After the 1973 Oil Embargo, a buzzword started sweeping through the American automotive industry: “downsizing.” In this case, “less was more” as downsizing introduced a new generation of more rationally-sized vehicles that offered the benefits of their larger predecessors without the added bulk. For the 1977 model year, General Motors was the leader of the movement, with a complete line of downsized full-sized cars. However, Ford also made a major downsizing play for ’77 by shrinking the size—and price—of the Thunderbird. The resulting car, though a stopgap in many ways, was very well received by the press and the public, becoming the most successful ‘Bird ever.
Ford Motor Company was clearly hedging their bets for 1977. The company had enjoyed enormous success with “fancier” small cars in the wake of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. The Mustang II and Granada/Monarch represented profitable repackaging of new “Style” on proven (i.e. older and amortized) platforms. But super-sized cars were still an enormous Detroit cash cow, and Ford was in no mood to go too far out on a limb.
So when it came to time to refresh the Ford Thunderbird and Lincoln Mark IV for 1977, product planners decided on two different directions for FoMoCo’s jumbo personal luxury coupes. The Lincoln Mark V received all-new sheet metal but remained on the XXL body-on-frame platform—a stretched and plumped-up version of the mid-sized chassis—that had been introduced for 1972.
But for the Ford Division’s personal luxury flagship coupe, a new approach—though not too “new”—was deemed to be the best solution. After all, buyers were clamoring for more “efficiency” and the behemoth ‘Bird of ’72 – ’76 had been a relatively slow seller (the Mark IV actually outsold the cheaper Thunderbird in ’75 and ’76). Plus, in the 1970s GM had defined and was dominating the mid-sized Personal Luxury market with top-selling cars like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
The mammoth ‘Birds from ’72 to ’76 were simply too big and too expensive to effectively compete in the booming mid-sized Personal Luxury class. The smaller and less expensive Chevy Monte Carlo, for example, was outselling the Ford T-Bird by more than 3-to-1 in 1973 (290,693 versus 87,269). Blue Oval dealers were no doubt outraged that their Bowtie competitors were clobbering them in one of the hottest and most profitable market segments of the day.
So for mid-year 1974, Ford fielded a more direct competitor to the GM mid-sized Personal Luxury superstars, a Gran Torino-based coupe replete with a pretentious name—“Elite”—fancy trim and quad opera windows (no better way to one-up the neighbor’s Monte than with two extra “opera” openings). The Elite approach proved to be reasonably successful (as was the very similar Mercury Cougar, which had arrived for the start of 1974 when Mercury’s “Pony Car” moved into the mid-sized category while the Mustang became a puffed-out Pinto and gained a “II” suffix). Ford sold 366,451 Elite coupes from mid-1974 through 1976. Not bad, but nowhere near enough to seriously challenge the GM mid-sized Personal Luxury juggernaut.
But Lee Iacocca, Ford’s maestro of profitable glitz, worked with his minions to sprinkle “magic” on the Personal Luxury segment for 1977. Thus, the Thunderbird was newly reborn as a “trim” mid-sized coupe, serving-up all the expected T-Bird glamour in a more “efficient” package. Unlike GM’s downsized B- and C-Body lines, which were mostly all-new, Ford simply reskinned the Torino Elite, upped the style quotient and slapped on the Thunderbird name. Engine choices for the “new” T-Bird were also familiar fare from smaller Fords, including the base 302 2v V8 and optional 351 2V V8 and 400 2v V8. The larger 460 4V V8, which had been standard on the 1976 Thunderbird, was no longer offered (and no longer needed, due the ‘Bird dropping ~900 pounds). Downsizing at its finest!
Thus the T-Bird became part of Ford’s mid-sized line, which was thoroughly restyled and renamed for 1977. The Torino became the LTD II, including 4-door sedans, 4-door wagons and 2-door coupes. Though the Elite name was gone, the Elite’s face lived on: all LTD II models had frontal styling which closely resembled the earlier car, albeit updated with quad square stacked headlamps—that “oh-so-seventies” styling gimmick.
Dimensionally, the LTD II 2-door hardtop and the Thunderbird were remarkably close, sharing the exact same wheelbase of 114” and the same overall length of 215.5”, though the T-Bird was 0.5” wider (at 78.5”), 0.4” taller (at 53.0”) and about 200 pounds heavier (at 3907 lbs.) than the LTD II. Interior dimensions were also virtually identical, save for trunk space, where the Thunderbird had ~1 cubic foot less room, with a relatively paltry (for the size of the car) 14.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity. These similarities made no difference to buyers, however, for one simple reason: bragging rights. Owners could dazzle their family, friends and co-workers with the proud pronouncement that “I just bought a new Thunderbird!” or they could state “I got an LTD too.” Little wonder that the Thunderbird outsold the LTD II 2-doors by 362%!
In addition to the prestige of the Thunderbird name, the new, smaller ’77 ‘Bird also boasted a smaller price tag. The Thunderbird’s base price dropped a whopping 35%, from $7,790 ($32,337 adjusted) of 1976 to $5,063 ($21,017 adjusted) for 1977. Much of that decrease was due to less luxurious base trim (an austere bench seat became standard, just like the base Monte Carlo), while many features that had been standard in 1976 became optional for 1977. That said, the price cut was actually a brilliant marketing strategy, as the average T-Bird was still likely to be loaded with options (it was a Thunderbird, after all), whether that was bucket seats, and/or Interior and Exterior Décor Groups, or the Interior Luxury Group with velour or leather. Naturally a huge array of comfort and convenience options were on offer, including power windows, power locks, power seats, cruise control, tilt wheel, automatic climate control and fancy (for the time) sound systems and a power moonroof.
Plus for mid-year 1977, a new top-of-the-line Town Landau was introduced, featuring a chrome and stainless steel “tiara” molding across the roof and a full complement of luxury equipment. The Town Landau was essentially equipped like the 1976 standard Thunderbird and was priced like the old car as well, starting at $7,990 ($33,167 adjusted). So Ford really didn’t give up a thing with the price “reduction”—the 1977 Thunderbird was a clever reskin of a very ordinary mid-sized Ford, no doubt cheaper to build than its predecessor, and was likely to be ordered loaded with pricey options. Margin King Iacocca strikes again!
Without a doubt, “personalization” was the name of the game for the Personal Luxury market, and the T-Bird delivered on that beautifully. The car could be ordered in 17 exterior colors, including 4 extra-cost “Glow” metallic paints, plus 8 two-tone combinations, 12 accent stripe colors and 11 vinyl top colors. Inside, Thunderbird choices included 6 solid color interiors or white seats with 7 contrasting trim and carpet shades. In all, there were 107 different interior trim options available, including cloth, vinyl, velour or leather. The odds of even seeing two identical Thunderbirds was surely quite small, which was of course part of the appeal (and very different than the bland conformity of today’s sea of black/grey/white vehicles).
So the new Thunderbird was clearly a smart marketing exercise, but how was it to drive? Both Road Test Magazine and Car and Driver offered extensive tests of two different cars (naturally, few T-Birds were alike!)—were their conclusions different as well?
The Cover of the April 1977 issue of Road Test Magazine pronounced the new ’77 Thunderbird to be the best ‘Bird in the last 15 years. Actually, a comparison to the “Bullet Birds” of 1961-1963 was interesting, since the ’77 model returned to dimensions similar to its early-1960s forebears, after enduring years of bloat. Like previous Thunderbirds, Road Test found the 1977 to be long on style and high on cushy comfort. Unlike the 1976 “Big Bird,” the ’77 offered more responsiveness, better handling and better fuel economy (“better” being relative—the V8 T-Bird was still neither a handler nor efficient). Steering feel, like most 1970s-era FoMoCo products, was dismal, though passenger compartment isolation was tops. Simply put, for flashy cruising, the new ‘Bird was hard to beat. RT’s test car was “mildly optioned” for a Thunderbird, but still sported a $7,667 ($31,826 adjusted) price-tag, far more than the typical LTD II.
As for Car and Driver, their reaction to the new Thunderbird was as surprising as the vintage “Mikey, he likes it!” TV commercial. Among the most iconic ad campaigns of the 1970s, the Life Cereal commercial featured Mikey, the kid “who hates everything!” Like Mikey with breakfast foods, Car and Driver tended to hate big domestic cars. But, once again, like Mikey—who actually wound up enjoying Life Cereal, Car and Driver was unexpectedly complimentary toward the new ‘Bird. Perhaps they were just getting older—C&D Editor-in-Chief David E. Davis was 47 in 1977—and maybe the writers had mellowed a bit, since they now seemed rather seduced by the Thunderbird’s comfortable charms.
Car and Driver’s praise started with the styling of the new ‘Bird. Indeed, the look was striking for the 1970s, with hidden headlamps, full width taillights and a fresh, glassy roofline (refuting the notion that T-Birds had to have enormous blind spots).
Car and Driver was also remarkably kind when it came to the interior, politely noting that “it still bears a strong resemblance to other Ford models, past and present.” The harsh reality was that the instrument panel was exactly the same one that had been featured in the Ford Torino/Mercury Montego since in 1972…
Like Road Test Magazine, Car and Driver found the new Thunderbird to be far nimbler than the old one, though still hardly qualifying as spry. C&D appreciated the fact that some squishiness and isolation had been removed for 1977, making the T-Bird a bit more of a “driver’s” car. Both magazine’s tested cars featured the optional handling suspension, which undoubtedly firmed things up a bit versus the base set-up. Likewise, both test cars also came with the optional 400 2V V8 with 173 horsepower, though the Road Test car was about 1 second quicker to 60 miles-per-hour than the one evaluated by Car and Driver (10.3 seconds versus 11.5 seconds). Either way, performance was in line with the standards of the day for a Personal Luxury cruiser.
