weathering. A lot of people give up and paint the old ones. We don’t know of any flexible chrome paint that would work. So it’s usually silver paint for the solution (or body color, or the same dark grey as the molding, or even a completely different color altogether).
We wish there was better news for the chrome strip because all other parts of the molding can usually be salvaged. For handling the chrome strip situation, it’s really your call as to what will look best. But we will say that chrome tape is still more uniform than anything else. Using a heat gun to gently melt the edges will help give it better adhesion and a smoother overall look (be careful not to burn it though).
FRONT FENDER SIDE MOLDINGS, WIDE
This molding is found between the front bumper and the front wheelwell. There were two kinds: a solid molding, and one with a cutout for the cornering lamp. A solid molding can work on a fender meant for a cornering lamp, if you’ve had your fender replaced that way. There are two aluminum strips on these moldings, one on the top and one on the bottom.
REAR QUARTER SIDE MOLDINGS, WIDE
This molding is found between the rear bumper and rear wheelwell. There are no variants. Same as the front, there are two aluminum strips per piece.
DOOR SIDE MOLDINGS, THIN
Ford used thinner door side moldings on most Cougars, whereas the majority of Thunderbirds had the same size moldings as the rest of the car. We still have never found the exact reason why the Cougar got the skinny moldings, but needless to say they’re tougher to find. There are six pieces total, three per side, between the front and rear wheelwells. There was only one aluminum strip per piece. We have never found any variations on them so they’re the same from 1983-86.
DOOR SIDE MOLDINGS, THICK
Other than the aforementioned Thunderbirds, the only Cougar models to get wide side moldings were the 1984-86 XR-7s and the regional 1985-86 Cougar RS. All of the thicker moldings had chrome accents at the top; none were painted or molded in red, like the Turbo Coupes. The 1985-86 XR-7 models had front fender molding with the “XR-7” insert and they’re considered pretty rare. Otherwise the door and side rear moldings were just like those used on non-turbo Thunderbird models. Each piece used two aluminum strips.
Be aware that there are variants of these moldings. Some earlier Thunderbird models had two indented “stripes” in the molding itself that made them look ribbed. All six pieces (3 driver side, 3 passenger side) had the ribs. Those moldings were never used on a Cougar.
Sometimes you can get lucky and repair a curling piece of molding. Virgil writes: “I noticed some time ago that my trim was flaring out at the edges and asked several people how to fix this. I didn’t get too many good ideas. Then, I saw how paint shops use a strong glue to affix certain chrome, etc. I waited for a hot day (80º F+). This particular spot needs a C-clamp that is large, which I don’t have. So I propped up some studs as you see in photo #2. I used Locktite glue, but I suppose there are many good glues out there. I put the glue in place (I wasn’t stingy) and let it set overnight. This morning the trim was back in place, photo #3. We’ll see if the weather, rain etc., will cause it to separate again … but for now, it looks better. I got so excited because something I tried actually worked. I’ll finish gluing and clamping all the other edges this away.”
We have to say, Virgil’s method seems to be a pretty good solution, at least in the short-to-medium term. A large C-clamp would definitely help out with a situation such as we have with curled molding. This method sure beats removal and messing with the aluminum backing, not to mention the double-sided adhesive, that is for certain.
For all of the above, the correct way to refinish the molding on 1983-86 cars is by repainting. Ford used a unique dark grey paint on our molding and it is not shared by any other Ford vehicle to the best of our knowledge (the Mustang/Capri is close but no cigar). We have tried to match it as closely as possible to NOS factory pieces using common aftermarket spray paint as well as automotive paint. After much debate on the message board and experimentation, this is what we can definitively say is the best color match:
SEM “Medium Smoke” – 39163
PPG, listed as “BLACK OUT COLOR”:
Flat Gray (Cougar and T-Bird) – 33717
Dark Gray (Cougar and T-Bird) – 33696
(Note: we’ve had a little trouble getting these PPG numbers mixed at the auto paint shop, as there appears to be no formula for them. Just FYI.)
DuPONT, listed as “BLACKOUT Gray Ford” – C8436
As always, the finished product will be a direct result of your prep work. If your bumpers or molding has a deep gouge or nicks/scratches, you can use a flexible urethane filler to take care of those areas. We’ve used a two-part filler commonly found in parts stores and it seems to work well enough for the money. It takes patience and multiple fills, but the end result can be very good. Be sure to do these areas first before any primer/paint is applied.
To paint the bumpers (and even the molding while it’s on the car), you’ll just need good masking tape, newspaper to cover up areas you don’t want painted, and red Scotch-Brite scuffing pads (the green are too fine and won’t let the paint bite in enough). The good news is that you can use your factory paint as a sort of primer; there is no need to totally sand it off. Prep work should only take a few hours, and remember to remove all sanding dust before painting. We’d recommend a light topcoat of grey or black flexible primer before applying the paint.
The SEM spray paint is lacquer and is flexible. For the PPG/DuPont paint, you will need to make sure it’s mixed as flexible paint. The finish should be satin and there is no topcoat necessary. This is one-shot paint with the finish pre-applied; it will not require additional sanding once dry. Basically, spray the paint, let dry, remove tape, and enjoy. We love the idea that you can do this on a good day one weekend, outside if you wish, and there’s not much worry about anything falling or blowing into the paint since it dries so quickly.
When Ford redesigned the Cougar/Thunderbird for 1987, one of the areas that got a revision was with the molding. It is not the same as earlier cars, and in fact more closely resembles molding from the Taurus/Sable program in that respect. The chrome strip was moved more toward the middle of each piece, which better protects it from sun fade. The door molding between the front and back was now wide on the Cougar for a much more uniform look. Overall, the molding was rounded, top to bottom, for a slight bubble appearance. Bumpers were again urethane; door side pieces were vinyl; and front and rear panel pieces were ABS plastic. All LS models, as well as the 1987 XR-7, had chrome rub strips. The 1987 20th Anniversary Cougar had gold-colored rub strips. The 1988 XR-7 models had body color molding and rub strips (no chrome), available in white, red, or black.
BUMPERS (FRONT AND REAR)
Once again, the molding was formed into the bumper covers. And once again, the rub strip was removable so it can be replaced. See the 1983-86 information above for the solution.
FRONT FENDER SIDE MOLDINGS
Unlike the earlier cars, these moldings were made of ABS plastic and were bolted onto the fenders from the back side. Ford actually made replacement somewhat easy on us, for a change! Again, there was a version for the cornering lamp, and another for without. Aside from the body-painted XR-7 versions and the gold-inset 20th Anniversary cars, there were no other variations.
One semi-common problem with the ABS moldings is that the built-in threaded mounting tabs can snap off. If you happen to have this issue and also the snapped-off piece, it is possible to reattach it using Gorilla Glue or similar strong adhesive. Otherwise you may need to hunt down a replacement molding to get two good mounting tabs. It also may be possible to secure the molding to the car using two-sided 3M tape or even small dabs of silicone when applied carefully. While either method can work, both will make molding removal a little more difficult.
REAR QUARTER SIDE MOLDINGS
Just like the front moldings, the rear quarter panel moldings were ABS plastic and bolted right on, with access to the bolts from the trunk. No major variations. See above for repair information.
DOOR SIDE MOLDINGS
These were all wider on 1987-88 models so no real variations on that part. They all, however, were still applied using double-sided tape and they also had the aluminum backing strips as well. It might just be our imagination but we swear that these moldings seem to lie a lot flatter than on the earlier cars.
General prep work for the 1987-88 cars is the same as outlined above for the earlier cars. It seems as if the bumper molding paint was somehow even thinner on 1987-88 cars so you’ve probably got quite a bit of yellow urethane bumper color showing. Ford wisely didn’t use a unique color for these moldings (even though it’s listed as “Midnight Smoke”, it’s really just a satin black). So refinishing them with spray paint is extremely easy. We always recommend SEM Trim Black (#39143), as it holds up incredibly well and gives the perfect factory finish.
Also, when sanding, be careful not to use too heavy of a sandpaper grit on the ABS fender moldings. It’s really easy to go too deep and really scratch things up badly. For those we would recommend a grey Scotch-Brite pad. All other vinyl/urethane molding can be sanded with a red Scotch-Brite pad.
So that’s the easy part. It gets a lot more difficult when it comes to the rub strip. It seems as though the fading problems from the 1983-86 cars were mostly resolved with the 1987 redesign, which is a great thing for these cars as they age. But that doesn’t mean it will never happen.
We still feel that 3/4″ chrome tape is a decent solution here. That can be applied and trimmed rather easily. If you have a 20th Anniversary Edition, all of the rub strips are finished in a gold color but it’s not a real intense gold; it’s a little more subtle. We are still looking for a gold tape that isn’t so “bling” but we’re sure it’s out there. We’ve seen people attempt to paint the gold and it while nice looking from a distance, it never quite comes out looking like the factory finish.
For 1988 XR-7 models with the monochrome finish, both the rub strip and the moldings themselves will need color-matched to the body paint. We say this because it’s incredibly difficult to find NOS pieces pre-molded in the color you need. We’ve looked for years and have found very few. Painting them is going to be much simpler and more accurate. You can indeed use regular LS molding and paint it, if you so wish. There is no shame in that.
GENERAL MAINTENANCE (ALL)
To keep your newly refinished molding looking great, all that’s really needed is a good washing with car wash solution and water. We prefer to keep the finish natural…in other words, not waxing the molding. That makes the finish stay factory-looking for life. Some people like to wax the molding and that’s fine, just keep in mind that it can make the finish too shiny over time. Bug and tar remover shouldn’t affect a fully-dried finish if you need to use that.
Weatherstripping Restoration & Replacement
Weatherstripping is expensive—we’re talking maybe more than what you paid for your entire car.
A word of caution before starting: as generally seems to be the case with all vehicles, weatherstripping is expensive. Like, we’re talking maybe more than what you paid for your entire car. Unfortunately there seems to be no magic shortcut or good deals on replacement weatherstripping. It is going to cost you. As long as you are prepared for this going forward, the sticker shock will be a little more tolerable.
You should have two main seals in the hood area. One is the hood-to-header panel seal, an approx. 1″ thin, semi-rigid piece that’s held on the header panel with several screws (Ford p/n E3SZ-8326-A). A lot of times this piece will rip or tear near the latch area. Or sometimes it’s missing altogether, as the screw holes are fiberglass and can snap off. Or perhaps the header panel was replaced and the piece is just plain gone. Technically it’s an air deflector that helps funnel air back to the radiator; however, water will just drip out of the front bumper cover without it. But it does keep the headlight wiring protected from excess water and ice. You should consider having this piece if possible. New replacement seals are available at various places listed on this page.
The other main seal is the hood-to-cowl seal and again, its job is to keep water from running into the engine bay from the windshield and cowl area. There are about 12 nylon pins that hold it to the hood, and they can easily rip the weatherstrip. These pieces are available new, and the same one was used on the Cougar, Thunderbird, and Mark VII.
There are some other, smaller pieces under the hood as well. The hood-to-fender pieces keep water from getting around the hinges near the cowl area (original part numbers were E3SZ-16071-B and E3SZ-16072-B). These pieces are available new.
