The Thunderbird retained the classic lines of the original Thunderbird, plus some classic styling touches of its own, including the one-piece grille and bumper and clean contemporary roof lines that would set new styling standards for the industry. It was on a inch wheelbase - 11 inches longer than the original - and overall length was With an overall height of Shipping weight was 3, pounds. Another leading feature of the Thunderbird was unit frame construction, and the car boasted "more room per passenger that any luxury car.
Horsepower also was close to that of the significantly bigger luxury cars. Other styling features included an anodized aluminum honeycomb-pattern grille, twin headlights deeply browed, with the brow line extending into the hood. A flat roof line dropped off to a novel rear window but retained the characteristic Thunderbird treatment in the rear quarter and twin taillights set over a honeycomb-pattern design. Inside, there were individual bucket seats, and a console that housed controls for the heater, air conditioner and power windows, as well as a radio speaker and ash trays for front and rear passengers.
Classified as a "semi-luxury" car, the Thunderbird was square in design, with few concessions to rounded corners, front or aft. It solidly established Ford Division in the luxury car market and was a sensation from the time it was introduced. The car lived up to all of its pre-introduction plaudits, and was named Motor Trend Magazine's "Car of the Year. Ford management's decision to drop the smaller car was almost immediately vindicated. Fittingly, Thunderbird production, starting with the model, was moved to the company's Wixom Mich.
As with the two-seaters, the bodies were built by the Budd Company in Philadelphia and shipped to Michigan for assembly. Two models, a hardtop and a convertible, were offered in The "little Bird's" tachometer and adjustable steering wheel were among the deleted items. Gone too was the semi-sports car ride of the two-seater. The unitized construction of the Thunderbird was a forerunner of this type construction in the industry, and the Thunderbird - last of the "Square Bird" designs - was the first American-built car to offer an optional sunroof.
The unitized construction unit frame of the Thunderbird was a forerunner of this type of construction in the industry. The "Square Birds" became sought by collectors in ever-growing numbers. Despite the popularity of the two-seaters, "Square Bird" enthusiasts have as strong a following as two-seater worshipers. Certainly, there are more models to collect.
Ford produced a total of , of the convertible and two-door Landau models. The Landau models with sunroofs are especially valuable since only a limited number less than were built. The Square Bird Thunderbird's future for the next four decades belonged to the four-seaters.
Certainly, the two-seater had given Ford Division the prestigious car it needed, and sales exceeded planning volumes in each of the three years it was on the market. Economic realities of the times, the public's motoring needs and Ford's market share inhibited the potential of the car. Even as the two-seater was being designed, plans for a four-passenger personal car were on Ford's drawing board. The decision to build a bigger 'bird was justified by subsequent marketing research that showed two-seaters were not being purchased by families with children as their primary vehicle.
Seating capacity and price restricted Thunderbird ownership to upper-income families. The Thunderbird retained the classic lines of the original Thunderbird, plus some classic styling touches of its own, including the one-piece grille and bumper and clean contemporary rooflines that would set new styling standards for the industry.
Another leading feature of the Thunderbird was unit frame construction, and the car boasted "more room per passenger than any luxury car. The MT editors added that "the ride of the new Thunderbird is as comfortable as any American car today, regardless of size.
Classified as a "semi-luxury" car, the Thunderbird was square in design, with few concessions to rounded corners, fore or aft. Sales totaled 48,; almost matching two-seater deliveries for all of the three years the model was on the market. The Thunderbird In keeping with a three-year planning cycle, Thunderbird styling was again changed in This time, the now-established Ford Division flagship introduced the "projectile" look, a design featuring full-length body sculpturing and an even thinner roof than previous models.
Standard equipment included automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes, and a unique swing-away steering wheel - ordered by nearly 77 percent of all Thunderbird buyers - was optional. The "projectile" styling continued through , with the model offering more than improvements and two exciting new models, a two-seater sports roadster and a vinyl-covered hardtop Landau coupe.
