(first published 4/25/2012) This is it. The biggest Thunderbird ever built, a Mark IV in disguise. It’s hard to believe this car is related to the trim, befinned 1955-57 two seat T-Birds, but the Seventies changed a lot of people–and cars.
This was not the Thunderbird’s first drastic change. The 1958 Squarebird added a back seat and, with the possible exception of the 1953 Studebaker Starliner, created the personal luxury car market. Low, sleek and powerful, the T-Bird became a luxury Ford – an oxymoron at the time, for even though it was a Ford model it was considered on par with a Lincoln – unthinkable ten years prior.
The Squarebird gave way to the Bullet Bird in 1961, a very sporty and luxurious mode of transport for the Jet Age. Ford really had a knack for creating new market areas, and the T-Bird was one of their best exploits in that area. Folks who would never have considered a Ford in the past – people who were doctors or lawyers and drove Lincoln Continentals, Buick Electra 225s and Oldsmobile Ninety Eights, were looking at – and buying – Ford’s personal luxury car.
My grandparents were such people. When my dad was a kid, my grandfather, who was a lawyer and an insurance executive, had a ’62 or so Buick Electra, and my grandmother had a metallic lilac ’60 Catalina convertible with a white interior. That Pontiac was traded in on a navy blue ’65 Thunderbird convertible, with a white leather interior. She kept it all the way to 1977; she liked it that much. By 1964, the smooth, sporty looks of the 1961-63 ‘bullet bird’ gave way to crisp, rectangular lines, and one of the coolest interiors of the Sixties. The last of the Flair Birds came off the line in 1966.
Much was new for the 1967 Thunderbird, but not all of it was good. First of all, the convertible was gone, a victim of low sales. It was replaced with – are you sitting down? – a four door sedan. Yes, a four door sedan. This mini-Continental sported center-opening doors and Brougham-tastic landau irons on the sail panels, which hid the cut lines for the rear doors. A neat idea, but was this really a T-Bird?
Of course the two-door hardtop returned, for a somewhat more traditional Thunderbird experience. Then, in 1970, a ‘Bunkie Beak” was tacked on to the 1967-vintage body, making it look like a Grand Prix. During this time, sales were slowly but surely sinking, from 77,956 in ’67 to only 36,055 ’71s. A new direction was needed. What next?
What was next was more. More wheelbase, more front and rear overhang, more luxury gadgets, and more velour. The 1972 Thunderbird was completely redesigned, and shared much with the also new for ’72 Continental Mark IV. The 1972 Thunderbird (and the Mark IV) were approved by Ford President Bunkie Knudsen just before his departure from Dearborn. This was a big ‘Bird. Total length was now 214 inches, with a 120.4″ wheelbase and 80″ width. The 1972 model came in a single Landau two door hardtop bodystyle – the four-doors were history – and was priced at $5293. Sales rebounded smartly, to over 57,000.
The 429 CID V8 was standard equipment, with a 460 optional. Either way, you could have any transmission you wanted, as long as it was the 3-speed C6 automatic. Like the previous Thunderbird, the ’72 shared a lot of parts with the Mark – the windshield and side glass were identical between the two, not to mention most of the dimensions and the running gear. Thanks to the 1973 federal bumper standards, the ’73 T-Bird got a new nose (shown above) with requisite chromed battering ram, a new grille, headlights in separate pods, and new parking lamps. Also new was an opera window in the C-pillar, a must-have on ’70s personal luxury cars. It was initially an option, but was soon made a standard feature. Sales went up again, with over 87,000 sold for 1973.
Five mph bumpers were added to the back for ’74, so a similar restyling was applied to the back of the car. While attractive, it was not as good-looking as the full-width tail lamps and integrated bumper of the 1972-73. One of the T-Bird’s defining features, bucket seats, were eliminated for ’74.
Thanks to the new rear bumper, curb weight was up to 4800 lbs. The 429 was dropped, and all Thunderbirds now had the 460 as standard, for a less than stellar 11 mpg. Well, what do you expect? This is a large, in charge luxury coupe, not a Pinto!
Between 1974 and 1976, the Thunderbird remained essentially the same. Ford kept interest up with lots of special decor models. Our featured CC is a Burgundy Luxury Group Thunderbird, which was available in 1974 only. It included special burgundy metallic paint, color-keyed vinyl roof and premium bodyside moldings, and a burgundy interior in velour or optional leather.
Inside, the Thunderbird had its own unique door panels, upholstery, and round gauges set in a color-keyed panel, unlike the Mark IV’s square instruments in a fake-wood slathered instrument panel. As much as I love the Mark IV, I kind of like the Thunderbird’s instrument panel treatment better. And dig that CB radio! Breaker Breaker, this is Velour Bird rolling on I-80 at mile marker 257, where’s the nearest gas station?
While the Continental Mark IV was the cream of the crop in Ford’s personal luxury coupe lineup, an argument could be made for choosing the Thunderbird instead. Consider: A 1974 Thunderbird went for $7,330 ($34,106.36 adjusted) while the Mark IV was a princely $10,194 ($47,432.50 adjusted). For nearly three thousand dollars less – a not-inconsiderable sum in 1974 – you could get a very comparable car – assuming you could live without the chrome Parthenon grille, hidden headlights, spare tire hump and oval opera windows.
Here is a 1974 Continental Mark IV, with the Silver Luxury Group, no less. Though it had several unique styling cues, when you compare it with a similar shot of a ’76 T-Bird below, you can see how choosing a Thunderbird over a Mark could be a wise decision. Despite this, sales of 1974 Marks and T-Birds were neck and neck, with 57,316 and 58,443, respectively. Well, you did get a lot more snob value with the Mark!
The T-Bird had the same overall look (though the sheetmetal was different), dimensions, and gave up nothing over the Mark in comfort. It was also a much greater value. By 1976, the last year for the 1972 body shell, there were no less than three Luxury Groups: Creme and Gold, Bordeaux, and Lipstick (shown above and below).
The oddly-named Lipstick Luxury Group was the sharpest choice, in my opinion. Bright red paint, bodyside moldings and vinyl roof graced the exterior, while inside was white vinyl upholstery (or optional leather) with red-and-white door panels, and red carpeting, seat belts and instrument panel. It made for quite the flashy machine.
A couple weeks ago, my brother told me about a cool Thunderbird he saw parked for sale in Moline. I tracked it down the very next day. This ’74 model was in great shape, with only a little rust around the cornering lamps making it less than pristine. If you believe the sign, it only has 19,125 miles on it.
I have seen this car before in downtown Rock Island, but that was before I started carrying a camera in the car. It has to be the same one, as these are really scarce here in the Midwest. I can’t remember the last time I saw another one of these.
After 1976, the T-Bird went on a diet, and lost its relationship with the Continental. In fact, it would be essentially an LTD II with hidden headlights and a special ‘basket handle’ roofline, but it would set records for T-Bird production that may still yet be unbroken. This ’74 shows how the Thunderbird handled the Great Brougham Epoch. If ever there was a Thunderbird Brougham, this is it.
This was the first generation of Thunderbird of which I was aware, having been born only a few years before its debut. So this car set the Thunderbird idiom for me. None of the subsequent Birds have come close.
$2500 is the tank full? Seriously at $2.20 per litre I dont need this car but it would sell for huge bucks out here.
Now why, exactly, did I hate Ford so much for so many years back then? Oh, yes – because of stuff like this…GM, you were next.