Also, you have a few front fender apron seals and front fender splash shields hanging around your lower front engine compartment. They are technically not “seals” but they do keep water and road grime front getting into the engine bay from the wheel wells. These rarely deteriorate or tear, but they can go missing due to lost fasteners. These are also available new (some minor trimming may possibly be needed).
Last, there are four hood bumpers that slide into slots on the hood. They keep the hood floating above the fenders. Again, they rarely go bad or missing, but new ones are available and should be identical to those used on Fox Mustangs.
Front Door, Outer
The beltline molding (aka “dew wipe”) is one of the most commonly broken pieces of weatherstripping on the entire car, mainly because it’s the only one that’s really on the outside and relatively unprotected. Water, ice, and sun damage are very common. The main function of this piece is to keep water out of the door as much as possible. Each time the window is rolled up or down, this piece will “wipe” the outer window and wick water away. Some water, in normal use, will still drip into the door itself and find its way out of the drain holes; that’s considered normal. But with broken weatherstripping here, you can imagine what happens—excess water will lay in the bottom of the door and cause rust rather quickly. And that can be downright disastrous.
For 1983-86 cars there is some good news: you can indeed restore your dew wipes to (roughly) factory condition. You can remove your beltline trim piece and take off the old outer molding. From the factory it’s held on by staples; on replacement it will likely need held on by pop rivets, which may mean drilling some holes, but they won’t be seen in normal use. And it doesn’t matter if you have a vent window or not—the molding can be modified for either door style. Replacement beltline molding varies; we still have not come across the exact factory style, although there is some good universal stuff out there that will do the job. A few people have mentioned the Fairchild brand from Rock Auto, and we’ve also used this style before with acceptable results. It’s a universal piece that’s cut-to-fit. Of all the weatherstripping on the entire car, this piece seems to be the most inexpensive to replace using this universal piece.
We’ve also discovered beltline kits offered by Restoration Specialties & Supply, Inc. for a pretty decent overall price, considering it’s an 8-piece kit.
Unfortunately for 1987-88 owners, the dew wipe is molded into the beltline trim piece and cannot be separated, like on earlier cars. To be technically correct, replacing the dew wipe requires replacing the entire beltline trim. We do not know of anyone selling these new; therefore you would need to find good, used pieces to replace yours in your car’s style, or luck out and find NOS pieces (and don’t hold your breath for that).
However…if you can cut the factory wipe section off your trim in a clean manner, it should be possible to install the same kits mentioned above on your trim. We know of several people that have done just that with good success.
Front Door, Inner
The window channel run which is exactly what it says: a channel inside which the window glass slides up and down. This part is unique in that it is exposed on both the exterior and interior, therefore there’s double the chance that it can rot. We’ve seen some photos of this piece from cars in the southern U.S. and beyond, and the cracking is just unbelievable.
Right now there is no brand new channel run that we know about, that is specific for our cars. Again, this part is identical to the Mark VII (1983-86: Ford p/n E4SZ-6321597/6-C) but searching for that doesn’t really help. The good news is that it can be adapted from other Ford cars of various model years.
Reader Doug has reported that he used 2008-11 Ford Focus channel runs (Ford p/n 8S4Z-6320556-B and 8S4Z-6320557-B) for his ’86 Thunderbird with decent results. He says that they’re not as long where they go down into the door as the stock pieces, but they’re long enough to keep the window glass in place. He also states that they’re not 100% perfect but they do seal well and function decently enough.
Other Ford cars might offer some solutions as well. Fox Mustang channel runs are a bit short but can likely work. Similarly, Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz 2-door channel runs can work but only if you have the optional vent window, because it’s also a tad shorter. Personally, we’ve used early Ford Ranger channel runs before with great results in our vent window car.
Universal channel run can be used. The trick is in the upper corner, where a 90-degree cut-and-glue is needed. That’s the part that scares most people and rightly so. However, it can be done successfully, and the length can be tailored to match the factory pieces.
Right now there are a few people on the Facebook group pages that are working on some exclusive channel run solutions and when/if we get new info, we’ll be sure to post that here.
Speaking of the vent window, there is a unique perimeter seal around the glass that is more or less one-piece in nature. We are unsure if that part is separate or part of the entire assembly. Replacement may need to be with the entire glass structure. More info here as it becomes available.
Next we have the drip rail molding which channels water away from the interior and also makes sure you don’t get a sudden downpour of water when you open the door. Generally they hold up well, although they can tear with age and extended use. Drip rails are available new.
The inner belt molding is just like the outer beltline molding except on the interior of the car. It’s easily identifiable by the chrome strip running down the full length. This piece easily pops out of the door when the window is down, and is only held in by built-in clips. These inner belt moldings are available new, usually as a pair.
There is an upper door seal which is clipped in the front portion of the door, where it meets the A-pillar. Again, these usually do not get damaged but can rarely pop out and go missing. They are available new and are frightfully expensive. This part was also shared with the Mark VII.
And there is a lower door seal on the underside of the door that’s held in by about 10 nylon pins. This seal keeps water and air from intruding through the lower door gap and into the car. Sometimes it can get torn, or even go missing if it’s kicked enough times. It is available new and was shared with the Mark VII.
Finally, you can indeed get an entire door seal kit from Steele Rubber which includes the more popular weatherstrip parts mentioned above. That might save you some time and effort. (You may also need to sell your plasma and firstborn child to afford it).
Perhaps the most important inner seal, the inside door perimeter seal is the main barrier between the outside and your interior. The door closes upon it, after all. Therefore it’s very susceptible to rips and tears, particularly where your feet will swipe the sill plate upon entry/exit from the car. Sometimes minor rips and tears and even some holes can be repaired using a good weatherstrip adhesive, and that’s fine. But if yours is beyond that sort of help, there’s good news: new perimeter seal weatherstrip is available. It’s not cheap, we will again iterate. It was a common part used in the Cougar, Thunderbird, and Mark VII.
If you have a factory sunroof (flip up only), there is a sunroof seal that greatly helps with water and air infiltration (Ford p/n E3SZ-6351346-A). Also there is a seal that goes on the body that’s identical to those used on other Fords of the era, including the Mustang.
Similarly, you may want to replace your factory power moonroof seal. It is also available new through Sunroof Doctor. They also have a limited number of aftermarket power moonroof parts available, depending on the brand.
Last, we have found a new trunk seal to help tremendously with water intrusion. Generally they don’t normally get all torn up but they can compress over time, which leads to air and water infiltration in some cases. We’ve found news ones at several places listed on this page, and for a decent price.
There are seals between the taillights and the rear attachment panel. The seals are circular in shape, pre-molded, and are considered part of the taillight housing assembly. On rare occasions they can fail and let water into the taillights. Sometimes they’re just distorted but other times they will split at the factory seam. We have seen them sold separately but can’t seem to find any part numbers or vendors at this point. If you need to replace them, you might consider getting new taillight housings and swapping those seals into yours.
Other miscellaneous rubber parts, like the hood, trunk, and door bumpers, are available new and are generally inexpensive. They’re not really seals, but they do help keep things quiet and performing like new.
Where To Buy
So where exactly can you find these new parts? Until a few years ago, finding weatherstripping was pretty difficult and scattered amongst vendors on the Internet. That is, until Steele Rubber Products came along and started producing pieces for our cars. Because the general shape of a majority of the weatherstripping was similar to other Fords of the era, it was probably easy enough to get them into production (in particular, we likely have the Mark VII to thank for parts availability here). Steele seems to carry pretty much all of the weatherstripping mentioned above. We have no affiliation with them, just want everyone to know that they’re a long-known trusted name in the auto restoration business that has finally begun to fill a need for our cars.
Interstingly, a company called Classique Cars Unlimited seems to sell the identical parts as Steele but for a bit less cost. And they take Paypal.
A lot of people have had success with used, but good, weatherstripping from eBay, swap meets, or the local salvage yard (see article below). That would certainly cost less and might be worth the time and effort to hunt them down.
Some of the other odds-and-ends vendors have been linked in the sections above, as required. Should you find another vendor for weatherstripping please don’t be afraid to let us know.
In replacing the channel run with weatherstripping from other Ford vehicles, James writes:
“Basically you need a pair of them from a two-door and a single one from a four-door and it can be from any position 2010-13 Mazda3 and Ford Focus. I prefer getting them from junkyards because you can get all three in one shot. If you remove the forward window track from inside the door you’re going to need to reshape it so it accepts the weatherstripping like the channel run. So the inside lip is 7/8 of an inch and the outside lip is 5/8 of an inch. Standard spring loaded sheet metal cutters will do the job. Then you basically take the two door window run put it in get it in position and cut it off right where it meets the forward window track. Having glued a piece of weatherstrip into the forward window track, you put it in. Glue in the channel run all along the top and on the B-pillar and then put the window up and leave it sit for 24 hours.”
Our friend and longtime contributor Zach passed along info from his own weatherstrip replacement, for both the window channel run and outer belt molding:
“Because my car (1986 Cougar XR-7) was in Florida for 20 years, ALL of the trim around the windows was totally destroyed. The dew wipes were especially bad, but it all had to be replaced. Pulling on the trim would result in it shattering in my hands. It hardly served a purpose anymore. The glass would rattle whenever the doors were shut!
“My biggest problem was the window weatherstripping that goes around the top and side of the rest of the window frame. I went to the junkyard to look for a possible replacement. I spent an hour looking at Lincolns until I stumbled onto an unexpected find: A 2-door 1992 Mercury Topaz. When I examined the window channel trim, it seemed like a close enough match. I had no idea how perfect it was. This stuff fit absolutely PERFECT into the window frame. Absolutely everything matched up. In fact, I believe that if the ’86 had normal windows, the entire piece would likely fit perfectly. This is good news for people who have full glass or vent windows.
“Simply crank down the windows and begin to work out the weatherstripping. Begin at the top and work to the back corner. There will some extra weather stripping that goes down inside the door. This is so the glass doesn’t work its way out of the channel. Install the weather stripping just like it is in the Tempo/Topaz. If you have vent windows, you can simply cut off what you don’t need and trim it to meet up with the vent channel felt. The best part is that it’s the nice, soft, pliable rubber.
“I ordered the beltline weather stripping (dew wipes) and the vent window channel trim from JC Whitney. The vent window channel trim simply gets snugged right into the channel, then some minor trimming of the material is required.
“The vent window channel trim simply gets snugged right into the channel, then some minor trimming of the material is required. The dew wipes had to be pop riveted to the trim piece with careful measurement, but they seem to be very solid and correct for the design.
“These windows are AIR TIGHT now. It’s amazing!”
Emblems & Decal Restoration
Note: Please refer to the Emblems page here for visual references and part numbers where applicable.
Emblems on these cars, for the most part, used real elements:
- Things like the C-pillar emblems, grille emblem, etc. were made of real metal.
- The plastic nomenclature (interior, trunklid, taillights, etc.) were made of high-grade OEM chromed plastics and have held up quite well in a lot of cases.
- Some special emblems were cloisonné, which is glass laid into a metal mold. Most of the 1987 20th Anniversary Cougar’s exterior emblems were this way, along with a few Blue Max and other special edition Cougars of the era.
