Always getting the same flavor of ice cream is boring. There are times when a vanilla cone sounds right when other times you want the biggest, gnarliest sundae available. This 1975 Ford Thunderbird was my sundae. It certainly helped sate a craving I had had for some time.
This particular Thunderbird was purchased new by the parents of a friend. By 1993, The Bird had accumulated 133,000 miles and they had a new Blazer. I was offered quite the deal on what I have since learned is the very low production Copper Luxury Group, built to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Thunderbird.
When I purchased the car for the princely sum of $600, I had driven it a handful of times previously. During periodic trips to my friend’s house during various college breaks, we would often fire up The Bird and cruise around the various local roads deep inside the Missouri Bootheel. The first time I drove it was an epiphany of sorts; while far from being a great handling car, it rode as if I were floating on air. To sweeten the experience, its 460 V8 (7.5 liters) purred like a kitten and never sounded or acted strained.
That, in a nutshell, is what hooked me in the talons of The Bird. My parents had always driver newer, smaller vehicles. While always reliable, they were always regular sedans of various varieties – typical for family vehicles. This Thunberbird was also reliable, but far from being in the sedan idiom. It also was one of the first cars I had driven that was seemingly unfazed by hills. Whereas most other cars I had driven would have a fair amount of velocity scrubbed off by climbing hills, the Thunderbird just kept chugging along. That it was a throwback to a different time also had a certain amount of appeal.
The Bird was not without its flaws. The security lock group seen in the bill of sale included a lock to the hood, so opening it from inside the cabin required the trunk key. Despite its girth, this generation of Thunderbird is only 53″ tall, so it required some squatting to enter; combine this with a seat belt buckle that was jutting out from the seat, and the car ruined three pairs of pants from hooking into a belt loop, ripping my pants open.
Its hood was so long that going over hills on city streets proved nerve-wracking. One would crest a hill and be well on the way down before ever being able to see over the front of the car; I was nervous that what various things could hide and be crushed and I would never see them. Fuel economy? 11 to 15 miles per gallon, the exact same as my father’s 1984 Ford F-150 with its 300 cubic inch straight-six.
Having a car such as this Thunderbird certainly makes one a better driver. First, it’s sink or swim with maneuvering in tight places and The Bird trained me such that I can now navigate any tight space with relative aplomb. Second, it makes you comprehend such terms as tire-scrub, understeer, and over-assisted power steering. Third, it makes you more aware of your actions as you could run over a lot of things and never feel it.
This was also a car with a multitude of positive attributes. One day while in The Bird, I was sitting at a four-way stop on Sprigg Street in scenic Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I looked into my rearview mirror to see a very frightened look on a woman who was approaching me quite rapidly. Suddenly, I felt a slight nudge and I saw her bouncing around the interior of her car. She had rear-ended me in her Dodge Dynasty, damaging her front bumper. The Bird had a mild indentation in the rubber bumper guard.
Another time, I had left my friends house for home, a distance of roughly seventy-five miles. It was December and a very nasty freezing rain began about twenty miles into my trip. I kept lumbering along, listening to the purring of the 460. Soon the wiper blades were a complete block of ice and could barely keep the windshield clean. Keeping the wipers going, I cranked the defrost up all the way. In about two minutes, the wipers had completely thawed as had the entire windshield, a feat I have thankfully never had to attempt replicating in any other vehicle. I made it home without problem and I did not meet another car for the last thirty miles of my trip.
This generation of Thunderbird was the zenith in size and engine displacement. It is also one that could easily be derided by many of the naysayers, claiming it drives like a 5,000 pound La-Z-Boy recliner and is the epitome of inefficient. While those accusations may posses some merit, it was an awesome car with a certain panache that I haven’t experienced before or since. Some may say it looks like it were marinated in 1970s kitschy, waiting for some leisure suited driver to take her away. Maybe so, but I enjoyed it.
By 1999, I had started a job, gotten married, and purchased my first house. There was no space for The Bird where I was living and it was stored thirty-five miles away in my parents pole barn – where it was parked alongside my 1963 Ford Galaxie. My father-in-law owned a 1974 Thunderbird and I had placed an ad online for its sale. When my wife and I were at their house one weekend, there was a call inquiring about purchase of his. The caller was not sounding enthusiastic about the 1974; on a whim, I told him of mine and shot him what I thought to be obscene price. He agreed to it sight-unseen and even agreed to pay me mileage to meet him 405 miles away in St. Joseph, Missouri. It seems my Bird was a near exact twin to one that had belonged to his grandfather and had been wrecked.
The last time I saw The Bird was at 10:30 on a cold Friday night in December, as it was leaving the Days Inn parking lot in St. Joe, headed toward its new home in Orange City, Iowa. Of all the cars I have owned, this is likely the one I miss the most.
(Note: These pictures are all liberated from various sources on the web; except for the moonroof, mine was identical to the ones shown.)