WARNING:Anyone who hates malaise era, luxo-brougham barges like this WILL suffer an aneurism And develop systemic stage-IV brain cancer after exposure to these photos!
It’s a bad joke I created. There are certain malaise era barges that I like and others I don’t. This is one of them but thankfully, no.
I worked at Budget Rent-a-Car in 73 & 74 and the bosses wife had one of these, white with red leather interior. It was without a doubt one of the worst cars I have ever driven before or since! Very poor handling, steering didn’t seem connected to anything and visibility that was downright scary…couple that with the long hood, long overhangs it was a recipe for disaster every time you parked it. I’ll say one thing for it though, it sure was one of the quietest cars I’ve ever been in.
In high school auto shop, circa 1976, an English teacher on staff had a ’73. We would service it for her. Naturally, a test drive came into play. Frankly, in my youth, I found this car a real pig. It was extremely quiet and luxurious though. I do like big cars, but driving this car was like stirring cake mix with a pocket knife.
I like big cars. A lot. But a Mark IV, same car but for details, was the only car I ever drove and decided not to buy because of size. Too much hood and front overhang. I felt like I was driving from the back seat. Also, like all full size Lincolns of the 1970’s, I’ve never known of anyone who is able to get the MPG into the double digits in the real world.
Well, I got around 15 mpg at highwaydriving in Norway at best. In town 10 MPG was the normal. It seems that the Ford 460 engine is thirstier than comparable engines as the Buick 430, the Cadillac 472/500/425/368-series or the Chevrolet BB. I don’t know, but that is my opinions.
EVERYTHING wrong with Fords of this era was concentrated in this one car.
Dunno but the Granada was a smaller version of the same mess.
I’m a sucker for a nice T-Bird, but this iteration and the 5th gen with The Beak do absolutely nothing for me. It looks like the designer(s) of both were in need of Prozac.
That’s because when these T-birds were designed, the President (Bunkie Knudsen) and the designer (Larry Shinoda) were not on Prozac, but “late of Pontiac!”
Parallel parking a T-Bird or Mark of this vintage is easy with a curb feeler and lots of practice!
My father had a ’73 T-Bird as the second & last car that he ever owned. It had the 460 cu. in. engine. He enjoyed driving it. He claimed that it rode like a plane on the highway. I only drove it once & it felt like driving the USS Missouri. He only racked up 24K miles in it in the 35 yrs. that he owned it. We sold it to someone in CA who bought it because his grandfather had the same type of car.
Of all the cars I have ever sat or ridden in, this one is my least favorite. I had to ride in the back seat of this monstrosity for two hours and it was sheer torture. I despise the car. It is INCREDIBLY small inside for what how large it is outside. And it is butt ugly too.
Aneurism and systemic stage-IV brain cancer for you!
I only mildly dislike it, so maybe I can get away with a severely unpleasant rash…
I was a kid in the 70s and 80s. It was cars like this that made the import cars so desirable. Sporty, decent ergonomics, good handling, and frugal enough that a person could drive them often.
I enjoy seeing the old timers like this T-Bird but have no more desire to own one now than I did then. Still miss my ’83 VW GTI and our late 80s Honda Accord hatchback (5MT). Even my thirsty six cylinder Mustang was better in my opinion than that T-bird. I drove a Lincoln version once on a curvy mountain road. White knuckles the whole way.
This car was emblematic of everything that was wrong with Ford and Detroit as a whole during this era. It was gigantic on the outside yet the interior was tiny. It handled like an overweight barge; the steering wheel didn’t appear to be connected to anything but did, in a fashion, move the front wheels.
By 1978 or so, there were loads of these things on the used market incredibly cheap. They were very popular with new immigrants to Canuckistan at the time as they could get part of the American dream on the cheap. I dated a girl about this time whose family had one, exactly the same as the one in the picture. The car was cramped and used gas like the USS New Jersey but Papa didn’t care, since he’d picked the car up for next to nothing.
In my used car days, I had the displeasure to driving a few of these. I knew Detroit was on the way down the drain after driving these pieces of crap, among many others. Ford was by far the worst of this time; even the Chryslers were better if, by some miracle, you got one that wasn’t a quality nightmare. At the Mopar and GM stuff went down the road reasonably well, while the Ford stuff bounded and wallowed like a preggo whale. One would assume that with a motor that could power an M-60 tank the thing would at least have reasonable power, but these cars were all gutless slugs.
The Fairmont was the first decent Ford since the ’65 Mustang and that isn’t saying much since the 1978 Malibu is infinitely better. At least the Fairmont had reasonable interior room.
The base price of a 1978 Fairmont sedan was $3,710, while the base price of a 1978 Malibu sedan was $4,469. That was almost a $700 difference, which was a fair chunk of change in 1978. And the Fairmont had roll-down rear windows on the four-door sedans and its sixes didn’t self-destruct just after the warranty ended.
The Fairmont and Malibu were aimed at different segments of the market. The Fairmont, as a replacement for the Maverick and Granada, was meant to serve as Ford’s compact entry. The Malibu was a downsized intermediate. The different pace of downsizing for GM and Ford meant that their various products didn’t line up quite as neatly by the late 1970s as they had in the past.
Only the replacement of the Maverick. The Granada got the front end updated with squared headlights for ’78 and keeped the same bodyshell until 1980. Then for a short time in 1981, it was built on the Fox-body as a “intermediate” to fit between the Fairmont and the LTD.
In addition to its downmarket orientation, the Fairmont had a 3″ shorter wheelbase & weighed several hundred pounds less, as it was a weight-optimized unibody instead of BOF like the GM A-bodies, which must’ve felt more substantial.
My theory is, until the Fox Granada, the Fairmont couldn’t be allowed to upstage Ford’s larger cars, so it HAD to feel cheap. I bet this market thinking still goes on with Focus vs. Fusion, Corolla vs. Camry, Civic vs. Accord, etc.
My family owned a ’79 Fairmont and a ’79 Malibu at the same time when I was a kid in the mid 80’s. They weren’t remotely comparable. The Fairmont felt like an enlarged economy car, whereas the Malibu felt like a very solid mid-size. The Malibu’s doors felt more substantial, the interior was higher-quality (even if the plastics were already starting to fade to different colors), and it had a better ride. Of course some of this was exacerbated by the fact that the Fairmont was a 4-cylinder and the Malibu was a V8…
The Fairmont was also gone by ’88 with engine trouble, whereas the Malibu lasted long enough to be my first car in ’96 and was on the road until 2001.
So the Fairmonts may not have been *bad* cars, and were probably quite a bit more pleasant with the six or the V8, but there were reasons for that price differential!
Ever driven a gov’t issue Fairmont? For a while in the 1980s a family member liked to buy gov’t surplus vehicles. Always low mileage and well maintained. These cars were the most basic they could be. I’ll always remember the basic four cylinder some of these gov’t cars came with, and the indestructible interiors. AMC Concords, Ford Fairmonts, Chevettes, Citations, etc. Not always equipped with a/c but still issued in hot summer parts of the country.
I guess they did seem nicer than the equivalent bargain basement versions of the Beetle, the Toyota and Datsuns just because they were a little bigger.
I’m booked on the next flight to Moline with a wad of cash.
I will personally be there with a camera! 🙂
Not if I get there first and I’ve already got a ticket to Chicago on a plane that leaves in few hours.
