Thunderbirds Through The Years

      Thunderbirds  Through  The  Years

This site is dedicated to the iconic Ford Thunderbird ,  and chronicles it's style and evolution through it's    production years between 1955 and 2005 .  So , for a trip through automotive history , please climb in , close the door , adjust your volume , read , relax and enjoy the experience that is Thunderbird !

                 1955    -  The  Legend  Is  Born

    It was 1954.  Rock & Roll was was just beginning as Bill Haley and the Comets had us rocking around the clock.  Younger drivers were  looking for something sportier to drive . Ford Motor Company had noticed that it's main rival Chevrolet , had opened up a whole new market segment with it's introduction of the Corvette back in 1953. Not wanting to miss out on this ''sports'' car market that younger potential buyers were now beginning to look at so for the 1955 model year, Ford stylists came up with a sleek , beautiful 2 seater called Thunderbird. It was V-8 powered , had a detachable roof panel and had a definite family resemblance to the '55 Fairlane which was newly styled that year and a very striking car in it's own right also.  Though inspired by, and positioned directly against, the Corvette, Ford billed the Thunderbird as a personal luxury car, putting a greater emphasis on the car's comfort and convenience       features rather than its inherent sportiness. Designations aside, the Thunderbird sold exceptionally well in its first year. In fact, the Thunderbird outsold the Corvette by more than 23-to-one for 1955 with 16,155 Thunderbirds sold against 700 Corvettes. Actor Clark Gable and singer Frank Sinatra  were among  the first to visit their Ford dealers & purchase one . This site will show  in pictures , how the T-bird style  has evolved & kept pace with  a changing America  ,  all through it's production  years .           



   1956 -   You  Don't  Mess  With   Success

 Ford knew they had a solid sales success  with the launch of T-bird , so any changes for 1956 were minimal  at best. The roof panel gained port hole windows and there were some slight ornamental &   trim changes and some new colors added. The continental kit was also added as an option . Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were tops in the music industry this year , and billonaire industrialist Howard Hughes, seeing  the  car's  Hollywood popularity, bought himself a coral colored one this year.  Actress Doris Day was another noteable owner.  The  1956 , a few years later ,would also become a movie star . It appeared in the  movie ''American Graffiti '' , driven by a then unknown actress , Suzanne Somers.    




  1957  -    Last Of  The  Original 2 - Seaters 


Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry were now topping the music charts as the new longer and lower 1957 Thunderbirds  appeared .  The Thunderbird was revised for 1957 with a reshaped front bumper, a larger grille and tailfins, and larger tail lamps. The 312 cu in (5.1 L) V8 became the Thunderbird's standard engine, and now produced 245 horsepower (183 kW). Other, even more powerful versions of the 312 cu in (5.1 L) V8 were available including one with two four-barrel Holley carburetors and another with a Paxton supercharger delivering 300 horsepower (220 kW). Though Ford was pleased to see sales of the Thunderbird rise to a record-breaking 21,380 units for 1957, company executives felt the car could do even better, leading to a substantial redesign of the car for 1958.  This years car Is really considered by many to be the most desireable of the early Thunderbirds .  In Hollywood , actor Nick Adams bought the '57 model . With the new tail fins , grilles , tailamps & bumpers , it was really a  gorgeous car. The '57 featured more trunk space , a commom complaint in the previous models.  The early 'Birds will always be known as timeless classics and are highly sought after  today .                           



      1958 to 1960 ...   The Square Birds

      The bean counters at Ford were looking for a way to make Thunderbird sales more profitable , so it was decided to add a rear seat .This added room and  would possibly entice some family sales. The new style was very posh and was luxurious looking and had added power and options  to  boost sales and lure traffic into the showrooms. Powering the Thunderbird was a new, 300 horsepower (220 kW) 352 cu in (5.8 L) FE V8, available with a 3-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Even though 1958 was a recession year ,  the car was a hit with the public as sales began to climb - just as Ford had hoped . This particular body style would be around until 1960 , and was very popular in celebrity circles Among the noteable owners of convertible.this body style were singers Phil and Don Everly , who each had a '58 convertible , actress Sandra Dee who purchased a '58 hardtop , and actress Lucille Ball who had a '59 convertible .