The metal emblems maybe originated as pot metal and then were chromed. Regardless, they can be rechromed again if you don’t have any serious pitting. Minor scratches and abrasions can usually be fixed during this process. You will need to find a shop that specialized in chroming and get a price quote from them; it won’t be cheap, as government regulations particularly in the U.S. have made this process a lot more costly. You can always hunt down a better, used or even NOS piece if you so desire. That may end up being cheaper in the long run. But either way you can definitely get a better looking end result.
While we’ve seen the chrome portions pit, more often than not the plastic can break. Either one of these situations will require replacement of the emblem, as these problems cannot be fixed easily. The trunklid/taillight nomenclature, in particular, are the most susceptible to pitting and damage since they stick out from the surface.
Good, used emblems are out there, so be sure to check eBay and swap meets, as well as your local salvage yard. Also, if you know the part number, you can search for new old stock (NOS) pieces; see this page for reference photos and part numbers. You may have to hunt for awhile, though.
We have seen a few attempts at 3D printed emblems over on the Thunderbird side, and we’re encouraged that this process may lead to new nomenclature available for the Cougar in the future. If there is any good information on that later on then we’ll be sure to update this page.
These special emblems are essentially glass with metal inlays. They are beautiful to behold and are very substantial pieces. Unfortunately they do have some big downfalls, mainly with the glass portions chipping, and the metal fading or de-chroming under UV light. And we don’t know of any way to practically fix either problem. We’re fairly certain that there are many drawers full of chipped or faded cloisonné emblems that owners have removed over the years, and just replaced with others. Again, NOS pieces are rare and expensive. Your best bet may be decent replacement emblems but be warned: these require an inordinate amount of patience to find, even on eBay. That’s mostly due to the scarcity of surviving cars with said emblems.
There seem to be few places that can restore a cloisonné emblem; Emblemagic or Hibernia Auto Restoration, LLC may possibly be able to refurbish them. Please contact these businesses directly for a quote.
Decals & Striping
There were very few factory Cougars that had adhesive-backed decals. The lower sections of 1984-87 XR-7’s had applied striping. Two-tone 1983-88 cars had a thick (approx. 1″) multi-colored band to bridge the colored sections. The 1988 XR-7 had a special pinstriping that was, in fact, a decal. And some dealer-installed special editions like the Cougar RS and Blue Max cars had additional decals and lower striping.
1984-86 COUGAR XR-7 (LOWER)
The lower section of these Cougars were set apart from the lower models with their unique tri-band striping. Lower sections were generally silver or dark charcoal, depending upon the main body color. The striping appeared to be white in color. We don’t know of any aftermarket kits available but these should be rather easy to reproduce with vinyl or even paint.
Note: If you own a 1984-86 XR-7 and can get us the stripe measurements from your car, please contact us. Thanks!
1987 COUGAR XR-7 (LOWER)
The lower striping for 1987 XR-7s changed slightly, now four bands of black over a medium silver (argent). Again, we know of no pre-made aftermarket kits. The striping can be reproduced with vinyl or paint. One thing to note is that the striping ends short of each body line and opening by about 1/4″ or so, meaning the stripes do not wrap around the wheel well openings, nor do they touch at the bumper-to-fender seams.
Thanks to viewer Niki we have now produced a template guide for the 1987 Cougar XR-7 striping pattern. You can download it here:
DOWNLOAD 1987 XR-7 STRIPING TEMPLATE
1988 COUGAR XR-7 (UPPER)
There is upper striping on 1988 XR-7s in the form of decals. Unlike “normal” pinstriping found on LS models, the ’88 XR-7 striping is above the upper body crease. At the C-pillar the stripes get larger and wrap around the trunklid; at the front, the stripes taper to a point by the grille. We have looked for these factory stripe kits over the years and discovered that they’re REALLY difficult to find. If we ever get part numbers we’ll post them here; in the meantime, here are some photos of a mint ’88 XR-7 for reference:
The enigmatic Cougar RS model was the only other 1983-86 Cougar model aside from the XR-7 to have wide bodyside moldings. It also had decals on the lower section that were very similar to those used on Mercury Capri RS cars. A company called Graphic Express carries the Capri “RS” emblems but we’re unsure if they were the same as the ones used on the Cougar version. The lower striping is definitely unique and will need custom cut and color matched by a vinyl shop (or painted on).
COUGAR BLUE MAX/SPECIAL EDITION
The lower section of 1985-86 Cougar Blue Max Editions were simply painted silver (argent). However, for the 1988 Blue Max Edition (and other Special Editions) there was a full lower stripe decal that was applied to the car. It essence there were eight separate pieces applied, with the compound curves of the bumper covers being the most difficult ones to apply. Generally they have held up well, although random chunks of the decal can disappear or peel off.
A good, permanent, and rather inexpensive solution would be to simply paint the stripes on. And we wouldn’t blame you if you did. The issue becomes the spacing; with so many parallel stripes going on, it’s very easy to misalign them and your eye will definitely notice any small errors. It might be something best left to a professional.
We do not know of any pre-made replacement Special Edition/Blue Max striping kits, so you would need to have them custom cut at a vinyl shop, using your existing striping as a pattern. The shop may also be able to apply the kit for an additional fee.
Based upon our own measurements of the stripes on a Blue Max Edition we previously owned, we’ve compiled a guide to help recreate the stripes for your vehicle should you need to do so. Click the link below to download.
DOWNLOAD BLUE MAX/SE STRIPING TEMPLATE
Outside Mirror Restoration & Replacement
For all models 1983-88, the driver’s side mirror glass is normal, while the passenger side glass is slightly convex, and carries the ubiquitous “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR” statement.
SINGLE DRIVER’S SIDE CABLE REMOTE MIRROR
All base 1983-86 Cougars and Thunderbirds came with a single cable remote driver’s side mirror as standard. The passenger side received a plastic block-off plate. This setup was more common on “value leader” cars, which were stripped-down models designed to be priced on the lower end to attract buyers. But today, such vehicles are very uncommon to see in the wild; power mirrors were much more popular.
FORD PASSENGER SIDE CABLE REMOTE MIRROR
However, for those that wanted a passenger side mirror on such base models, Ford did offer a matching cable-remote passenger mirror over the counter at Ford dealerships (p/n E3WY-17696-A). It required drilling a hole in the door panel, but otherwise attached and worked—and even appeared—identically to the driver’s side mirror. That was the only way to get “dual cable remote” mirrors on these cars.
DUAL POWER MIRRORS
Dual power mirrors were standard on all mid-to-upper level cars (LS, XR7, etc.), or on base models equipped with either a common preferred equipment package (PEP) or the standalone dual power mirror option. They were also required on vehicles with the optional vent windows. We estimate that roughly 75% or more cars had the power mirror option, since it always appeared in a PEP.
The wiring pigtail for the power mirror went through the mirror housing, into the door cavity (remove the black plastic triangle on the door and you’ll see it), and down to the door harness. The connector was inconveniently placed, as it’s nearly impossible to swap out mirrors without removing the door panel itself. At least access to the mounting bolts is easy.
CHROME vs. BLACK vs. PAINTED HOUSINGS
The Cougar GS (base) and LS models always had chrome mirror housings, regardless of model year. The XR7 models in 1984, 1985, and 1988 had body colored (painted) housings. The 1986-87 XR7s had black housings (technically “charcoal”). In contrast, few Thunderbirds had chrome mirror housings, as their base color was black.
The only non-XR7 Cougar to have a body-colored, painted mirror was the 1987 20th Anniversary model, whose mirrors were Cabernet Red.
Over time, the chrome can pit, crinkle, or flake off the ABS plastic housings. Or perhaps the black housing’s finish is chalky or blotchy. Or perhaps the paint has faded. All of these situations are usually due to sun exposure and extended time in the elements. If you need to replace your housing, it’s possible to transfer the guts of your mirror to a different housing. For those with painted housings, you can use a good black housing as a starting base.
EARLIER vs. LATER STYLE
Over the six model years from 1983-88, the mirror housings did slightly change and evolve. While all mirrors from that timeframe had three distinct mounting bolts, earlier (1983-84) housings had a total of three mounting holes, with a fourth to hold in the motor mechanism. The double-sided mounting bolts were directly screwed into the housing for a secure fit.
The housings seem to have changed a bit in 1985 or 1986 with the addition of two more holes, one between the older mounting holes and another underneath the motor mounting screw from the previous version. For this version of the mirror, those extra mounting holes were unused.
That changed beginning in 1987, when those extra holes were used on the later housings thanks to the addition of a rubbery wind splitter attached to the otherwise stock 1986-style mirror. These splitters were apparently an effort to help quiet down any wind noise associated with the mirror, and also to help keep rain away from the leading edge and splashing onto the side glass. Since the splitters themselves contain the mirror mounting bolts, the splitter had to be mounted to the mirror housing via the two new attaching bolts. As such, the entire mounting assembly was now a bit more flimsy and care had to be taken to ensure proper mounting and strength. It is possible to convert a 1985-86 housing to a 1987-88 style by adding the splitters. Likewise, removal of the splitters from a 1987-88 housing and adding earlier mounting bolts should allow it to bolt to earlier cars.
Also, later mirrors (~1986 and up) seem to have gained drain holes in the bottom of the housing, directly under the mirror and close to the door trim. This seems to be very hit-or-miss, as some people report having them while others do not, even within the same model year and trim level. We consider drain holes to be “factory” as they were introduced, and whether your car has them or not, it was likely meant to be that way. They are generally a way to determine the older housing from the newer one.
POWER MIRROR MOTOR
The power mirror motor mechanism is hidden behind the glass and is attached to the housing with two very hard-to-find-and-remove Phillips screws. Usually the mirror has to be moved to the extreme top and bottom to even see the screws. A strong but thin Phillips screwdriver helps with removing the screws. Once they are removed, and the third screw is removed (by the three mounting screws), the entire mechanism along with the attached mirror glass can be taken out of the housing, with the wiring pigtail pulled through the mounting grommet. All of the power motors and wiring between 1983-1988 seem to be identical. We have not seen a separate part number for the motor itself and it’s unclear if it was used on other Ford vehicles.
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with code (driver’s side).
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with code (passenger side).
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with alternate code.
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird OEM outside mirror glass with no code.
The outside mirror glass, whether in the backing plate or by itself, was the same shape between 1983-88, so it all interchanges. The Thunderbird was the only other vehicle which shared the glass shape; no other Ford vehicle matched up.
One of the more disappointing things about these cars was that, despite their sales numbers and popularity when new, the aftermarket did not embrace them as much as they should have. And back in the day it was quite disappointing if you broke the glass in your mirror and needed a replacement, as parts stores seemed to carry all kinds of mirror glass from other makes and models. But not our cars. We have never found a solid reason why, but we suspect that it was Ford’s way of not authorizing aftermarket production in order to get the unlucky owner back into the dealership for their exclusive Ford replacement part. Replacement was a bit more of a pain than it needed to be, both physically and in the wallet.
This being said…in order to be technically correct (as in, judged for car show competition) your mirror glass should carry the correct year code. You can find your code at the bottom of the glass. The typical code convention is “#-AX-YEAR”, where the first number can be nearly anything (at least 1 through 12), the AX in the middle is consistent, and the YEAR corresponds to the same model year as your car (ex: 1984 cars should have “84”), or one year newer, or one year older. This is due to the supply of mirrors and how they got used in the assembly line process. Leftovers from the previous model year found their way onto the next one, and likewise, current cars could have mirrors from the following model year if the supply worked out that way. We have also observed that the mirror could have a different code, “#-DCA®-#”, from the factory. That seems to be the same code on Ford official replacement glass (see below) but it was also out in the wild. We’ve even seen a few known factory pieces with no code at all.