I guess I’m the only one here who likes these, though I like the Mark even more. I’ll take the Lipstick version, I’m a sucker for a white leather interior.
I’m sorry but nothing says or said success, excess or conspicuous consumption like being able to afford a car that long and big that was only really good for carrying 2 people. Honestly who cares about the back seat occupants comfort, it’s the person in the drivers seat paying the bill.
Eric VanBuren, that was the exact idea. Take a look at some of the massive coupes and roadsters from the late 20’s to mid-30’s classic era. You will see gigantic cars with extremely long hoods and one seat that will comfortably hold two people, at least one of who was likely to be extremely well-off.
I suppose this raises the question of why the stylists felt it necessary to include a rear seat at all in these hulking Thunderbirds and Mark IV’s.
Well of course you need the back seat for those that are earning the money to pay the bills.
No, the back seat’s where you carry your money!
The Auburn Speedster comes to mind.
Not at all. For $2500, I’d snatch that thing up. Of course, my commute is only 2 miles. . .
That thing is screaming out for a Powerstroke/5-speed swap.
Which would only set you back like $30k. But you’d really save gas money!
Add me to the list of fans of this Thunderbird iteration. And likewise, I like the equivalent Mark even better. The length of the bonnet/frontal overhang is phenomenal, just screaming out for two or more V8s mounted together!
I liked the big 2 door fords of this era too. But I like this one better than the Thunderbird…
the 1977 LTD II S
The only thing that bugs me about it is the front wheels are too far back from the front bumper.
“Honestly who cares about the back seat occupants comfort, it’s the person in the drivers seat paying the bill.”
This idea that every single car out there has to make efficient use of space seems silly to me. This car wasn’t meant to be efficient and it wasn’t pretending to be.
People weren’t shopping the Mark IV or Thunderbird as the family car. I see this car being driven by a rich single guy, or by the (at that time) father who worked, while the mother would have the family car; the LTD sedan or Country squire or whatever it was. The parents would take this car on their nights out, the kids would not be permitted to drive it, except maybe to prom, and it would be left in the garage on family vacations.
I’ve sat in the back of a new BMW coupe recently. It’s the car bought by the 2015 version of the Mark or Thunderbird driver. And the seats in back are still uncomfortable and it’s still not a family car.
The teens would maybe get to drive it to *THE* prom. “Prom” didn’t lose its’ definite article until sometime around the turn of the millennium.
I remember sitting in a ’72 T-bird at Chicago Auto Show, when I was 10, and the doors seemed like from a bank vault!
Some forget these were designed long before any thoughts of oil embargoes, and middle aged car buyers of the time wanted big, bigger, biggest.
I never understood these. Up to this point, a Thunderbird was a Thunderbird. Sure, there was the Mark III, but those looked quite different. The Lincoln was more elegant,the Bird was a little more brash.
With the 72s, the T-Bird became the budget knockoff Mark IV for people who couldn’t afford a real one. Maybe my perspective was colored by the fact that my Dad leased a 72 Mark IV in the fall of 1971, so I had the luxury of riding around in the genuine article. Maybe as an adult having to actually pay for the thing, I might be more receptive to the Bird (if I were interested in such a car). Still, I think that the 72-76 T-Bird was much like the 1956 Clipper compared to yesterday’s 56 Packard. Pretty much the same car without all of the status. But on one of these, what else was there?
I will agree with others. The back seat was a penalty box (a leather-swathed penalty box, though) that was difficult to enter and exit. I only drove Dad’s Mark a couple of times, but did not really like it. Funny, as big of a land barge kind of guy as I may be, I have never worked up much enthusiasm over these. They seem to have a lot of kitsch factor, though. Sort of the 62 Dodge Dart for a new generation.
But I am glad you found it. It is really interesting to look at and ponder.
Edit: The white 61 hardtop looks just like the one I owned for awhile (only nicer).
So everyone talks about how bad the fuel economy was on 70s post bumper regulation/environmental regulation cars but I’ve got to ask… Was the fuel economy any different on a 65 T-bird or a 67 or a 72 vs a 75 model?
Oh, God yes. First, the 65 had a 390 as its standard engine, with an optional 428. My 390 67 Galaxie was actually pretty good on gas if you kept your foot out of the carburator. But I could drive it like an irresponsible teenager and still get 10 mpg in town. The later cars put on several hundred pounds and lost a lot of compression and horsepower with the onset of early emission controls.
Virtually every car made in the 72-74 period got substantially worse fuel mileage than its mid 1960s counterpart, at least in my experience (particularly if you tried to drive them the same way). 8 mpg around town was not that uncommon for the worst offenders.
One counterpoint is that while there had been quite a few cars that demanded premium gas in the 60s, everything burned regular by 1972, so the dollar cost of the lower mileage may not have been as bad as you would expect.
The cars post 1973 were weighted down with the huge 5mph bumpers. The basic size of the cars worked against this since it is going to take a heck of a lot of steel and hydraulics to prevent any damage at 5mph impacts. By 1974 on a Detroit barge the bumpers alone were somewhere in the order of 400 lbs. On the other hand, a minor nudge in a parking lot didn’t result in a huge repair bill, either.
The second factor was in 1973 emission standards tightened up drastically. Detroit responded but spending as little money as possible and this meant retarded sparks to reduce CO and EGR to reduce NOx emissions.What they really needed was new engines designed to reduce NOx, meaning the end of cheap to produce wedge combustion chambers, and real fuel injection.
But nooooooo, Detroit was gonna stick it to the customer. Instead of designing new engines and fuel systems, they just strangled the existing motors the had been using and didn’t give a hoot about fuel consumption. Karma has a way of biting you in the ass and when the fuel crisis hit in 1973 you couldn’t give away a 460 cube sled.
This lack of spending money on engineering is what did Detroit in over the long term. Even 15 years later they were still peddling the same engines like the 351 and 302, albeit finally with proper fuel injection (and only because they had to). It took another round of emission tightening to get modern engines like the Modular V-8, which was heads and above better than the 302. We all love to decry government regulations but for the most part it was these regulations that gave us safer, cleaner and more fuel efficient cars.
I have to disagree with you on this one. The automakers did what they could with the technology commercially-available AT THAT TIME in order to meet the emissions mandates. Did their solutions work very well? Heck no!
It took up until the late 1980s when cost-effective and reliable electronic controls, combined with fuel injection, made it possible to make powerful, efficient engines that also passed emissions.
Look at antilock brakes and airbags – ideas that were also tried in the 1970s but failed because the electronic technology wasn’t yet there (among other reasons). And Chrysler Lean Burn – need I say more?
And you can badmouth the American carmakers all you want, but the foreign cars weren’t much better during the malaise era when it came to dealing with our emissions standards. The Honda CVCC system was probably the finest example of a pre-electronic solution, but it was very complex and it only took the tiniest vacuum leak somewhere to give it fits. The Bosch K-Jetronic systems were also pretty good.
I had the pleasure of doing tuneups on 1970s-80s malaise-era cars of all makes while in high school auto shop so I learned a lot about the emissions systems of that era. We had top-rate equipment including a $26K (in 1983) Sun analyzer that had its own 3-gas exhaust analyzer built in.