But back to style and individuality: Car and Driver’s test car stickered for $7,946 ($32,985 adjusted)—once again well optioned though not fully loaded, likely the way the majority of Thunderbirds were equipped. And that was the real magic of the car: premium priced but not-too-expensive, fully individualized with a design and nameplate that were highly desirable. Plus, the new smaller ‘Bird was trimmer and more agile at a time when Americans really began to value those attributes. It was a good step toward downsizing, and the Buff Books felt that the T-Bird hit the target well.
Buyers agreed, and Ford sold an astounding 318,140 Thunderbirds for 1977, a one-year total that was more than the combined output of the ’72 – ’76 “Big Birds” (299,146 units sold over 5 years). In fact, the downsized T-Bird of ’77 through ’79 was the best selling Thunderbird generation ever, with 955,032 units sold over three model years. Sales for the 1977 Thunderbird were also ~2 ½ times higher than the 1976 Elite (146,475 units sold).
So less really was more for the 1977 Thunderbird. The car may be overlooked by collectors today, but there’s no question it was one of Ford’s greatest (and most profitable) hits of the 1970s. And if I had been shopping for a mid-sized Personal Luxury coupe in 1977, the Thunderbird would probably have been my pick—loaded to the gills of course, with the biggest engine, exterior décor group, interior luxury group with leather and power everything. A new kind of thunder, indeed!
Curbside Classic: 1977 Ford Thunderbird – Mark Jr., Or It’s All In The Suspension by Paul Niedermeyer
Curbside Classic: 1977 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau – Her Name Was Lola by Joseph Dennis
Curbside Classic: 1977 Ford LTD II Brougham – The Thunderbird’s Less Successful Brother by Tom Klokau
Curbside Classic: 1976 Ford Elite – A Highfalutin’ Hash by J P Cavanaugh
I remember my mother looking at a ’77 Town Landau.
And, as I recall, it was about $8500.
I also remember looking at the ’76 Bird, as well.
Guess she had a thing for Thunderbirds.
I was 14 years old when these beautiful T-Birds came out. I recall walking into the local Ford dealer in Brooklyn NY and asking the salesman for a brochure for my dad. My dad didn’t really ask me to get him the brochure, but in my mind, it was the way for me, a 14 year old, to walk in a car dealership to look at this beautiful car that I kept seeing ads for on TV.
I must of stayed in the dealership (on the corner of 86th Street and 18th Avenues in Bensonhurst) a good hour looking at the 2 cars in the showroom. One was white with the red vinyl top and interior, while the other was all jade green. The white one was basically stripped with the bench seat, no power windows, am radio.. The jade green one was totally loaded.
Odd for me to see a T Bird without power windows and a bench seat. I was so used to my uncle’s 75 T Bird that was fully loaded… But, I loved the look of the new T Bird, and lusted oved this car for years. My room was fully of drawings that I made of the car, which I wish I still had.
Wow. When I lived in Bensonhurst (2010-2015) I worked at the corner of 86th & 19th Ave. There’s no dealership at 86th & 18th any more, but the local Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealer has its body shop and some service facilities there. That area has changed so much in the past 30 years. My partner grew up on 74th & 17th Ave. His family’s been there since the early 70’s. Looking at photos and hearing stories from those days, Bensonhurst is unrecognizable today with the exception of a few small “micro-hoods” where the old timers have hung on.
I left the Bensonhurst area (I actually lived in Bath Beach) thirty years ago. But visited often as I had many friends and relatives in the area. Haven’t been back in about 2 years, as everyone I knew moved away. The Ford dealership that I mentioned later became a furniture store in the early 80s, and then a bank. During my high school years, I worked in a store on 86th Street and 21st Avenue.
Yes, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge ate all unrecognizable today. Things have charged so much.. It’s not the same Brooklyn (or as we spell it, “B’klyn”) that I was raised in. I miss it …
When these were new, I knew they were essentially Torinos (given the ready extant “Elite”.) It didn’t matter, They managed to get the “vibe” right. I guess they weren’t counting on the explosion in sales, If they had, it may have earned a unique dash. Ford, for all it’s faults in the ’70s really nailed it with this and the Granada, without blowing much on development costs.
The GM midsize coupes and the Cordoba had sedan dashboards. Sometimes one version had a strip speed and the other had round.
Except the Grand Prix which had a completely different dash than the base LeMans. The GP dash was used in the Grand Am and IIRC the later Grand LeMans and Can Am.
If it were me in 1977… I’d probably go GP over TB. But that mark 5 is really looking slick. I saw a mint mark 5 on the street last summer. It had a presence no car around it could hope for.
The Mark V could easily sticker for double a GP, so yeah, it’s got the goods in that genre.
Ford must have been generous with the bribe money for the 1977 model year. These downsized T-birds were (and still are) pigs to drive. Of all the automakers in the 1970s, Ford must have been the most cynical in its product approach.
Well, nothing available at the time was anything but a pig to drive, really. I have driven a 77 LTD II (almost identical) and a 77 Monte Carlo, as well as a 75 Cutlass, and all of these were fine cars for their day. Fast? No. Agile? Hell No. Soft and squishy, but they enveloped you in faux luxury that made your flaired corduroys feel warm and happy against the plush seats. I have never got to feel the fine Corinthian leather of a Cordoba of this era, but by and large, these cars were about as good as American Iron of the time got.
My dad bought one of these in July or August of ’77; it had very few options and probably languished on the dealer lot. It was light jade, with a dark jade vinyl top and interior.
The way the doors were made, it was nearly impossible for a back seat passenger to reach the door handle to open the door and let himself out…unless you were willing to climb over the seat.
Ours was not a bad car, actually. I remember the plastic grill was hinged at the top, allowing it to swing back into the car and avoid damage in a frontal collision….that is, a frontal collision that managed to get past the 18″ or so of bumper that stood in front of it.
I don’t know of any 2 door coupe that is known for it’s easy of back seat entry/exit?
If one wanted a usable, easy to access back seat, one bought a 4 door sedan/hardtop.
Like the Mustang II, the “downsized” Thunderbird was the right car for the time period.
GM And Mopar were just as guilty of repackaging existing chassis and drivetrains as FoMoCo (Chevelle into Monte Carlo, Charger into Cordoba) was during this time period. In the case of the new Thunderbird, Ford just did it better than the other two did.
GM introduced three new mainstream chassis in the time that Ford was selling this Bird. Ford was short of new product.
The Fox and Panther platforms were introduced in the time Ford were selling these, 78 and 79 respectively.
But by 1982 ford had “a better idea”. Ha.
They had that better idea way back in the early 1970s too – and Bill Cosby was also in some of those ads.
“Ford just did it better than the other two did”
Not necessarily better. Ford finally became somewhat competitive in the personal luxury market.
T Bird sales 1977….. 318,140
Monte Carlo sales 1977….. 411,038
T Bird sales 1977-79….. 955,032
MC sales 1977-79….. 1,086,152 (Two different generations)
Interesting…among other factors such as the overall popularity of GM mid-size coupes at that time, I wonder if the T-bird’s sales were also slightly handicapped by a lingering perception that they were not as affordable (not everyone knew about the 35% price reduction), and there was also a bit of internal competition from the two-door LTD II.
Coupes before the rise and influence of the ponycar had decent back seat access – mid 50s to mid 60s roughly. The 72 Torino coupe and it’s long list of descendants are packaged and proportioned like a giant 1971 Mustang, with the passenger compartment pushed way back. It got worse with the rise of highback seats and 3 point shoulder belts.
Hmmm…you may have misread my comment. I’m not referring to back seat space, or ease of entry/exit. The T-bird was actually fine in both of those areas, at least for my 13- to 16-year-old frame (which was over 6 feet tall by my 16th birthday).
No, I’m referring to the combination of very long doors with interior pull handles located low and forward in the door panel, and no additional handle for the back seat passenger to open the door when, say, a hateful older sibling slams the door before said rear passenger could get out. Most other two-door cars I’ve ridden in were either small enough to reach the handle from the back seat with the front seatback folded forward, or there was a second handle at the rear edge of the door.
It’s actually just a minor thing that stuck in my mind from memories of that car…
It’s interesting how history rhymes in the auto industry. It probably cost pocket-change per car more to make a T-Bird than an LTD II but buyers eagerly lined up to pay substantially more for a “Personal Luxury coupe” than a “midsize two-door sedan”, just as buyers now eagerly pay substantially more for a “small crossover vehicle” than a technically nearly identical and in many ways superior “subcompact hatchback” (AWD itself being a separate, high-margin option on the former). I wonder if Mikey’s driving one these days.
“Mikey” is probably driving a huge, luxurious, flashy, chrome laden American SUV, built on the chassis of a lowly pick up truck, sold to him at a huge profit.
Was the ’77 Thunderbird that much of a styling and driving revelation….or was it that the ’76 Thunderbird had morphed into such a bloated, inefficient, dull pig-of-a-car that just about anything was an improvement?
In the mid 70s I got to drive a 74 Thunderbird and a 75 Elite and what I remember about the Thunderbird was how long the hood was and how small/cramped the interior was (well, really the back seat area, as the front seat area was reasonably spacious for the driver and 1 passenger) while the Elite SEEMED to be a (slightly) more rational sized car for 4…or maybe even 5 people.
To be honest, both seemed a bit boat-like, with the Thunderbird feeling like an aircraft carrier to the Elite’s destroyer.