We hate to say that there’s no rhyme or reason as to how the mirrors were dated, but that’s pretty much exactly how it is. The important thing here is that they pretty much ARE dated on most cars. In a perfect world, any given car should technically have the same model year stamp on both mirrors (if so equipped with two mirrors) but it’s possible they could be one year off from each other, and that should be fine for judging.
If you have a cracked or scratched mirror and you wish to replace it for show purposes, you will need to find a good, used one with the same glass date code, or within one model year. And that is not a fun task. You may have to hunt everywhere possible (eBay, salvage yards, etc.) to find correct-dated glass and swap it out.
Unless you don’t care or aren’t showing the car, in which case, use what you find and be blissful!
The official Ford replacement glass has a code at the bottom but it seems to be different from the OEM stock mirror glass. Instead of the typical “#-AX-YEAR” convention, the replacement mirror typically has “#-DCA®-#”. This seems fairly consistent across all replacement Ford glass that we’ve seen. Not that this is bad…it’s just different, that’s all. It should be fine for judging.
Ford OEM glass (with backing plate) replacement part numbers:
- Driver’s side, 1983-88 all: E6SZ-17K707-B
- Passenger side, 1983-88 all: E4SZ-17K707-A, E6SZ-17K707-A
Some aftermarket replacement glass seems to be available for these cars now. We have seen them listed on eBay but cannot attest to their quality or accuracy, as we’ve never tried them nor have we received any feedback on them. Again, if it’s not a show vehicle, it might be a better deal for you provided it’s a quality replacement piece. If you have experience with this glass or would like to try it, we’d love to get your feedback.
REPLACEMENT MIRROR ASSEMBLIES
Every once in a while we’ll see NOS Ford mirror assemblies for these cars on eBay. As you can imagine, they can be expensive (relatively speaking) but if they are genuine Ford pieces, then that’s the price that needs paid to get them. Ford seemed to have stopped producing both the housing assemblies and the replacement glass sometime in the mid-1990s, so what’s out there is all there is now. We cannot stress how nice it is to actually buy a new mirror and install it. If you’re thinking about replacing your housings with NOS pieces, we highly recommend doing so if you have the means and the money.
The new assemblies can have the same code as OEM, but because these were produced until the mid-1990s, the date number may be much higher than your car’s model year. Ours has the “#-DCA®-#” code convention. Sometimes the glass will not have a date code at all. This should be alright if you’re replacing them in pairs. Also, we have to say that the quality of the chrome is very good and should be good enough for show quality. The ones we’ve found all seem to have the drain holes, if that matters to you.
Also keep in mind that not all replacement mirror assemblies are power mirrors! We’ve almost clicked the eBay ‘Buy It Now’ button a few times on what we thought was a good deal…only to discover that it was a cable remote mirror and not power. So be careful when you’re shopping!
Power mirror assembly (chrome) part numbers:
- Driver side, 1983-86 – E3SZ-17682-C
- Driver side, 1987-88 – E7WY-17682-B
- Passenger side, 1983-86 – E3SZ-17682-D
- Passenger side, 1987-88 – E7WY-17682-A
Power mirror assembly (black) part numbers:
- Driver’s side, 1983-86 – E6SZ-17682-B
- Driver’s side, 1987-88 – E7SZ-17682-C
- Passenger side, 1983-86 – E6SZ-17682-A
- Passenger side, 1987-88 – E7SZ-17682-B
Cable mirror assembly (chrome) part numbers:
- Driver side, 1983-86 – E3WY-17682-A
- Passenger side, 1983-86 – E3WY-17696-A
Cable mirror assembly (black) part numbers:
- Passenger side, 1983-86 – E3SZ-17696-A
Glass Restoration & Replacement
A good glass repair shop will be your friend here.
This all sounds exciting but it’s tame compared to some of the newer vehicles being sold today. Still, it’s not a horrible thing if your glass needs replaced due to cracking, breaking, or delamination (the separation of layers on a windshield).
The one thing we cannot stress enough is that a good glass repair shop will be your friend here. We were lucky to find a reputable independent shop in our area and we’ve used it for many years with zero issues and always a fair deal. Thanks to our experience with them, we’re able to pass along the information below to you.
The original supplier to Ford for all of the glass used on our cars was Carlite. Replacement PPG glass is still being made today. As is typical, all side and back glass is tempered, with the windshield dual-layer laminated.
Tinted glass was standard on LS and XR7 models but non-tinted glass was standard on the base GS (tinted was optional). Some aftermarket glass is still listed as non-tinted if you need it.
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird original windshield glass with Carlite logo in center.
Above: 1983-88 Cougar/Thunderbird replacement windshield glass with PPG logo in lower driver’s side corner.
Our windshield was shared between the Cougar, Ford Thunderbird, and the Lincoln Mark VII. There is no difference between the windshield glass on all three vehicles. Original glass has the Carlite logo in the bottom center of the windshield; replacement PPG glass has the logo on the lower left-hand side. Otherwise all markings and shadings are identical to factory.
Our door glass was shared with the Thunderbird and Mark VII. The upper corner at the B-pillar was rounded but almost squared off. This earlier glass has the unique property of a lower extended area through which holes were drilled, and this allowed the glass to be bolted to the track on the regulator. Although a more expensive process due to drilling holes in glass and the additional grommets and bolts required, this has proven over time to be a better solution than the later cars, as it’s almost impossible for the glass to separate from the track (this glass cannot be retrofitted to later cars, unfortunately). There is a difference between glass for a vent-window car and one without that option, and one cannot be used for the other.
For those cars with the vent window option, again, the T-Bird and Mark VII vent window glass was identical. We discourage replacing the glass yourself due to the high tension on the mechanism and the potential for glass breakage. This is a job best left to a professional.
REAR QUARTER WINDOWS
The triangular rear quarter windows were unique to the Cougar and were affixed to the car via adhesive. The Carlite nomenclature is in the lower corner near the B-pillar trim, although we have seen some cars with the Carlite lettering at the top. Either one should be correct. Again, this glass is available new in the PPG brand with all the correct shade markings around the perimeter.
The rear window glass is unique to the Cougar and was available with or without heated elements for the rear defroster. Over time we’ve found the non-heated glass to be extremely rare, relegated to stripped-down models for the most part. The rear defroster was available in nearly all popular preferred-equipment packages (PEP) so they made up the majority of the rear glass. All replacement glass appears as stock. The Carlite logo was found in the rear center of the glass.
Above: 1983-86 Cougar/Thunderbird factory sunroof glass, removed from vehicle.
Above: Ford factory sunroof glass (Mustang shown, 1983-86 Cougar/Thunderbird similar).
The optional Ford factory flip-up (non-power) sunroof used on the Cougar/Thunderbird was identical to the sunroof on other Fox cars, such as the Ford Mustang and Mercury Capri, and possibly the Ford Escort/Mercury Lynx. Factory glass was curved toward the front and straight across in the back. All cars with this sunroof used the same mounting hardware, glass, weatherstripping seal, etc. and you can use replacement parts from those cars if need be.
The sunroof option required a different roof panel, headliner, and wiring harness for the dome light. The dome light itself (either standard or with map lights) was moved backward to allow roof for the sunroof; it was never moved forward. Original Ford glass had three visible oval-style “bars” on the top of the glass: two for the hinge areas, and one for the latch. This is where the components bolted through the glass for attachment. Again, Carlite was the OEM supplier.
We have found new replacements parts through NPD, LMR, Fox Mustang Restoration, and CJ Pony Parts, listed for a Fox Mustang. This includes the main weatherstripping seal and some other trim items and bolts. Additionally, you can always try eBay for good used or sometimes new parts.
Factory sunroof cars had a special bag to hold the glass upon (temporary) removal from the roof. It was supposed to be suspended in the trunk from the package tray to keep it out of the way of any contents in the trunk, including the jack and spare tire. Since they’re so uncommon, we’ve seen OEM Ford sunroof bags go for higher prices recently, although reproductions do exist now (see the NPD link above).
If you do not see three bars on your exterior glass panel, or there is no Carlite logo etched in the glass, or if the sunroof is not as described above, then you may have an aftermarket sunroof. Please keep in mind that there were many aftermarket companies producing sunroofs, and some of those (along with aftermarket power moonroofs) were installed through dealerships when these cars were new or just a few years old. A majority of them were universal fit. If you have one of those sunroofs then you’re going to need to find the original manufacturer of the part, and see if you can still hunt them down (see this link and this link for possible candidates). If you can’t find out what you have, and your glass breaks…then you may have no other choice but to have a new, universal fit sunroof installed in the car.
Tinted glass was standard in all 1987-88 models.
The 1987-88 windshield glass was still identical to the Thunderbird and Mark VII with no differences noted. You can use any windshield glass from 1983-88 in your car.
With the elimination of the vent window option in 1987, all the door glass was the same style now, and was shared only with the Thunderbird. The upper B-pillar corner was rounded but markedly larger in radius compared to the older style. The bottom of the glass was now straight across to allow it to sit in a long channel, affixed with clips and adhesive. This was a great short-term solution but over time, the glass can separate from the track, allowing the window to fall into the door cavity or to come off the track/channel. Many people have tried different ways to reattach their glass over the years…we’ve heard a lot of interesting things with seemingly mixed results. If you want to try the repair yourself, one of the more successful solutions seems to be a two-part epoxy adhesive. However, for our time and money, we usually take the car to the auto glass shop so they can use their heavy duty adhesive. It’s never given us an issue and seems to be exclusive to auto glass shops.
Also, in a similar fashion, the plastic clips (original OEM p/n E7SB-6323276-AA) that hold the glass to the channel can break. It seems that auto glass shops can get not only plastic clip replacements, but aluminum ones as well. As we’re told, the aluminum clips have some additional holes drilled into them so that the adhesive can better attach to the glass. We have used them in a few of our past cars and can attest that they are the best solution in the long run.
REAR QUARTER WINDOWS
Above: 1987-88 Cougar LS rear quarter glass with Carlite logo.
Above: 1987-88 Cougar rear quarter glass, inside view with attaching bolts. Note the adhesive strip around the perimeter.
The new unique Cougar rear quarter windows were affixed to the car with both adhesive and bolts. This was due to the new flush glass styling which included the trim piece attached to the outside. Since there were two different models, the LS and the XR7, there were two different surrounding trims: black and chrome (or “bright” as Ford likes to call it) for the LS models, and fully blacked out for the XR7 and 20th Anniversary models. If you need brand new glass, be sure to specify which one you’ll need, as we’re unsure if it’s possible to reuse your old surrounding trim.
