Classic T-birds are svelte and joyful beasts, the perfect antidote to modern British claustrophobia. Let’s get more of them cruising our highways!
New registrations of classic Thunderbirds in the UK hit a peak in 2015 and 2016, with records indicating that 34 vehicles joined British roads each year – but anecdotal evidence suggests there’s been a decline in interest this year. You certainly won’t find many newly-imported Thunderbirds – in any of its ten classic generations – on UK forecourts right now.
‘A high percentage of them are brought in for individual customers, rather than specialist dealers,’ says Jamie Hill of Hill Shipping on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent ( hillshipping. com) who regularly imports American classic cars, including a few T-birds. He adds: ‘Thunderbird imports are very niche.’ Production peaked in the late 1970s, reaching 350,000 in 1978 alone, then took a sharp dive, and the model eventually met its demise in 1997. An attempt was made at revival with a retro-themed eleventh generation model in 2002, but despite some critical acclaim Ford finally ditched the name in 2005.
In spite of its massive early production, numbers are scarce in the UK. The Thunderbird was never officially imported here, and production took place almost exclusively in the USA, with the exception of some seventhgeneration cars that were made in Venezuela. A good number of today’s classic survivors – both in the UK and overseas – are of the earlier generations. Examples from the 1970s and 1980s are almost non-existent in Britain, so there’s definitely something to be said for scouting overseas, either using your own initiative, or by commissioning a specialist importer.
If you can afford to ignore the current exchange rate, America is naturally the go-to option, especially dry states where the steel structure tends to escape corrosion. You’ll also find plenty in Australia, especially 1960s examples.
For a budget slice of Yankie sumptuousness, you could do worse than to look for a ninth- or tenth-generation Thunderbird from Europe, decent examples of which can be found for less than £5000. Just remember that if you’re sourcing from outside the EU, the car will need to be over 30 years old to attract the reduced VAT rate of 5%, so T-birds from the late ninth generation onwards are at a disadvantage.