(first posted 12/14/2015) With such a rich history and a comprehensive lineup, Ford was bound to have an assortment of special editions and limited-run models. In Part II of the Ford edition, we take a look at five such cars between 1956 and 2009.
Years produced: 1956
Total production: 15,186
The first Chevrolet Nomad was a curious anomaly. Sold from 1955-57 and inspired by a daring, Corvette-based Motorama concept, the production Nomad was a highly-specified, two-door wagon based on the Chevy Bel Air and was one of the most expensive Chevys available. Even accounting for the common perception a two-door car was safer for families as children couldn’t open a door in motion, the Nomad was a marginal seller at best. Nevertheless, Ford rushed a competitor to the market: the one-year-only Parklane.
Much like the ’57 Chevy has become an icon of its era despite being outsold by the ’57 Ford, the Parklane today lives in the shadow of the slower-selling Nomad. Could it be a matter of aesthetics? After all, the Parklane did not receive any unique sheetmetal like the Nomad. Instead, it used the basic Ranch Wagon body – Ford’s cheapest wagon – and added Fairlane trim inside and out.
Despite besting the ’56 Nomad in sales, the Parklane was retired after one year. For 1957, Ford launched the Del Rio Ranch Wagon. It was a two-door wagon with fancier trimmings than the humble Ranch Wagon, but it now corresponded with the Custom 300 instead of the more upscale Fairlane. Again, it outsold the Nomad but it lasted only two years. The upscale two-door wagon fad died out by the end of the decade, and the bodystyle was relegated to entry-level status once more.
Ford F-150 Nite & Bronco Nite
Years produced: 1991-92
Total production: ?
A big truck painted in black, with blackout trim and deep-dish forged aluminum wheels sounds like it would be a rather menacing sight to behold. And yet, the Nite’s most unique feature, its flamboyantly colorful decals that transition from blue to magenta, make the Nite so quaintly fitting of their era. The Nite editions of the F-150 and Bronco are as 1990s as scrunchies and floral dress-and-boots ensembles.
For 1991, the Nite package was only available on the regular-cab F-150. The F-Series and Bronco received an aerodynamic redesign for ’92 that brought with it a new interior, and the Nite package could now be selected on the Bronco and all F-Series bodystyles including the new Flareside trucks. All Nite trucks came with either the 302 or the 351 V8; the inline six and diesel engines were not available.
Although the availability of the Nite had been expanded dramatically for 1992, this would prove to be its final year. This generation of F-Series was scant with special editions, something Ford would rectify with its stylish ’97 F-150.
Ford Thunderbird 35th Anniversary
Years produced: 1990
Total production: 3,371
Once the venerable Thunderbird nameplate reached 25 years of age, Ford made sure to never miss another milestone. Special anniversary editions were released at 25, 30, 35, 40 and 50 years.
As it was the nameplate’s 25th anniversary in 1980, Ford went with a simple, silver theme. This was a good idea, as the ’80 T-Bird was fussy and overstyled enough as it was. The rising popularity of silver paint, though, makes this special edition a little bit less special to look at today.
The 30th anniversary ‘Bird was nothing too exciting: unique blue paint, but Turbo Coupe wheels and instruments.
Photo courtesy of Shawn40th
For the big 4-0, the anniversary edition was available in a range of colors but with a mandatory two-tone paint job with a silver bottom half. It looks rather dated now.
The Thunderbird nameplate took a break from 1998 until 2002. The eleventh generation lasted just 4 model years. Its final year coincided with the Thunderbird name’s 50th anniversary, so a special edition was launched. Painted in elegant cashmere metallic with a light stone interior, the 50th anniversary was perhaps the most elegant of its generation of ‘Birds. Still, its appearance wasn’t markedly different from other 2005 Thunderbirds.
You will notice one edition was skipped there: the 35th. This was the Thunderbird’s most exciting anniversary edition. Based on the range-topping Super Coupe, the 35th Anniversary package cost $1,863. 5,000 copies were planned, albeit only 3,371 were produced. Each featured a two-tone black/titanium exterior with blue accent striping and black road wheels with blue Thunderbird logos, as well as the usual commemorative badging.
Inside was also unique, with bucket seats trimmed in black leather and titanium suede with blue piping.
The 35th Anniversary was not only based on the sportiest T-Bird, it also received as standard the special handling suspension option with automatic ride control, a Traction-Lok rear axle and performance tires. The supercharged 3.8 V6 had 210 hp and 315 ft-lbs and came standard with a five-speed manual, although a four-speed automatic was optional; that torque, still impressive by today’s standards, was available nice and low in the rev range and without the lag of a turbocharged engine. However, the T-Bird weighed almost 3,900 pounds.