Yup Detroit was not trying to stick it to the consumer. They got caught with their pants down and did what they could in the time they had while not sticking it to the consumer with way higher prices. You can’t design a good engine in 2 years time. The mod motor is a good example it didn’t debut until 91 but Ford starting designing it in 84-85 and spent a solid 2 years field testing it. That is why the early versions had the old small block bellhousing pattern and they debuted in the Panthers where they had racked up a few million miles of testing. Ditto for the V10 which was field tested in Econolines long before it was available for sale.
This era T-bird/Mark was the first “modern” hybrid prototype. Unfortunately the cost to the consumer would have been about 100K and you think there was no room in the production version in the hybrid it was a 2 passenger car w/o room in the trunk for anything. Its 2.3 4cyl did return over twice the mpg of the 460 with similar performance.
I respectfully disagree. The 1973 standards were announced in 1968, giving them a five year head start. Instead on engineering a solution they lobbied Congress and lost and they were still building the same motors almost 25 years later. This gave them five years to design new engines and instead they chose to litigate. They also knew all about catalytic converters, which is the reason unleaded fuel was made available in 1971, but they balked at the cost, which is the reason they were delayed until 1975 and even later in Fords. Funny thing was when converters were added to GM cars in 1975 the world did not end not the sky fall and consumers were more than happy to pay the extra money to have a car that ran a whole lot better and used less fuel. The problem was worse for Ford because all their engines where high NOx producers to begin with while the Small Block was better, this being the reason it lasted right until 1997, while the 302 and 351 were gone in car applications by 1991.
The Bosch K-Jetronic system was in fact an excellent solution and actually less complicated than a carb setup but there was no way Detroit was going licence anything from ferriners because NIH syndrome was the order of the day. The Europeans went for fuel injections and the Japanese already had relatively strict standards in their home market so their cars ran just fine with pollution controls but the Ford stuff in particular was really bad.
The whole effort of Detroit was not engineering but trying to get the legislation changed to overturn the upcoming EPA standards for 1973. I remember it well and it bordered on hysterics. Detroit always opposed anything that resembled a regulation on them.
I am not “badmouthing” the US car industry in any way, just expressing my opinion but the facts rather speak for themselves. The US industry slowly and steadily gave up its huge market dominance and two of the “Big Three” went bust. It was their products and engineering that caused that to happen and under-powered, slugs with 7.5 litre engines with 8mpg fuel habits had a lot to do with consumers switching to foreign based brands.
So here is what I’ve always wondered. What would happen to the fuel economy of one of those 8mpg pigs if you gave it true dual exhausts (better breathing), modern high flow cat converters, and retrofitted some sort of FI set up for it? (Holley Pro-jection or some factory solution) Fine tune the timing and add an overdrive to the trans. Could you turn one of those pigs into a legitimate 25mpg highway cruiser (at 55 to 60 mph, not the 85 mph I typically drive)? If it was possible to do that I’d think about one as a possible project. I’ve had this sick obsession with massive cars since I was little.
I did exactly what you suggested with the 429 in my 1971 LTD: Dual exhaust, Duraspark II electronic ignition, and a 2-bbl Holley ProJection. I could eek out high teens on the highway. This was not, however, an emissions-era engine. That car would still accelerate at triple-digit speeds!
The drastically lowered compression ratios after 1971 (Ford) and 1970 (GM) really killed the economy of the motors no matter what else you did.
We had a pretty thriving business “unsmogging” pre-catcon Fords, All you had to do was replace the distributor with a pre-1971 unit from a wrecker, hook up the vacuum advance directly to the manifold and the car ran much better. Removing the AIR pump had a marginal effect, too. Owners said the cars used like 20% less fuel but I wouldn’t trust off the cuff estimates. Did make the cars drive a lot better, though.
In the late 1960s, designing all-new engines represented a tremendous expense, even for GM, let alone Ford, Chrysler and AMC. A five-year lead time is hardly generous under those circumstances. Remember, EVERY engine had to meet the new standards, not just the biggest ones or the high-performance engines. Auto makers offered 3-4 engines for each model, which was what buyers expected. Today, of course, things are different, thanks to the fall-out of both CAFE and the Clean Air Act. It took a good 30 years to get to that point.
In 1973, GM and Ford simply couldn’t discontinue every engine option for, say, the Thunderbird or their intermediate lines without a severe buyer backlash.
The catalytic converter-equipped engines ran better than their early 1970s counterparts, but that isn’t saying much. I regularly drove my parents’ 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Holiday sedan, and I remember a fair amount of hesitation upon full-throttle acceleration.
At any rate, the Clean Air Act standards progressively got tighter in the late 1970s, even after the adoption of the converters in 1975. The adoption of the converters in the 1975-77 time period was not the final solution, particularly since standards continued to tighten after 1975. As others have correctly noted, it wasn’t until the advent of reliable, cost-effective electronic engine controls that those standards were met while allowing acceptable performance and economy. Detroit literally had to invent a lot of that technology from the ground up.
The foreign stuff was complicated, too, and the European cars were hardly paragons of reliability during this time. Their performance was pretty dismal, too. Their saving grace was better handling and braking, which covered up for the lack of acceleration, and minimal power assists or effective air conditioning, which meant less weight and more power used actually moving the car. VW and even BMW drivers were willing to manually wind up their own windows and sweat in the summer. Oldsmobile Delta 88 and Ford Thunderbird drivers were not.
My 1977 Honda Civic CVCC was a great car in many ways, but it could be quite “finicky” thanks to its emissions controls, and it could be a bear to start on cold mornings, thanks to a manual choke.
Ah yes, the Honda CVCC motor and NOx emissions. The CVCC engines weren’t put in new cars once the NOx emission regs because the NOx emissions from the mill were to high for it to be considered compliant with those emissions regulations.
The proposed 73 standards were announced in 68 when they introduced the 71 standards which was enough to keep them busy for then. Then in late 70 they finalized the 73, 73 they finalized the 75 standards.
I’m with the Canuck on this one. Read DeLorean’s book, or the one from Brock Yates about this era, called “The Fall of the Auto Industry” or some such.
Plenty of old-line companies faced big changes in the 70s-80s. GE and IBM took one approach, Detroit took another.
We can love old cars without romanticizing poor management.
And you Canucklehead!
Do you have anything to add to the discussion, Alfasaab99?
Yes, being the worst malaise era, luxo-brougham barge, you should either be blind or have suffered an aneurism ang gained systemic stage-IV brain cancer from having looked at and reading about this car.
It’s part of a running gag I’ve implanted into this discussion early on and told people that hate malaise era luxo-barges what I said about this joke and them.
Also, Oldsmobile was working on how to make the Rocket V8 more smog-compliant and had smog-compliant Rocket V8s in some of their cars by 1971.
“Japanese already had relatively strict standards in their home market so their cars ran just fine with pollution controls”
You forgot the FLOOR TEMP light.
Yes, but GM managed to build smog compliant engines that weren’t total gas pigs. Once you got to cats in the exhaust and the super-reliable HEI ignition across the board in ’75, drivability was good and you could still get 14-15 MPG in a Caddy if you kept the speed down. But in a 460 powered LIncoln of the same vintage you can wheeze along at 55, IF the Ford electronic ignition does not crap out on you, and you will still get 9.5 MPG.
So Tom, what did you grandmother replace her ’65 TBird convertible with in ’77?
Of these, my favorite is the sleek-bumpered ’72 followed by the ’73. It went downhill from there.
I’ve never driven one, but I did own a ’78 TBird (the one based on Torino) which was basically a slightly smaller version of this. Although about the same overall length as my ’76 Monte Carlo, the turning circle seemed twice as big! Nice quiet ride, but a loser in the handling/maneuverability department.
