(first posted 7/16/2015) My neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago’s north side has a very eclectic mixture of cars, which reflects the diversity here that I’ve been a part of for the past ten years. It’s a real melting pot, with many languages being spoken even in my own condominium building. Sometimes, I’ve been able to get a view of some of the drivers of the cars I find more interesting, but the driver of this ’77 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau has yet eluded me, despite a handful of car sightings several years back.
This thing went for close to Corvette money off the showroom floor in 1977. That year’s plush Town Landau variant of the Thunderbird base-stickered at $7,990 ($32,236 / adjusted for 2015), within about 8% of the base Corvette’s $8,648 sticker ($34,891 / adjusted). Let that blow your mind for a second. I’m thinking specifically of those who consider the last, 2002 – ’05 T-Birds to have been overpriced. The last Thunderbird might have been expensive for what it was and for its content, but it was still a convertible, made a bold visual statement, and didn’t have a Mercury twin.
Our subject car, however, was pretty much a (very handsomely) reskinned and repackaged ’72-vintage Ford Torino which shared its basic bodystyle with the concurrent Mercury Cougar XR7. I was unable to find a breakout of Town Landau production out of the 318,000-plus Thunderbirds produced for the model year, but the T/L must have been successful for its extra premium, as this option package was available through ’82, even after the retirement of the seventh generation ‘Birds after ’79.
That said, I think both the ’77 T-Bird and the ’77 ‘Vette would have looked right at home valet-parked in front of the hottest nightspots and restaurants of their day. Both were popular, V8-powered coupes (the ’77 Thunderbird had a 302 standard, with options for a 351 or 400) with an air of importance and fashionable hidden headlamps. Seeing both cars next to each other in any garage would have spoken to the upscale tastes of the occupants of that dwelling.
The ’77 Corvette probably won’t have a place in the Bowling Green, Kentucky Pantheon of Best Corvettes Ever, but there’s no question of which car I’d rather have today, even if this specific Thunderbird wasn’t looking so busted. Still, this example holds a certain, lurid charm for me.
Have you ever wanted to ask a car a few questions? This once-grand dame looks to have fallen on some hard times. I’m imagining four husbands (owners), a front-console ashtray stuffed full of Capri butts, and a youth that was spent as the belle of the ball, until disco was well out of fashion with the arrival of the new-wave ’83 Aerobird, one for which she was first traded. Each line on her face, each dent and rust spot, tells the story of little heartbreaks strewn in her life’s path. Her brushed aluminum tiara still shines a little, like a tarnished halo.
These days, she goes out only when she needs to – for groceries, for gas, for a late night cocktail, for a chance to remember things the way they used to be. She faces each day, chin out, with the resolve of Elaine Stritch, ever ready to take yet another one of life’s blows on the chin and just not give a damn. This broad can take it. Actually, I haven’t seen her for several years now and wonder sometimes if she finally moved away from this beachfront community, or if she finally just wouldn’t turn over that one last time and died in her sleep.
My aunt had a base-model Thunderbird of this vintage. (I want to make it clear that I was not writing about her life just now.) At the time, she was a young medical professional in her late 20’s, and her Fashion-Bird seemed to fit her to a tee. I always liked the style of the 1977 – ’79 models, and Ford had successfully sold this young, factory-town kid on the idea that these downsized Thunderbirds were a cut above all but those few in the very top echelon of personal luxury cars.
It’s a regular process, the aging of a car, and its slight, downward trajectory with each passing year and/or owner. But it’s a process made all the more fascinating to me when the car was a top-line flagship model. The exact point at which something gets broken and the owner leaves it as-is…that first unfixed scratch or paint-chip. This car undoubtedly was a looker off the lot. What a lofty height from which this ‘Bird fell, even if it took over three decades to complete its descent.
All photos as taken by the author in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois,
spanning from Wednesday, February 16, 2011, through Saturday, June 25, 2011.