Surprising, this is about the only glass assembly on these cars that you can safely attempt to swap out yourself. We’ve done it before and it’s kind of fun and rewarding if all goes well. The trick is to do it on a very hot day, letting the car sit outside in the sun to help warm things up. Remove the interior sail panel trim (which, in itself, is not fun but necessary). Behind the black insulation panel you’ll find a five (5) nuts around the perimeter of the glass; remove those—don’t worry, the window should not fall out. Then stand outside the car while gently pushing the glass out from the inside. If you’re lucky you won’t have to run a knife down the adhesive sections to break the bond. In general, Ford seemed to not use a ton of adhesive here, so it shouldn’t take a lot of effort for the glass to break free. Then carefully remove the entire assembly unit. This is great if you’re either upgrading the exterior trim or installing used glass. Be sure to clean off the old adhesive and use quality new adhesive around the entire perimeter before reinstalling.
Unique to the Cougar, the curvy rear window glass was non-heated as standard, heated optional. Again, most cars either had the PEP which included the rear defroster or had the individual option for it. It’s very, very difficult to find non-heated 1987-88 rear glass actually in a vehicle. All replacement glass appears to be as stock with the correct perimeter shading. The original Carlite nomenclature is in the right rear corner.
The optional power moonroof option was available on very late 1986 through 1988 Cougars/Thunderbirds and used the same glass (p/n E8SZ-63502A82-A) as other Fords of the era with the same option. This includes the Lincoln Mark VII and Continental (RWD and FWD), and possibly the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable. The moonroof is quickly identified by its chrome (“bright”) surround and heavy tinting, with lack of any visible exterior grommets or covers, and also a built-in sliding and vented shade on the interior. Any similarly-equipped Ford passenger car from 1986 through at least the early 1990s should have the same glass but be sure to double check for dimensions and fitment.
Otherwise, just like the earlier sunroof cars, any Cougar or Thunderbird with the power moonroof option had its own unique roof panel, with a new molded headliner, and extended wiring harness for the map light. New to this system was an overhead console that contained the open/close switch and two push on/off reading lights. The overhead console also required special shorter sun visors. Due to the complexity of the system, we recommend having a professional shop replace the glass assembly itself, but you can usually get to and replace or adjust parts of the mechanism if you’re so inclined. Just remember that anything involving work on this system will require removal of the headliner…every single time.
According to the owner’s manual, there was a “special tool” that one could use to manually close the glass in case of the moonroof motor’s failure or a faulty switch. It turns out that “special tool” is a common 5/32″ Allen wrench! With just a few screws removed, the overhead console can drop down to expose the moonroof motor and in its center is the Allen keyway. Turning the Allen wrench clockwise will close the roof panel.
Incidentally, the moonroof motor, along with nearly all other parts of the mechanism, is shared among other Ford vehicles of the era with the moonroof option such as the Mark VII and Continental. We have seen both new and used parts on eBay.
If you are in need of a new moonroof seal, you’re in luck—they are still available new through the Sunroof Doctor. It could still require a glass shop’s professional installation but at least you can get the seal.
Finally, there is some minimal maintenance that goes with the power moonroof option. The sliding tracks on the sides should be kept free of debris and dirt. They will occasionally require lubrication with a good, thick, water-resistant lube such as lithium grease or garage door track lube. Similarly, the pivot points (which raise and lower the glass) and the front deflector pivots will need lubed. You can access most of this with the glass slid back into the roof (opened) and/or tilted upward. You should also make sure that the drainage tubes are opened and not clogged with dirt. There is a tube in each corner, recessed into the roof panel, and its job is to drain any water that gets past the seal out of the car. The drains runs along the A-pillar (front) and across the roof panel to the C-pillar (rear) and drain out to the bottom of the car, onto the ground. Cleaning them out is, naturally, not easy or fun but usually a little pressure with an air hose can greatly assist with this.
NEW vs. SALVAGE YARD vs. EBAY
So after reading all this, you may be asking, “Why can’t I just use glass from the salvage yard or eBay?” And that is a valid question because salvage yards are a great source for used OEM glass, and eBay will sometimes serve up a huge surprise of really good or even NOS glass. It really depends on quite a few things:
- Are you going to attempt the glass swap yourself?
- If not, will a glass shop install used glass (or outsourced glass) instead of new?
- If not, then what?
With the salvage yard option, especially if it’s local, you can see the merchandise before buying. Pricing is typically not that expensive. You may end up with way better glass this way. And it’s technically correct. So yes, it’s okay to do this if a shop is installing it for you and they’re good with it, or if you’re brave enough to change out the glass yourself. We’ve installed used windshields before with mixed results; while it worked and didn’t really leak, the glass delaminated quicker than we’d hoped and we ended up getting a new windshield installed anyway because of that. So it really didn’t save us money.
The eBay option is always “buyer beware”. If the glass is NOS then you’re good for condition; however, shipping becomes the huge issue. Glass breakage during shipping is more likely to occur if the seller doesn’t pack it correctly. Then again, we’ve bought glass from eBay that was well packed and it showed up just fine. This is definitely your call but it’s also the riskiest option in our opinion. Be sure to pay attention to the details! In general you’re going to have better luck with smaller pieces being shipped, like the rear quarter glass and vent window glass, versus larger pieces.
Otherwise you may just have to pony up and pay for new glass from a replacement shop. For a daily driver this can be expensive but may be the only option for things like the windshield and rear glass. For show-quality cars, NOS original glass is preferred but even new, non-OEM glass can help with points in judged shows, even if the judges know the glass has been replaced. We’ve had our fair share of experience with this.
If you have a small nick in the windshield or a scratch in the side glass, a shop may have the ability to simply repair these issues without having to replace the glass. For the windshield, so long as the nick is not going to spread and is in just the outer layer, a clear fill can be applied and it’s almost impossible to tell it’s there when done properly. Any scratches can be buffed out, similar to a car’s paint finish, using special compound and a small-head specialty buffer. Either of these methods can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Be sure to check with a reputable local glass shop to see if these methods are suitable to your vehicle.
We are big fans of using a clay bar on glass, just like you would on the car’s paint finish. The same principle applies to glass, so why not? This helps keep contaminants off the glass for easier cleaning, and also helps repel rain. Speaking of, products like Rain-X seem to be alright but they don’t last very long due to exposure to the elements. Regardless, it has to be applied to clean glass that’s free of contaminants in order for it to be the most effective. But the clay bar method plus Rain-X is a great solution. You’ll almost hope for rain to watch the water bead up and slick right off!
Otherwise, occasional cleaning inside and out with a soft cloth or microfiber cloth and good cleaner is enough to maintain the glass. Using a cleaner with alcohol (i.e. Windex) is your call…sometimes it can affect the tinting or shading or leave streaks. We’ve had great luck with Stoner’s Invisible Glass over the years. Also, you can ask your local glass shop what they’d recommend for good, long-term care of your car’s glass.
Window Trim Restoration
For a lot of situations, the window trim may not have to be removed from the car in order to refinish it. We’ve seen people tape off the glass and paint surrounding the trim, and then work on the trim itself, which is great if it works out that way. Otherwise it may have to get removed…and that is where a lot of people get nervous. And rightly so, as it’s incredibly easy to crack the glass if you’re not careful. There are some plastic or rubber-based trim removal tools on the market that take some of the anxiety out of this. But if you’re still uncertain, a good glass replacement shop will be able to pop the trim off (and on) for you for a minimal fee.
Generally speaking, removal of the window trim on a Fox Cougar involves the following:
- WINDSHIELD TRIM — The two A-pillar pieces are held in by two small screws apiece, and usually some windshield adhesive. They should come off fairly easily. The topmost trim piece is held in by clips.
- DOOR TRIM — The mirror must be removed to access screws for the uppermost trim piece. It’s generally clipped in. The bottom piece with the weatherstripping usually has one aluminum nut on the end by the B-pillar and is generally clipped in. This means you should be able to remove it by gently pulling and twisting. The clips are built into the trim piece. Sometimes it’s necessary to remove the B-pillar door trim to access the pieces more easily. The vent window trim on 1983-86 optioned cars is part of the vent window assembly and isn’t easily separated; refinishing will require the assembly to stay on the car.
- REAR QUARTER WINDOW — For the earlier (1983-86) cars, the B-pillar post trim needs removed. The C-shaped trim is clipped in but can sometimes be removed without a shop’s help. The later (1987-88) cars had their trim built into the window assembly and is not easily removed by itself. The entire window assembly would need to come out.
- REAR WINDOW TRIM — All sections use the same type of clips as the top of the windshield trim.
Window Trim, Base & LS Models
The aluminum trim used on 1983-86 base (GS) and LS models was chromed. This ensured a very long life and a nice, bright finish that withstood Mother Nature fairly well. We’d love to say it was revolutionary but its roots go back to the 1960s. There really isn’t that much difference in trim between muscle cars and these cars, in all honesty. They attach the same way and they look almost the same.
In general, any light scratches can be removed with steel wool or very light (1000-grit or higher) sandpaper, then carefully hand buffed to a shine using a good finishing compound. Deeper scratches are going to take a lot more effort.
We do not recommend using a buffing wheel because that can—and will—easily remove the factory chrome coating. This leaves the bare aluminum exposed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will cause the aluminum to dull up a lot quicker and require much more maintenance in the long run. Any effort to keep the factory chrome intact should be attempted first. You will definitely be able to tell when the chrome is removed, as the difference in shine is apparent.
Should you need to have your aluminum trim pieces rechromed, it may be best to have the chrome shop strip the old finish, as they’ll have the technique and equipment to do so properly. Comparatively-speaking, the aluminum trim on these cars is thinner than some older cars, meaning there’s a higher chance of warping if not careful with prep work.
Window Trim, 1984-86 XR7 Model
While brand-new XR7 models got painted window trim, it was evident that, not long after the cars were on the road for a few years, a few shortcuts were taken by either Ford or its trim supplier. Peeling, chipping, and flaking paint was a common problem. The paint was applied directly over the chrome trim with seemingly no adhesion promoter or etching, which meant the paint was very fragile from the start, and time has only compounded the issues.
If your XR7’s paint is flaking off, there really is no other good solution to fix the issue other than stripping the paint and repainting the trim. If it helps, finding good, used, non-XR7 trim might be a better starting point, rather than trying to refurbish yours. However, you may be able to reuse your trim by cleaning off the old paint with lacquer thinner and a lot of scrubbing. But that can be a ton of work.
We’ve found through the years that sandblasting the trim greatly helps with paint adhesion. It needs to be hit with the sand from a greater distance so that the surface doesn’t warp from excessive heat, and the surface should be evenly dull with no shine when blasted properly (media blasting may or may not produce a similar result; consult your local professional before attempting that). The key is to get the surface properly knocked down enough for paint to adhere; you don’t necessarily have to break through the chrome to get this accomplished.
After that’s done, a light sanding (400+ grit) and degreasing will get the metal ready for paint. You may want to consider using a self-etching primer on all surfaces, as that will nicely cover the metal and possibly fill in any imperfections, plus it will provide a permanent base for the paint.
As for the paint, your trim is not black. It is technically a very dark charcoal that Ford called “Blackout Grey”.
We have an extensive thread on the message board about the intricacies of the paint, if you’re so inclined.
But long story short…
Pre-bought spray paint:
SEM 39163 looks to be a very good match.
Mixed at auto paint stores:
PPG (Flat Gray) – 33717
PPG (Dark Gray) – 33696
DuPont (Blackout Grey) – C8436
The finish should not be totally flat; there should be a hint of a shine, more like a flatter satin finish. There should be no clearcoat involved to be technically correct. Once it’s dry and reinstalled, your trim should last much longer than it did from the factory. It should not be waxed but just gently cleaned with soap and water (no chemicals or powerful cleaners).
