Curbside Classic: 1971 Ford Thunderbird Four Door Landau – Yes, I Said Four Doors

(first posted 10/10/2012)   Since we’ve been talking a lot about oddball Cougars and T-Birds lately—Fairmont Birds, Cougar station wagons, and all sorts of other automotive marketing craziness—I just have to share this four-door ’71 T-Bird Landau sedan. It was posted to the Cohort by whitewall buick, who’s known around these here parts as GG. So here it is: The Fabulous Bunkie Brougham ‘Bird.

The four-door ‘Bird was designed to fill the gap left by the departure of the last Flair Bird convertible, in 1966. Convertible sales for that year had dwindled to a mere 5,049 units, and Ford hoped that a new sedan model would prove to be a satisfactory replacement for the drop top. Its success in that role would be debatable, but  for now a very Continental-like T-Bird sedan was available to buyers so inclined.

By 1970, T-Birds wore Bunkie-mandated rhinoplasty that left them looking rather Pontiac-like up front. The Pontiac-esque look was most certainly intentional, considering that Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, the soon-to-be-departed FoMoCo president and son of former GM President William “Big Bill” Knudsen, had come to Ford from Pontiac Motor Division. In combination, the absence of hidden headlights and the pronounced beak made for a virtually all-new appearance, at least on the coupes. All in all, it was a rather sleek affair.

While the coupes sported new rear quarters and a revised roof line (CC here), the sedans were far more similar to the 1967-69 models. Do those wheel covers look familiar? If so, it’s because their run lasted all the way to the 1987 Mercury Grand Marquis, although they weren’t seen as frequently as the de riguer wire wheel covers  optional on ’80s GMs.

As you’d expect, there were lots and lots of options available, including a power sunroof, which was then an unusual option for an American car. Another, even more unusual option was the high-mounted rear lights (shown bottom-row center on the left page). I’d never even heard of that one. Perhaps it’s where Oldsmobile got the idea for the auxiliary brake lights on the 1971-78 Toronado?


Nineteen seventy-one was largely a carryover year, and only a new grille and changes to some minor fillips  differentiated the ’71s from the previous year’s models. The four-door Landau had never been a huge seller; its  best year had been inaugural-year 1967, with 24,967 sales. Sales dwindled further in subsequent years, totaling 8,401 in 1970; and a mere 6,553 in 1971, the final year for the four-door Landau.

As you might expect, the 1971 T-Birds included lots of standard features, among them a 429 cu in, 360-hp V8 that breathed through a Motorcraft four-barrel carb. Other standard equipment included power front disc/rear drum brakes, SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic transmission, AM radio, electric clock and teak wood grain interior accents.

While regular Thunderbird coupes wore a steel top, Landau coupes and sedans (all sedans were Landaus) came with a Cayman-grain vinyl roof. The vinyl top and landau irons played an especially important role on the sedan, on which they partially concealed the cut lines of its reverse-opening doors.

Part of the Landau’s door, complete with vinyl covering and chrome trim, blended into the roof (as would Chrysler’s M-body Fifth Avenue a decade later).  Frankly, a steel-topped T-Bird sedan would have looked pretty strange.

In the end, a four-door T-Bird just didn’t (pardon the pun) fly. Although Ford may not have built as many of them as they’d hoped, it was nevertheless an interesting idea–and love them or hate them, these certainly are interesting Thunderbirds, .

Despite the Broughamtastic interior trim and simulated wood everywhere, Thunderbirds still had full instrumentation, including ammeter, oil pressure and temperature gauges.

If that instrument panel looks somewhat similar to the Mark III’s, it’s because the Bunkie Birds shared the same chassis. Actually, the T-Bird came first, and later was adapted to become the personal-luxury Connie. The lower instrument panel with the A/C vents looks almost identical; so does the steering wheel, with a Thunderbird applique in place of the Continental star.

According to GG, he came upon this pastel green ‘Bird at an estate auction in Hill City, Kansas. It appears to be well-loved and cared-for, as it should be considering its rarity. I may be in the minority, but I’ve always liked the four-door T-Birds. This one was awfully nice, as indicated by its $5,350 selling price–which actually isn’t all that far from the original MSRP of $5,516. Here’s hoping it went to a good home!

Related reading:   CC 1970 Thunderbird Sportsback: What Bunkie Took With Him On His Way Out The Door  (Laurence Jones)