Among the improvements:. Thunderbird Photo Gallery Two men, Louis D. Crusoe and George Walker, were primarily responsible for the birth of the Thunderbird. Both were devoted to the automobile and its constant development and refinement. Crusoe, a millionaire lured out of retirement by Henry Ford II, was a businessman with a solid "feel" for the automobile market.
As a Ford vice president and Ford Division general manager, it was his responsibility to strengthen a young Ford Division. His goal was to give it a car that breathed excitement, a car that would add prestige to the Ford name. Walker, later a Ford vice president and chief stylist, is described by contemporaries as a "stylist with the soul of an artist burning in his heart. It was October With their mission in mind, the two men were walking along the aisles of the Grand Palais in Paris when Crusoe gestured toward one of the sportier automobiles on display, turned to Walker and asked: "Why can't we have something like that?
It was not quite so, until Walker found it convenient to get to a telephone and talk with his aides back in Dearborn. But, by the time Crusoe returned to the United States, there was indeed a "job just like that" in the works.
In the months that followed, there was a lot of talk about a "true Ford sports car. All hands had been instructed to go to work on a completely new Ford car for the model year. Official approval of a crash program to develop the Ford sports car came in a product letter dated Feb. In it, May 1, , was set as the target date for a full-size clay model. The letter also authorized parallel work by the engineers on a suitable chassis.
The initial guidelines called for a two-passenger, canvas-topped open car that "would make maximum use of standard production components. The new Ford sports car also was "to retain Ford product characteristics and identification to the extent necessary for a ready association with the standard production car. With no time for scale-model studies and the like, the first sports car styling suggestions were full-profile, full-sized air-brush renderings on paper of five different cars, cut out and mounted so they could be viewed like automobiles on the highway.
It was an effective, if unorthodox, technique. None of these proposals led directly to a final car, but each provided ideas for the full-size clay model that was taking shape. While the clay model was being developed, other decisions were being made:. On May 18, - 17 days after his deadline - Crusoe saw a complete, painted clay model for the first time. It closely corresponded to the shape of the final first Thunderbird. Meanwhile, Chief Engineer Bill Burnett had cut a Ford two-door sedan to the inch wheelbase of the sports car in order to test some ideas about problems such as handling and brake balance.
By the summer of , the car was far enough along for a decision to be made about building it. The decision came in September when Crusoe - in Paris to view the renowned sports cars of the world and measure them against the clay models back in Dearborn - decided the Ford car was right.
Although production wouldn't begin until the fall of , making the new car a model, Ford was anxious to tell the world about it. Only one small detail remained - a name for the car. There were 5, names considered. Hep Cat, Beaver and Detroiter were early, yet undistinguished, front-runners. A young Ford stylist, Alden "Gib" Giberson, submitted the name that would quickly earn approval and eventually acclaim - Thunderbird.
He thought of the name because he had once lived in the southwest, where the legend of the Thunderbird was well-known. Chief Stylist Frank Hersey, also a southwesterner and an enthusiast, spotted the name on Giberson's list and picked it for the new car. The name Thunderbird comes from the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, where, according to Indian legend, the Thunderbird was a divine helper of man. Its great flapping wings, invisible to the eyes of mortal man, created the winds and the thunder, and gave the Indians water to live on in the dry wilderness where fate had flung them.
With the name settled and a couple of last-minute appearance changes made, the Ford Thunderbird was ready to go to market;. Thunderbirds U. Sales History. A Cherished Roadster It's practically impossible to pinpoint the origin of the sports roadster. It was just "there" when the model year lineup was announced. It was a grand experiment, and the cult of Thunderbird sports roadster collectors quickly grew as the years passed.
It was an unusual car with a molded fiberglass tonneau and padded headrests that transformed the four-seat convertible into a two-seater car. Special features included wire wheels with chrome-plated spokes and rims, simulated knock-off hub caps and an assist bar for passenger comfort during cornering.