    1961 to 1963  ...   The Bullet Birds

  Ford  styling was heavily influenced by the jet age when the designers got to work on the '61 body style. It really resembled a jet fighter , ready for take off. From it's pointed prow to it's jet tube tailights , the new Bird was low,sleek and just looked fast even though standing still. A new engine, the 390 cu in (6.4 L) FE  V8, was the standard and only engine initially offered in the Thunderbird. The V8 produced 300 horsepower (220 kW) and was mated to a 3-speed automatic transmission. The new Thunderbird was immediately well received with 73,051 sold for 1961. The car was 1961's

       Indianapois 500 pace car  and was featured prominently in President John F. Kennedy's naugural parade, probably helped along by the appointment of Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary . A new feature this year was the swing away steering column ,

   it helped          allow for easier entry and exit. This body style would serve for '61-'63 with only minor trim changes. 1962 would bring out the Roadster version , which would even attract Elvis Presley as a buyer .1963 would add some body hood & fender creases to further enhance the bullet body.  









         1964 to 1966 ...  The  Flair  'Birds


 In  1964 , changes were everywhere. The Beatles had just invaded America , the Beach Boys and Motown ruled the airways and James Bond was  dominating the movie theaters . Thunderbird was becoming a celebrity all to it's own  , thanks to song references and movie appearance . For 1964 , Ford had totally re-styled their entire line up. The Galaxie , Fairlane and Falcon were all wearing new sheet metal. The Thunderbird was not to be outdone. Looking more like a jet aircraft  than ever before with its cockpit inspired instrument panel T-bird was completely re done . The 300 horsepower (220 kW) 390 cu in (6.4 L) FE V8 continued as the standard engine for the Thunderbird while a higher compression, 330 horsepower (250 kW) version of the engine was optional. Both V8s were paired with a 3-speed automatic transmission. For 1965, The Thunderbird became immortalized in the Beach Boys song ''Fun,Fun,Fun'' , and whereever there is a cruise night gathering today , and Thunderbirds are present - you will hear this song played there . Also in '65 , sequential turn signals were added, flashing the individual segments of the broad, horizontal tail lights in sequences from inside to outside to indicate a turn. Also new for 1965 were standard front disc brakes. Now completely a personal luxury car ,luxury was the key word here , inside  and out. Wrap around leather rear seats , console and bucket seats made this car a beauty to behold. This body would carry on to 1966 , with the '65 model showing subtle changes . The '66 received a frontal facelift , and changes to trim & rear tailamps as well. 






         1967 to 1969 ...  A  New  Direction

       In 1967 , all cars were  getting  bigger ,so  Ford  decided  to really take the T-bird up-market . The new Thunderbird abandoned the older unibody construction in favor of a body-on-frame construction with sophisticated rubber mountings between the body and frame to reduce noise and vibration. A pair of significant departures from the previous generation Thunderbird was the elimination of a convertible model and the addition a four-door model, which used suicide  doors  for rear seat access. The available four-door design would remain a unique feature to this generation as it was not carried on after 1971. One of the most noticeable design elements of the fifth generation Thunderbird was the gaping, fighter jet-inspired grille opening that incorporated hidden headlights. Even with a larger engine ,crisp new styling ,more interior room and a long list of options , the average T-bird buyer didn't take to the sedan at first , but soon the family types began to take to it and sales began to climb. The Thunderbird was really now a leader in the personal luxury car market .







  As shown above , please take note of the picture of the proposed 1970 model from early 1969.  This was vetoed by new Ford Motor Company president ,  Bunkie Knutsen , who came from GM ,and applied his heavy handed  Pontiac styling motif  , that would become the ''big nose'' design that he favored  , and would be Ford's theme through 1972.

         1970 to 1971 ...  The Bunkie Birds

 In 1970 , many things would begin to change. Different fads  and tastes would come into play . Movies and Music were changing , and so was Thunderbird's styling once again. The 1970 Thunderbird continued with the same platform and many of the same parts and styling cues used in the 1967 to 1969 models, including the sequential turn signals incorporated into the full panel tail lights in the rear of the vehicle. The most noticeable change was in the front   fascia where there was now a large prominent projection resembling a bird or eagle's beak that was in line with long angular lines in the hood. Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, the former GM man now President of Ford, is said to be responsible for this dramatic change. Back  in  1968  Ford hired  former GM Pontiac chief, Semon  ''Bunkie'' Knutsen'' . His influence on styling was immediatly evident with the '70 Thunderbird. The pronounced nose spoke of Pontiac influence , as well as  would be on the '71 & '72 LTD styles  that would soon follow .The T- Bird


was offered in coupe or sports-back models for these two years, the latter being a further distinction from the '67 to '69 models.


