While the 1970s may have been the golden age of the Personal Luxury Coupe, their inspiration came from the Executive Luxury Coupes of the late 1960s. The prototypical ELC is the 1967-68 Imperial Crown Coupe with the Mobile Director package, the legendary option package that alas has yet to be photographed in the metal by any of our contributors. I would also include in this elite strata the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Continental Mark III coupes.
But there is also an interesting Ford that deserves not only to be a part of this elite company, perhaps even at the top of the list: The 1967 Ford Thunderbird Apollo. I mentioned the Apollo briefly in my Sliding Sunroof Automotive History, but this is an interesting enough car that warrants its own post.
In 1966, the story goes, Abercrombie and Fitch approached Ford Motor Company about making some “concept” cars to bolster showroom traffic to their five flagship retail stores (recall that at the time A&F was still a high-end outfitter, akin to a ritzy Cabela’s). At the same time, Ford was looking to take their new-for-1967 fifth-generation Thunderbird further upmarket in order to increase the amount of daylight between it and the rest of Ford’s full-size lineup, which was starting to encroach on the T-Bird’s territory with the introduction of the LTD in 1965. Collaborating with Abercrombie and Fitch would add a nice upmarket sheen to their new ‘Bird.
Keep in mind that in 1966, retail special edition cars were still very much a novelty – Nieman Marcus wouldn’t launch their iconic series of special edition cars until 1970, the first of which was (probably not coincidentally) also a Ford Thunderbird.
Ford also took this opportunity to showcase the upcoming sunroof option in the Thunderbird, their first since 1960. Although the sunroof wouldn’t be available to Thunderbird buyers until the 1969 model year, Ford needed to generate massive amounts of excitement and interest in it. Ford therefore equipped the five cars produced for Abercrombie and Fitch with prototype ASC sunroofs, with switches located on the center console (production models would have the sunroof switch mounted in the overhead console). Ford was betting big on the sunroof option to appease open-air enthusiasts, as the fifth-generation Thunderbird would be the first without a convertible model. Indeed, Ford would not offer a convertible Thunderbird again for 35 years, until the 2002 model.
No doubt Ford and Abercrombie took some inspiration for the 1967 Apollo from the 1966 Imperial Mobile Executive concept, which of course also preceded the much loved (but seldom ordered) 1967-68 Imperial Crown Coupe Mobile Director model.
For the Apollo conversion, Ford took five fully-equipped ’67 Thunderbirds, all painted in an exclusive Apollo Blue color, and sent them to long-time Ford customizer Dearborn Steel Tubing Company for customization and finishing, supposedly at a cost of $15,000 per unit (about $137,000 in 2022).
External tweaks to the Apollo were fairly limited: In addition to the exclusive Apollo Blue paint and metallic blue vinyl roof, the grille emblem, landau S-bars, and scripts were all gold anodized. Also fitted were a quartz foglight, bespoke wheel covers, and cornering lights that appear to have been taken from a 1967 Mercury (cornering lights wouldn’t become available on the Thunderbird until 1968). Lastly, there are trunk-mounted antennae to support the various wireless devices.
Interior modifications were more extensive. A custom-built full-length center console included a radio-telephone, Philco color TV, and dual reading lamps. The front passenger seat, while not swiveling, did have power adjustable headrests and footrests, and both front seats were fitted with folding tray tables for the rear passengers. All seats were covered with a special dark blue leather.
Abercrombie and Fitch had always intended to resell the Apollos after they had completed their show-car duties (probably to recoup some of their investment), so they were built more as custom cars than true concepts, complete with VIN and titles. The fact that there were no powertrain modifications would make it easier to transfer the factory warranty to the next buyer.
Of the five Apollos produced, the one destined for San Francisco was destroyed en route before reaching its destination. At least three of the remaining four are known to survive. I had the honor of seeing one at the AACA Fall Meet in Hershey a few years back. While I’m sure I took pictures, I was unable to locate them. Fortunately, the owner has posted photos on his Facebook page that are far better than any I could have taken at a crowded car show, a few of which I’ve sprinkled in this post.
I’m not sure, but I ‘think’ the foglight on the right (driver’s side) is not a foglight, at all. In fact, based on that lone toggle switch in the center of the console above the sunroof switch (looks like it’s labeled ‘ICELERT’), I wonder if it’s some sort of temperature sensor to alert the driver of a potential road icing situation.
I think the device on the Driver’s side was for the “Ice Alert”, the device on the passenger’s side was a fog light, unless they worked together in some way to detect ice, perhaps?
The device on driver’s side of the car indeed is the ICELERT sensor. Here’s a close-up picture.
Is there any further information on the Icelert system? It doesn’t appear to be a factory option, at least not on the 1967-68 Thunderbird.
Ice alert was an option on the previous generation of Tbirds. The second gen cars had Golde sunroofs. Interesting link between them and ASC.Check it out!
Half that stuff would stop working in the first year.
Great article thank you. These features would make more sense in the new 4 door Thunderbird.
As an owner of 68 Thunderbird I can assure you that back seat is pretty tight in the 2-door model. Add a big console and TV, and things are feeling claustrophobic.
The 4 door has extra rear seat legroom that makes a big difference. Furthermore, this special edition in the 4 door may have served to promote the 4 door Thunderbird concept.
Of course with only five made, this model was more a halo product and promotional tool, instead of a functional model. The 2 door looked more appealing. And 4 doors seemed so plebeian at the time, even Fords elegant suicide door Thunderbird.
The car should have been a 4 door. They would have added such a nice touch, not to mention interior room.
I had a ’68 four door and loved it.
Nice car! More controls on that console than the Batmobile. A lot of money for the conversion however, putting this out of reach for all but the most wealthy.
Any guesses on the TV show being watched? Looks a bit like Let’s Make a Deal.
When I read the headline to the feature, then saw the picture I was a little bewildered.
I had another custom T-Bird in mind, the Saturn II concept from 1969. A prelude of the 1970 Thunderbird. Never heard of the Apollo T-Bird. Once again, CC has educated me and I am the better for it. The office on wheels concept was interesting but I’m not surprised there was little to no demand at Imperial or Ford. Perhaps ahead of its time?
The special blue color is very different in the period photos vs the restored car. Was that a personal touch added by a later owner or were they repainted while used by A&F as show cars?
Why wasn’t this a Thunderbird sedan? The idea that all of this cutting edge stuff was in the back seat of a coupe is ridiculous. Know of anyone who had to climb over desks and seats to cram themselves into their separate office? You want to sell elegant, yet force people to hunch over with their butts getting into it? This was the era of the short skirt – you crazy enough to think any executive secretary is going to go through the motions of keeping her skirt down as she climbs into that car?
I know that Thunderbirds were to have an exclusive air of cutting edge whiz-bang technologies in them. They were most coveted during the Jet Age and looked like a cool road jet. But by 1967, cutting edge could be found in the FWD Toronado and Eldorado. Luxury could be found in a Riviera. Yet Thunderbird struggled to find new toys to keep it ahead of the competition. Four doors was a Hail Mary. Sharing a Mark IV body was a surrender. A Torino version of it was a sell-out. It took 20 years of brougham-boredom to finally find the Aero-Bird Ford needed to have launched a decade earlier. Then what? A Boomer Retro-Coupe? Glad the Thunderbird name was euthanized and put out of its misery.
A fascinating car, a poor execution.
Agreed. Nobody would ever be chauffeured in a two-door T-Bird. Stupid.
I often wonder how many of these coupes (and the conceptually similar Imperial Mobile Director) were actually used for their “intended” purposes? I’m guessing close to none. Even in the 1960’s, limousines were the preferred way for executives to travel, given the practicalities of their larger back seat and rear doors.
As I was researching this piece, I wondered “where exactly is the executive supposed to sit?” The reclining chair with footrest is in the front, but most of the goodies (TV, tray tables, and reading lights) are in the cramped back seat. Very strange.
I was about to pose the exact same question. There appears not to be much legroom for two people facing each other in the production Imperial Mobile Director. I’m guessing most of these were used for kids on long trips who could put a magnetic chess set or board game on the foldaway table, or for eating a meal en route. The ’66 Mobile Director concept is even more ridiculous. A typewriter? I’m sure the driver wouldn’t go berserk from having a typewriter clacking away two feet from his ear. I never knew there was a Mobile Director show car based on the very different ’66 Imperial. It must have got a decent reception if they put it in production for two years. These “executive” option packages were put in the coupes by the way because the center post of the sedans got in the way of the swiveling front seat.
The A&F T-bird is new to me too. It’s funny how putting generic electronics-store toggle switches and indicator lamps into the console can give a car that James Bond look.
I wonder if Michael Connelly knew about this when he wrote The Lincoln Lawyer.
A show named “The T’Bird Apollo Lawyer…” ?
The lead photo displays this model Thunderbird in it’s best light. It took many years, but now I finally get what Ford was aiming for with this generation.
The Apollo was set up like many ’60’s custom show cars. They often included TVs, telephones, and tape recorders and even bars and drink sets, so this wasn’t too far off the mark, but the execution and design was more professional. These were just supposed to be attention grabbing show cars, there’s nobody that could actually use this executive suite. I suppose that he could park it somewhere and climb in the backseat and play with the toys.
The real luxury is having a driver, so the passenger is free to divert their attention to other tasks. (Ask my Wife!) I asked several of the attorneys that I knew at work if they would like a set up like Connolly’s Lincoln Lawyer and they agreed that it would be ideal to be dropped off and picked up in front of the courthouse. I’ve often thought that the best arrangement in a limo would have the jump seats facing the rear seat passengers.