The anniversary edition also came with a special anniversary gift package that included a pen, car cover, key chain and other knick-knacks. The 35th was well-equipped, but it wasn’t fully-loaded: items like a moonroof, alarm and CD player were options. It’s not clear why Ford didn’t produce a full 5,000 units, but the 35th was certainly the most distinctive anniversary edition of the T-Bird.
Ford Taurus X Eddie Bauer
Years produced: 2008-09
Total production: ?
With the 2004 Freestyle, Ford had produced a family crossover that was extremely spacious and versatile, had best-in-class safety scores and rode and handled competently. Unfortunately, they sabotaged it with an underpowered engine, a whiny CVT and a confusing name. For 2008, Alan Mulally decreed the revised Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego, the Freestyle’s platform-mates, would receive the resurrected Taurus/Sable names. As the Freestyle was basically a Taurus wagon, it became the Taurus X. However, Ford also wanted to pitch their wagon as more of a butch, SUV-esque offering and launched the Taurus X Eddie Bauer.
The Eddie Bauer was the mid-range Taurus X, and was the only crossover to bear the name of the clothing retailer; previously, it had only been used on the Explorer, Expedition, Bronco and Excursion. Distinguished visually by Pueblo Gold exterior cladding and two-tone leather seating, the Eddie Bauer also added myriad convenience and luxury features over the already well-equipped base SEL. The few features the monochromatic Limited added could be selected as part of an option package on the Eddie Bauer, which was good news for buyers who liked the Eddie Bauer look but wanted features like parking sensors.
The Eddie Bauer was the most butch-looking of the Taurus X line but its wagon proportions could not be disguised, and anything that looked too much like a station wagon was anathema to the American buying public. Taurus X sales actually plummeted from the Freestyle’s already declining volumes. This was despite the Taurus X boasting both a command seating position for the driver and yet a fairly low ride-height for easy accessibility, as well as a new six-speed automatic, 60 more horsepower, 42 more pound-feet of torque, bolder styling and the new Eddie Bauer trim.
Blame abysmal marketing, or blame Ford’s abundance of crossovers and SUVs, which only got worse for the Taurus X’s sophomore season when Ford introduced a new, hipper, wagon-esque crossover, the Flex. The Taurus X was quietly dropped after a dismal 2009 and although the Flex would never sell as well as the Freestyle had initially, it has sold consistently and not reached the crushing lows of the Taurus X. And it has managed this without offering an “outdoorsy” trim like the Eddie Bauer.
Ford Thunderbird FILA
Years produced: 1984-85
Total production: 2,532 (1984)
Ford may not have invented the luxury brand cross-promotion, but they enjoyed success with their Designer Edition Lincolns. With the Thunderbird atop the Ford division totem pole, it had received some very plush, expensive and Lincoln-esque special editions like the Diamond Jubilee. However, it had never received a designer special edition. This would change for 1984, the sophomore season of the alluring new “Aero Bird”, when Ford launched the FILA edition that would be the Thunderbird’s first and last designer edition.
The Italian fashion company was becoming a popular and trendy brand of sportswear, endorsing athletes like tennis player Björn Borg. This modern, youthful image lent itself well to the aerodynamic new Thunderbird, surely one of the most dramatic and successful makeovers in automotive history. The FILA Thunderbird was the most expensive ‘Bird in the coop, even priced almost $2k above the more powerful Turbo Coupe.
Currently for sale on eBay
For the $15,646 asking price, a FILA T-Bird buyer received Oxford White leather bucket seats or optional suede-style seats in “Pastel Charcoal”. Woodgrain trim was replaced with brushed black appliqué, and the rest of the interior was charcoal. All FILAs came with bucket seats but a column shifter, as well as digital instruments. There was even a special FILA accessories pack with a leather portfolio, beach towel, headband and other accessories.
All FILAs came with a choice of 3.8 V6 (120 hp, 205 ft-lbs) or 5.0 V8 (140 hp, 250 ft-lbs) with the AOD automatic transmission; the turbo four was not available.
For 1985, the FILA option returned and all Thunderbirds received a redesigned dashboard. The brushed black interior appliqués were replaced with silver trim, and exterior colors also included the signature “Pastel Charcoal” as well as charcoal, red and black, all with red and blue pinstriping. Standard equipment included power windows, mirrors and driver’s seat; the FILA was the only T-Bird to feature all as standard fitment, thus justifying its price premium.
