Car Show Classic: 1965 Ford Thunderbird Special Landau – What Might Have Been

Anyone else in the room question your decisions after the fact?  Wish you could go back and tell yourself, “Told you so!”?  Eh, that sounds good rhetorically, but realistically any vacillating I do in retrospect is all for show.  My car mistakes aren’t really mistakes anymore because any accrued wisdom I possess is enough to understand the potential for shadows lurking in corners of the garage.  But what if I never bought that ’63 Thunderbird?  Or that ’63 RivieraA very decent Emberglo-colored ’65 T-Bird Special Landau recently popped up on one of those auction sites, sold for an entirely reasonable amount, and might have made me as happy as anything.  What if?

As usual, a recent toy purchase has had the mature effect of putting me in a certain frame of mind, one of reflecting on cars bought and missed.  The ’63 Thunderbird (and all “Bullet Birds”) has been my favorite T-Bird for decades, so I can’t regret my eventual purchase of that car (maybe the certain car I bought, but that’s often the case).  For years, I was lukewarm on the 1963 version’s follow up, the Flair Birds of 1964-1966.  This Greenlight ’65 Special Landau, however, is a symbol of my long-simmering reappraisal of this bodystyle.

The 1965 model has, after all, some empirical improvements over my ’63, not the least of which is the upgrade to front disc brakes, a couple years before they became common on General Motors products.  I have no problem with drum brakes, and seven of my eight cars use four-wheel drums; nevertheless, the T-Bird’s are touchy and prone to front lockup in hard-stopping situations, especially at low speeds.  Lest anyone thinks this is operator error, please remember that I have six other four-wheel-drum-braked old cars with which to compare.  Second, the 1965 model received a steering gear revision to more closely resemble the box used in full-sized Fords (according to my research).  If nothing else, it’s more readily available than the troublesome (in my experience) box used only in 1961-1964 Thunderbirds and Continentals.

If that weren’t enough, the brake pedal is simply cool.  I picked this one up at a junkyard years ago, perhaps in the hope that I’d eventually buy a car to attach it to.

From the outside, it takes a connoisseur to differentiate the ’65 from the previous year’s model.  This ’64 Landau has the “Thunderbird” script on the front fender rather than the rear quarter panel, “Thunderbird” lettering on the hood (compared to a stylized bird), and unique-to-1964 wheel covers.

The real party trick on the 1965 T-Bird was, of course, the sequential taillights.  Compared to the “wall of glowing red” on the ’64, the ’65 model’s taillights were broken up into sections that “pointed the way for others to follow,” according to the old commercials.  Later, both Shelby Mustangs and Mercury Cougars would use these special taillights (not to mention their spiritual descendants, the Mustangs of the 2010s and 2020s), but they originated on the ‘Bird.

This photo shows two of the main differences between the 1964 and 1965 Thunderbirds, including the fender trim and (in my opinion) upgraded wheel covers with Emberglo paint accents.  Emberglo is an obvious ripoff of Chrysler’s Turbine Bronze (perhaps a payback for the Turbine Car’s obvious ripoff of the T-Bird’s styling), but it was only offered on the Special Landau in 1965.  For 1966, other cars, including Lincolns and Mustangs, could be ordered in this great-looking color.

Aside from the color, the Special Landau received unique wooden accents in the interior and an off-white vinyl top with the ubiquitous “love them or hate them” fake landau irons.  The buying public seemed to love them, my wife hates them, and I only like them because I like the rest of the car so much.

Ford sold approximately 4500 Special Landaus beginning in March of 1965.  A few were sold in Wimbledon White, but the vast majority were these Emberglo beauties.  As my tastes have evolved, I would happily call the ’65 a draw with my ’63, and I perhaps would prefer it based on the mechanical upgrades alone.  Certainly the auction car that sold a few weeks after I bought my Riviera would have been a better buy than my ’63 T-Bird.

In my opinion, and as I’ve mentioned before, the 1965 T-Bird was among the last truly special T-Birds, and they were advertised as such.  This TV commercial sums it up best: A mature couple out for a night on the town to catch a Broadway play owns the latest and most elegant Thunderbird.  The lights, the glitz, the vague tastelessness that still causes you to be a little envious in spite of yourself…that’s really what the T-Bird was all about.  Mechanically, it was nothing special at all: slow, heavy, inefficient, wallowing.  But it looked like a million bucks, rode like a dream, and oozed money and bourgeois pretentiousness.  God, I want one.

For more information on the Special Landau, here’s a neat little website: