Curbside Musings: 1967 Ford Thunderbird Coupe – A Different Kind Of Bird

1967 Ford Thunderbird coupe. Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, December 16, 2023.

I love penguins.  It’s hard to pinpoint when this might have started.  I do remember having owned and shared a children’s record on which the positive characteristics of various birds, fish and animals were extolled in song as qualities that good, young boys and girls should aspire to internalize and be in the world.  Reading that last sentence again, the idea wasn’t as hokey as it may sound, but I don’t care if it does.  I really loved the song about how penguins don’t complain about their blustery, cold surroundings and weather conditions, and also how they were depicted as ice skating and tobogganing on their bellies as if their natural habitat was just one big snow-day.  As an adult, my fascination with penguins has only grown, and I have learned so much about many of their eighteen species.

Gentoo penguins at the Detroit Zoo. Monday, March 19, 2018.

Gentoo penguins at the Detroit Zoo.  Boss “Thor” is on the left.  Monday, March 19, 2018. 

One thing about penguins that had escaped me as a child was that they aren’t mammals.  They’re birds.  Looking at a penguin and with no other frame of reference or in-depth reading, this kind of mistake seems like it would be easy to make.  They look like mammals.  They stand upright and walk in a waddling gait, not unlike many mammals.  (This is when they’re not gliding across ice and snow on their stomachs for greater speed and efficiency.)

1967 Ford Thunderbird coupe. Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, December 16, 2023.

They have an almost human-like form, albeit short and squashed, but with avian features like flippers where arms would be, and a beak, among other things.  There are other flightless birds, like ostriches, kiwis, and dodos.  While I love all of the animal kingdom (the zoo is one of my favorite places), it is the highly adapted characteristics of penguins, including their loyalty to partner and offspring, perseverance through insanely cold temperatures, skills at swimming (Gentoos can swim up to 20 miles per hour), fishing, eluding predators, and cuddly appearance that have endeared these plump birds to me.  I even had the chance maybe six or seven years ago to participate in a paid “penguin encounter” at the Shedd Aquarium, where I had the chance to learn about, interact with, and pet a Magellanic penguin named “Chile” (after the country).  I was over the moon.

Rockhopper penguins at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Saturday, October 1, 2011.

Rockhopper penguins at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  Chicago, Illinois.  Saturday, October 1, 2011.

Over the years in which I’ve been a participant at Curbside Classic, the fourth generation of Thunderbird is the one I can recall many readers having opined as being the one that represented the largest stylistic break from what came before since it had grown a back seat for ’58.  Don’t ask me to cite the CC article with that particular comment thread, because I can’t.  I live in constant fear (not really) of unwittingly duplicating an essay I’ve already written (which might have already happened, at least in part), let alone being able to remember where I’ve read a comment or two over the past nine years.  The idea that the ’67 was a wholly different kind of Thunderbird holds water within several contexts.

1967 Ford Thunderbird coupe. Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Up until this generation, the Thunderbird, though a personal car, was still a sporting machine, even if some had fender skirts and other luxury leanings.  Beltlines looked lower, greenhouses taller, and cockpits seemed to have a more closely-coupled look and feel, befitting a car with connotations of flight and air travel.  When the ’67 arrived, not only was there no more convertible (called a “roadster”), but a new four-door had joined the roster.  A Thunderbird sedan.

1967 Ford Thunderbird coupe. Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Its styling was now more fulsome and rounded, adopting more of a mainstream-midsizer kind of look, complete with more fully integrated “fuselage” bodysides where there was much less of an obvious break where the roof met the rear quarter panels.  The ’67 still looks very much like a Thunderbird to me, and I have always found it attractive.  It just seems to be in a slightly different category than the other ‘Birds before it, much like penguins aren’t like anything else you’re going to find in the aviary of your city zoo.

1967 Thunderbird coupe and 1964 Thunderbird Landau.

The ’64 Landau was photographed in Edgewater on Monday, October 24, 2016.

Next to a ’64 Landau, a ’67 coupe looks, well, fuller.  I was shocked to learn that not only were there only marginal dimensional differences between the first-year examples of their respective generations, but the base curb weight of the ’67 is actually about 4% less than that of the ’64 (~4,250 lbs. vs. ~4,430).  On a wheelbase just an inch and a half longer than the ’64, at 114.7″, a base ’67 coupe is only 1.5″ longer overall at 206.9″, 0.2″ wider at 77.3″, and 0.3″ taller at 52.8″.  The physical sizes of these two iterations of Thunderbird are almost interchangeable.  Why does the ’67 two-door look that much larger?  Don’t say it’s because of the wide whitewall tires, because other examples of fourth generation cars have long left me with the same impression of greater heft.

African penguins at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, September 16, 2018.

African penguins at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, September 16, 2018.

Thunderbird’s price range for ’67 closely resembled that of ’66, with an entry level coupe starting at just over $4,600, which was about $100 more than the year before.  The new four-door, priced in the $4,800 range, cost about as much as the departed ’66 convertible.  Sales of almost 78,000 for ’67 represented an increase of almost 13% over ’66.  This significant growth makes sense in keeping with the new Thunderbird’s major shift from sport to luxury, which echoed the increasing popularity of the brougham.  Ford’s own flossy LTD, introduced for ’65 as part of the Galaxie line, would later become its most popular full-sizer.

1967 Ford Thunderbird coupe. Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, December 16, 2023.

Just like many species of cold-weather penguin have adapted to life in truly harsh climates and conditions, the Thunderbird had to do the same amid changing tastes and preferences among American buyers.  Its move into overt luxury may not have started with the ’67 (ahem, fender skirts, dummy landau bars, ahem), but by the introduction of the fourth generation cars, luxury is where Ford had pushed all their chips.  All of them.  There was no longer any pretense of sporty anything by ’67.

1967 Ford Thunderbird and Gentoo penguin mash-up.

There would be other seismic shifts in the Thunderbird’s direction in the future, but my final thought is that the change for ’67 was more significant in that at the time, it was only the second instance this model’s identity had been overhauled to this degree.  As for penguins, my love for them eventually bled into fascination with birds in general.  Perhaps another trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo is soon in order for me in this new year.  Here’s to the breathtaking ability for adaptability among all creatures.

Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, December 16, 2023.