The B-pillar trim on all 1983-86 cars was a dark charcoal, not black. The 1983 cars and all 1984-86 LS models had a thin chrome (“bright”) accent strip; all other models had a solid panel (Turbo Coupes had an additional fluted accent panel pop-riveted to the B-pillar panels).
To remove the B-pillar trim on the car side, remove the two screws shown here and move the weatherstripping over. The panel just comes out with no additional screws or clips. On the door side, roll the window down and open the door. Pull the trim panel toward the outside of the door and pull out to clear the back clip, then push the panel forward to clear the front clip. It’s a little tricky but you’ll get it.
Refinishing the B-pillar trim isn’t difficult and is, in fact, something you can rather easily do yourself. It usually involves light scuffing, degreasing, and then using a quality spray paint. There should be zero-to-minimal shine to the B-pillars. We would recommend using SEM #39163 spray paint for the correct color and finish. Since it’s rather easy to remove the B-pillar trim from both the door and the body, this is something you can do off the car—no masking involved. Care and maintenance involves simply washing with soap and water; we do not recommend waxing or harsh cleaners.
Window Trim (LS, XR7, 20th Anniversary)
With the new flush glass layout for the updated 1987-88 models, the window trim is a little more complex than the earlier cars in that it’s flatter, but not so much that they cannot be restored easily.
Ford shifted the color over to a true satin black for this trim, technically called “Midnight Smoke”. The LS models had a chrome (“bright”) accent strip throughout all window trim. The XR7 and 20th Anniversary Cougar models had this section painted. Whatever Ford prescribed from the supplier seemed to work: there is much less paint flaking and peeling on this trim, and it holds up much better over time. It does seem to fade a bit, but that’s still better than dealing with chipped paint.
We’ve found SEM Trim Black (#39143) to be the perfect match in color and finish. It is lacquer so it’s easy to apply and lasts very well over time; some of the panels we’ve painted over 15 years ago still look fantastic.
Prep work is generally about the same as with earlier cars. A light scuffing with a red Scotch-Brite pad should be all that’s needed to prep the old paint, which you’ll now use as a kind of “primer” for the new paint. After dust removal and degreaser, the surface is ready for paint. Owners of LS models will want to mask off the chrome accent section before the paint is applied. The SEM paint sprays like a dream and after several coats, you’ll be amazed at the finish and quality.
All of this can be done with the trim on the car. In most cases there won’t be a need to remove it, as you can easily tape off the glass and paint on the car around the trim. Due to the C-pillar trim being part of the glass assembly for these two model years, taping around this trim is actually preferred. Additionally, the B-pillar trim doesn’t need to be removed; it’s a bit more difficult to do that, so best to leave it on the car if possible. Most people report that this can all be prepped, sanded, and painted in a single day, typically taking a few hours from start to finish.
1983-88, ALL MODELS
Windshield Cowl Trim
Above: 1983-84 Cougar/Thunderbird cowl trim bolt, passenger side.
Above: 1983-84 Cougar/Thunderbird cowl trim bolt, driver’s side.
The lower windshield cowl trim panel, upon which the windshield wipers rest, is a related panel that often sees fading and peeling. Therefore you may wish to restore this as well.
On earlier cars (at least 1983-84 but possibly later), the metal panel was coated from the factory with some type of bonding paint that loved to peel off in sections. The peeling would start at the edges and continue to work its way across the whole of the surface. This would allow water to collect and further peel the paint as well as promote premature rusting. We have found very few factory 1983-84 panels to be in good shape after 30+ years. They typically rust to the point where they cannot be reused.
Fortunately Ford fixed the issue eventually. At least the 1987-88 cowl panels (possibly earlier) had what seemed to be a powdercoated finish that lasts longer and virtually eliminates the peeling issue. Not that they cannot rust, but rusting is much less of an issue than before.
It is possible to replace an earlier panel with a later one, as the design was generally the same between all 1983-88 cars. The only real difference is that earlier cars had two additional small screws at the bottom, where later ones did not. By drilling out those holes you can use a 1987 panel on a 1984, for example, and be technically correct.
Prep work for paint is exactly like all other painted window trim panels: red Scotch-Brite pad, degreasing, and a good primer (epoxy primer is probably the wisest choice here). For the finish, the panel was a flat black and you can indeed use the same SEM Trim Black paint on this panel with great results.
If you’re so inclined and wish to go even further, the panel can instead be media blasted and powdercoated in a flat black for additional rust protection. This would closely approximate the factory finish and method and therefore would be considered correct for the vehicle.
We are unsure if a Lincoln Mark VII panel works, but it may be possible since we shared windshields and cowls with that car as well.
Window Trim Clips
The clips that hold the trim around the top of the windshield and back window to the body are sometimes difficult to find new, and at the Ford dealer. However, we’ve spotted them on eBay in recent years and they’re not that expensive. The same clips were used for both the windshield and rear window trim. If yours are still in good shape then you can reuse them, but if they’ve rusted or split, then it’s just as well to get new ones.
Vent Window Restoration
Special thanks to Zach for writing this article.
The factory vent windows found in 1983-86 Cougars and Thunderbirds are some of the nicest options to have. As you may expect, though, over time the mechanism can wear out. If one or both of the latches on your vent windows have excessive wobble or “play,” we have just the answer.
IMPORTANT: Even though this appears to be a safe approach, there is always the chance of shattering the glass. Always take your time and use caution.
I got tired of the wobble in my vent window latches. Not only did it keep the window from sealing properly, but it led to increased noise at highway speeds.
Start by removing the clevis pin from the latch (some models may have an Allen set screw). While your first idea may be to hammer out the pin, we recommend against it (for obvious reasons).
My technique is to take a nail or a pop rivet and force the pin out with pressure. By propping the rivet in the wire cutter opening on the pliers, I was able to have a reasonably sturdy method for pushing out the pin. You will want to use two hands for this.
Once the pin has been pushed far enough, the latch should come right off. Do this slowly, as there is a spring that will now be loose inside. Mine was covered in grease, so it stayed in the bolt hole of the main screw.
I suppose they had a good reason to grease it up, so you may consider adding some if yours is dry. It looks to be fairly heavy stuff.
Once you remove the spring, you will notice that the hole in which it resides will accept an allen wrench. I believe it is a 7mm, but I used a Torx T-50 and it worked just fine. You may also notice how loose the entire assembly is. Soon it will be nice and tight.
I was going to tighten the bolt and put it back together, but I decided to try something. I thought some Teflon tape may help it from backing out in the future. After applying the Teflon tape, I threaded it back in and used the T-50 to gently tighten it. I can’t imagine using more than 10 ft lbs on this thing… maybe much less. You may want to crank it down, but the risk for breaking the glass is just too strong. Then just put the latch back together and enjoy your whistle-free windows!
Here is a shop manual scan of vent window removal and replacement.
If your vent window itself is loose, it could be the hinge spring tensioner.
The passenger vent window on my car was loose when I bought it. I could open it up, but as soon as the car began to move the wind would just blow it shut. It wasn’t a very effective “vent” window at this point.
After pulling the door panels and comparing the two windows, I saw that the passenger window was missing its spring hardware on the hinge bolt. This consists of a small spring (looks like the spring on the inner door handle mechanism, but it isn’t), a retaining washer, and a nut.
After many years’ use, the nut must back down the threads and shoot inside the door cavity, taking the spring and washer with it. These parts were totally missing from the passenger door in my car.
I found an ’85 Thunderbird at the boneyard which had vent windows. The glass was missing on one frame, so it was the ideal candidate for experimentation.
I discovered one major thing: It is possible to remove/install this spring hardware without breaking the glass. However, this pertains to the ’85 Thunderbird and ’86 Cougar that I worked on. I can assume that the ’83 and ’84 cars are identical, but I cannot guarantee it. I don’t want anybody to break their glass!
I took a 1/2″ wrench and worked my arm through the upper part of the door through one of the big holes. This put my hand/wrench right at the nut on the vent window hinge bolt. By sliding the box-end wrench on and off of the nut, I was able to simply rotate the vent window with my other hand and remove the nut.
The window became easier to move back and forth. Eventually, the spring became loose on the bolt, but there were still some threads left for the nut. This meant that the nut wouldn’t violently shoot off when it reached the end of its thread.
Installing the spring, washer and nut on the ’86 was just as easy. I assembled it all by hand and started the threads. Then, using the box-end on the nut, I simply moved the vent window back and forth to tighten the whole assembly. Because this technique mimics the window’s normal operation, the chance of stressing the frame is minimal. You can simply move it back and forth until it feels tight enough.
NOTE: You may want to use some grease on the bolt-to-door joint, as well as the retaining washer. Once I got the required tension on the hinge, the window screamed like a banshee. I guess all those years of being loose allowed some rust to get in there!
Nearly all of the bulbs used on the aero Fox Cougar/Thunderbird were halogen. When these cars were new, halogen was the big thing, and Ford used that type of bulb nearly everywhere. The main exception was the headlamps, where halogens were an option (but were standard with the optional System Sentry/”lamp out” system, where halogen lamps were required). These days it’s difficult to find a non-halogen bulb, which is actually a good thing. Halogen light is stronger, consistent, and the bulbs tend to last longer. The only downside is that they produce their fair share of heat. But for the most part, Ford allowed for all of this when they designed the lighting systems for our cars.
So it would be very easy for us to say, “Replace any burned out bulb in your car with a halogen replacement” and be done with it. While that’s completely true, we did want you to be aware of a few things first.
WHITER HALOGEN BULBS
In the last decade or so, we’ve seen a multitude of newer halogen bulb offerings that promise whiter light. Pioneered by Sylvania under the Silverstar brand name but equally relevant to other brands, this lighting has a coating on the outside that gives a slightly bluer casting. According to Sylvania, these bulbs last longer and give off a stronger light. We can attest to their claim, especially with headlamps, where typically we can use a little more help. Nearly every bulb in our cars can be replaced with a Silverstar equivalent, including 1987-88 headlamp bulbs. They are more costly (usually twice the cost of a regular halogen), which seems to be the only downside here. We find them to be a very good replacement “upgrade”, as they will give new life to your aging system and reward you with better visibility all around. We also feel that they wouldn’t penalize you when it comes to judging at car shows, if lighting is even checked. Be sure to use a quality name brand that you’ve heard of before, and make sure there’s a warranty in case of premature failure.
Yes, it’s very tempting to go with LED replacement bulbs. Yes, they’re plentiful and inexpensive on eBay. But after converting a couple of our own cars with LED lighting, we can say that at this point it’s not such an easy thing to do the correct way. The first issue is the type of lighting—not all LEDs give off the same type and quality of light as an incandescent or halogen bulb. LEDs tend to be directional, while the older bulbs are omnidirectional. This creates a big problem with things like taillight bulbs and turn signals that were designed by Ford to reflect light from an omnidirectional bulb. Any LED replacement needs to mimic the stock bulbs, or else you’ll see “hot spots” that will diminish the overall light quality and possibly safety.
