Christmas, which I celebrate, is coming up in just a few short days, and I’ve been thinking about gifts and celebrations from years past. Growing up in a household in which I was the middle of three sons, there was often a whole lot of sharing going on. There wasn’t an equal amount of distance in age between my two brothers and me. The eldest Dennis brother, being over six years older than me, was kind of in his own world and category, and was treated as such. My other brother was three years and change younger than me, so he and I were often lumped into the same category, often being referred to collectively as “the boys”.
Clothing styles for young men don’t seem to change as much or as frequently as do fashions for their female counterparts. Part of my perception of this is, I’m sure, due to my somewhat relaxed dress code these days relative to when I was more conscious of what was popular or considered cool. Even so, looking at pictures of my nephews and nieces from over the past decade, my premise seems to hold water. Aside from the rapid, annual growth in kids from birth through their teenage years, it’s clear that even though the clothes worn by the young boys and girls in my extended family were different from year to year as they grew physically larger, the guys generally dressed in the same manner within, say, a three-year span of time. The girls, however, showed a more perceptible style evolution over the same stretch.
Over the course of six years, however, it’s a different ballgame. By the time I had neared the end of my elementary school years in the mid-1980s, I was suddenly being presented with my older brother’s used clothing which my mom had deemed acceptable substitutes for actually buying me all-new attire. “It fits, doesn’t it? Those slacks look great on you! You look bustin’.” That last word was one attempt from my very conservative, middle-of-the-road, non-urban, very White mother to use some of the street slang she had heard us kids use around the house. What I couldn’t understand is how my older brother had managed to keep those old clothes looking so great, and also how my mom had managed to preserve them, as if cryogenically. Didn’t he ever roughhouse with his friends? I thought for sure that I had witnessed this. All three Dennis brothers used to “wrestle” all the time in our living room before getting yelled at and warned not to break anything. This whole clothing thing felt like a conspiracy.
My older brother had graduated elementary school in the late ’70s. Needless to say, there was a world of difference between what kids were wearing around the time that Deney Terrio was hosting “Dance Fever” on Saturday nights, and the high-tech mid-’80s. I suffered through brown, bell-bottomed corduroys and country-themed plaid shirts with pearlescent buttons and silver threads woven in. I might even have tried a bit of sabotage by casually being less-than-careful with those ’70s relics by “accidentally” falling off my bike or sliding on the grass during a game of “tag” played on our front lawn, but I learned very quickly that all this usually ended up doing was earning me a mismatched patch of fabric on the knees of whatever trousers I was subconsciously trying to dispose of. You can’t blame a kid for trying. The irony is that my younger brother, who was much closer to me in age, never had to go through this with my old clothes. There’s no justice.
I was one of the legions of people who thought the new-for-’89 Ford Thunderbird looked more than a little like a BMW 6-Series. I mean, come on… Ford even copied the “Hofmeister kink” in the rear quarter window. It has been said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, but what would one call this form of straight-up plagiarism? Worship? I also thought it was odd that Ford would find its aesthetic inspiration for its tenth-generation Thunderbird in a BMW design that had been on the road for over a decade, starting all the way back in 1976. For those of you who don’t remember, the concurrent, seventh-generation Thunderbird looked like this:
1978 Ford Thunderbird. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, October 27, 2019.
…Which looks not at all like a BMW, even in its purest form without the custom wheels and accoutrements shown on this example.
Using a license plate search, I was able to determine that our featured car was an ’89, a final-year example, which would have been sitting at the BMW dealership at the time the new, tenth-gen Thunderbirds had just been introduced. It was originally manufactured in Dingolfing, Germany, and has the 3.4L six-cylinder engine with 208 horsepower under the hood. It weighs just north of 3,500 pounds. One source showed total 635 CSi production for ’89 being a hair over 1,000 (at 1,012), with an additional 52 “M” high-performance models that year. Total production of the 6-Series (E24) was just over 86,000 over its fourteen, official model years.
The external dimensions between the 1989 Thunderbird and 635 weren’t close at all, despite their similar profiles, with the Ford being 9.1″ longer (198.7″ vs. 189.6″), 4.8″ wider (72.7″ vs. 67.9″), and an inch lower (52.7″ vs. 53.7″). The Thunderbird also had a much longer wheelbase of 113.0″, versus the 6-Series’ 103.3″ footprint. The ’89 T-Bird seemed to have the appearance of a “Super-Sized Six Series”. Here, though, is where my clothing metaphor falls apart. While my wide flare-leg Wrangler jeans inherited from my older brother looked hopelessly unhip on me in my classroom full of kids sporting Bugle Boy trousers rolled tightly at the cuffs and Kangaroos footwear, the style of the E24 still looked pretty good in ’89, even if it was no longer at the cutting edge. The funny thing is that when the bigger BMW 8-Series came along for 1990, it ended up looking at lot like an even larger Thunderbird, down to its giant taillamps.
Everything comes full circle. The style of all of those ’70s clothes that used to cause me so much grief as a kid are now pretty much all I wear in my own time, and even sometimes at the office. The context is now completely different, given the passage of time and my ownership of the aesthetics from the decade in which I was born. Anyone with siblings will tell you accounts of fights started with the war cry of, “Stop copying me!” Ford and BMW were never “relatives”, so to speak, amid all of the different changes in ownership and acquisitions that are bound to happen with large corporations, but I still have to wonder what E24 stylist Paul Bracq thought of the ’89 Thunderbird. Whatever his thoughts, I hope they were taken as validation of his original, brilliant design.
Andersonville, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, July 25, 2021.
The 1989 Thunderbird print ad was sourced from the internet.