Every now and then a nice 77-79 Thunderbird pops up on Craigslist and I’m tempted to contact the seller. Then I remember I don’t need a car like that.
BTW, it’s just my opinion, but if the 77 Thunderbird had hit showrooms in the fall of 72, the Monte Carlo would have been in serious trouble. Oddly, though it sold so well, I often think that the 2nd generation Monte (and the 3rd, too) was not that attractive a car. Give me a mid 70s Regal any day.
I do agree with Howard on everything he has said above.
True, the ’72 BOF Gran Torino outsold the Chevelle, even though GM was still using the now ‘classic’ A body.
You hit it. There was almost nowhere to go but up after the 76’s. And then the next generation crashed and burned again. It took the Aero Birds to make a Thunderbird worth while again.
I’m struck my the Tudor watch ad…what a horrible bracelet on that thing…and you thought only cars had a bad time in the 70s…
I’d drive one of these, but I think I’d prefer a Cordoba, black with red leather. Monte Carlos just don’t do it for me.
Cordoba here, too. But not one with the stacked headlights.
But I’ll still take any new Tudor, even one with an ugly bracelet, for $265! (Tudor is Rolex’s slightly more affordable line). I’d bet it’s worth alot more than that now.
Come to think of it, the Swiss watch industry was going thorough about the same thing as the American auto industry was at this time, getting blown away by the Japanese (Seiko, Casio, Pulsar, & Citizen in this case) who were offering new-tech quartz movements that kept much better time than the traditional mechanical movements that most of the Swiss companies stuck with. More than half of the latter wouldn’t live to see 1990. Eventually mechanical watches were reframed as luxury goods that offered a more authentic experience, with real clockwork in them and all, and like vinyl records saw a resurgence in interest.
Ah a car as old as I am.
After my grandfather passed in 1976 my grandmother didn’t get serious about a man and dating (she was only 42 when he died) until about 8 years later.
I remember her suitor (and eventual second husband) Cecil had a black and red Thunderbird of this generation. I remember that it had the 351 V8 and that it wasn’t long in his possession after they started dating.
I inquired about what happened to it and was told: “The engine blew.” That’s the only time I can recall hearing that phrase used during my childhood even surrounded by malaise era American Iron.
Still sticks out in my mind although it likely said more about the owner than the car. He generally drove used cars – very used up cars.
I’ve never really been a “Ford Guy”, so I can comment on this one from a pretty unemotional standpoint, but it’s got to be said that this was a stroke of styling and marketing genius. Cheap to produce, to-the-minute styling, and brilliant product planning. Obviously the sales numbers speak for themselves, but I’m basing my impression partially on one of my aunts, who was likely in her early 40’s in ’77. She’d recently traded in her fully loaded Country Squire on a new T-Bird and was giddy with excitement that she was driving a Thunderbird. As a 10 year old I remember riding in that car for the first time and being so confused, because it had a basic bench seat, no power anything, and was a minimally optioned car overall. I was categorically unimpressed, and didn’t understand why this thing was so exciting to her. But Ford very effectively capitalized on 20+ years of Thunderbird “mystique” (no pun intended) with this downsizing and re-orientation of market placement, and people bought in in droves.
In the short term, it was a brilliant business decision, bringing in lots of profit.
What it did in the long term was destroy the brand equity of the marque, so it was no longer prestigious or exclusive. This erosion of the brand was so pervasive that Ford was unable to successfully reboot it as a luxury brand with the 2000s 2-seater, and it failed.
I dunno. The Thunderbird “brand” really only started its downward trajectory with the demise of the coupe market as a whole. As long as 2 door coupes were selling, the Thunderbird was a big player. The 00’s reboot was poorly executed, cheaply trimmed, handled like a pig, was overpriced and was at best never going to be more than a small niche player. I have a hard time seeing the ’77-’79 as a factor in the failure of the 2 seat convertible of the 00’s. I think it was just a stupid idea that Ford thought there would be a market for in a good economy. They were wrong.
If anything, Ford should’ve gone all the way and brought back the 4-door which would’ve been plug-and-play with this and the early Fox generation, and by the time the Aerobird was in the works the sport-sedan writing would be on the wall.
Counterpoint: Mercury did exactly that with the Cougar cousin between 77-79 and 81-82 yet the XR7 coupe eclipsed them in sales, and now those cars are looked at with scorn, the absolute nadir of the Cougar “brand”.
Ford already had the number 1 super luxury coupe, which was a relatively small volume market. Ford did not need a discount-store version of the Mark. They desperately needed a competitive midsize coupe, where GM was selling well over a million units. The car that torpedoed the name was the Box Bird, because it was a bad execution, like the 86 Eldo.
My take is a little different. The “Thunderbird brand” did its job in the 50s and 60s by making Ford a credible player in higher price brackets. Because Ford never had a credible mid or upper mid market brand, making Ford a player in that sandbox was crucial, and the Thunderbird got the job done. Also, Lincoln got busy in that era and took up where the original Thunderbird had left off, and as we saw in 1972-76, there was no real place left for the Bird’s original concept.
But by the 70s the mission changed. Ford had a broader reach than Chevrolet or Plymouth in terms of image but was getting clobbered in the new class of personal luxury car that was the Monte Carlo and Cordoba. The Thunderbird name gave Ford the credibility to leap into the middle of this market and take a big share of it. Other than the missteps of 1980-82, the Thunderbird was a central player in that market for as long as it existed.
I would say the erosion started in 1972 when the Thunderbird became a watered down Mark IV clone, maybe even 67 when it inexplicably sprouted 4 doors and stopped offering a ragtop – this may be the most drastic ten year leap for any nameplate ever – the 77s certainly made the Thunderbird attainable for the masses, but as a car it’s really no worse than the 76, actually it’s arguably a better styling effort than it’s predecessor.
The 02 failed because it was ugly, slow, impractical and expensive. A V8 MN12 Thunderbird that preceded it was as good or better to drive and offered twice the practicality for half the price, and subjectively the styling was better too. Ford didn’t get retro figured out until the 05 Mustangs, where they just said “screw aerodynamics” and gave it a proper blunt nose and stopped trying to make 50s/60s styling cues thrive in a wind tunnel.
I’m not convinced of that. The 2000s reboot ‘Bird was a shameless attempt to capitalize on the retro/nostalgia trend that was pervasive at the time, and people knew it. It was under-engineered, over-hyped, overpriced, and underwhelming (and hit too many branches of the Ugly Tree on its way down!), and the market reaction was exactly what I expected of it as a high-schooler reading about how Ford people were going to these out-of-the-way restoration part shops to buy the 1955 badges and bla bla blah as they were making the prototypes. When you’re telling people you’re going to that effort and then show up with a half-baked bloated-looking thing, well, you’re gonna have a bad time.
I said this below, but I think a big Ford botch was with the Fairmont Futura, which used all of this Thunderbird’s design cues instead of letting the 8th-Gen ‘Bird have the new ‘Bird language.
And I’ll say this probably to the ire of many here: Letting the 1983 version run for six years seriously harmed the brand, and the 1989 version is what killed it. The 1989 version was formless, tasteless, and charmless-a prelude to the effluent that everyone was going to be peddling through the 1990s and easily lost amongst it. There was nothing special about it, and by the time I started high school in 1996 “Thunderbird” meant redneck or hand-me-down high-schooler car, the final kiss of death for what was once a storied and respected brand. It was a car that made no sense-the Mustang by that point did the same things and looked better besides.
The 83 was heavily refreshed for 87, as much as any skin deep Thunderbird refresh was in any year prior. The bulletbird and flairbird were basically the same car, and they ran just as long as them, from 61-66. The 89 really wasn’t all that different of an aesthetic than the 88, which perhaps is the fault in question. Ford put more effort into the platform development however than any Tbird’s that came before it, and the design and packaging of it is virtually indistinguishable from any modern RWD platform made today. No matter how it looks that’s much more admirable than the common practice of the 90s by Ford and a great many automakers who simply rebodied antiquated energy crisis platforms or turned to their Japanese subsidiary or joint venture to badge engineer some disposable econobox. MN12 Thunderbirds have frankly aged much more gracefully than the blobby SN95 Mustangs sitting on their stubby Fox wheelbase.
Taken in isolation, the Thunderbird for 1989 was a fine-looking car. I much preferred the Cougar counterpart, but the ‘Bird wasn’t a bad-looking car per se.
But it wasn’t special. That was the trick to all the previous Thunderbirds. They were special in some way, even the land barges that hit every branch of the ugly tree on the way down. The 1983 version was special, a styling hit and the Turbo Coupe a credible performer.
What made the 1989s stand out as a Thunderbird? Those that I’ve known who had one of that vintage all loved them, but there wasn’t anything about them that made them stand out. They were just another sporty car-competent, decent-looking, “ticked the boxes.” At least the Mustang stood out as a Mustang.
People buying in this sort of segment are buying for identity reasons. The ’89-’97 Thunderbirds didn’t really have an identity aside from “car.” At least, such was, and remains, my perception.
Part of the problem there was that by the time the car got to the end of its development it was so horribly overbudget that the quality of the interior got hacked to shreds. I loved the 89 Thunderbird when I first saw it, but was massively let down as soon as I saw the inside.
