This might be a lengthy, but very worthy post for all of you. It should give you more insight into how our Thunderbirds, and other Ford, and Lincoln cars were processed through the Wixom plant.
But first, let me explain how this post came about. After Greg Prince ~ trim code 76, posted the information regarding his '60 Tbird possibly being and now, by all indications, the last 1960 Tbird off the line, several of us got busy trying to gather more information. We also were trying to find out how we could go about getting Ford to confirm this for us. During this time, Cathie ~ Coral, made contact with John Gunnell of "40 Years Of Thunder" and also "The Standard Catalog of Thunderbirds" fame. John Gunnell advised us to contact Phil Skinner, who he thought would be very interested in this "Last day, last car" report. Thank you, Cathie, for the great detective work!
So I contacted him regarding Greg's Tbird and sent him the web page about it. Phil Skinner, of Kelley Blue Book's Collector Car Market Editor fame, is an author, dataplate decoding and automobile production statistics guru, an Edsel owner and runs the Edsel website http://www.edsel.com/
. What he has to say will give you expert insight into how our Tbirds were processed through the Wixom production line. It should also settle some old stories that have been going around for years. The following is provided you with his permission. In fact, he might join us on Squarebirds. If he does, I am sure you will make him very welcome. He lives in southern California. This is what he has had to say.
"One word: WOW!
Thank you for contacting me. I have always found the Square Bird fascinating. My main point of interest is Edsel and I have done some extensive research into the production of these cars. In going through the archives in Dearborn, I often find production records, to a degree, for other models. A few years back I found the daily production records for Wixom’s 1960 model year run. That year both Lincolns and T-birds came off the line at the same time. I don’t have those figures in front of me, but it was something on the order of about 120-130 Lincoln/Continentals every day, and about 200-210 T-birds.
However, Lincolns did an early build-out (for extensive re-tooling for ’61 models, more likely because those canted-eyed beasts were hard to sell). After Lincoln production came to an end, T-bird production continued and daily rates were bumped up to about 250-300 cars per day.
Now one problem that this car has is its unit sequence number, 92744. Total T-bird production for 1960 was recorded at 92,798, so this car would look to be about 54 cars short of the end, right? Wrong
, in automotive production, back then as it is today, cars rarely if ever come down the line in unit sequence order. I have never really been able to make a full explanation of how the production orders are planned except to say, take 300 individual numbered blocks, throw them in a bucket, mix them up, and start pulling out the numbers. In the random order they are pulled is how they come down the production line. Now in the world of automobiles, there is a lot more to it than that, but that is a short version. (As for odd unit numbers, in the world of Edsel I have two major unresolved issues, first with the 1960 Edsel, I use to have a sedan that’s unit sequence was 703194, I have a friend with a convertible, 703193. Total production for the 1960 Edsel was 2,846. So why the higher numbers? In researching I found they actually skipped over several chunks of numbers. I can give you more to ponder on this issue, but you are a T-bird kind of guy. The other problem is 1959 (Edsel) production which shows 44,891 units produced, but the highest unit number is suppose to be 44822 (according to the National Auto Theft Bureau records). Where are the missing 69 units?) BTW, this same book shows that the highest unit number for 1960 T-bird was 92843, a total of 99 units after this one.
One piece of evidence that might be located would be the “broadcast form”. This is a piece of paper, a form mind you, that had about a dozen copies produced and sent out to various areas of the assembly plant such as body build-up, chassis build up (I know T-bird was unibody at the time), dashboard build-up and soft trim. This form has the car’s serial number and all of the information from the data plate, along with items like springs, wheels, factory accessories, etc. Most importantly for the line-workers was the Rot. No., or rotation number. This is the only number a line worker cared about for it showed where this car was to be placed in the production line. There are several places this form might be located, most commonly found are in the springs of the rear seat lower cushion. Sometimes attached to the door panel. They have been found stuffed up under the dashboard and on top of the gas tank! Unfortunately, the paper used was the cheapest newsprint available and these forms get dry, brittle and can literally disintegrate. If one is found, with the ease of digital photography, I would advise capturing its image before try to extricate it from the car. (I have rescued a few of these, a wealth of information). This form may have a note that it was last car of the run.