Even with the right style of LED bulb (which we have found and used), the next issue is the overall brightness. While LEDs can be bright, not all of them will give you better light vs. your stock bulbs. A brightness rating of 5050 or higher is what you’ll need to look for. For things like the taillights, you will need to use red bulbs and not white ones. It’s a phenomenon unique to LED lighting but if you use a white bulb, the light output through the taillight lens will be pink and possibly not in the legal color range. As a general rule, you need to buy the same color LED as the lens it’s going into.
At this point in time, converting your Cougar to LED lighting is not such an easy thing to do the correct way.
The light range is also critical. As with LED bulbs for your home, the automotive versions also have a light range rating. Ideally, any LED bulb replacements for our cars should be in the 4500-5000K range. This gives off a warm, yellowish-white light that mimics incandescent or halogen lighting and ensures that everything lights up the way it was intended from the factory. The reality is that there aren’t a multitude of good, quality bulbs in this light range. You can use 6000K, which is a bright white that borders on blue, but things like the heater panel and some of the digital dash components may change colors when illuminated, which may not be desirable. In fact, some things are overpowered with 6000K bulbs.
And then there’s the quality issue. Sure, you may luck out and find a 10-pack of 194 bulbs in the 5000K range on eBay for dirt cheap. But even if they give out the same quality of light as a halogen 194 (which is unlikely), are they going to last? The theory is that LED bulbs last 20,000-50,000 hours. But cheap LEDs typically won’t. Many people report flickering, blinking, and premature failure with these cheap, off-brand bulbs. We have used a lot of Sylvania LEDs and can attest to their quality…but they’re only available in the 6000K range and up.
So until a quality name brand company starts producing reproduction-style LED bulbs in the 4500-5000K light range, we would suggest sticking with halogens for the time being, if you wish to maintain the stock lighting appearance throughout the car. We suspect that in the future, this will be a common upgrade for hot rodders and muscle car owners, so just sit tight until mankind gets this correct.
BULBS FOR DIGITAL GAUGES
Technically, Ford issued different instrument cluster bulbs for things like the digital speedometer illumination. These pointed halogen bulbs were very expensive when new. Typically these bulbs will be in a different colored bulb holder on the back of the cluster, usually light blue or sometimes red. Of course, Ford wanted you to replace that bulb with the same exact kind, but in reality you can easily substitute it with a regular 194 (or similar 168) bulb with zero difference in quality or illumination strength. There is no need to hunt one down on eBay or a Ford dealer anymore.
For 1983-86 cars, he stock-style 4×6 rectangular 4651(1A1) and 4656 (2A1) headlamps are still available for our cars. They are not as inexpensive as they once were, when nearly all cars used them, but at least you can get them.
For correctness, if your car did not have the halogen headlamp option, it may be a a little tougher for you to find a non-halogen headlamp new. Your best bet may be swap meets or even eBay or Amazon. However, at this point you can upgrade to halogen without penalty at judged car shows, as that is what was typically expected of cars from our era.
All halogen headlamps should have “HALOGEN” stamped in the middle of the glass section. All markings and fluting should be as original, complete with “DOT” in the glass. This is how the cars left the factory and how they should also be replaced if this is your desire. Other brands may have different lettering in the glass, such as Silverstars (“PERFORMANCE”). This may or may not be acceptable in serious judging and is your call. We know a few people that switch out headlamps specifically for these types of shows, so that’s something to consider. As long as you have four matching bulbs you should be alright.
Be sure to check the bulb reference chart page for reference when replacing. Please keep in mind that this information came directly from published Ford documents (owner’s manuals, EVTM manuals, shop manuals, etc.) but it may not reflect what’s actually in your bulb holder. We have annotated variations that we’ve found on those pages so that you won’t have to guess.
As with all halogen bulbs, any dirt or oil from your fingertips will shorten the life of the bulb. Be sure to use clean mechanics or rubber gloves when replacing them, and be sure to wipe off all excess dirt and oil before you’re finished replacing them.
Now you could replace the dash top panel (1983-84) or even the entire dash (1985-88) but considering there are no more suppliers for them, that’s an unlikely solution. Even if you’re lucky enough to find what you need, replacing a whole dashboard is a very daunting task. You could scour salvage yards, but that can be frustrating especially with older vehicles being virtually all crushed by now. And finding the correct color can be tough to boot.
One solution is a dash carpet overlay. You’ve seen these in magazines and in stores; they sit on your dash top like…well, like a rug. You can even get your initials monogrammed in the corner if you like. They’re relatively inexpensive at roughly $30-50 US. As far as looks, well, it’s all a matter of taste. But if you don’t have a lot of money to throw at fixing the dash, this gets the job done, that’s for sure.
Another is using a vinyl repair kit, which is very inexpensive. It’s a vinyl mixture to which you can add color to match your dash. You simply spread it on with a popsicle stick or equivalent spreader, press on a texture to match your dash’s grain, and let it air dry. If you have just one or two small cracks, then this might be your best bet. The hardest part is getting a color that matches. You almost have to be an artist to match some of these interior colors. Still, you can practice and usually get it pretty close. Doing a whole bunch of cracks with this method is impractical, though. And to be honest, it’s a test of your patience more than anything.
The most factory-looking, long term solution is a dash overlay. This is a preformed piece of plastic that is held onto the stock dash pad with adhesive. Companies such as DashTop.com and Accu-Form Plastics Inc. sell them. They also can pop up on eBay. You can usually order them in a color that’s very close to your stock dash top color; however, it’s sometimes difficult to tell what color is represented on the screen versus what it looks like on the product itself. The good news is that you can easily paint the cover yourself using color-matched interior paint from an auto paint store. There are usually options for pre-mixed spray paint with a decent range of colors (although you can always have custom colors mixed up if you wish).
The article below is written under the assumption that you’ve got some spray painting, sanding, prep, and application experience but even if you don’t, this is a fairly simple and straightforward project that only takes an hour or two of your time. As always, follow procedures for safe working conditions and proper ventilation. If you don’t feel that you can tackle this, you can always ask a body shop or repair shop if they can do it for you.
This, unfortunately, is a familiar sight to many owners of Cougars and Thunderbirds. Simply trying to install speakers by removing the covers will sometimes be enough to crack a perfectly good dashboard. Time and the degradation of the plastics used in the dashboard construction are taking their toll.
This is a before shot. The rest of it is fine, but the dash has cracked around the speakers.
The new cover from DashTops. Minor trimming is needed to fit the dash in the car, and also around the speaker grille openings on the underside. The trimming will become obvious once you pre-fit the cover to the car.
The cover needs to be prepped to accept paint. Here the cover is scuffed up with a red Scotch-Brite pad, making sure that all surfaces are covered.
Before painting, make sure the cover is placed on a flat surface to catch the overspray. The box that the cover is shipped in works perfectly. Wipe the surface down with wax/grease remover (Prep-Sol), or rubbing alcohol, to make sure all fingerprints, oils and dirt are removed.
The cover has now been painted with three coats of SEM interior paint. It is definitely one of the best paints you’ll ever use, and it covers amazingly well.
Close-up detail of the finished paint. Notice how the grain shows through beautifully.
While the paint is drying, you can remove your dash trim panels and speaker grilles to get ready for installation of the cover. You do not have to remove the side window demister covers. If you have the auto dim/delay feature then you should remove the cover in the center of the dash; otherwise you can leave it alone.
Apply the silicone to the underside of the dash cover as shown. Keep the silicone away from the edges. You’ll only have about 10-15 minutes before the silicone starts to harden up, so be quick about this.
The dash cover has been applied. Tape and phone books are holding the cover down, as gravity alone won’t be enough.
The SEM paint is so well made that you can apply good tape to it and it will not pull the paint from the surface. We highly recommend 3M tape as it is designed to pull cleanly from any surface. When applying the tape, be sure to pull the dash cover where needed.
Wedging match boxes between the dash and the cover helps tremendously.
After the silicone sets up (between 1 and 8 hours, depending on temperature and humidity) you can remove the tape and wedges. Then you can reinstall the dash trim pieces and button everything up.
Here is the fit and finish on the driver’s side. Note how well the cover fits around the side window demister.
A view from the top, around the driver’s side speaker grille. The minor trimming needed before painting now becomes obvious. If the trimming is not done, it will not be possible to remove the speaker grilles later on.
The same is true for the center dash cover. Note the fit and finish around the defroster vents.
The passenger side fitment.
The final product as seen from the passenger side. If nobody was ever told that there was a dash cover in the car, they’d probably never realize it.
Painting Your Interior
From the factory, almost all of your plastic interior panels are molded in a particular, consistent color. When scratched the color still shows through. This is a big advantage for durability and longevity. But you will need to use a quality interior paint to recover those panels. Some of the paints will even work on fabric (check with the manufacturer to confirm).
Interior paint is a simple and effective way to spruce up or change your interior color completely.
Before diving into this subject we must be brutally honest about interior paints. They work well…if the part is not in a high-use area. Sill plates and kick panels are constantly getting punished by shoes and as a result, they may need touched up every year. While not a major issue, it still is something that you need to realize. Remember that the paint simply sits on top of the stock panel; the color underneath is different from the top color in most cases. So a scratch or nick will show another color beneath it. There is no way to eliminate this so you will have to learn to just live with it. Always get more paint than you need for just these instances.
There are several different types of interior paint/dye on the market today:
Interior lacquer spray paint has come a long way in recent years, and we’re really happy with the paint made by Colorbond. What makes it different is the company’s claim that it bonds at the molecular level, hence the name. We found some online and after receiving some test cans of various colors, the first thing we painted was a Cougar 2-spoke sport steering wheel center. After the paint cured for a day, we attempted to scratch it off with keys—and the paint stayed put. Then we painted the entire steering wheel—normally a preposterous idea, due to the high usage of the wheel—and never once has any paint flaked off in our hands. In fact the Colorbond paint has held up extremely well in over 10 years of use. It works really well on all interior parts, like armrests, door pull straps, etc. as well as hard plastic surfaces. We can definitely recommend it, especially if you’re doing a complete color change. They also offer some extreme colors, as well as carpet dyes.
SEM offers interior trim paint at automotive paint stores or online. It is not cheap paint but is of very high quality. They offer a myriad interior shades, which is a big plus if you’re trying to match the stock color or maybe a sample of new seat material. In the last decade we’ve used plenty of SEM paints and can report that they truly do withstand the test of time. This paint is true lacquer, which means that the paint will be flexible and that drying time is very fast. We’ve used plenty of SEM paint on exterior surfaces and it’s never disappointed us. Recently they expanded their interior paint line and it should definitely be near or at the top of your supply list for interior refinishing.
Brad writes: “I am using VHT SP942 – Vinyl Dye Vinyl and Fabric Coating (Black Satin) and it is superb paint with outstanding wear factors. I am doing a complete color change to my interior on our Thunderbird using this brand only.” We here at COOL CATS have used VHT paint on a variety of surfaces and have no doubt that it would also be perfect for interiors. At this time we don’t have any color matches or correlations to factory colors, so this would be more of a whole-interior change kind of deal. If we ever find information on color matching with VHT paint we’ll be sure to pass it along.
Factory-style restoration paint can be found from companies such as Latemodel Restoration Supply. The cans are fairly inexpensive and best of all, they carry a decent amount of all the factory colors used in Fox Cougars and Thunderbirds, plus other Mustang-style colors that we never had. Paint quality is very high.