I see what you’re saying, I prefer the Cougar in that generation and those points you mention are basically why I do. The fault with the 89 Thunderbird is that it was a bit too good of a BMW E24 copy, and that’s great if you desire a 633/635csi, but being a near tracing paper copy of something doesn’t really do much for it’s own identity, there were occasional comparos with Turbo Coupes against that BMW model during the 80s, but only because they were touring style coupes of a similar size, not because they looked anything alike. The Cougar was a much more American design, maybe not too original itself with it’s bolt upright roofline so prevalent on GM cars of the era, but unlike GM cars of the era it was long, low and wide.
I just remember from my childhood recollection that the 89-97s weren’t all that different design wise from the 87-88s, and there was a time where I didn’t know which one was newer than the other. They definitely *looked* like Thunderbirds as the prior generation established, but the evolutionary restyle didn’t match what was a revolutionary redesign under the skin, and that was the bigger problem than supposedly being formless, tasteless, and charmless, which is where I most disagree.
“MN12 Thunderbirds have frankly aged much more gracefully than the blobby SN95 Mustangs sitting on their stubby Fox wheelbase”
I couldn’t agree more. The Mustang didn’t really start looking good again until the “New Edge” refresh.
What ultimately killed the Thunderbird was the contracting market for personal luxury coupes. This had always been a style-driven segment, and by the late 1990s, “stylish” middle-class and upper-middle class buyers were driving SUVs and fancy pickups. The demand for better back seat access, driven in part by child safety seat laws, also played a part in the segment’s demise.
There just isn’t much demand for coupes these days, and the Mustang fulfills whatever demand is left among Ford buyers.
Well-stated. One important related fact: the requirement for child safety seats, which didn’t exist back in the 1970s. Very few people want to deal with trying to get their kiddo(s) in and out of those in the back seat of a 2-door car.
This and the next generations are the Thunderbirds I never cared for. The cheap, blue-collar, faux-luxury Birds.
Yeah, the previous generation Thunderbird was nothing to write home to mother about, but at least it was a genuine (for the time) luxury car with a price tag and exclusivity to match. As is so well documented in this article (nice job, by the way) this generation was nothing but a Torino with new sheetmetal. And it was painfully obvious the day the car came out. They weren’t playing with Lincoln and Cadillac anymore, they were playing with Chevrolet. (And I don’t particularly like Monte Carlo’s either, not until the final generation of the RWD models, and then it better say SS.)
Two generations later you got the Aero Bird. At which point the Thunderbird became something special again.
I had trouble with these at the time, as I was still hung up on the idea that the Thunderbird was supposed to be something more special and expensive. But that brand equity sure sold a lot of these cars.
That said, I preferred the styling of the Cougar XR-7 of those years.
I loved the basket handle. The XR7 seemed more like a standard Cougar.
I’d like the basket handle a whole lot more if Ford didn’t stick that goofy opera window in it. The Cougar’s front end was more attractive to me, the hidden headlight covers covering the two lonely round lights looked terrible at night on Thunderbirds.
Ford did offer a model of the 77-79 Thunderbird that DIDN’T feature quite the same “basket handle” look as other Thunderbirds. The Diamond Jubilee and the Heritage model of 78 and 79, respectively, had a vinyl roof treatment that filled in the rear side window with vinyl that extended up over the top like a regular Thunderbird. Admittedly it kept the opera window, but they were somewhat necessary with that large expanse of glass covered over. These models were quite popular.
I’m aware of those, but they blocked off the wrong bit of glass, the baskethandle as used on the Fairmont Futura is what I have in mind. Ford had a bad habit it seemed by using the opera windows in the B pillars.
> I think a big Ford botch was with the Fairmont Futura, which used all of this Thunderbird’s design cues instead of letting the 8th-Gen ‘Bird have the new ‘Bird language.
I think the Fairmont Futura coupe with the T-Birdesque roof was intended to be to the new ’77-’79 T-Bird what the Elite was to the ’72-’76 T-Bird, offering something for those who found the Fairmont 2-door sedan too dowdy, just like the Elite sold to those who would have found a Gran Torino coupe too dowdy, but didn’t want to (or couldn’t afford to) step up to a real Thunderbird.
I’m somewhat of a loss to explain why GM was so successful radically downsizing their personal luxury cars at the height of their popularity, both the A-body in ’78 and E-body in ’79, whereas Ford sales were crushed when they downsized the T-Bird, Cougar, and Mark in 1980, even though they carefully retained nearly all of the styling elements of the previous larger cars. Perhaps that was the problem – ’70s big-car styling just didn’t work on that smaller canvas. GM realized this, toning down the wild ’77 Monte Carlo and ’78 Eldorado styling when they were shrunken, but also were careful not to tinker with their essence, the essential cores of what made those cars feel more special than a Malibu. The ’80 Fords just looked like their former selves but suddenly stubby and shrunken, too obviously a fluffed-up Fairmont or LTD, and that just wasn’t a good look. The recession and gasoline crisis also hurt things, but I would have though high gas prices would have driven sales of downsized cars, just as they did for the Mustang II in ’74 and GM X body in 1980.
You have to understand the mid-late 1970s and the Fairmont Futura makes perfect sense. There was a huge obsession with outer space and the future, with movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and so on (also the movie and TV show Logan’s Run).
It reminds me of a similar space-obsessed period starting in the mid-1950s when car taillights and exhausts were patterned after rockets.
And this continued into the 1980s, with the first-generation Taurus being used as cars in several futuristic movies.
This link has a bunch of forgotten 1970s space-related TV shows that is worth a look:
I hadn’t ever really thought about the Futura being a sort of Elite successor, but that’s actually pretty logical. Regardless though, I still think it was a mistake. The Elite used the Torino(Montego)coupe body, which was a familiar 3 year old shape, with a new Monte Carloish nose and a bunch of tinsel. The Futura on the other hand was totally unique body from the doors back. The Fairmont design was totally fresh anyway, they should have used the Futura quad headlight nose on the Fairmont ES and just called that the Futura, then save the Futura design for the next generation Tbird.
The sales graph, with its falling-off-a-cliff in 1980 and beyond for the eighth-generation Bird, prompted me to take a look at the Fox-based Thunderbird that followed this one. Looking in hindsight, it appears that Ford retained the styling cues from the 1977-1979 in that downsizing. But the sales figures say that success did not follow. Was this indicative of the overall coupe market dying off, or of the car market in general moving down (smaller) a full notch, to K-Car territory?
One of the reproduced test reports remarked on the low-effort, no-feel power steering. That must have been characteristic of the basic chassis and steering, as even Ford’s police package 1976 Torino felt like that. Contemporary GM (Pontiac LeMans) and Chrysler (B-body Fury/Monaco) were a LOT better…didn’t both use GM Saginaw steering boxes, or am I mistaken?
The auto market, especially for sports and lux models, was in the toilet from 80 to 82. The awkward placement of old TBird cues on the outline of the Fairmont was the final nail. The Aero Bird bounced back, but big coupes wee solidly out of fashion by the end of the 80s. By 1990, the trends favored SUVs, minivans, and smaller import sedans.
The Saginaw boxes were amongst the Ford steering offerings at the time. I’d honestly have to pull my service manuals to tell you whether these ‘Birds used them or some other kind.
I think where Ford botched with the 8th-Gen Box ‘Birds was actually not with the Box ‘Birds, but with the Fairmont Futura. Ford used the 7th-Gen T-Bird styling on the Fairmont Futura, to great effect. What that did, though, was screwed them on the 8th-Gen ‘Birds. By then, they’d already well and truly learned the lesson of look-alike styling from the Versailles, so they’d painted themselves into a corner.
I mean, have a look. The ’77 Thunderbird Town Landau is mine. Look how much of that profile they used on the Fairmont Futura!
I agree, the designers really painted themselves into a corner with the Futura. Much criticism could be drawn for basing a Tbird on a lowly Torino in 77 but at least with it came an across the board styling refresh for the entire intermediate line. I still think they would have been better off tarting up a Futura body than what they actually released for 1980, but there was really no good option.
The lack of steering feel had nothing to do with the chassis, it was all in the steering boxes. Ford used Saginaw steering boxes throughout the 1970’s in various platforms. Like many things Fords during this era, parts were often installed without rhyme or reason. Meaning some cars had the Ford built steering boxes, some had the Saginaw. This was the case for the mid-sized Fords of the era. That said, the Ford boxes and Saginaw boxes for these cars were both tuned with a slow ratio and lots of boost. This meant, low effort, low road feel and no real difference in feel between the two. Every goes on about how great the Saginaw steering boxes are, but not all were. It came down to how they were tuned.
For example, Ford used the Saginaw steering boxes in the 1971-73 Mustangs. Base cars came equipped with a SPA-S box, which was tuned like a typical Ford, low effort and four turns lock to lock. Order a Mustang with competition suspension, and you got the upgraded SPA-T box. This was a variable ratio, 3.25 turns lock to lock, higher effort steering box. That said, higher effort is relative, these were overboosted compared to modern steering or even the newer Saginaw boxes (i.e. 12.7:1 fixed ratio).
The BIG advantage of a Saginaw box is that today they can be rebuild basically to any spec you want. Quick ratio, high effort, or slow and overboosted, whatever you want it can be built. Find a good builder and you can make almost anything. Ford built steering boxes are really not able to be modified and there were no good factory quick ratio/high effort boxes.
Wonder what would’ve happened if they’d kept the Fairmont Futura’s roofline ‘on ice’ until the 7th gen was due for replacement, then trotted out that roofline for the new ‘bird? Instant brand recognition from that trademark roofline, but on a new smaller body. Bingo!
Only problem is that the “basket handle” roofline really wasn’t tied up in the Thunderbird’s 25-year (at that time) history, having appeared just three years earlier. I’m not sure that it was as brand-identifiable as, say, the Continental’s spare tire hump on the trunklid.