I have talked w/production planners, the people who decided where in the run the car would go and found out there was a method to their madness. One of the tricks was to have the darker colored cars set for early in the day. This was because when being painted there was a lower amount of debris floating in the air. So lighter color cars would be kept towards the end of the day. (Gee, silver qualifies as a light color!).
I am not doubting that this may be the last 1960 T-bird. I would say those markings are very interesting, to say the least. Were these marking found anywhere else, on other interior trim items?
I know the story of the lady with the T-bird paper work. What she had was not the broadcast forms, but they were the shipping invoices retained by the company. The story goes that somewhere around 1971 or 72, Ford was cleaning out the files and tossing all the invoices for the production at Dearborn. They had gone through most of 1955 when the lady found out about what was happening and asked if she could retrieve the T-birds. Someone at Ford said yes, but that she would have to take all the production and weed out the birds by herself. Can you imagine was 100,000 invoices must have been like. Then when they started to pull the 1956 invoices she took all of them, over 250,000 (a quarter million) to sort through! Finally in 1957, another batch and another near 200,000 to sort through. With the 1957’s she also pulled out full-size Fords with the F and E engine codes.
Note by Ray: Unfortunately, the ROT or Build Sheets for the Squarebirds were lost. The company who bought the records from her family does not have the records for the Squarebirds. No one, to my knowledge, knows where they are.
Later, when Wixom started to toss their invoices, she acquired the same for the 1962-1963 Sports Roadsters and I think M-code cars in general. Unfortunately from an historian’s point of view, all the other production info was lost.
As for the placement of broadcast forms in the cars, they were left in or on the cars because it was simply easier! From existing photos of line-production work, these can be seen in the photos. I have even seen one photo that was clear enough to read the details on the form . On some assemblies like engine and chassis build-up, the form was taped to the item. At the end of the line these were torn off and tossed. The ones in the seat cushions, stuffed into the dash assemblies, on top of the gas tank, they were effectively out of sight, so they were left were they were, as it was just easier.
A couple of years ago I had an especially rare treat. A friend of mine had after-hours access to the Wixom assembly plant. We had full run of the place. The main reason we went was to visit the GT production line, which was in a building by itself. The cars were all hand assembled, and moved from station to station by hand (except for the trim out and work performed by Saleen). My friend is a “numbers” guy and when gearing up for GT production made an arrangement with the project manager to get the line sheets from each car. These were the modern incarnation of the broadcast form. It had everything on them. Today, he has kept this entire run safe and secure, when the time comes, he will have the ultimate research tool.
Anyway, while there, we walked the line where the Town Cars were being built. On that day, I spotted cars with unit numbers over 1,000 apart! Another thing we have, on the last day of production of the 2005 T-birds, my friend came in before the shift and got the VINs of the last day’s production. The only car with a production number in line properly was the last unit, and that car had been ear-marked as going to a member of the Ford Family. (We have those tucked away for posterity).
I am very interested in data plate information. I believe I saw some refer to a 1960 T-bird as having a DSO number in the patent number area of his data plate. That was a common practice for vehicles with Dealer Special Orders. (Hmmm, DSO!).
In 1962, the data plates were reconfigured and had a space for the DSO, which in that case was the District Sales Office indicator. The space was there from the start of production but it wasn’t until the Spring of ’62 that the assembly plants started to use it. The District sales office numbers were first seen on data plates in the early part of the 1957 model year often as part of the Production Code entry, which included the date and so on. (A whole different subject). After the DSO entries were used a special order would have four digits on the plate after the DSO like 721234. I have followed these and come up with some interesting finds.
Most of the special orders deal with non-catalog colors. Up to 1960, full size Fords used the letter S to indicate a custom or special mix. (I think 1960 Thunderbird had a color code S).
Collector Car Market Editor
Kelley Blue Book kbb.com"
So there you have Phil's comments. I hope that he will provide us with more historical information regarding our 1958-1966 Tbirds as we correspond. This is information you might want to save for your records.