Interestingly, the roadster had a special emblem - a gull-like bird, not a Thunderbird - superimposed over a red, white and blue crest that was mounted on the front fenders below the Thunderbird script. After two years and a total production of 1,, the sports roadster was discontinued. The Thunderbird The Thunderbird reverted partially to the square design theme. It was more angular than the models, yet not as square as the models.
The new styling featured a longer hood, a shorter roof line and sculptured side panels. With the bumper and grille designed to provide a faster, more aerodynamic look, the overall styling continued Thunderbird's by-now traditional image of "swift-lined sleekness. Interior design also reflected the space-age styling of the early and mids. Featured were luxuriously padded, high, thin shell, contoured individual seats, "pistol grip" door handles and a full-width, safety-padded instrument panel.
Radio, clock and retractable seat belts also were standard. New options included individual reclining seats and trailer towing equipment. And, insulation and sound-proofing were improved to the point that they were described as "super. Though the design for the 4,pound car was essentially the same as models, the Thunderbird became a collector's favorite because it is regarded as the best of the four-seaters of the era.
The edition offered Town Hardtop and Town Landau models with a unique appearance gained from a bold new roof line extending forward into the quarter area of the door windows and without the conventional quarter windows. Windshield washers and vacuum door locks were added to the standard equipment, and power six-way seats and a power antenna were new options.
All Thunderbird convertibles, but especially the convertibles, are collectors' items. The reasons are obvious: First, they are Thunderbirds, second, they are convertibles. Ford discontinued the Thunderbird convertible after the model year. Not counting the two-seaters, 70, were produced. The Thunderbird The Thunderbird grew a little more when the models were designed. The wheelbase for the two-door hardtop was extended to inches up two inches , overall length was The Thunderbird represented one of the most dramatic styling changes in industry history.
It was a jet aircraft-like design featuring a long, thrusting hood and a short rear deck. The front-end highlight was a crisp lattice-work grille deeply inset and outlined with thin, bright metal moldings on the top and sides. The grille was framed at the bottom by a new deep-sectioned bumper that blended into the sheet metal, and the headlights were concealed by doors at the outboard edges of the grille.
Also, for the model year, a four-door model was added. It was discontinued after the model year. The four-door didn't help sales much - only 70, were built during the two years it was on the market - but today they are collectors' cars and are rapidly gaining in value.
From , a four-door model was produced and rapidly gaining value in the collectors' market. Into the '70s. Other exterior design features included a new extruded-aluminum grille the "poke-thru nose" flanked by dual headlights.
A concealed radio antenna provided a non-cluttered look and eliminated antenna noise. Concealed windshield wipers and cowl air vents provided a clean, "sweeping" line from the hood to the roof, and back-up lights were "concealed" in the center rear panel.
Ultra-luxurious appointments were on the inside. Included were a standard full-width front bench seat with attractive, re-designed head restraints, individual bucket-style seat backs and a fold-down center armrest. Thick padded armrests extended the full-length of the front door panels. Safety innovations included a "Uni-Lock" three-point safety-belt and shoulder harness system. A New Generation of Luxury A new generation of even more luxurious Thunderbirds started with the model.
Only a two-door model was offered. The emphasis was on styling and comfort. The Thunderbird was on a The car weighed 4, pounds. Strikingly handsome and formal in appearance, it achieved new levels of luxury and comfort, even for the Thunderbird.
Michelin radial-ply steel-belted tires and bodyside protection molding were standard. The standard power front disc brakes were re-designed to provide more positive braking and longer brake life than previous systems. The number of parts in the all-new braking system was reduced from 26 to 12 for even greater reliability and quicker service.
The Epitome of Personal Luxury The Ford Thunderbird reached its pinnacle as a personal luxury car with the model. This page is for personal, non-commercial use. We get it. Ads can be annoying. But ads are also how we keep the garage doors open and the lights on here at Autoblog - and keep our stories free for you and for everyone.
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Compare Thunderbird Trims. Motor Trend Car of the Year for '89, now fallen on hard times. We notice you're using an ad blocker.
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