Another T-Bird, of course. A brand-new ’77 in black with black vinyl roof, red pinstriping, and a white interior with red carpet and instrument panel. It was a really sharp car. She kept it into the early Nineties.
Wow, sounds sharp, and an interesting color combo with the red/white/black. I bet she missed that ’65, but on the other hand, I do remember the era, and I’m sure it just seemed like an old worn-out car compared to the new one. Funny!
God bless her. I kept my ’77 T-Bird about 9 months. I found that driving more than half an hour gave me back pain (something you don’t learn in a test drive). Also, a 1977-79 T-Bird is about the same size as a Caprice or LeSabre of that vintage, which is scary to think about given how little interior and trunk room is in the Bird.
Thunderbird grows thunder thighs.
Watching the Thunderbird evolve from the 2 seater to this is like watching a canary evolve into a turkey in one lifespan.
The size and placement of the wheels on these and their Mark counterparts made them seem even bigger than they were, if thats even possible. I’m no fan, though I almost did buy a mustard colored 72 Thunderturkey just because it was clean and at a giveaway price, but even then, I just couldn’t stomach it.
Its interesting that the Thunderbird went from being Fords Riviera to Fords Monte Carlo from one generation to the next.
Thunderbird: A Quinn Martin Production.
You said it there – Quinn Martin produced cop shows (e.g. “The FBI”) were known to feature Ford Motor Company cars.
The 1974-76 iteration of the Ford Thunderbird actually looked like a slightly enlarged version of the 1975-76 Ford Gran Torino Elite. Although both have a separate body and ladder type frame construction, do both models share identical chassis as well?
I don’t think so. The Elite was a response to the Monte Carlo (which was a fancy-dress Chevelle), while the T-Bird and Mark had their own chassis and a lot of common components.
Very Interesting THX. if the 1974-76 Ford Thunderbird and the Lincoln Continental Mark IV had used a different chassis than the Ford Gran Torino/Torino Elite then perhaps the only logical explanation might be but I am not quite positively sure about perhaps the T-Bird & the Mark IV probably utilized a variation of the same era 1974-76 Ford LTD/Mercury Marquis/Lincoln Town Car chassis instead? While the 1974-76 Chevrolet Monte Carlo (the direct competitor to the Ford Gran Torino Elite) were which based on a stretched 1974-76 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu and Buick Regal (Run of the mill Ford Gran Torino direct competitors) chassis, the 1974-76 Buick Riviera (the direct competitor to the 1974-76 Ford Thunderbird) were much more based on a shortened 1974-76 Buick Le Sabre/Electra chassis.
The Big Bird and Mark IV & V used a stretched version of the Torino-Montego chassis, but with the big-car 5 on 5 bolt circle.
THX for the interesting reply. It always seemed that the 1974-76 Ford Thunderbird along with the Lincoln Mark IV & V always appeared to have a stronger familial kinship resemblance with the 1974-76 Ford Gran Torino & Mercury Montego/Cougar than the 1974-76 Ford LTD/Mercury Gran Marquis/Lincoln Town Car specifically with platform sharing. Maybe it would also be fair to say that when Ford downsized the Thunderbird for 1977 through 1979 along with its Lincoln equivalent that they were still based on the Gran Torino chassis albeit the same exact chassis length this time to save weight and gas mileage. With the exception of a newly restyled body, the Ford Gran Torino which was given a new name Ford LTD II for 1977 through 1979 as well were still based from the 1972 vintage Torino chassis. Lastly it would not be a surprising revelation at all if the newer during that time in 1979 the Panther Platform collectively known as the Ford LTD and Mercury Grand Marquis and the 1980 Lincoln Town Car which had a 32 year run which just ended for the mass market for 2012 but continued on for the imported and fleet purchase program would also be based on a modified Ford Gran Torino chassis as well because their exterior sizes were close enough to warrant platform sharing as well to cut cost.
That is an interesting Thought Pedro. I wonder how little of a stretch it actually is. In 10 years of my Mother having her 73 T-Bird, I always Thought of it as being from an LTD rather than the rather lowly Torino.
After Fall 76 when the new GMs came out, we all became much more aware of the Various “B’ vs A bodies etc… and platform sharing.
@ lax, YES indeed the 1974-76 iterations of the Ford Thunderbird was based on a modified Ford Gran Torino minus the curvatured contour. The exterior dimensions of the 1974-76 T-Bird was even in fact much more closer to the Gran Torino than the LTD. The 1973 T-Birds since its the same design and size of the 1974-76 versions were also based on a longer new for 1972 Torino platform as well. Ford Motor Company of course just like GM does not want to reveal that their large personal luxury car chassis were actually based on the lowly intermediates due to the image of the T-Bird being associated with the Gran Torino might cheapen the former’s intended image so this was the marketing ploy in distancing the larger T-Bird with the slightly shorter Gran Torino. In GM’s marketing ploy they were able to distance the 1976-79 Cadillac Seville with the 1975-79 Chevrolet Nova and even the 1975-81 Chevrolet Camaro even though the 1G Seville was essentially based on both of those car’s platform so that it would not cheapen Seville’s image. Ford however failed with the Lincoln Versailles because the public perceptions of this car and basically truth be told that it was just an expensive Ford Granada with luxurious vanity add-ons to make it a legitimate Lincoln model which the public were not convinced and fooled by.
My personal favorites are the 64-66 Flair Birds and the 83-88 Aero Birds. Yin and Yang as the Flairs have more character lines than an 80 year old and the Aeros are smoother than a babies behind but both IMHO are sized and proportioned correctly as personal luxury cars.
The ensuing upsizing in the following generations were unfortunate with the 72-76’s being the least bird like, sort of like a flying pig.
As an aside, has anyone ever noticed history repeating with the 89-97’s longer, lower and wider design philosophy?
The 89-97s are actually 2″ shorter than the 83-88 “aero birds”. The wheelbase is the only thing that really grew significantly (104″ vs. 113″).
This is the scaled side by side comparison photos between the 1974-76 Ford Thunderbird vs. the 1974-76 Ford Gran Torino Elite. If this was GM, it would be like comparing the 1974-76 Buick Regal with the 1974-76 Buick Riviera.
As I was comparing both cars, it seemed obvious that the front and rear bumpers of the 1974-76 Ford Thunderbird and the 1974-76 Ford Gran Torino Elite since they both look identical in bumper design and width might even be interchangeable as well – looked too obvious.
There’s a huge disconnect between these cars and the ones that preceded them. I think of the Flair-Birds and earlier as high class muscle cars, but the generation from 72-76 as nothing more than pimp-mobiles, or Homer (Simpson) -mobiles. Essentially, cars for the easily impressed. (EDIT: On seeing that published, that was rather harsh. Let’s say someone who appreciates the audacity of building such a magnificent beast. They may not have been my ideal, but you cannot deny that they are remarkable.)
What’s so very strange about these cars, is that the basic proportions of the styling is the same as the Torino/Montego/Elite/Cougar of the same era. But somehow, the Thunderbird (and the Mark for that matter) look a little off.
I remember driving one in the late ’70’s a few times, it was not a pleasant experience. We complain about the visibility in today’s cars; these weren’t a whole lot better. The aircraft carrier like hood and the acreage behind the rear slit window made it hard to maneuver, however, since the cars styling was largely square, you could see the ends, and estimate time to impact. Really tough to do in today’s cars, I’ll admit. There was a reason why the opera window became standard, you couldn’t see out of the farkin thing!