The following year, the FILA was dropped, leaving the base model, Elan and Turbo Coupe. As stylish and modern as the T-Bird was, it never received another designer edition.
And thus concludes the Ford edition of this series. So far, we have covered AMC, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Plymouth. What will next week bring?
Auto-Biography: 1983 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
Curbside Classic: 1970 1/2 Ford Falcon Sedan
Curbside Classic: 1963 Ford Falcon Station Bus
Ranch wagons for 56 were quite popular in NZ there were plenty around but I’m sure our range didnt run to the Parklane model and the one Ive seen with Fairlane trim I’d bet was home grown, There was a 57 two door wagon doing hearse duty in my home town thru until about 1970 when that guy retired the car was two tone blue not black, I saw it in getting a WOF about 1977 it had just over 5000 miles racked up in 20 years almost a new car, the owner drove a Fordson van as his daily so that wagon never saw much use ever.
Ford seems to have a thing about designer editions, anyone remember the AU market Carla Zampatti Laser? And there was the Nissan Pulsar Reebok edition too!
This series (for all makes) covers some delightfully obscure editions.
I’ve seen a few of the Nite editions over time – at first glance they appeared to have been afflicted with a used car dealers application of blackout trim and tape. They didn’t age well at all.
You are correct about the F-150 Nite not having an available diesel. Ford, unlike Dodge and GM, never has offered a diesel in a half-ton in the US market. The heavier payload F-250 and F-350 have had one available for about 30 years, but not the F-150. For what it’s worth, I’ve known many people who refer to a half-ton as a “little” truck and have been guilty of doing so myself. And, yes, “half-ton” is an archaic reference to payload, but is still a common way to differentiate the payload categories of pickups.
The Thunderbird editions are intriguing. While there weren’t any actual anniversary editions for the 20th anniversary in 1975, this was the era of having an abundance of special trims, such as Copper, Lipstick, and Gold that were the essence of 1970s charm and taste. I owned a 1975 Copper edition that was a wonderful car.
The poster for the Thunderbird 35th Edition completely skips the 1972 to 1976 models. Makes me wonder if Ford was aiming to forget about it.
But there was a 20th Anniversary Thunderbird.
1975 Thunderbird 20th Anniversary Edition:
apologies if mentioned before, but I just saw George Barris died
I like the Park Lane, another car I’d not heard of. I used to see a silver supercharged V6 T bird in Fulham close to Putney Bridge very often when I lived in Putney Heath
The name Parklane really threw me. There was a Mercury Park Lane model for most of the 1960’s.
The Thunderbirds both the Fila and the 35 anniversary, show how far Ford had turned away from the original 4 seater concept. Even has the most expensive of the current lines, the Tempo like plastic interior and hard seats are just so far removed from Bullet Birds, Flare Birds, Glamour Birds and even the 72-76s, which still were Lincoln level.
It was harder to do a nice interior in the eighties, with metal and wood forbidden, but the 86 Toronado, Riviera, and Eldorado had shown something new, that proved they were trying. Thunderbirds post 79 and the 1st gen Legend coupes just cobbled together something from the parts bin and called it good enough. It was not.
Have you ever even sat in a SuperCoupe? Those seats are every bit as cushy as those hideous pillow top brougham seats but actually have support to hold you in place if you steer it faster than a cruise ship.
Those cars are infinitely better thought out than the Rebadged Torinos and Mark IVs the nameplate graced for several years, they had a bespoke chassis for the first time since the original 4 seat birds.
I’ve really enjoyed all your posts about these obscure special editions, most of which I never heard of before. Here’s a photo from the web of a VERY obscure model, so rare that there’s only ever been one made, Mercury’s answer to the Parklane wagon.
Actually it’s just a phantom, but a very well done and thoroughly convincing one.
And the rear view.
The builder even went so far as to use a proper Mercury steering wheel and instrument panel.
The vinyl cover in the Parklane is a neat idea, and presages modern luggage covers in hatchbacks … but I’ll bet $100 nobody ever used it.
Getting into the luggage while driving was part of the reason for owning a wagon instead of a sedan.
I find that FILA Thunderbird actually very appealing.
As for the Taurus X/Freestyle, to be blunt, it always seemed like a half-assed attempt at creating a crossover. Taking the worst attributes of a car and SUV, it didn’t really have many attractive qualities. The one time I rode in a Freestyle, I wasn’t impressed by the quality at all, and actually found the seating position very awkward. Not as high up as most crossovers, but like riding in a very high sedan.
Like the 2008 Taurus, the Taurus X merely a “lipstick on the pig” move, made in attempt to reverse declining sales.