       1972 to 1976  ...   The  Big  'Birds

     The 1972 Thunderbird had now adopted the frame and understructure of The Lincoln Mark IV , also new for this model year . The sixth generation Thunderbird debuted in the fall of 1971 as a 1972 model. With a 120.4-inch (3,058 mm) wheelbase, an overall length of 214 inches growing to 225 inches  by 1974), and a curb weight of 4,420 pounds or over 4,800 pounds  when equipped with a 460 cu in   8 engine , it was the largest Thunderbird ever produced by Ford. The car was now huge and came well equipped . It was very Lincoln like in looks ,and interior appointments . With the  exception of grille, deck lid and tailamp shapes , it often was mistaken for a Lincoln . It   was a very luxurious and good looking car in it's own right. Then engine was now the 460 c.i.d , and could be had with every conceivable option you could think of . The big ' birds would be availble through 1976 , with various paint scheme and trim changes.       




   1977 - 19 79  ... The Downsized  'Birds  

     It was 1977 , things were changing , disco dominated the air waves and night clubs . For  1977 the Thunderbird was shifted to the smaller 114 inches (2,896 mm) wheelbase chassis that underpinned the 1972–76 Ford Torino and its replacement, the LTD II which also debuted for 1977. A wise move on behalf of Ford as this years Thunderbird handily outsold the Olds Cutlass to become Americas top selling personal luxury sedan. It was Ford's first effort at downsizing


the   Thunderbird, reflecting rising demand for more fuel efficient cars. In essence, this generation was really a continuation of the 1974–76 Ford Elite , Ford's successful first attempt at competing in the market created by the Pontiac Gran Prix and Chevy Monte Carlo . Compared to the previous generation Thunderbird, the new car lost 10 inches (254 mm) of

overall length and 900 lb (408 kg) of weight, though height and width were relatively unchanged. A substantial part of the weight reduction was in the drivetrain, where a small-block V8 replaced the heavier big-block V8s of previous years and proved to be an outstanding performer. The standard engine outside of California was the 302 cu in Windsor V8, while the larger 351 cu in   and 4o0 cu in  and T-tops were available as options along with the 351W. In California, the 351 was the only engine available. For the first time, a wide fixed "B" pillar was used, elicitting Detroit's abandonment of pillarless hardtops in the mid- and late-1970s. However, the door window glass remained frameless.  In 1978, Ford offered the  


 "Diamond Jubilee Edition" Thunderbird to commemorate the company's 75th year as an auto manufacturer. This option package escalated the price of the car to almost $12,000, virtually doubling the standard price. Naturally, it included every option available except for a moonroof and an engine block heater. A similar option package, called "Heritage", was available for 1979. Though this generation was highly successful with over 955,000 examples produced in its three-year run,[1] Ford sought to downsize the Thunderbird further out of fuel efficiency and emissions concerns, leading to a redesign for 1980.




       1980 - 1982 ...  The  Boxy T-Birds 


       In 1980 , Ford saw fit to once again  shrink the T-bird , this time down to the ''Fox''platform that was introduced in 1978 on the Fairmont and Mustang models. This did not set well with traditional Thunderbird buyers, who had flocked to the showrooms for the 77 - 79 models. In 1981 ,Thunderbird now had a straight 6 cylinder as a base engine and a 255 c.i.d. smaller v8 , which was less reliable than the tried and true , which had been around for years.  It was baffling to the public , that after the successful '77 - '79 models , that Ford would substitute this model for the previous .

 This body style did not fare well in sales ,as numbers fell by almost 50% .  Available in Landau , Heritage and base trim ,  this body style would only be around until 1982.At 288,638 examples produced between 1980 and 1982, the eighth generation Thunderbird was barely more successful than the final model year of the previous Thunderbird  generation .







            1983 - 1986  ...    The Aero 'Birds 

     After the dismal sales of the '80 to '82 body style , Ford took a huge gamble with the rounded aero look sheet metal for the new car . The car was an instant sales hit in the showrooms , and was a big success on the NASCAR circuit . The  1983 model initially offered only the 3.8 litre v-6 , In February of 1983, Ford sweetened the pot when it unveiled the Thunderbird Turbo coupe. The release of the turbo coupe turned a lot of heads. The car was available only with a 2.3 liter,         turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. At the same time the turbo coupe was introduced, Ford also added the 5.0 liter V8 model.   The design was very well executed and paved the way for Ford's next big aero designs , the Tempo and Taurus models .  Over it's 4 year run , the aero 'bird offered a wide list of options and model choices . Among NASCAR race teams , the Thunderbird became an aerodynamic favorite for the super -speedway programs .






    1987-1988 ...   Aero Birds  Part  II

   A freshening of the sheet metal , some new body contours and flush body side glass and new front & rear treatments were the big news for 1987.  More aerodynamic than ever before, slippery and fast , all the Ford teams in NASCAR were rockin' - they loved it. Bill Elliott would win the 1988  Winston Cup with this car. Other changes included the dropping of the Elan model and the release of the Thunderbird Sport and the Thunderbird LX. The Thunderbird Turbo coupe was still the top of the line and was putting out an awesome 190 horsepower when outfitted with the five-speed manual transmission and 150 horsepower when outfitted with an automatic.



