Curbside Classics: 1964 Thunderbird and Thunderbird Landau – A Flair Bird Double Sighting

Flair Birds have been spotted and written up here at the Autobon Society several times; I’ll give you the links at the end. But when you run into two 1964 variations within a day or two of each other, it does merit another look at these proud and finely feathered birds.

Let’s start with the red one. Its prominent beak is a bit unusual, but then that is a key characteristic of Thunderbirds ever since they molted out of their juvenile feathers in 1958 and became mature. I rather prefer the 1961-1963 Bullet Bird in that regard, as its bladed cheeks worked better with that distinctive beak and eyes. This variation is a bit of a throwback to the 1958 – 1960 Square Bird’s scowl.

It certainly makes the Flair Bird easy to spot; of course nowadays, these stick out like a cardinal in a flock of starlings.

But just in case, its name is conveniently and proudly displayed on its forebody.

This whole family of Thunderbirds were blessed with splendid interiors, so that even if one wasn’t an absolute fan of certain exterior details, all was forgotten upon entering. As a child, I spent way too much time staring into these on the way to school, absorbing every sublime detail and leaving obvious drool marks on the side windows. Look at that giant console and arm rest. Oh my…

So many gauges, knobs, levers and other protuberances emanating from that grand sweep of chrome and satin-polished aluminum.

And the steering wheel that was always cocked so politely to the passenger side, to make entry and exit just a wee bit more…elegant. What a luxury that must be, as thoughts of our stark, stripper, black Fairlane came to mind. It was otherworldly; a Learjet for the road.

What a curious affectation: ribbon-style gauges set into their own round nacelles. Simple round gauges would have been too ordinary for this Flair Bird.

But it was the rear seat that slayed me the most. No other conveyance had anything like this; so unlike the crude and simple benches in mere automobiles. This was other-worldly. There was no “parcel shelf” and nobody’s little brother was going to be shoved up there and told to take a nap, while the sun broiled him. Thunderbird people were smart enough not to have kids, or at least not five, in any case.

The Flair Bird’s tail is as boxy as the rest of, excepting its beak. The wraparound bumper was pretty novel for 1964; did anyone do that sooner?  It does remind me more than a bit of the 1957-1958 Mercury rear bumper, in a more refined state; it’s easier to recycle styling elements rather than think up new ones from scratch. The human brain likes to work as efficiently as possible.

No sequential tail lights yet in 1964; that utterly amazing new evolution would have to wait a year. I suspect they did that on purpose, to give the ’65 a bit of extra flair.

This was the era of Ford’s “two box” design language: one shorter and narrower box set upon a longer and wider one.

And here’s the other ’64 Flair Bird, a Landau no less. This extra plumage made this the rarest of the family, although I rather preferred the regular version. This is a bit too showy for my taste; the peacock of the family.

At least it still has its rear side windows; those went away on the Landau in 1966, like this one I found cooped up in a cage. This was a rather unfortunate evolution. Was it the DDT that was still so widely used in 1964? They used to drive trucks through our neighborhood spewing it out of huge cannon-like sprayers into the elm trees in the losing battle against Dutch Elm disease. And we’d ride right behind it on our bicycles, laughing about the dousing we got.

The key identifier of the Landau variation is of course its soft and textured skin on its upper body and the eponymous curved bars on its side. The Great Brougham Epoch had begun, and Thunderbirds quickly evolved to adapt to its environmental demands. Adapt or…go extinct!

This poor bird is showing signs of its rather exceptional long life. Skin cancer is of course one of the higher mortality risks, along with the difficulty of administering medical services to its extremely tightly packed primary organs. This makes keeping and tending to these a bit of a challenge.

The care and feeding of these is obviously not an obstacle to the owners of these two, although this one does look a bit like it use some more attention. Its skin color is a bit mottled.

No matter what shape it’s in, a Flair Bird will always garner the attention of birdwatchers, and a ’64 Landau in a natural setting is worthy of respect and admiration, despite it not being quite as elegant as its Bullet Bird ancestors.



CC 1964 Thunderbird Landau – Jazz Riffing  J. Dennis

CC 1965 Thunderbird Landau   L. Jones

CC 1965 Thunderbird – Unique In All The World  Aaron65