This would facilitate conversations and discussions while en-route to the destination.
I love reading about these special edition cars. Most seem rather silly, but it’s fun to see what a manufacturer or retailer can think up to be attractive to a special type of buyer.
This Thunderbird, although quite handsome IMO, seems to be a kind of confused and and oddly construed offering. A little poking around on the web for more info gives the impression that Ford – or maybe that was A&F – was suggesting that the rear seat was to be used by the “executive’s” secretary. Hence the photo of the woman in the backseat (watching what appears to be a car dealership TV commercial). Although I will note that even she seems to be having a hard time fitting back there as she has to sit twisted somewhat sideways. I guess the executive was supposed to be the driver? I also can’t figure out what’s going on with the first marketing picture, where there the girl is dressed up as Santa’s helper. Maybe A&F was hoping to make at least one sale to the CEO of Christmas. And of course HIS secretary would have to be bearing gifts and wearing seasonal attire. Ho ho ho….
Then again, Santa may have a hard time fitting behind the wheel of the Thunderbird. He’d be better off with the Imperial. It’s just so confusing.
I would also love to know how the one headed to San Francisco was destroyed in transit. I wonder if it had anything to do with being distracted by that TV in the backseat.
Interesting tale and another reason why the Thunderbird, in its various forms during the 60s and 70s, is still my favourite American car. That interior, with or without the mods, is glorious. Just is. You know I’m right.
Was the Apollo (and the Saturn name noted above by GarryM) picked for the space program connections, and did NASA agree or have any comment?
Yes, and no.
I’m sure it was picked for the space program connotations, and no I don’t think that NASA had any input/say. Everything space program was simply part of the zeigiest of the time. It was in the water…and the Tang that we drank and the Pillsbury Space Food Sticks that we ate.
I’m getting flashbacks from Space Food Sticks. Those were so gross! But a staple of my lunchbox in 2nd grade. I recall Pillsbury dropped “Space” from the name later on and just called them Food Sticks. I remember how back then, in the future we wouldn’t “have” to eat real food anymore.
1967 is the year Thunderbird jumped the shark.
Wasn’t the suicide rear four 4-door T-Bird introduced in ’67? Why would Ford and Abercrombie use a 2-door?
Very interesting—I’m sure I’ve never heard of this one!
Here’s a nice video from Hershey 2014. To echo rudiger and others earlier today, the two things under the front bumper don’t seem to be identical….interesting to know of the Ice Alert thing…
If I actually wanted to work from a car back in the ’60s, a Checker would have provided an infinitely more practical starting point.
Both the T-Bird and the Imperial look so much cooler though.
Checkers were so out-of-style that 60s TV shows could use them as an automotive stand-in for an evil dictator’s limo.
Well, I don’t think this or the Chrysler mobile office concept car were more than publicity exercises, so I would not take them too seriously. As for this generation T-Bird, I used to hate it as yet another departure from the clean lines of the 3rd gen (the less said about the 4th gen the better), but I’m not sure anymore, they are growing on me – particularly when fitted with period mags and slightly lowered.
Yeah, the Mobile Director and Apollo seem akin to the old Studebaker Wagonaire/GMC Envoy XUV with their rear sliding roofs. IOW, an answer to a question no one was asking.
So, Chrysler and Ford gave the ‘businessman luxury special’ a shot, it didn’t work out, and the whole idea was unceremoniously dropped, with Chrysler and Ford being big enough that they could absorb the expenditure for these shots-in-the-dark. I’m sure that Ford, in particular, didn’t lose much in the effort.
And I agree that the so-called ‘glamour bird’ (seems like those should be known as ‘hoover birds’ and ‘beak birds’) Thunderbird is most definitely not the worst one, with the absolute bottom being the Fox-chassis 1980-82 car.
That massive console looks naked without a T bar.
Beautiful car, the only Thunderbird I really like. Love the original color, and the best looking wheelcovers ever IMO.
It’s a wonder Chrysler didn’t use the Apollo or Saturn names for something, given their participation in the space program.
I was a very good friend of a gentleman who owned one of these Apollo Thunderbirds, and I drove it many times while he had it in Key Biscayne and the Miami Florida area. I believe it was back in 1969. The owner’s name was Jack Russell. Jack rented space to Dearborn Steel and Tubing back then at what was previously the Fellrath Lumber Yard in Inkster Michigan. I don’t doubt that is how he came about procuring it. It was my understanding that some of the trim was 14 carat gold, and the carpeting was “mouton”. Yes, it did have an ice alert. We referred to it as an ice detector. I do have memory of it being a somewhat lighter blue. I have many fond memories and interesting stories and memories about the car and its owner and would love to share them with anyone interested in hearing them.