It’s really easy to criticize these cars from today’s vantage point. Back in the middle leisure suit era, this car (and a host of others, including the mid size Cougar from a few days ago) seemed to make sense. (I have to laugh at myself as I typed the last sentence, I caught a glimpse of my desktop wallpaper, it’s a 1978 AMC Matador Barcelona. Talk about calling the kettle black…)
I’m glad this example still stands, but I won’t driving over to Indiana or Illinois to pick it up. So very much not my cup of tea…
A bit off-topic but an interesting detail to note. I wonder if Ford was ahead of its time with a 4-door T-bird? Pontiac introduced a 4-door Grand Prix for 1990 although the Grand Prix moved to a more mainstream market then.
(Although I can’t Wait To read This…)
I Will save this until I can Take in Every Word.
I finally convinced my mother The Tranny in the 63 Gp was gonna leave her stranded –
This Was Our First Luxury car and I felt a notch more “UPPER” middle class riding this 14 -18…
Wait, your mother is a tranny? How does that work?
For a number of years, my grandparents had one of these that sat in the garage next to the Mark IV (CC, Gas Fed Beef). I was 11 when the Bird showed up as a second car/work car for my Grandpa to drive around. It was obvious that it was closely related to the Mark, but it was different enough to be interesting, at least to me. Their car had the Cream/Gold decor option. By the time Grandpa got rid of it in late 1996 it was pretty beat and rusty, but they sure enjoyed that car.
Never was sure though who put a “Greenpeace” bumper sticker on it though…
NO way with gas at $3.89 a gallon here in Little Rock! Maybe 8 mpg in the city. IF I put headers and a Edelbrock performer intake and carb on, it might get 14 on the highway so each and every hour on the interstate would only cost $20 instead of $25 stock…but it still wouldn’t have enough power to back up how crappy it would sound.
If I want a malaise era Ford I’ll take a Futura or Granada with the straight six.
For some reason this is growing on me. But this thing is just too heavy to get any decent fuel economy. That said it put me in a Torino sort of mood.
I owned one of these, a ’75 with the Copper Luxury Group, for six years. Bought it from the original owners who had traded in their ’69 Cougar for it. The sticker price was over $10k back then. This car even had factory dual exhausts.
Did it like fuel? Yes. I would get 12 to 14 mpg with it in mixed city and highway driving. Was it comfortable? Yes, although I never rode in the back. Did other things back there, but didn’t ride back there.
The worst part of driving it was cresting a hill. You would be part of the way down the hill before ever being able to see over the hood. I always hoped for the best.
Quiet? About like the inside of Grant’s Tomb.
Did I like driving it? Yes. Much better than the ’89 Mustang with the mighty 2.3 I had also at the time…
It’s like light beer or diet soda….you gotta have a taste for it.
In the quest for the “most brougham”, surely profligate waste of space has to be a factor…
I’ll just say – not for me.
I’m a huge Ford Fan. In the last few decades I’ve had a 71 Mark III and a 64 T-Bird. Closer to this era I had a 74 Mustang II Ghia (decent gas mileage with a V6) in 1975.
I hated these! The 72 at least looked good and didn’t have too much smog crap. Back then, after the Mustang II I just had old cars until 1982 when I got a Capri 5.0 HO new. Cars of the mid 70s to early 80s……..mostly SUCKED.
Being a huge fan of the Lincoln Mark IV, I naturally love these cars, too. Especially the Creme/Gold Luxury Group & the Copper Anniversary from 1975. With leather, of course. The velour came across a little too orange. These were really a tremendous bargain back then. Just look at what Ford was offering you; essentially a Mark IV for 70 cents on the dollar. Such a deal. Even today in the CC market, they are thousands cheaper than any Mark IV or Mark V. They just don’t get the love or following that the earlier & later T-Birds do. There is a small but vocal & devoted group of enthusiasts that love these cars, despite the many shortcomings they possess.
….I LOVE these cars….i have a 76 MKIV which runs very strong…just retuning the ignition and carb and switching to dual exhaust will do that for you…i think that most people here do not understand how they were meant to be driven and enjoyed…i mean somebody could argue that a Ferrari is too small, has no trunkspace, too loud, too harsh, uncomfortable to drive…and this person would be RIGHT but obviously totally missing the point of the car. A luxury car of that time was meant to calm you down…you would glide along in total silence…the steering can be operated with two fingers…total effortlessness…perfect climate control…nice sound system…seats as comfortable as barcaloungers…an experience like meditation…just like todays big SUVs or trucks the sheer size of it would make you feel invincible and superior to all the little fartcans on the road…you would be isolated in you luxury cocoon…miles fly by without wearing on you…been after a long trip you would get out more refreshed than you were when you started…these cars relaxed you…
That´s what i like about them. Todays pseudo sporty cars do the opposite…only Rolls Royce still offers cars like that today…
I gotta agree with you Tom. The point of these cars was total isolation and impressiveness. It had to be that big to stand out from the crowd of pretenders. Last week there was a post about hustling a 77 downsized Deville over some mountains and being disappointed in the brakes and steering. Well,yeah you were forcing the car to do something it was never designed to do. Under normal highway speeds and conditions these cars can “eat up the road” like the Chuck Berry song. Remember how Car and Driver campaigned a 72 Coupe de Ville in the coast to coast Cannonball run? I believe it placed in the top three overall. I suspect it was because it was quiet and there was enough room in the back seat for the relief drivers to get some sleep, These cars can be improved a bit with better shocks and today’s tires will make a huge difference. Uncork the exhaust too. I kind of prefer the full size Lincolns and Cads because they aren’t much bigger but have lots more room inside. But I sure do miss those personal luxury cars.
You have summed up mid-seventies Thunderbirds perfectly! I own a ’74 and the comfort and silence running down the interstate is simply amazing.
One more ‘lover’ of these big luxury T-birds has gotta speak up. My very first car was an already rather well-thrashed ’73 (in the early 1980’s) which I still fell in absolute love with immediately, for the *exact* reasons Thomas (and Jose) points out. Of course in my case I was actually more of a ‘poser’ then, but that car sure made my high school years feel better anyway (…”superior to all the little fartcans on the road”… ) and my friends loved it too, at least when I (or someone) could afford to put gas in it. I drove that thing literally to its death (numerous times before it finally became terminal) then a few years later scored a 2nd ’73 which was ultimately taken from me before its time by a traffic altercation. There was also a ’79 back then, and now many years later I have a ’74 sitting around patiently waiting its turn on my ‘to do’ list. (while I otherwise drive F-150’s)
How often does one sit in the back seat of their own car, anyway?? (and as was already pointed out by somebody else, it was still plenty large/comfy for ‘other activities’ that do often take place in the back seats of cars…)
As to parallel parking the beasts, you just had to get used to the fact that one’s perspective in the driver’s seat was closer to the middle/rear of the total wheelbase than in other cars, so you had to adjust your angles ‘going in’ a little differently. Other than that it really isn’t any more difficult than doing the same park with a station wagon of the time, for instance…yes, the hood *is* actually 6.5′ from windshield to ornament (whoops…one more place with plenty of room for ‘other activities’ to happen?) but the rear/trunk is otherwise pretty short, so you can back it up surprisingly close to other things while swinging the front end in. That ‘effortless’ power steering (tilt!) wheel only made it easier. Imagine parking a forklift, from a barcolounger with a nice stereo… 😉
Another strangely comforting (even if likely falsely) aspect of that long front end — the thought that no matter what happens on the road (read: anything I might ever run into) it’ll be WAY OUT THERE at the end of the hood…
This pretender to the Tbird crown made the “downsized” “1977 Tbird look stylish and athletic by comparisonn…no mean feat!