I think the FILA T-bird looks awful. IMO, white over black is a nasty colour combination. It also overemphasizes the black headlight surrounds, making the front of the car look heavy and chunky compared to the rest of the aerodynamic body. The white painted wheels make them look like cheap wheel covers too, not actual aluminum wheels. The red or charcoal upper paint that was available later probably look better.
The Taurus X may not be a good vehicle, but I love the maroon over light gold combination. So few vehicles today are offered with 2-tone paint, the notable exception being pickup trucks. Granted, most modern cars probably wouldn’t look good in it.
+1. The overall look is like a factory variant of what kids were doing with minitrucks in and around that time. That look did NOT age well.
I own a 2005 50th anniversary Bird and find it to be a very interesting automobile. The number of people who have asked me both what kind of car that is and what is that color never ceases to amaze me. I also have a 1964 T-Bird that has been with me over 20 years now and I get the same reactions except people tell me stories of their relatives that had one. What I am looking forward to is Ford introducing the next generation of Thunderbirds and developing another generation of the legacy of this venerable nameplate.
You didn’t picture the ’57 Del Rio, but that was the concept’s one good sales year with 46,105 units sold compared to 27,690 Country Squires (figures from 1957ford,com).
We had a 2005 Freestyle and still think its the best family car we have ever owned. Any other Freestyle owners I have talked to always say the same thing. We only sold it because the kilometers were getting up there.
That Taurus X is a pretty obscure model, the “X” wasn’t a big seller and visually it looks like most other “X” models.
After Ford dumped the fancy 2 door wagon for the 1959 model year, Mercury continued it for 1 more year. They weren’t “special editions” per se, but a look at Mercury’s 2 door hardtop wagons is worth a mention.
The Encyclopedia of American Cars says that the Thunderbird had a series of special editions….of a sort, in the mid 70s. The Luxury Group models were color-keyed models in various colors, depending on the model year. Apparently Ford was too embarrassed to produce a 20 Anniversary Edition
That 58 Del Rio in the brochure picture is probably the best looking 58 Ford wagon I’ve seen in quite a while…..too bad it was also available in 57 (my 50s Ford favorite).
I actually liked the Nite package on the F series in those days. It looked particularly nice on the flareside pickups and on the Bronco. But those aerodynamic front clips…YUCK. The last good looking Ford was in ’86. It was square rigged but not TOO boxy.
No love for the Villager Nautica? The white wheels are a bridge too far. I haven’t seen one of these since the 90s.
This is for Ford brand vehicles, there was a Mercury Special Editions post awhile ago. But also, the Nautica was not obscure, was a hit at the time.
See quite a few used as painters’ vans, with ladders on top, but white wheels long gone.
Personally I must say these and the equivalent Nissan Quest were perfectly sized minivans. The last gen MPV as well. Wish something similar was made today…the Mazda5 was just too narrow and low rent.
Had one, very well made, quiet and comfy. It came with a leather yellow Nautica travel bag which we still have. I think this co-branding was tasteful and a good idea as i remain loyal to Ford and have Nautica apparel.
Story doesn’t end at “The Taurus X was quietly dropped after a dismal 2009…”
Should say “Then was revamped and renamed Explorer for 2011 and sold like hotcakes, to this day.”
I really loved the style of the X…the Explorer does nothing for me however.
I would like a 1956 Ford Country Squire wagon for sure. For some strange reason that 1980 Silver T bird appeals to me, at least from this angle. I’m probably the only one to admit that.
You are NOT the only one to admit that.
To increase production of the Taurus X, a reptile textured upholstery could have been offered. Tyrana Taurus X, special edition. Sorry.
COTD – Win
What about the Daytona and NASCAR F-150 editions to this fine list?
The Fila Edition Thunderbird is neat, but usually I associate white cars with black trim as fleet vehicles or stripper models.
Stallion (Maverick and Mustang II), ’72 Olympic cars I would classified as obscure for average car nuts.
They also released an Aerostar Eddie Bauer edition.
‘The first Chevrolet Nomad was a curious anomaly”
You’re doggone right it was! That’s why everyone I knew – including me – wanted one! I still do, but that train left the station a long time ago…
I guess Lincoln is for another time. They had the Blackwood editions, of which I think all of 3 were made, and in a nearby neighborhood, someone owned one of them!
I’ve seen a few ’56 Ford Parklanes with Mercury taillights, both in literature and in the flesh. Was this an option over the standard Ford taillights?. I remember the first time I saw this on a Parklane out in Las Vegas and I thought that it was odd. Since then I’ve seen both varieties.
Aren’t we forgetting the Salvadore Dali Edition?