Curbside Classic Capsule: 1981 Ford Thunderbird – “Do Fun Shit!”

Someone’s having some fun with this Thunderbird, and good for them. Jacked up, big off-road tires and a light bar. What else is it good for? How about this:

Do Fun Shit! I’m all about it, especially this time of year. Summer is quickly running out. How about a bit of crazy shit?

I went kayaking down the Willamette River the other day, starting in Jasper, and I took a side channel through some former gravel pits that have been restored by the Nature Conservancy. They broke through the banks to create an inlet that supplies a constant flow though these former pits. I stopped here at exactly the place where we normally hike out to every evening after supper, and where I have my daily swim in the cold water. I took a swim here too, my first during the warmth of the midday. But it was not to be my only swim of the trip.

This is what it looks like in the evening, just before sunset. I swim from this spot to near the far end of the pond and back. The water, which constantly flows from the river, is about 60-62 degrees. Very refreshing. Beavers share the pond with me, and invariably there’s ospreys, eagles and kingfishers flying overhead. Owls and bats on the hike back to the car as it’s getting dark. It’s the high point of every summer day, if we’re not out on the road in the van.

The water is clear and fresh, coming out of the mountains. There’s a beaver lodge over there between the two smaller trees near the water’s edge.

Back to my kayaking trip: I headed out through the last pond and into the outflow channel, a small, briskly moving channel that unites with the river again a little ways down. I should have scouted it, but I didn’t. Sure enough, as I’m bopping down in the very fast moving narrow channel on the far side, suddenly there’s tree hanging right down, all the way to the water (yellow arrow). No way was I going to get through that. I either got knocked or I bailed,I can’t quite remember, it happened so fast. But there I was in the water. I had to instantly dive downstream and just barely grabbed my inflatable kayak (a Sevylor Tahiti I found laying at the curb 20 years ago and patched up) before it headed down the river by itself. I managed to stash it on top of some more branches in the water (red arrow), because I then had to get my paddle, which was stuck in the tree branches that wiped me out.

But the hydraulics of that little channel were too strong for me to make any progress up it directly. So I went to the middle, and made a leap from a little rock pile in the middle of the river, grabbing my paddle on the way. Fortunately, I grabbed it and not a branch before it swept me down again.

Reunited with kayak and paddle, I hopped in to finish this little escapade, and noticed that my right side main tube was quickly losing what little air was left in it. Within a few more minutes, it was totally flat. But the rest of trip had no more than some riffles, so I just hugged the left side and made it to the put-out a few more miles down the river.

So yes, Do Fun Shit!

It’s the perfect attitude for this car, one of the more unloved ones of the early ’80s. Jason Shafer’s tribute to the ’80 model is here, titled “Fabulous FUBAR Edition”.  These box-Fox-Birds do seem to evoke expletives.

FWIW, the base version, with the two-door sedan style roof, is a lot more palatable than the Town Landau or Heritage versions, with their pretentious opera windows and the last hurrah for the “basket handle”.

This looks decidedly un-Thunderbirdish, but then this was the era when Ford dragged that name and the Cougar’s mighty low into the gutter.

Is that a hardware store tow hook in front and in back?

According to Carfax, this T-Bird is rocking the biggest of the three engines on tap that year, the 130 hp 302 V8. The standard engine was the…88 hp 200 CID Falcon six.  Ouch! The feeblest Thunderbird ever? Why am I asking that? It’s all-too obviously the case.  Optional was the 115hp 255 V8 as well as the 302 V8.  1981 will not go down as a stellar vintage in automotive propulsion, especially at Ford.

If that’s an aftermarket tach, it’s a bit unnecessary. Or highly so. Good luck getting it to rev to 4k.

This interior is what I would call a mixed bag. Fat seats in a barely-glorified Fairmont.

I’ve never resonated with a Thunderbird of this vintage more. It’s got just the right attitude. Do Fun Shit, but do it safely, please.