Curbside Musings: 1996 Ford Thunderbird LX – Migration Patterns

1996 Ford Thunderbird LX V8. Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, April 4, 2024.

Birds have been increasingly visible in my neighborhood this spring, and I’m thrilled.  The day of this writing, I had just returned from the local grocery store and had passed a sparrow, a pigeon, and a couple of robins feeding on something that had been left at a curb on my block.  I’ve written about my love for birds at CC before, but today it struck me that some of the things about them that resonate with me are their quick reflexes and ability to fly, which allow them to take off at the first, perceived sign of danger.  They can just go away instantaneously, far out of the reach of would-be predators.  It’s now warm enough for me to sleep with my windows cracked open, and I awaken to the sounds of bird calls echoing throughout my forest of a neighborhood.

1996 Ford Thunderbird sales brochure cover, as sourced from the internet.

Chicago didn’t get much of a winter this year, as I had mentioned in an essay on a Dodge Shadow that ran earlier this year.  Aside from one really cold snap in the middle of January, it snowed maybe four times during the three, official months of winter, with only one of those times generating any notable accumulation.  This was after it snowed early on Halloween at the end of October, when I had begun to gear up for the kind of big winter I had come to expect in over twenty years of living here.  That formidable snowfall never came, and while I welcomed that respite from traditionally intense Chicago winters, it was also really alarming, given that this is the third straight year or so that winter has seemed but a mild wisp with a dusting of snow.

Among many detrimental effects of what appears to be significant climate change is that birds are getting confused.  Some species may start their migration northward prematurely, when the fuel and resources they need for the journey to their seasonal destinations aren’t yet widely available.  It isn’t just about getting the groceries.  These trends in changing weather patterns have also been shown to affect where birds migrate, how many eggs they lay, and even the size of their bodies, which has decreased with the increase in temperature.  Wildfires aren’t new (said the insurance underwriter), but increased frequency and severity of wildfire catastrophes have also eliminated many natural habitats.

1996 Ford Thunderbird LX V8. Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, April 4, 2024.

It seems that many birds are just doing what they need to do to survive: lay another batch of eggs, and propagate their species in light of many changes in their environment.  Humans also adapt.  So did the Ford Thunderbird.  Want to talk about a bird that just kept evolving with changing climates, albeit automotive ones?  The T-Bird started out as a lithe, little, V8-powered roadster; gained a back seat in its second generation as it became a personal car; got still bigger by the end of the sixties, lost the convertible, and added a four-door sedan; became an absolute behemoth; shrunk in the drier twice, first for ’77 and again just three years later; set aerodynamic styling trends in the mid-’80s… and then became what we see here, before one last gasp as a roadster (again).

Tenth-generation Ford Thunderbird print ad, as sourced from the internet.

I was in high school when the tenth generation Thunderbird arrived in the fall of ’88, and it was truly stunning, especially in Super Coupe form.  It was also expensive, owing much to a development budget that had been significantly exceeded.  (You can read about that here in an excellent essay by Jason Shafer.)  Toward the end of its run after nine years of production for ’97, I found it decidedly… just okay.  Maybe this was because I was living in southwestern Florida at the time, but these Thunderbirds seemed by then more like something your Aunt Vickie drove versus the car of choice for affluent, aspirational, middle-aged professionals.  The high-performance SC with its supercharged, 230-hp 3.8L Essex V6 had bowed out after ’95, so for the year of our featured car, it was an LX or nothing.  Two engines were available – either the base 3.8L with 140 horsepower, or the optional 4.6L V8 with 205 horses.

1996 Ford Thunderbird LX V8. Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, April 4, 2024.

This one has the V8, if my license plate search results are accurate.  It was built in Lorain, Ohio.  The ’96 base price of about $17,500 translates to almost exactly twice that in 2024 dollars.  Sales of about 86,500 for ’96 seem solid to me for a car that was already in its eighth year of production, especially in the rapidly shrinking coupe market of that time.  Also in ’96, Mercury moved about 39,700 Cougars, Buick sold just under 6,000 two-door Regals and 17,400 Rivieras, and Chevrolet’s evergreen Monte Carlo managed 80,700 units.  The rear-drive Thunderbird still dominated what was left of its market.

1996 Ford Thunderbird LX V8. Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois. Thursday, April 4, 2024.

The Thunderbird ultimately didn’t survive the changing climate of the automotive landscape even after returning as a convertible for an eleventh generation, but extinction seems to have been the case for many mainstream, domestic passenger car models, regardless of body style.  Automotive climate change has been very real.  Where have all the tenth-generation Thunderbirds flown?  That this one had even piqued my curiosity enough for me to stop and photograph it had given me pause to reflect on how few of them I’ve seen lately, which is to say hardly any.  According to multiple sources, emperor penguins aren’t expected to last through the end of this century before becoming extinct, due to warming global temperatures and melting sea ice.  Like that species of aquatic bird, I don’t expect to ride out this century, either, but this has given me only more reason to try to live more responsibly and enjoy things the way they are now.

Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, April 4, 2024.

Print materials were sourced from the internet.