It wasn’t a callback to a prior Thunderbird but the basket handle was used on the 55-56 Crown Victoria. Obviously the Tbird didn’t use it, being a roadster, but it was a styling feature hardening back to Ford design during the mid 50s.
Oh, yeah, and thanks…obviously I didn’t connect the dots to the ’55-’56 Crown Vic.
Which sort of reinforces the point that the basket handle wasn’t all that iconic, at least in the case of the Thunderbird.
True, it wasn’t “iconic” Thunderbird. But, it was attractive enough to sell hundreds of thousands of Thunderbirds over three years. I believe that the Fairmont Futura, done up in appropriate fashion to be a Thunderbird and sold as the Thunderbird, would have sold a fair bit better than the fussy dowdy Box ‘Birds did. Fairmont Futura didn’t have enough brand cachet behind it to move metal, and the thing they released as the actual Thunderbird didn’t show up ready for the mission.
What Ford basically did was offer two Fox-based variations of the ’77 T-Bird styling. The ’77-79 T-Bird had two opera windows on each side – a small one in the “basket handle”/targa band, and a larger one behind it. In the Town Landau models, the large window was covered up with vinyl, leaving only the small opera window in a targa band visible. It was this look that Ford tried to emulate with the ’80-’82 T-Bird, and it did reasonably well as long as you ordered the Town Landau or Silver Anniversary models that included both the opera window and the targa band (as shown in this photo). Lesser models had the opera window but not the wrapover targa roof treatment, which left a much less distinctive appearance, one that now resembled any number of late-’70s personal luxury coupes with narrow opera windows. Worse, the opera window itself was an option; the standard window was larger and gave the whole car a bland Fairmont look.
The Futura took the opposite tack. Instead of looking like a ’77 Thunderbird with the large rear side window blanked out, it looked like a ’77 Thunderbird with the small opera window blanked out but the larger window behind it still there. But unlike the ’80-’82 T-Bird which needed high-level trim options to look right, all Futura coupes had this near-Thunderbird look so it came off much better than in the ’80 T-Bird itself.
The Town Landau execution looks to be about as thorough as the canvas top conversions done to late model cars in Florida – a big thick fiberglass core with some heavily padded fabric wrapped around it and some hardware store sheet metal screws to hold it down to the body, and decorated by some really clunky sharp edged trim. Say what you will about the 77s but the vinyl was at least tight to the body, and didn’t look like the car was wearing half a helmet like that 80 model
Sales numbers for the 80 model were about 1/2 of those for the 79, and dropped by half again in 81 then 82. Yet, after selling 45 thousand Thunderbirds in 82, the sales bounced back somewhat in 83 to 122 thousand and climbed in 84 and again in 85. So the coupe market was declining after 80, but buyers still bought good looking cars when they were available.
As further proof, Ford sold more Thunderbirds in 80 than Chevy sold Monte Carlos. In 81 and 82 Chevy again sold TWICE as many Montes as Ford sold Thunderbirds. But when Ford introduced the “areo birds” the shoe was on the other foot….Ford outsold Chevy nearly 2 to 1.
Overall, the market share for coupes was shrinking. But new product brought in customers.
For the 1980-82 era, GM still sold a fair number of personal coupes. Cutlass Supreme and Regal were getting lots of former big car owners.
Compared to an ’80 Cutlass/Regal, the same year T-Bird looked cheaper.
Wasn’t until the GM W bodies came out that personal coupes started their decline.
1) The 1979 energy crisis threw the economy into a recession. This sent car sales down sharply for the 1980 model year, and things didn’t really recover until 1983. The only cars that were selling well were small cars, especially those featuring FWD, which was being touted as the greatest invention since sliced bread, suddenly rendering any small car that didn’t have it hopelessly outdated. Car that were both RWD and larger than compact-sized took a beating in the sales race.
2) In hindsight, this was also probably about the time when the coupe market began dying off. Midsize sedans would come back, but the market for midsize coupes would never recover to anything remotely approaching their late ’70s popularity.
3) Even against the backdrop of the two previous items, the 1980-82 Thunderbird was an extremely poor seller. The styling cues just didn’t work on a car that size, or the proportions were off, or it suddenly looked dated. Sure, sales of all midsize personal luxury coupes were down, but the Thunderbird was down a lot more than any of the others, and the Aerobird generation that followed would prove to be a much better seller. There was something specific to the 1980-82 Thunderbird, beyond the factors that were affecting the market as a whole, that made them a real sales dud.
The economy was indeed bad, but the car itself was a significant part of the 80-82 TBird’s problem. Whatever you want to say about the 77-79 version, it felt substantial. The doors were heavy and felt really solid when you shut them. But that 80 model did not feel that way at all. An aunt and uncle bought a new one. I drove it and between the AOD transmission that did its best to keep the little V8 out of its torque band and a body that felt thin and a little flimsy, there was nothing that said “Thunderbird” about that car. My aunt had always wanted a Thunderbird, but did not keep that one long at all.
They felt like the gussied up Fairmont that they were.
One of my elementary school teachers had one, blue with a tan top and tan interior. I always have liked the looks, the chiseled styling. I really liked the hood ornament – some of the T-bird ornaments had what I assume was colored plastic within the bird portion, to match the car – maybe part of a package upgrade? Also the turbine style wheels looked great.
I also liked the large taillights – many cars of that era and even now, have smallish taillights. Ford and Lincoln though often had large taillights, even if not all of it was illuminated.
The insert was a Town Landau thing.
What can you say? The ’77 T-Bird switcheroo is yet more evidence of Lee Iacocca’s marketing genius. Say what you will about his sense of automotive style, but I’d rather have crystal-cut looking parking lamps than the boring generic ones fitted to any new car I can think of. The rest of the car did a better job of not looking like a Torino than the LTD II did.
One aspect of the dash was changed from the Torino/Elite’s – the gauges were redesigned; the Torino had deeply tunneled gauges, but the T-Bird and LTD II’s were nearly flush with the surrounding woodgrain. This did help give it a more modern appearance.
You’d have to be a die hard Ford fan to have purchased one of these over a 77 Grand Prix. Optioned at the same price point, a GP offered much more style both in and out.
Thunderbird was a much better name in 1977, and it had fresh, very handsome styling. Note that GM already had a sheerlook GP in the pipeline for 78 that kept a few cues but gave up the extreme execution (basically a more successful version of the Box Bird); I assume Pontiac could have kept the exaggerated fender creases like the 78 MC, but they didn’t.
Mechanically, I prefer the GM A bodies, and the GP gave the driver a special feeling inside, esp with buckets and console. The T Bird felt like a regular Torino inside, however it was optioned.
Pontiac actually brought back most of the ’77 creases on the facelifted ’81 model. They’re subtle, but there are callouts to the sculpturing of the ’73-’77 Grand Prix on the hood and rear deck, as well as the coke-bottle shape of the ’63 GP in the rear fender area.
Creases are like hem lines, I guess. 🙂
And handelled a whole hell of a lot better!
I’ve mentioned too often here the ’77 Thunderbird Town Landau my hubby and I have. The thing I find so interesting is that every time we ride up to a gas station (which with the 400 is frequently, even with a 26-gallon tank!) we’re approached by someone that had one or knew someone that had one. And, every single one of them speaks with so much fondness about theirs! Yet somehow these have been deemed auto non-grata amongst collectors.
Although to be fair, I expect most of them have long since dissolved and returned to the Earth. Very little from this era was very good at resisting rust. At least the parts are still super-easy to come by.
It actually surprises me to see how laudatory both reviews were about the handling. Comparing notes between the ’78 Continental Town Coupe and the ’77 Thunderbird Town Landau, the ‘Bird has a noticeable edge handling-wise over the Conti. To be sure, our ‘Bird still feels big, but it doesn’t feel quite ponderous like the Conti does. But, in Town Landau spec the Thunderbird could easily have been badged as a Lincoln and been absolutely credible as such.
I am glad you enjoyed this post–I figured you’d get a kick out of the period reviews. Does your Thunderbird have the handling suspension?
I’m honestly not sure. The old brochures (at least on oldcarbrochures.com) don’t mention anything about a handling package at all (the Town Landau brochure mentions revised suspension, but I believe that’s in reference to all Thunderbirds). The C&D review mentioned a 400 with a 4-barrel, a combination that, to my knowledge, never made it into anything Ford sold, so maybe it’s something Ford was going to do and then didn’t?
I’ll have to dig into this some more.
A source I used for this piece is “T-Bird: 40 Years of Thunder” by John Gunnell, and it lists the “handling suspension” as being a $79 option on any ’77 Thunderbird. It must not have been too popular, as the option isn’t listed for ’78 or ’79–those years you could only order a “heavy duty” suspension for ~$20. For all 3 years, a “heavy duty trailer towing package” was also available. I think these press cars probably had the handling suspension option in order to curry more favorable feedback from the buff books, but I’m not sure many actual T-Bird buyers would have sought out the option…
I wouldn’t put too much worth into the “handling suspension” package. There was very little variation in the suspension packages in the T-birds of this era. I just reviewed the Ford Parts Catalog. All 77-79 Birds came from the factory with a 1 1/18″ front sway bad and a 11/16″ rear sway bar. This alone was a big improvement over the previous Big Bird or even the 1976 Torinos. There were NO other sway bars available for the T-bird for 77-79.
There were different shocks that were available depending on the suspension, and some different springs depending on the engine and suspension. But the difference in spring stiffness from the lightest spring to the heaviest for these T-birds was very small. In the end, there wasn’t that much difference. The handling suspension was basically better tuned and wouldn’t have wallowed as much.