          1989 - 1997 ... The Techno Birds

      The 1989 restyle was all new , with increased aerodynamics on the body. It was lower , a little wider and faster in Super Coupe form. The dash was much like a fighter planes cockpit again . One look and you knew this car meant business. 1991 offered a 302 V8 option to replace the 3.8 V6. In 1992 the Thunderbird LX and base Thunderbird received redesigned front bumpers and a full-width taillight.   1993 saw Ford drop the Thunderbird Sport and base Thunderbird models.   In 1994 Ford made some Aerodynamic changes to the front end by giving T-bird a new hood,      head   lights, and bumper design. The 1994's also received a major interior change and the horsepower  rating of the Super coupe was boosted to 230 from 215.  All in all  , this bodystyle would stay in tact  until re-emerging with it;s 2 seater roots in 2002. Ford also found a replacement for the 5.0 liter V8 engine .... a 4.6 liter V8. The new body did well on the super speedways in NASCAR ,and in sales , and only got better during it's production run up until 1997.  Sadly , the curtain would close on Thunderbird and it's sister car Mercury Cougar. They would be dis-continued after the 1997 model year  because the public was losing interest in 2 door vehicles . They were leaning towards Japanese makes for the specialty type class automobiles now.         








             2002 - 2005  ...  The  Retro Birds  

       After a 4 year hiatus from production , Thunderbird had returned as it once was ,  a 2 -seat roadster , with a lift off roof panel .It shared it's mechanicals and under structure with the Lincoln LS model of that year. The car had been intended for introduction during the 2001 model year but instead was delayed for a year. The US  $40,000 price tag was considered steep, given the car's rather average handling and power. An initial run of 200 T-Birds were sold online by Neiman Marcus, and all sold out within 42 minutes. The 200 N-M cars were painted black, with the exception of the porthole hardtop, which was painted silver. Interior colors matched the exterior. The car bore a strong resemblance to the first generation T-birds ,however , many agreed that this retro attempt , though nicely




inspired, had missed the mark. The Thunderbird nameplate has now been shelved by Ford , perhaps , hopefully , to return again in the future. It is a treasured piece of Ford's history , and will surely will be missed  by us all.




  Birds Of Prey... Racetrack  Thunderbirds


 In 1959 , at the  inaugural running of the Daytona 500 , a  '59Thunderbird driven by Johnny Beauchamp, finished 2nd in a photo finish . This is the first appearance by Thunderbird on NASCAR tracks  , in what would be a long successful run for this model. Ford had raced different models over the years ,the Galaxie , Fairlane  and Torino, but the T-bird became a legend that helped shape the careers of many different drivers and did very well until it was replaced by the Taurus in 1998.










              Thunderbirds In The  Media

         Thunderbird Commercial Starliner  Commercial Thunderbird Commercial Thunderbird  Commercial Thunderbird commercial Thunderbird Commercial 1977 Thunderbird commercial  ................................ 1980 Thunderbird commercial ................................. 1985 Thunderbird  commercial


     T-bird Trivia : Did You Know.....        

  1)      That on the '80's TV show Vegas , actor Robert Urich , as Dan Tanna P.I. ,         drove a red '57 T-Bird ? 

  2)     That on the '80s TV show ''Crime Story'' ,a then unknown actor named David Caruso played a mobster who drove blue '61 Thunderbird ?

  3)   That In the movie ''Palms Spring Weekend'' , actor Robert Conrad drove a silver '63 Thunderbird Roadster ?

  4) That actor Sean Connery ,in the movie ''Diamonda Are Forever'' , got a ride in the trunk of a '71 Thunderbird ? 

  5)  That on the '70s  TV version of ''Charlie's Angels'' , actor David Doyle in the role of Bosley , always drove a jade green '78 Thunderbird.

  6)  That in the 2002 James Bond movie '' Die Another Day'' , actress Halle Berry drove a pink 2002 Thunderbird ?

  7)  That the fastest recorded lap speed in NASCAR history was set in a Thunderbird driven by Bill Elliott in qualifying for the 1988 Daytona 500 ,  at  212 mph ? 

  8)  That in 1973 , actress Suzanne Somers got her big movie break  in '' American Graffitti'' , as the elusive blonde driving the white 1956 Thunderbird ?

                                   Like  Kookie  Says   ....


       Thunderbird - It's What's Hip On The Strip !!  

                                                                   Dig You Later Daddio !!