I'm looking at a 79 T-Bird. It's been sitting in a barn for a while, but it is very solid. Drove it a bit, and it runs through the gears fine. Until reverse. It feels like it grinds in reverse, and sometimes has trouble reversing uphill. Is it the tranny, or maybe just funky fluid or clogged filter? Has a small gasket leak. Maybe a clogged cat? Really want a LTD body T-Bird, but the problem with reverse is making me wary of this otherwise nice car.

Jason Warren

Asked by May 15, 2013 at 03:18 PM about the 1979 Ford Thunderbird

Question type: Maintenance & Repair

Car has <100k miles and has full tranny fluid.

5 Answers

Tom Demyan

Hard to say where I'm sitting, have it looked at by your local mechanic before purchasing on an estimate to repair.

1 out of 1 people think this is helpful.

It sounds like the tranny will need a rebuild either way. Whether it's got burnt reverse clutches in the trans or just clogged up, the car has obviously been sitting a long time and after that the tranny will need to be gone thru anyway or you might tear up more clutches driving it like that. If the price is right, I would buy the car and just have the trans rebuilt. A '79 T-Bird will either have a FMX or a C-4 automatic transmission. The Ford AOD overdrive tranny wasn't available back then. The regular 3 speed automatic transmissions are very simple to rebuild and can be done on a bench for about $150.00. Taken to a transmission shop will raise that price to about $450.00 for the labor to R&R it from the car but that's a whole lot cheaper than rebuilding a computer operated overdrive tranny at about $1500-$2000 so your barn find T-Bird is probably a good deal to take even with a bad tranny. These cars bring in from $1500 up to $10K depending on mileage, options.color and condition. I've had 4 of that style Birds over the years and they are very nice riding cars with not great but decent gas mileage. I also worked on the Ford assemblyline in Chicago, building the 1977-79 T-Birds so I know these cars like the back of my hand. Good Luck, Kenny/MrBlueOval

Michael Tutty

I've also had 4 of these Thunderbirds. They are terrific driving cars. I will have another one day soon. What engine is in the one you are looking at? Instead of rebuilding the 3 speed auto, I would get the mechanical AOD out of a late 80s F-150 and rebuild it. They cost no more than the 3 speed to rebuild. If you have a C-4, the only difference is you use the rear transmission mount on the frame, not the front. If you have the FMX or C-6, it uses the same mount on the frame. There is a kit available to connect the AOD to the old engine. Done right, with a few other minor upgrades, and you are looking at gas mileage in the mid-30s to the U.S. gallon, or a solid 40 to the Imperial gallon. You can upgrade further yet. One tip. Change the shocks if it has been sitting. The high pressure gas shocks from Ford work best and they are inexpensive and readily available. They are under $40 each at the local dealer. Last time I got a set, I had them in hand the next day.


If the car experiences a chugging motion going backward, and /or up inclines - check the flexdiscs on the driveshaft as well as the differential at the rear axle.

Michael Tutty

Question: What are flex discs? These driveshafts have u-joints at each end, and nothing more

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