In comparison, if you look at a Police spec 1977 LTD II, it used larger sway bars (especially in the rear), much stiffer springs, stiffer bushings, and heavy duty shocks. If something equivalent to this had been offered on a civilian Ford, that would have been a handling package worthy of its name.
Vince, do have any info on whether or not any 400-4Vs were ever built?
Some claim there were a few for the California market.
There were never any Ford 400-4V’s made in regular production, US, California, Canada, or export. All Ford 400’s from 1971-1982 were 2V. It’s too bad Ford never did capatilize on this engine. It was basically a stroked, tall deck 351C. As I have seen today with engine builders like Tim Meyer, it doesn’t take mach to make serious power with a 400.
I participate in some of the 335 series engine foums, and there was an old Ford cast iron 4V intake found for a 400. It was however stamped with an Ford experitmental part number. It is believed this was an engineering peice that some how survived. There is no production 4V intake ever made for the 400 Ford.
I wouldn’t lament the lack of a 4V 400 engine – our 1971 LTD had that engine and the combustion chamber design led to severe pinging from day one. By the 1980s I had installed a dual exhaust on it, along with larger jets (.057″ instead of .054″) that I scrounged out of a junkyard carb, and was running it only on premium leaded fuel. That helped a lot.
Regarding handling, it is a 1977 T-Bird that I robbed both the steering box (a Ford one) and front sway bar from for the 1971 LTD. Both did wonders to tighten up the steering and handling. The funny thing was, the junkyard parts interchange manuals all said that this steering box wouldn’t work in a 1971 LTD, but I bolted it right in, Pitman arm and all.
The pinging on the 400 Ford had to do with excessive deck clearances. Ford reduced the compression by moving the piston further down in the hole. This is what caused the problem with detonation on some 400’s. This is the biggest design flaw with this engine.
A 400-4V with proper pistons would have been an awesome motor. Clearly you haven’t seen what modern builders are doing with these engines. Here’s a great write-up by George Pence, a renowned 351C and 335 series engine expert, making the case to use a 400 in a Pantera rather than using a 351C stroker. He also discusses the engine design.
I have no doubt that it can be built up well – heck, I had a pile of dead 350 Olds engines back in the 1980s, along with a copy of the Hot Rod Magazine article about how to turn one into a killer gas engine. Never proceeded in that direction.
But the 400 2-V stock? Meh. They were utter garbage in the late 1970s – I had auto shop in the early 1980s and we did tuneups on them as installed in F150 & F250 pickups. They had a lot of valvetrain issues as well.
I installed a 1971 429 4-V in my LTD during the summer of 1989 and then added a Duraspark II ignition along with a Holley ProJection 2V and never looked back. But that did require high-octane and lead additive as well.
A few posts down in that thread a poster brings the prospect of a 400 build back to earth – bellhousings, manifold adapters, headers, etc. all will kill any semblance of a budget build on this engine. I think if I had a Thunderbird with a factory 400 already under the hood I’d build on it for convenience sake, but to seek one out at a junkyard, no way. There are so many other options with engines with more aftermarket support.
you’re missing my point. All I was trying to relay was the fact the the pinging problem that some 400’s saw was due to Ford’s cost cutting engineering, of lowering the compression with excessive piston deck clearances. I am not trying to say it’s the best engine ever, because it’s not, but there is a ton of misinformation out there (like so much else in the car world). I don’t know what valvetrain issues you saw with the 400’s? It used the exact same valvetain as a 351C, and both used a setup very similar to the 385 series motors.
You’re right that a stock 400-2V engine is nothing to right home about, but you can pretty much say that about almost any other V8 from that desmogged 70’s era. It was a victim on it’s time. My only point in mentioning that today builders are making some powerful 400’s is two fold. First, if this engine were inherently a poor design, why would any one specialize or waste time building these engines? There are companies creating new parts for these engines today, such as the proper pistons. The second is, if you were involved in the 335 series engine world today, you’d know that you can easily build 400 in the neighborhood of 400 hp with all stock parts, including the heads, by using 0-deck pistons and a mild performance cam.
George Pence isn’t just some guy pontificating about engines. This guy is probably one of the worlds most knowledgeable guys when it comes to 335 series engines. He has a ton of experience building 351Cs and 400’s and has written many highly technical articles on these engines. His work is used in published books on these engines. While the other poster does bring up the pitfalls, my whole point of posting that link was the fact that George was talking about the how great of a engine choice the 400 can be, even in something like a Sports car (Pantera). If this were a terrible old boat anchor like some people think, why would anyone consider putting on in a Pantera? And the fact is, there are numerous people who have done the 400 swap in a Pantera, despite the pitfalls.
The same here. It seems that everyone who sees my 1977 Thunderbird (43K miles, mint condition) either had one, had a relative who had one, had a friend or neighbor who had one.
When they came out, I had just graduated from College. The first time I saw them, was on a transport trailer in Kingsville Texas. I loved the basket handle top, the full width tail lights (sort of like the 1964-66), the side gills, the hidden headlights, and the beveled plastic front turn indicator lenses.
Despite what some may think, my car runs and drives as smooth as silk (351). Very quiet and handles relatively good. It is a low option car, but does have the quadraphonic radio/stereo, tilt wheel, and map/dome light.
I am now in the process of installing new steel wheels and wire wheel covers, replacing (but keeping) the original perfect condition polycast wheels.
BTW, these Tbirds had very very nice real chrome plated die cast metal bezels around the opera winds, unlike the cheap plastic that GM used. These cars are sharp looking and very under valued at this time. Mine also has the nice trick feature of automatically unlocking the front seat back when opening the doors. Mine also has not had the failure of the plastic behind the bumpers, like the GM cars had – they are perfect. I really have nothing bad to say about these cars, based on mine. You could not ask for a smoother riding car, a smoother running engine, or a quieter interior, as well as nice handling and braking and steering. Not a race or sports car, but great transportation.
There’s a big discrepancy between the curb weight you report [“about 200 pounds heavier (at 3907 lbs.) than the LTD II”] and the weight mentioned on page 32 of the Road Test article [“at 4510 pounds the Thunderbird is no lightweight”]. The Road Test example is later described as “mildly optioned” (has a/c but no power door locks, no sunroof, etc.)
EDIT: I think I’ve figured it out; 3907 was the shipping weight:
“reference weights: shipping weight 1772 kg / 3907 lbs base curb weight: 1876 kg / 4136 lbs”
From the same site, the 1976 Thunderbird was ~900 pounds heavier:
“reference weights: shipping weight 2181 kg / 4808 lbs base curb weight: 2270 kg / 5004 lbs”
I used the standard curb weights for both the entry-level LTD II 2-door hardtop and the entry-level Thunderbird, as listed in Consumer Guide’s Encyclopedia of American Cars (no AC, base engines, etc.). So even in bone stock form, the T-Bird did weigh more than an LTD II, probably due to the added trim and sound deadening. However, as noted, I’d guess the vast majority of T-Birds were optioned up, so I think the test weights noted in the reviews are closer to the reality of most cars sold.
My recollection is that the 3,907 number is the weight of the base model, with the 302 and thin on options. That 400 is a big lump of iron, and add in some A/C and power chair and other goodies and I imagine that 4,510 number is attainable.
That or they misquoted it. The ’78 Continental Town Coupe is alleged in Ford literature to weigh 4,750 (although I believe that’s with the 400 instead of the “lightweight cast-iron” 700-plus pound 460).
My title says 4,000 lbs. Check the weight on many new cars and trucks and you will find that 4,000 lbs is not heavy by today’s standards!
Why was 4,000 lbs heavy back in the day, but not now?
A 2015 Dodge Charger weighs 4,575 lbs!
A 2015 Chevy Silverado 4 dr weighs 4,925 lbs!
The original 1977 brochure says 4,280 lbs.
Everything is 1000lbs heavier pretty much, safety equipment, stiffer body structure, taller bodies, larger wheels, larger brakes, independent suspensions and of course standard gizmos all share equal responsibility for it.
The ’70s sure inspired a lot of, um, creative rooflines. At face value, this T-Bird is almost bizarre, but it worked for me and obviously a lot of other people. A case where taking a chance paid off.
I’m glad to see the ’72-’76 Bird referred here as the “Big Bird”. Fitting and respectful.
It seems like there was a discussion some time back regarding names for T-Bird generations. Bullet, and Aero are some obvious ones. I don’t know that this generation has a name. Basket Bird certainly addresses the unique roof, but I’m not sure that it sounds respectful such a successful car.
I’m almost a bit surprised that the handling in these cars is referred to in complementary tones. Perhaps these cars are where Ford started to address the rather sloppy handling their cars suffered in the early – mid ’70s.
Yep… You, me, JP, Chris M., and calibrick, had this discussion here about the T-Bird nicknames and how it might make a good QOTD….
Chris M. came up with a pretty good list. We were about a day late to the commenting party, so scroll down almost to the bottom to relive the discussion.
It starts with me saying how much I miss T-Birds…
My very last one :o(
Thanks for that link. I’ve read that piece more than once before, but every time I come across it again I come away thinking it’s one of the best pieces of writing ever to grace CC.
You’re welcome. It looks like our fearless leader Paul wrote that one. I liked that article too. There’s lots of great writing on this site, as I’m sure you know by being a regular.
Actually, I was testing the “Search Curbside Classic” with Google Custom Search in the upper right corner. I typed in “Fox Box Bird” to see if I could find the discussion to which Dave B referred, and the link popped right up.