As much as many new cars don’t interest me, I sure don’t miss cars such as this.
“but the Seventies changed a lot of people–and cars.”
1955 Thunderbird and rail-lean Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
1974 Thunderbird and a heavier Frank Sinatra singing “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
Yep, times sure changed.
I hope this means that Tom is back in the fold…I’ve missed his articles and comments.
I like the black cherry paint,sorry can’t work up as much enthusiasm for this T bird as I can for a 61 T bird
Really , taken as a whole and for the time , Is this really that bad? O.K. Maybe , but still there’s a hint panache in the thing. Apparently the T-Birds time has forever passed. I think the 2 seater that ended it’s run was a decent set of wheels , but Ford took too long bringing it from concept to reality. The 4 door suicide model was just ahead of its time?
There is a lot wrong with the ’72-’76 Thunderbird as is well said in the many comments above. And, I’m doubtful I would have bought a T-Bird in this era over several of its competitors.
But, we are fans of T-Birds of all vintages in our house, and have owned an ’89 MN12 version. I also learned to drive in huge Ford products of the mid ’70s and can accept their warts along with their pleasures (smoothest, quietest ride in the business).
I could totally give over some garage space to this car. Now, where are my gold chain and open collar shirt?
Aw. They can drive cars like this in Illinois now, how fortunate!
I can understand why the Brougham Epoch was so entailing for the car makers. Say that the production cost between a Thunderbird and a Mark IV is pretty much the same. The difference in cost of gingerbread between them is pretty much irrelevant at that price point. That means the 30% mark up of the Mark IV is pure profit. And with 60 000 cars a year, that means a 180 million dollar profit per year on the Mark IV alone. No wonder they were such money makers…
Yup — and then tack on another big price tag for a designer edition (around $2,000 in ’70s dollars, equivalent to more than $7,500 today), subtract whatever license fee you paid the designer, and smoke a big cigar on the way to the bank.
One of the worst T-birds ever built, broughamtastic or not…nothing original about it at all. Not as bad as the Fairmont-based version, but still awful.
These cars were a product of their times. They were what people wanted, except for the pathetic gas mileage in 73-74. Quietness and luxury were the watchword.
The comments about the standards being set in 68 may be true, but the carmakers would have had the 71s at least pretty much done by then. That gave them a year or two, which was not enough. The 55 mph speed limit was a snore, but helped camouflage the gas mileage. I later had a 73 Mercury Colony Park wagon that had to weigh in as much as the Bird, and it would get 15 mpg on the interstate in cruise control. Not good, but as good as the hotshots were getting running around with their foot against the firewall.
Keeping in mind what the Riviera had turned into by 1974 – (the boat tail WITHOUT the boat tail), or the Toronado for that matter(a plainer uglier Eldorado), the Thunderbird of 1974 isn’t quite so offensive in the context of it’s segment, or what that segment turned into anyway. It was really a period of automotive limbo for Ford’s most distinctive 60s icons in particular, the 71 Mustang, followed by the 72 Tbird, followed by the 74 Cougar. All completely lost their established identities when they upsized and wouldn’t be until the next decade would they regain some of their true identity(excluding those of you who argue the Mustang II would be the return… You’re wrong 😛 ), The worst part of all of them wasn’t just the size, no, the worst part was they all ended up looking the same as something else – 71 Mustang = smaller 69-72 Galaxie, 72 Tbird = 73 Galaxie with a low roof, 74 Cougar = 74 Montego(actually sharing the same sheetmetal!). The 2015 Mustang is polarizing to a lot of people for similar reasons, the balance between brand identity and model identity is a bitch.
Back to the Thunderbird though, for me anyway it never truly regained it’s identity after 1967. Despite being born well into the Aero Foxbody era(bordering MN12 by months), I have always identified a TRUE Thunderbird as a swanky convertible. Doesn’t even matter that from 58-66 Hardtops existed and sold better, you could tell the heart of the design, in the mind’s of it’s designers, it was a Convertible FIRST and a hardtop SECOND. After that they’re basically all new specialty models Ford couldn’t be bothered to give a different name to. Not to sully them of course, 68-71s were interesting and kind of neat, the 77-79s are Disco crap but have their kitchy appeal(like Disco), and the Aero 83-97s were good looking/driving European inspired coupes(my personal favorites as far as cars I prefer), but Thunderbirds they are not. This whole 72-76 generation though is just BLAH, practically wiped from the collective minds of everyone remotely interested in cars, much like the Mustang II actually, the generation we all know must have existed but no one talks about anymore, for good reason. That’s the legacy of this car, proof big black holes exist here on Earth.
83-97 Tbird was an indication of possible future direction of Ford Motor Company, along with Mark VIII. But aero-obsession of Ford came to its peak at ’96 Taurus with much more frown than grillless ’92 Crown Vic and that’s the end of aero, shortly after it’s the end of Tbird and Mark series. ’02-’05 was an unsuccessful attempt of starting the circle.
“it never truly regained it’s identity after 1967”
I mostly agree. In the 80s the Tbird made a comeback I think…with the 83 model and especially the 87 turbo coupe.
As I said, I much prefer the 83-97 generation Tbirds to the rest myself, there’s just few things about them that scream THUNDERBIRD to me. Ford could have kept the Elite name going in 1977 if they really wanted to, and while that name is all sorts of sterile compared to Thunderbird, it was essentially what the 77+ Birds were – Elite successors. I’ll echo John and agree the 87 Turbo Coupe very much evoked the classic Tbird look, namely with that beaked grilleless nose and the new composite headlight shape(which heavily mimicks the Square and Flarebird’s ‘brows’). 83, while attractive in it’s own right, still had that big LTD style center grille from 1972 that really had no business being on a Thunderbird in the first place IMO.
Personal fantasy… The 02-05 Retro Tbirds would have been much better if they were based on a shortened Panther frame. Build it basically the same way the 55-57s were but with all the modernity the updated BOF panthers had my then(especially the 03+). That could have allowed for a much better proportioned body with much less of the compromise it had being based on the monocoque LS.
I remember the ’02-’05 retro Tbird emphasized highly on evoking the original Tbird, including the size. And they did it by using the DEW98, and the width is very close. Ford Panther has a wheel-base to cut, two overhangs to short, and excessive width, Ford is too value-minded for that.
Proportions are more important than dimensions in retro design, just look at the 05 Mustang, or the 05 Ford GT, both are huge compared to their direct inspirations but you really don’t necessarily notice the girth unless they’re next to the original.
The 02-05 Thunderbird was far too cab forward proportioned for a 2 seat roadster and that comes largely from having to utilize the Lincoln LS hardpoints, the whole passenger compartment should have been moved several inches back(the front seats should have been mere inches from the rear wheelwells). Creating an unstressed roadster body to place atop a modified Crown Vic frame, utilizing all the same running gear could have been made cost effective, in fact that’s exactly what the 55-57s did. Considering the improvements made to the panther platform at the time and the various Modular engines that would have fit it could have been a much more capable car than it was as well.
