Thun­der­birds Are Go: Sixty Years and Count­ing

On Fe­bru­ary 20, 1954, Ford un­veiled the very first Thun­der­bird at the Detroit Auto Show — the rest, as they say, is his­tory

New Zealand Classic Car - - Future Car 1963 Ford Thunderbird -

1955–1957: The Orig­i­nal Thun­der­bird Of­ten re­ferred to as the strictly two-seater ‘Baby Bird’, the first-gen­er­a­tion Thun­der­bird went into pro­duc­tion in Septem­ber 1954, and was di­rectly aimed at Chevrolet’s Corvette. Eas­ily out­selling the Vette dur­ing 1955, the Ford ac­tu­ally in­spired Chevrolet to make sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments to its plas­tic-bod­ied sports car. Power came from Ford’s 4785cc (292ci) V8, with the larger 5113cc (312ci) mo­tor be­com­ing avail­able in 1956, while a more pow­er­ful su­per­charged V8 was also an op­tion.

1958–1960: The Square­bird Although the model was a good seller, Ford felt that more sales could be had from a four-seater Thun­der­bird — while re­tain­ing the pre­vi­ous model’s two-door de­sign. Of course, the car’s size and weight in­creased, as did avail­able power — ris­ing from 220 to 260kw.

1961–1963: Aero­dy­namic Styling New, bul­let-like styling was in­tro­duced with the third­gen­er­a­tion car, em­pha­sized by the fi­bre­glass ton­neau cover avail­able on the Sports Road­ster model.

1964–1966: Re­fin­ing the Im­age Re­vert­ing to a more squared-off de­sign, disc brakes be­came avail­able for the first time in 1965, while en­gine op­tions in­cluded 6391cc and 7014cc (390 and 428ci) V8s.

1967–1971: Mid­dle-aged Spread Mov­ing the car up­mar­ket, Ford aban­doned the uni­body con­struc­tion that had been em­ployed on the Thun­der­bird since 1958, opt­ing in­stead for a fully-in­su­lated body on a sep­a­rate frame in or­der to en­hance over­all re­fine­ment. A four­door Thun­der­bird be­came avail­able, while hid­den head­lights also fea­tured.

1972–1976: Luxury Cruiser The con­ver­sion to fat-cat cruiser was now com­plete, with the sixth-gen­er­a­tion car the big­gest Thun­der­bird of all. With the ’70s oil cri­sis loom­ing, this couldn’t last. 1977–1979: Down­siz­ing Re­duced in size, the Thun­der­bird now made do with the Ford Torino’s chas­sis. De­spite this, the car was still rack­ing up healthy sales. In 1978, Ford of­fered a spe­cial Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Edi­tion Thun­der­bird to mark its 75th an­niver­sary.

1980–1982: Old Age Beck­ons Look­ing old and tired, the Thun­der­bird was los­ing power and fail­ing to in­ter­est buy­ers — even an en­try-level six-cylin­der model did lit­tle to im­prove weak­en­ing sales.

1983–1988: Tough Times Hard times for US ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers called for tough de­ci­sions, and the Thun­der­bird was the sub­ject of a thor­ough re­design — the re­sult be­ing a fresher, more mod­ern car plus the ad­di­tion of a tur­bocharged model.

1989–1997: End of an Era An all-new de­sign based upon Ford’s MN12 plat­form, shared with Mer­cury’s Cougar, the 10th-gen­er­a­tion Thun­der­bird con­tin­ued the turbo theme, while some mod­els could be op­tioned with a Mazda-de­rived five-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion. With many changes along the way — and ver­sions such as the 5.0-litre V8-en­gined Sport Coupe only be­ing pro­duced for a sin­gle year (1992) — the Thun­der­bird sol­diered on but, as time passed, Ford slowly lost in­ter­est. The fi­nal car was built in Septem­ber 1997.

2002–2005: Re­birth and Demise Hav­ing de­cided to res­ur­rect the Thun­der­bird, Ford’s de­sign­ers went right back to the orig­i­nal Baby Bird for in­spi­ra­tion and, in an era when retro-styled ve­hi­cles had be­come all the rage, the re­vi­tal­ized Thun­der­bird cer­tainly at­tracted at­ten­tion. Power came from Jaguar’s AJ-30 V8, a 3.9-litre mo­tor that pumped out 188kw. From 2003, the vari­able-valve-tim­ing AJ-35 V8 be­came avail­able, in­vest­ing the Thun­der­bird with a health­ier out­put of 210kw. With no suc­ces­sor planned, the fi­nal Thun­der­bird rolled off the pro­duc­tion line on July 1, 2005.

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