I think I like Joseph Dennis’ “Fashion Birds” as a nickname for this late seventies generation of Thunderbird. See his post below.
Love your writing, GN – another great piece. I suppose I hadn’t realized just how much the ’77 LTD II’s front clip looked so much like the previous year’s Elite (saved for the former’s stacked quad headlamps)! That was a really helpful comparison that I’ve never realized until today.
The silver Thunderbird in the last picture is a stunner.
I was just discovering and learning to identify cars when the last of this generation was new, but they always seemed really upscale to me. Of course, I had no firsthand knowledge of the big Thunderbirds that preceded them, but I remember observing these 7th-gen Thunderbirds and the people inside them, and they always seemed upscale. (My own tiny size at the time relative to these cars would have supported the illusion of these cars being quite large).
My first, personal encounter with one of these was when I was maybe 4 or 5 at the shop of my first barber, Clint, at my old neighborhood in Flint. I was outside the front door of the barber shop while my brother was getting his hair cut, when this beautiful, dark green Thunderbird pulled up near the front door. (There was a beauty shop next door that smelled like chemicals like hair stuff and nail polish.) The driver was very pretty, and she introduced herself as “Crystal” as she gave me the whole “you’re such a cute, little boy” talk. To this day, I think of Crystal when I see one of these “Fashion Birds”.
Thanks Joe! Like you, I always thought of these cars as being nicely upscale. I had just turned 10 when they came out, and I remember that I really enjoyed spotting them. Maybe it is my hazy memories, but I seem to recall they were all interesting color combinations and very striking (even base cars: the Light Jade/Dark Jade T-Bird BuzzDog describes in his comment above sounds like it would have been a looker). There was a Town Landau in my neighborhood that I used to check out–it was Chamois Glow Metallic with the Chamois interior in leather. I loved peeking in the windows of that car (I used to walk my dog by where it was parked every day), and I remember thinking the interior looked really posh.
I’ve decided to try sticking to the old admonition: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”
Thanks for the article, it certainly is interesting to further get a better grasp of these.
Initially, I never cared for these. I didn’t think they were bad, just not that good compared to previous and future Thunderbirds. But much like the Fox body Turbo Coupes, I’ve grown a fondness for these and if one were to be optioned nicely, I would not kick it out of my garage.
I think the reason I like these compared to the previous generation is because the previous generation just looked, well, cheap. As the decade wore on, the previous Thunderbirds just gave off a feeling that was low grade, at least from my perspective. Part of it is the advent of the 5 MPH bumpers being poorly integrated, part of it is the egg crate grill and four headlight combo looking almost like something that would be fit for a rental lot, whatever the case, they just looked like they were budget built. They were big, but that was all they had going for them, but it wasn’t even graceful big, it was the kind of big that was plodding and lumbering and almost sad to look at.
I will admit, these aren’t perfect, they have a lot of design flaws (I agree with XR7Matt that the basket handle roof and opera window combo looks off. One or the other would’ve been fine, having both creates a clash) and they are just Torinos with newer sheetmetal. But, compared to what came before, these came off much more successful.
Of course, than they had to go and ruin it with the next generation. Lest we forget the Fairmont Birds in their cheap, pretentious, “glory”.
My mom had one of these when I was a kid, It was dark jade metallic with matching interior and a white vinyl top. Hers was a 79.
I got one in the same color combination when I was stationed in Utah in 2005
It was a restoration project that never got completed.
These cars are big soft riding wallowing barges mine never even touched the 17 MPG they say its supposed to get.
I loved it. If I could find another 79 I would consider it ( has to be a 79 I like the tail lights better)
Ugh. Just…ugh. Not that my opinion matters; the cars sold well, etc. But to my eyes these cars are ugly through and through. Not quite so bloatedly hideous as the ’71-’76 GM B-bodies (etc), but still, the design of these T-birds looks swollen and thrown together from any angle. Those two quarter glasses of different size and shape are especially gross. A fair chunk of my reaction is to the generally pukeworthy design and style fashions of that time, but even if I factor that out: yuuuuuck!
I am curious – what car design do you like?
Well, if we’re confining it to that same era (which seems fair) then I’m a fan of the ’77-’79 GM B-body design (particularly the Chev and Olds versions). The new Cadillacs starting in ’76 were fine (excepting the silly Seville). The Volvos of that timeframe were also clean designs, and the Audis, Bimmers, Mercedeseseses, and Saabs were fine. The VW Wabbit was okeh, hence so was the Plymouth-Dodge Omnirizon. I might come up with one or two others if I throw some research into it, but I also might not.
If we’re confining it to Ford in that timeframe, then no; their bad drugs didn’t start to wear off until the ’79 LTD, which was a lazy me-too crib of the GM B-body (ditto the Chrysler R-bodies).
If we remove all year and maker constraints, then I’ll happily fly my freak flag: I like the ’60-’62 Valiant/Lancer, I like most of the widely-disliked ’62 Chrysler products, I like the ’63-’66 Darts and Valiants and the ’64-’66 Imperials and a fair good smattering of other Chrysler products of that era, I like the ’58 and dislike the ’55-’57 Chevs and I’m not much on the Fords of that time either, I like the Volvo Amazons, I like the Spirit/Acclaim/LeBaron, I like the ’48 Studebaker President and the ’64-’66 Lark, the pre-GM Saab 900 and 9000 models and the ’73-’77 Olds Collonnade Cutlasses aren’t bad, the ’80-’84 Lincoln Town Car, Mark VI, and Continental Mark VI are nice lookers, and today’s cars are all equally stupid-lookin’. Now get the hell offa my lawn. 😉
I agree with you on the looks of today’s cars. It amazes me that people like the look of the grille on the Lexus (you know, the one that looks like a cross between a B-B-Q grill and the back of a refrigerator), but don’t like the grille on the 1958 Edsel!
With a (very) few exceptions, todays cars and carlike vehicles all look like they’ve been through a digestive tract. Like metal turds. Frontal design long ago passed ridiculous and went into territory I lack adjectives for, which is significant because I’m an editor with a large vocabulary. GRR! SNARL!! I AM NEW CAR!!! LOOK AT MY AGGRESSIVE, SNARLING “MOUTH” AND MY ANGRY “EYES”!!!! GRR!!!!! SNARL!!!!!! And then we could talk about the stoopid high beltlines and other such features.
My answer to your question wasn’t exhaustive, by the way. ’67-’69 Valiants, ’70-’72 Darts, Breezeway-backglass Mercury models, the ’70 Dodge with wraparound grilles (see what today’s gaping maws do to make yesterday’s grotesqueness seem nice?), the (real) Jeep Wagoneer, especially the ’63-’65 models as well as its predecessor the Willys Jeep station wagon, and I’m sure as soon as I can no longer edit this post I’ll think of more.
Speaking of Thunderbirds:
Whoa… CC Effect AND Twilight Zone Music. Cool!
I was still in High School when these came out and realized they where a tarted up Torino already a 5 year old design. No comparison to the new downsized full size GM cars. They weighed less , handled way better and had more room, but lacked the all important opera windows. I do realise they where not personal luxury cars, but the coupes did offer a distinctive style at the time.
I wonder if these were any lighter than the previous Elite. They SEEMED lighter, which was probably of more benefit to Ford saleswise.
Probably depends on engine, the base engine in an Elite was the 351, the base engine in the Thunderbird was the 302, so obviously those would be lighter. Otherwise all things being equal, no, they’re both 4200-4300ish lbs. The Thunderbird did have alloy wheels as an option for the first time though, so those would have reduced weight a bit too.
Our 460 Elite tipped the local landfill scales at 4600 and change. That car had the lnterior Decor Group, AC, tilt, cruise but no power equipment. 335 engines weigh at least 100 pounds less than 385s, so they would be lighter.
C&D’s Bird weighed 4343, RT,s 4510. This is inexplicable, since they were both 400 car equipped about the same way. I wonder if C&D even bothered to put their car on a scale and weigh it, instead taking Ford’s published specs verbatim.
While the mid-to-late seventies were generally a low point for domestic autos, the one area where they excelled were personal luxury coupes, at least for certain, specific model years. The ’73-’74 Monte Carlo was a good one, followed by the ’75-’77 Cordoba. Then there’s this ’77-’79 Thunderbird. Generally speaking, if it had round or hidden headlights, it was A-OK. Of course, the Grand Prix was pretty damn good looking, too, whether with round or rectangular headlights, all the way up to the 1978 downsizing.
A couple things about the feature car. First is how the styled ‘racing’ mirrors now seem to stick out and so out of place. But, more importantly, is how light and airy the roofline is compared to the previous generation. It must have been a revelation sitting in the claustrophobic rear seat of the ’72-’76 ‘Bloat-Bird’ to the expansive greenhouse, quarter windows, and thin C-pillars of the ’77-’79 ‘Basket-Handle’ Bird.
“Basket-Handle Bird”: that’s what we called them too!
The claustrophobic rear quarters returned with the Heritage model created to commemorate Ford’s 75th Anniversary in 1978. Powder Blue, of course!
The T-Bird maven’s nomenclature for the various generations:
55-57 Baby Bird
58-60 Square Bird
61-63 Bullet Bird
64-66 Flair Bird
67-69 Glamour Bird
70-71 Bunkie Bird
72-76 Big Bird
77-79 Torino Bird
80-82 Fairmont Bird
83-88 Aero Bird
89-97 Not sure, I think just MN12
2003-2005 Retro Bird
My uncle, at the time these cars launched, was a Ford senior manager in the Dearborn HQ (or the Ford built/owned Ren Cen, now GM HQ.)