Massive inflation in size indeed ( Challenger. ) the last Tbird does look over sized at the rear section, having a big look ( even though actual size isn’t that great ) The proportions are compromised indeed, also the engine ( limiting the choice ) It could be better but they didn’t push it far enough.
Considering the Marauder convertible prototype that made the auto show rounds at the same time, maybe your cut-down Panther platform idea isn’t that far out in left field. They could have used the 32v 4.6, which has considerably more power than the 3.7 that was used, and the proportions would have been far better. I do think that’s the worst thing about those Tbirds–the retro theme is actually quite well-executed but it’s cab-forward enough to be FWD. Which the LS, for some reason, seemed to escape–maybe it’s the unchanged wheelbase made the rear portion of the car too long?
Getting anything with a Panther chassis to handle well would have been a different story, but I think the 02-05 ‘Birds were tuned more for comfort than for sport anyway. Plus, as a fringe benefit, if they were tweaking the structure to be stiff enough for a convertible anyway, maybe we actually could have had that Marauder ragtop too. One can only dream.
Very nice article – agree these mid-70s T-Birds are an acquired taste. Besides their tomb quiet interior, they really only have two redeeming qualities;
– They were built at Ford’s Wixom Assembly Plant, which typically screwed cars together fairly well, and given Ford’s atrocious 70s quality, may have been Ford’s top quality plant at that time.
– While the 460 drank gas, it was a superb engine – lot’s of torque, quiet, robust – coupled with the C6 it was a great luxury car power train.
While the public clamored for fuel efficiency, the factories focused their efforts on perfecting the top tier gas guzzlers…which is where they succeeded.
Hence, those who disregarded fuel costs got the best deals and best machines, and those who shopped fuel economy got hosed.
Believe it or not many of the specially ordered ones came from Ford’s Los Angeles plant and not Wixom. Mine did and I often wonder what, if any differences resulted as such!
No matter what is said, there is always a sweet spot for the ’67 thru ’69 T-Birds. Especially the 4 doors!!
I think the 67-69’s are are pretty decent looking cars in 2 door form. Never could get excited over the 4 door version. After 69 the next generation that appeals to me are the 83-97 Birds.
Agree, the ’83 thru ’85 were very special!!
I agree! The T-Bird sedans were truly “unique in all the world”. However, I think they should have offered a convertible as well. My father had a 1976 model, the last of the biggest breed, in 2-tone beige and brown, with a dark brown vinyl roof. It was truly a class act, and gave a very comfortable ride.
You have to admit, the 1977 T-Birds were a huge success for Ford. Even though they shared the basic components with the LTD II and Cougar, they had a distinctive enough look to still be a T-Bird. By decontenting the car and reducing the price, the consumer could equip the car to their liking and still be thousands less than the year before. As a result, sales skyrocketed and the ’77 T-Bird sold like crazy. True, it became more of a mainstream auto than in previous years losing some of its luxury/exclusivity/snob appeal but it is all about profit so in my eyes Ford hit a grand slam!
I think the 77-79s were pretty attractive for the era, and I think like the Mustang II it kind of has to be begrudgingly accepted as the right cars at the right time. But they were in reality direct successors to the Torino Elite, which from 74-76 was the Cougar’s direct counterpart on the same chassis. Actually I feel the Thunderbird should have been downsized right then and there in 1974.
The thing that always struck me about the 77 Tbirds and Cougars was the complete lack of substantial updates to the dashboard, which dated back to the 1972 Torino/Montego. The time span of its use alone is a huge amount to be recycling such a prominent feature of a car, even now a days that’s a long time, yet there it was, 5 years old in an “all new” Thunderbird. A dash that spanned the range from stripper Torinos/LTDIIs to the plush Tbird at that. Did people not notice that detail back then, or did they just not care?
Agreed. At least they changed the portion that faced the driver directly with the speedometer and clock. It is when you ordered the special instrumentation that you actually got the old style dash and gauges. Strange if you really stop and analyze it, right?
Nice car to buy & drive … only if your father was the owner of the gas station .
Hello from Argentina .
PS : true , it’s more possible you can see an UFO rather than seeing by chance any Thunderbird down the routes in South America .
My favorite Thunderbirds are the sedan, the 58 to 60 generation, and the 72 – 76 generation. I’m not a two seater fan.
Add the Fox-based ’80-’82 to that group, and you’d have all the bases covered for what most Thunderbird aficonados consider the worst cars of the series.
But I will say the ’58-’60 ‘Squarebird’ is special in that it’s generally regarded as the first Personal Luxury Car.
> Like the previous Thunderbird, the ’72 shared a lot of parts with the Mark – the windshield and side glass were identical between the two,
The windshield, yes; the side glass, not so much, or at least the part of the glass you can see. The opera windows are obviously shaped differently; the openable rear quarter windows were much less obviously shaped differently. Didn’t these slide rearward rather than down when opened on these cars? Or am I confusing them with the Eldorado?
I like this car because it’s so ridiculous. Such a long car with not all that much room inside (so I’m told; it certainly looks big in pictures). And such low fuel economy despite not being either roomy or all that powerful. What are would-be Big Bird buyers driving now? Ford Expeditions?
Needs 2 modifications: (1) The 75-78 LTD Landau front end with the hidden headlights. (2) Lose the C-pillar window or use the Lincoln oval window. The current C-pillar window looks like an after-thought and cheapens the look of the car.
I’ve always wondered if a restored 1974 car of any make or model needs to have all emission controls working as stock? Ugh!
Don’t forget about the seatbelt interlock.
1974 was the worst year for drivability for most makes. I doubt many states still check cars this old. The emissions inspection equipment is long out of date.
Depends on the state, but iirc even California sets the bar at 1975 for continued emissions compliance.
Wow, lots of reaction to this post.
A polarizing generation of T-Bird to be sure. Certainly not my favorite nor was the Mark by the mid-seventies. But the big bird spoke to a market segment and sale went up. Go figure. I wonder if it was mainly the grey hair generation. And then came time to downsize and a more sensible sized T-Bird was born.
Looking at that picture of the stern of this ship I ask, “was there ever a set of taillights that screamed for sequential turn signals louder than these?”
IIRC, the 74-76 Big Birds did not have this feature, but they should have!
This generation of TBird was such that when Ford put the next generation on the Torino body, it was considered an improvement. The Torino. An improvement. Did you ever imagine reading those two words together, and mean it?
For our younger readers unfamiliar with this generation of Thunderbird or Torino – imagine Toyota taking the old Frontier and turning a loaded version of it into the new Tundra. Yeah.
The 1970s were a embarrassing time for Detroit. It is a big nauseating to remember watching an old Satellite become the “new small Fury”, the Volare becoming a Roadrunner, a Ventura becoming a GTO, a Hornet becoming an AMX, the Torino becoming the “LTD II”, and a Torino wagon becoming the “new Cougar Villager”. It seemed everyone in Detroit was just giving up. Models with defined images of sportiness and excellence had their names slapped on yesterday’s economy cars and guys on television selling us tarted up old crap as new exciting cars. It was bad. No wonder millions bought something made thousands of miles away.
Take that McBurger and put a slice of white cheese on it and call it the new McChateaubriand. Take that Astroturf, dye it red and call it Chintz. Take that vinyl, color it tan and call it “Corinthian Leather”. Sheesh.