The Thunderbird is back, $560 later. Gone, blender-like sometimes-starter. I carried the thing back to Pep Boys and they gave me a nice shiny new one to carry back to Brothers 3 to install. Damn, that is one heavy piece of equipment. About 9" long and about 4" in diameter and it must weigh about ten pounds. Now it fires up like a new car. Not so bad.
They also replaced two soft core plugs on the back of the engine block. Engine blocks are cast (mostly of iron, but more expensive or recent cars, of aluminum) and have hollow passages inside them, mostly for the water jacket that cools the engine, and also for oil. In order to cast such a shape, the hollows on the inside are filled with cores that have to be connected to the outside through these holes. When the engine is assembled, these holes are filled with soft-metal plugs. They're sometimes called 'freeze plugs' out of a mistaken idea that they're there to save the engine if the water inside freezes; generally, they won't do this. Well, after 30-something years, they can be working just a little loose and corroding a little, and mine were seeping water. Not good.
All the above set me back $160; making up the rest was a reconditioned radiator. Being an old design, it's hard to get a good-condition replacement, and it's a very large and wide radiator, so instead they 'recore' the radiator; this basically involves keeping the end tanks and replacing everything in between. This was needed because the old one was sporadically leaking. Sporadically is bad, because it means that the radiator's so clogged up that the stuff just shifts and plugs the holes. All that crud inside the radiator means it's not cooling all that well, either. Not much of the water's getting close to the metal to transfer heat. Not cooling all that well means, ultimately, ruining the engine and transmission -- especially the latter, and since I just got a new $1200 transmission done, not all that desirable.
Of course, taking an old car to the shop means adding a new list of recommended fixes. Front suspension fixes are up there; critical is a rubber bushing on the upper A-arm that's actually pretty much broken up and fallen off. That's a $100 fix and that's definitely on the list next time I'm there. Bad news is that the oil leak is largely coming from the intake manifold gasket being worn out, and replacing that is about $450, because of the amount of stuff they have to take off and put back. Oh well, I can just keep pouring oil in it for the short term. Also turns out I don't just have one broken-off manifold bolt, I have at least three, two on the passenger side and one on the driver's. Busted manifold bolts and lack of sealing there is just endemic in Ford FE-engined big block cars. That's about $300 to fix as much as they can fix without taking off the cylinder heads -- sometimes required to drill-out broken manifold bolts. So that's about $750-plus of engine fixes -- and that's before they take off the rocker covers and tell me more stuff needs done, I bet. I'm starting to wonder if an engine rebuild is a longer-term economy - about $2000-$2500 including removal and re-installation. That would cover both of the above repairs plus a lot more I'm sure the engine needs, and I'm sure it's cheaper than doing it piece-by-piece. Hopefully tax-refund time will help out there.
Still not reached that fateful 'Spent more on fixing it than I spent on buying it' point, but it's getting closer. Purchase price: $3500. Repair costs thus far: about $2500. Current value of the car: about $4000. Of course, that doesn't count the fun value, which has been immeasurable.