I remember he came over for a visit in a fully equipped version. The car was white, and I think it had blue body side mounding and a red interior. I recall it also had a mirrored glass moonroof (first I’d seen.)
He gave me the keys and I got to play with the power windows, moonroof, 6-way power seats, headlamps, climate control, tilt column, and it may have had an (but not sure) Ford Aeronutronic Quadraphonic stereo.
My dad at that time had a ’76 Gran Torino 4-dr, then a ’77 LTD II Brougham. Both of these were closely related to that ’77 T-Bird and all were nice cars and brilliant examples of heavy reuse of a common platform to derive a wide variety of cars (2-, 4-dr and wagons) with varying price points (Ford, Mercury) and personalities.
It was a beautiful car and a great memory.
My first car was a ’78 Cougar 4-door. I’d be interested to see how the previous-gen Thunderbird handled because that ’78 was an absolute boat. I can’t imagine it being any floatier.
The 4-door Cougar was on a longer wheelbase and used different springs and suspension setup than this T-bird. A 4-door Cougar was basically an LTD II. It would have had softer springs, only a front sway bar and soft shocks. The T-Birds of this era (And Xr7’s) used the better suspension setup, although now where near as good as the Police suspension or previous years Competition suspensions.
I had one of these for a while. Unfortunately, the base model bench seat gave me a backache on any trip longer than about 25 miles — something you don’t notice on a short test drive. Having grown up in the 70’s, I’m a sucker for the disco-tastic styling.
I think I’ve read this review four times now. These T-Birds are what made me like T-Birds again.
Back in high school (1990) I had a 1980 Grand Prix LJ and a classmate had a red 1979 Thunderbird similar to the magazine car. We always compared them against each other in one way or another. My a/c was definitely better.
One of my friends in high school had, quite accidentally, a collection of these in the 90’s. The first was an LTD II which he pulled from a field. A junkyard battery, a little ether, and a good dose of drygas got it purring. He drove this for awhile until he got rear ended. A two inch scratch on the bumper was all it took for the insurance company to total the car. I’m sure the insurance company didn’t have the foggiest notion where to find a pristine bumper. He took the insurance money, bought it back from the insurance company, and happily drove to school. He drove that for a month or two until his buddy blew a head gasket in his Thunderbird. My buddy got this one for free. The LTD II was sold to my buddy’s brother, and me and my buddy replaced the head gasket in the Tbird. A few months later, my buddy got a line on a red T bird with “lower end noise” but with a running 302 to swap in. The red Tbird had a 351, much to his dissapointment. Luckily, the “lower end noise” was a water pump pulley. So, the water pump was replaced and the car was happy again. The 302 went to very happy plow truck driver for a reasonable sum, and my buddy didn’t lift a shovel that winter. His dad drove the green Tbird to work for awhile then sold it to finance a BBC Corvette swap.
Here’s a new 77 being loaded for delivery, interesting angle showing the new proportions.
Gotta admit, that yellow/black one with the aluminum wheels looks awfully nice
Awesome picture! Delivering people’s dreams 🙂
Thanks for the fine analysis and well-written article, these were indeed a brilliant marketing strategy which revived the Thunderbird after years of a second choice status.
Crafty Lido had the best ‘feel’ for what the market would embrace of anyone ever at FoMoCo.
Of the cars themselves for an auto industry observer, they were instantly recognizable as a Gran Torino/Elite retread, one that seemed a bit tired by then. They demonstrated all the lousy qualities of those predecessors with new pretentious styling. As such, give the mass quantities sold, one became very tired of seeing them in just a few years, they were everywhere! Apologies to those with enthusiasm for these but this fellow was glad to see them fade from the daily scene.
The moment these were introduced in the Fall of ’76, Bev, a woman I worked with on my summer job special ordered one, white with white leather and red vinyl top(s), along with the 400 V-8. The next year when I started at that job again as a newly minted driver, she let me drive it a few times. As I’d fallen in love with these cars the moment I saw photos, I was not disappointed — that car really moved along, it was just stunningly beautiful in that color combination. She really liked it too, as she kept it more than twice as long as she normally would have. After all these years, I still lust after one, or a similar Cougar XR-7 of the same vintage — but my garage is already full of two other old Mercurys. *sigh*
I just completed the change out from Polycast wheels (like new 43K miles), to new steel wheels, tires with shaved 1.5″ white walls, and original wire wheel covers. Mush improved look to my eyes. I do wish my color combination was more dramatically different between the two colors so as to emphasize the basket handle top (1955-56 crown Victoria look).
Beautiful example! Talk about pristine! The color combination may not show off the basket handle as much as you’d like, but I can’t think of more period correct shades.
Midnight Blue and Chamois (orange) is the ultimate period combo. 🙂
Rear overhead view
It would have been really neat if Ford would have used Bent Glass for the rear window, like Oldsmobile did for the 1977 Toronado XSR. Of course, too expensive for the price point of the Thunderbird.
I remember my Aunt Lila telling me on Christmas Day, 1976 that she was getting one of these. She told me she had special ordered a 1977 in Dove Gray with a burgundy top and burgundy interior. She had driven a Mark IV for the last 6 years so I expected a fully loaded T-bird in her driveway. I loved the newer Ford/Lincoln luxury steering wheel with the woodgrain and cruise control buttons on it and couldn’t wait to see/ride in hers when it arrived…..but wait…..what ? No cruise? In a T-bird? What? Vinyl seats? Hmmmm….this can’t be……but it was. I was a bit disappointed. Granted, she ordered the polycast wheels, A/C, power windows and locks, cornering lamps, an 8-track stereo, the upgraded decor group interior – which was nice but certainly not like the T-birds of the recent past, (and certainly not like her past Lincolns) and a power antenna and trunk release. Yet it did not matter – she was thrilled with that car. She loved it! I guess these cars really hit the mark (no pun intended) as they were now able to be equipped six ways from Sunday. If you wanted a loaded Lincoln clone you could option it out that way. If you wanted a strippo but just liked the idea of saying you had a T-bird then you could equip it that way, too. (A great price leader for the many Ford dealers to advertise in the sports section on Sundays back then, too.) I think they may have gone a bit too far in the decontenting with the godawful cheap looking base bench seat, equally as awful base wheel covers and lack of any real power equipment as standard (at least power windows should have been standard in my book). But it worked. And worked well. I knew several people that owned these and absolutely loved them.
Your aunt’s T-Bird sounds like a cool car, even if it wasn’t quite a Lincoln Mark. I am always interested in how people order cars–like the loaded Thunderbird without cruise control. I know in my family, no one actually used the cruise control (perhaps they weren’t used to it or didn’t do enough highway driving). No matter the reason, there was a certain logic to “why pay for it, if you’re not going to use it.”
I remember when my mother special ordered her 1983 Cutlass Supreme Sedan. It was probably the most loaded “standard” Supreme ever, but it reflected her taste (and my input). She ordered vinyl seats, even though the salesman pointed out that she could get leather on a Supreme Brougham. Nope, she didn’t like the tufted pillow look. But she did get the split bench in vinyl, with power adjustment for the driver and passenger side, along with virtually every power option and exterior trim piece on offer. But no vinyl top–she “didn’t see the need.” I convinced her to get the Super Sport wheels, which “made” the car (at least in my opinion). But it was part of the fun of a la carte ordering: you got very specific selections, which sometimes, but not always, made sense. And often reflected the very exact taste of the buyer–or the salesperson forgetting to check the right boxes…
GN, when I was in high school I was in a car pool and one of the families owned a small car dealership. We used to ride in all different cars which was fun. One of the cars sounds just like your mom’s Cutlass Sedan. It was a dark blue 1981 Cutlass LS Sedan with a dark blue vinyl interior. That car was loaded to the max! It even had a factory CB radio, but no vinyl top – and yet it had opera lamps! It didn’t have a split bench but a power full bench – which I found weird too. I remember thinking to myself why the original owner didn’t opt for a Brougham since it was so loaded! I told one of my Dad’s employees about it as she needed a car – she ended up buying it and drove it forever!
It is so true about how strangely cars were ordered back in the day. I’m sure the salespeople were nervous about making a mistake on the order – especially a complex brand like Cadillac with so many colors, options and configurations available. When my father was ordering my Mom’s ’79 Riviera he went carefully thorough the brochure, making sure he got just what he wanted. Even though it was going to be my Mom’s car we did take it on many trips and such. He failed to order a passenger power seat or recliner – which my Mom wasn’t too thrilled about. Yet, he wanted 4-wheel disc brakes and the upgraded suspension which he ordered, as well as tilt and cruise and delay wipers. My Mom’s requests were a power moonroof, leather, low-fuel indicator and vinyl top with opera lights, and I definitely wanted the rear seat reading lamps – and we all ended up winning!
This was one of the strangest downsizing efforts of the 1970s; the new “trim” size still left the T-bird with exterior dimensions nearly identical to those of the 1969 Lincoln Mark III (though the wheelbase was 3″ shorter). The front overhang and collage of side windows were both cringe-worthy, as was the extreme decontenting. The whole “basket handle” roofline would have been easier to take without the opera window and with wraparound glass uninterrupted by the C pillars; Ford’s stylists just seemed prone to awkwardness during these years. I suspect that the friendly reviews were partly motivated by the fact that the even more unwieldy ’76 was gone. Ford enjoyed 3 glorious sales years with these un-glorious cars and many still remember them fondly. Maybe the thrill of getting a coveted name for a bargain price was more important than the attributes of the car itself.