Factory colors for our cars:
- 1983-86 Canyon Red — Vinyl: MET-FV14 / Lacquer: MET-FL14
- 1987-88 Scarlet Red — Vinyl: MET-FV23 / Lacquer: MET-FL23
- 1983-85 Charcoal Grey — Vinyl: MET-FV19 / Lacquer: MET-FL19
- 1986-88 Smoke Grey — Vinyl: MET-FV24 / Lacquer: MET-FL24
- 1985-86 Regatta Blue — Vinyl: MET-FV37 / Lacquer: MET-FL37
One note of caution: some of the colors are not exact matches, despite having the correct name and/or factory color code. If you’re just touching up a few panels, this might be a deal breaker. But if you’re redoing the entire interior, then this is good quality paint and would do the job quite well. We’d suggest buying one can and testing it out to make sure it’s a close enough match to your car’s color.
Another offering is interior lacquer from Duplicolor. They have a wide range of colors and several viewers have reported that it looks great and holds up well. We haven’t tried any color matching with this brand yet but expect quality to be good. Duplicolor also offers fabric and carpeting paint as well.
Automotive interior lacquer can be mixed up by your local auto paint store. Common name brands are PPG and DuPont. You will need your car’s interior code from the door tag for the paint shop to match up that code to a year and color, then mix up however much you need. Even if you can’t get the code they have huge paint chip books that feature interior color samples. You can browse to your heart’s content and pick out that perfect color. Now keep in mind that auto interior lacquer is usually sprayed with a spray gun, and pints and quarts that need thinned or activated are the norm in this realm. It’s also become quite expensive in recent years. If that’s out of your league, some shops offer to put mixed-up paint into a spray can for you at a relatively inexpensive price. That would be the way to go, especially if touch-ups are ever needed. We have used plenty of PPG interior lacquer before and it works very well. Pricing depends on the color and what goes into making it.
PREPARATION & PAINTING
Before you go spraying away, you do have to know about prepping the panels first. Most hard plastic panels are ABS plastic, and all feature a grain embedded into the panel. If your panels have a lot of nicks or scratches, you’ll have to fill those in first or they’ll show. Body filler is commonly used; however, a smooth spot in the middle of a textured panel looks pretty noticeable. A simple vinyl repair kit usually has grain samples that you can press into the still-wet body filler to simulate the grain; even if the match isn’t perfect it’s better than nothing. Sometimes it’s easier just getting a better panel from the salvage yard or via eBay. Your call there. Rubbery parts that have broken or are torn can sometimes be fixed by the same aforementioned vinyl repair kits. Again, it may be easier to start with a better replacement panel.
Once you’ve got all the panels removed, you will need to knock down the shine a bit in order for the paint to stick. Using 600-grit sandpaper or a red Scotch-Brite pad, gently sand all panels (wet or dry, whichever is more comfortable to you). Remember to sand in just one direction; overlapped directions will show through and look bad. Once you’re done sanding, clean all panels with a quality degreaser. Everything must be very clean in order for the paint to stick. Once dry, you’re almost ready to spray.
Prior to paint we’d highly recommend using an adhesion promoter on the panels. This is a clear substance in a spray can, and when applied to the plastic, it stays a bit tacky. Basically the adhesion promoter will lessen the resistance between the new paint and the plastic. Some plastics do not hold paint well, like the polypropolene used in your radiator overflow bottle, and can actually resist the paint or make it bubble or “fisheye”. This promoter prevents that from happening. Once all panels have the promoter applied, then it’s time to spray the color coat.
Be sure to use good quality tape to mask off areas where you don’t want paint. We used green 3M tape found at the local auto paint shop.
Some finished panels after painting. The entire console was painted, as it had started to yellow due to age, and it was very noticeable compared to surrounding panels. The rear lower panel at the very left was not painted at all. The sail panel at upper right was simply touched up in the glass surround area, where the sun had faded the color; the rest of the panel was untouched. You can see that the finish is absolutely perfect for OEM quality. The PPG interior lacquer paint was applied using a touch-up spray gun at around 50psi.
This driver’s side kick panel had an inexplicable yellowing on the surface, as if delamination was occurring. Nothing was ever spilled on it, and it’s well protected from direct sunlight, so we have no explanation for this condition. The back of the panel was unaffected and the tail piece at the far left that goes under the door sill trim was still the correct color.
After sanding and painting, however, the panel is good as new and uniform in color.
Several thin coats of paint work best. Do not let the paint get too thick or it will run and give you headaches. Just be patient and make sure that the paint dries enough between coats (also known as a flash time). When you’re done painting, let the panels dry at least 24 hours before using them. Usually 48-72 hours are optimal. Top coating is usually not needed.
Seat Belt Restoration
Belt won’t retract
Latch won’t work properly
Cracked plastic sleeve
Worn/cut/frayed belt webbing
Part I: Removal
We imagine that most of you dread removing your seat belts, especially if you’ve never done it before. And that’s partially justified because it is definitely not the most fun thing to do…but it’s also not horrible if things go correctly. Here’s a quick guide to removing all of your seat belts from the car.
FRONT SEAT RECEPTACLES
Unlike the Mustang, our cars have seat belt receptacles bolted to the seat frame (the ‘Stang had theirs bolted to the driveshaft tunnel). You must therefore remove the seat, or at least get it tipped over, in order to get to the receptacle.
A top view of the front driver’s seat belt receptacle bolted to the seat frame.
After removing any plastic caps from the seat frame with Philips screws, a combination of metric bolts and nuts hold the seat to the floor. Here is a view of the front passenger seat, front view.
The rear seat bolt covers, passenger side.
The seat bolt covers removed, exposing the bolts or nuts holding the seat to the floor. There are 4 total, 2 front, 2 rear.
With all of the bolts and nuts removed, the seat can be pulled off the floorpan and flipped down or removed completely from the vehicle (note: if you have a power seat track, power lumbar, or both, you will need to disconnect the wiring harnesses for those if you want to completely remove the seat from the car). On the bottom of the receptacle there is one T-50 Torx bolt holding it to the seat frame; remove that and it’s free. On the driver’s side there is an additional harness that must be removed—that is the seat belt reminder chime wire.
The belt mechanism for the front occupants is tucked away inside the rear lower trim panel of the car. To get to it, you need to remove the seat belt components in this order:
First remove the colored cap from the top of the belt holder in the B-pillar area.
Remove the single T-50 Torx bolt.
Then remove the single T-50 Torx bolt from the rear sill area. This loosens the belt from usage.
Remove the plastic colored seat belt retainer ring from the top of the panel (it is slotted so you can slip it over the belt). After it’s removed, you can slip the end of the belt through the slot so you can completely remove the sail panel.
Next, remove all Philips screws from the upper sail panel, including the coat hook and the panel over the door opening. The sail panel should be freed up; remove it from the car carefully, taking caution not to scratch any seating or gouge the headliner. Then remove the rear seat bottom cushion (see below). Proceed to remove the Philips screws from the rear lower trim panel. Once removed, you will see the seat belt mechanism bolted to a mounting bracket. Remove the single T-50 Torx bolt and the mechanism is free.
Incidentally, it is not really possible to use a Fox Mustang front seat belt mechanism in our cars due to that mounting bracket. The belts must be from a Cougar, Thunderbird or Mark VII.
REAR BELTS AND RECEPTACLES
Remove the rear seat cushion by pushing in on the front face, while simultaneously pulling up on the back part. It’s tricky but be patient. Once the seat cusion is out you will see the belts bolted to the underseat floorpan, including the center receptacles. Two of the bolts will also hold the top of the rear seat down. The bolts, again, are T-50 Torx. The trickiest part is if these bolts were never removed…they will require patience, probably an impact driver, and lots of T-50 bits. Since the bolts go through the floorpan, they are exposed on the underside and are succeptable to corrosion, road salt, water, etc. and have a strong tendency to rust themselves into the floorpan. Sometimes a good overnight soaking with penetrating oil will help.
If all else fails, you will need to heat up the bolts from the underside of the car with an acetylene torch (a common propane torch won’t generate enough heat). Please BE CAREFULas fuel lines run right by the passenger side seat bolts. It’s easier to have someone heat the bolts up as you are in the car turning the bolts. Be sure to have a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water handy, in case any of the insulation catches fire.
Once the bolts are removed, be sure to coat them heavily with anti-seize compound before reinstallation.
Part II: Appearance
Your seat belts might function just fine but just need a good cleaning. We’ve found that removing the belts and soaking them overnight in a solution of Simple Green and water does a fantastic job. You will need to extend out the belts, hang them up on something (wire hanger on a garage door track is good), and use a stiff bristle brush to work out the dirt and grime. Let them air dry, preferably in the sun, and you’re good to go. Repeat if necessary. Of course, if the color has faded, a cleaning won’t help much, but you can paint them.
Also, if you need the various plastic or metal covers associated with the seat belts, such as the seat belt bucket plastic cover, they are the same parts used in other Ford vehicles from the era, including Fox Mustangs. You can obtain those parts from Late Model Restoration or Fox Mustang Restoration. You may need to paint the parts to match your interior.
Part III: Cracked Sleeves
While there are no known Cougar/Thunderbird specific seat belt replacement sleeves, it is perfectly fine to use Fox Mustang sleeves which are so common in the Mustang aftermarket. We have also heard that you can use Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis sleeves.
Shown here are a mid-1980s Fox Mustang seat belt receptacle (left side, blue), and the correct 1987-88 Cougar/Thunderbird receptacle (right side, grey) for comparison. The bottom mounting holes are aligned to show differences in height. It is possible to use the Mustang receptacle in a Cougar/T-Bird if you use a longer sleeve cover, such as the ones depicted below.
These sleeve covers are commonly available in the Fox Mustang world and will work great on your stock belt receptacles. They are molding in common colors (including some found in our cars) but can be painted to match. The textured finish holds paint just great. Note that in kits such as the one shown here, you also get sleeves for the back part of the belt that attaches to the rear sill area. These sleeves are not 100% correct for our cars but if that doesn’t matter, they are perfect (and inexpensive) solutions.
Be aware that there are two different seat tracks for our cars. The earlier track, shown here at the top, was found in 1983-85 cars, and most 1986 vehicles. Note the single bolt hole. The later track, bottom, was found in 1987-88 cars and features a slot underneath the bolt hole.
A closer look at both seat tracks. The receptacles for 1987-88 cars had an extra metal tang that fit into the seat track slot. This was to keep the belts from rotating, an issue sometimes found on the earlier seat belt receptacles. You can use a belt without a tang on these later tracks should you need to; simply tighten down the bolt a bit more (use anti-seize compound on the bolt though). Likewise, you can use a later belt receptacle on an earlier seat track by simply bending down the tang.
Part IV: Total Belt Restoration
There are several companies that can restore your old belts or even sell you new belts. Keep in mind that this is very expensive. However, it is as accurate as possible, even with some of the oddball colors our interiors had, with all correct reproduction parts used.
We’ve seen the belts offered by Ssnake-Oyl in person, and they are 100% correct for our cars. While there are others in the business that we’re sure are just fine, the quality of Ssnake-Oyl’s products speak for themselves. They’re one of the biggest companies doing this, and for good reason. Again, it’s not going to be cheap but it will be correct.