Curbside Classic: 1976 Ford Thunderbird – Experiences Count

It has been said life isn’t about the destination so much as it is the journey.  The implication is gaining and learning from one’s various experiences are the true purpose of life.

That philosophy is hard to argue with.

One of the experiences every automotive minded person needs to gain for themselves is the joys of a Thunderbird; it should almost be mandatory.  Thunderbird is one of the few models were the simple name carries with it an undeniable aura, one which almost seems to transcend time.  When one is exposed to the ample charms of the most buxom Thunderbird ever built, the experience is exponentially greater.

Mine was identical; however, the only pictures I have show it buried in snow

Yes, I do have experience with a Thunderbird of this generation, a 1975 model to be specific, a bronze colored beauty I owned for nearly seven years.  The experience was….how shall I say it?….incomparable and unparalleled.  It made me a better person.  It raised my IQ.  It made my eyes sparkle and my voice deeper.  The experiences offered by all other cars, in their own particular way, pale in comparison to the experience one gains from these Thunderbirds.

There were Flair Birds, there were Square Birds, and there were Bullet Birds.  What might we call this one?  While it’s tough to create such a concise, catchy name to semi-brand these, let’s call them the Eagle Bird.  Strong and powerful, eagles, particularly bald eagles, are able to silently glide to their destination, pouncing on unsuspecting prey with absolute poetry of motion.

Such is this sixth generation of Thunderbird.  Sweetening the experience was it being found new on dealer lots during the American Bicentennial in 1976, with the bald eagle being the national mascot of its homeland.  Why has nobody ever put these pieces together before now?

Perhaps they have not experienced the Joy of Thunderbird.

There is no denying there is a lot of Thunderbird here to enjoy.  It was long (226 inches), it was low, and it was wide (80 inches).  Yet these ample dimensions all coalesced into something to behold.

Have you ever witnessed a person who, for whatever reason, seems incapable of moving swiftly or gracefully?  We’ve likely all seen them.  But there are those among that subset of the population who are able to dispel any misperceptions about their ambulatory ability, those who can move both swiftly and gracefully when so provoked.

Our Thunderbird falls into this category.  At first blush it would seem it is a wallowing mess, a quagmire of driving dynamics, the slosh-filled anthesis to the enthusiast minded driver.  Perhaps it is in some situations but, like the person who appears incapable of fluidity of motion, this Thunderbird can pick up its figurative dress tails and really hustle when called upon.  It’s truly an amazing event, an experience that is like having a child – it is hard to explain to the uninitiated.

Chalk part of the hustling up to the power plant.  Every Thunderbird from 1974 to 1976 was motivated by the incomparable Ford 460 (7.5 liters if you prefer) V8.  If ever a carbureted gasoline engine mimicked the torque output of a US Naval destroyer combined with the seamless power delivery of a jet engine, this would be it.  This magnificent engine, even in 1976 era tuning, flattens the steepest hills and swallows the open highway.  This is a large part of why all other cars pale in comparison.

Let’s just say these traits are what produces the legend of this special breed of bird.  Not just any car can be a Thunderbird.

Our particular Thunderbird also happens to contain a subset of 1970s Thunderbird genetics.  It is not just a mere Thunderbird; this particular Thunderbird has the formidable Creme & Gold luxury group.

If you find yourself scoffing at this trim, worse sounding ones could easily be experienced; there was also the Lipstick luxury group available for 1976.  I would rather experience the Creme & Gold; lipstick just ain’t my thing.

The Creme & Gold luxury group was primarily two-toned paint and aluminum wheels with gold accents throughout.  While it was nothing extraordinarily unique, it certainly provided a more tailored experience than any regular Thunderbird.

Walking around this Thunderbird and basking in its allure prompted a deluge of prior life experiences flashing through my mind.  No doubt part of the reason was due to finding it on my birthday, an event I have experienced plenty of times.

But, as Thunderbirds are wont to do, it prompted a lot of introspection.  Thunderbirds simply have that ability.

Was it really that long ago I was looking over the hood of my Thunderbird, a hood which was entirely visible to the driver, with this ornament triumphantly leading me to my destination?  While that answer is measured in relativity, let’s simply say this…the view this generation Thunderbird provided from the driver’s seat inspired confidence.

Of the hundreds of light duty vehicles I have driven, I have experienced exactly one which provided such solid assurance.  For those who appreciate decisiveness, this Thunderbird provides it in abundance.  There is nothing ambiguous or uncertain about it.

While having mental flashbacks to my Thunderbird, I realized how fortunate I was to get several nice tastes of its finest trait – providing its occupants the experience of traveling vast distances in comfort and near utter silence.

My longest one way trip in my Thunderbird was my last, at 402 miles one-way from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to St. Joseph, Missouri.  Having experienced the length of that trip many times, there is no doubt this Thunderbird was the most comfortable car I’ve used for that journey.

Ford itself recognized the Thunderbird’s talent in providing relaxed and untiring travel.  Scanning the brochure for the 1976 Thunderbird shows various scenes of the great American west, with lots of open space waiting to be explored.  A Thunderbird such as what is shown in these brochures would be a phenomenal way to experience not only the west but the east, south, and north as well.

Let’s face it – this Thunderbird has a great and unique profile, with vehicular profiles having become rather more homogenized over the last forty-five years.  Can’t you almost see a 1976 Thunderbird parked in front of an antebellum home in the South?  Or near some colonial era buildings in New England?

The United States has over 8.7 million lane miles of roadway.  If one were to explore the experiences provided by the United States in 1976, a Thunderbird would have made for a fabulous partner in this journey.

Even better, in relation to the times, fuel economy was not as horrible as the inexperienced might think.  Speaking from personal experience, the worst fuel mileage I ever obtained with my sister 1975 was with short trips around town, which yielded a hair over 11 miles per gallon.  Highway driving was a smidgeon over 15 miles per gallon.

Perhaps by current mental calibration such fuel economy is not great, but it was not atypical for its time.

When looking for a trusty steed to experience the vast expanses of the world, one needs to be choosy.  As much as I was thrilled to have found our featured Thunderbird in this setting, it did create an uncharacteristic sense of hesitation.

The years on this Thunderbird have been kind but not as unforgiving as experienced by some of its sisters.  While I have little doubt about the mechanical goodness remaining, the exterior presentation has begun to slowly progress beyond the beauty marks of age.  The gold is tarnished and the creme isn’t as fresh.  Our Bird’s appearance creates the question of what may (or may not) be lurking in the various nooks and crannies of its undercarriage.

But in the end, one thing still holds true.  It is a Thunderbird.  Few cars are so lucky as to be bestowed with this special distinction and even fewer are able to experience vibrancy for as long as our featured Thunderbird.  Your wings are far from being clipped, oh mighty Eagle Bird, and may you continue to soar for years to come.

Found September 2020

Sedalia, Missouri