Ford Thunderbird

From Academic Kids

Ford Thunderbird
Manufacturer:Ford Motor Company
Class:personal luxury car
Production:19551997, 20022005
First generation "Classic Birds"
Missing image
1957 Ford Thunderbird

Body styles:2-door, 2-seat convertible with removable hardtop
Engines:4.8 L 292 Y-block V8
5.1 L 312 Y-block V8
Second generation "Square Birds"
Missing image
1959 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

Body styles:2-door hardtop coupe
2-door convertible
Engines:5.8 L 352 FE V8
7.0 L 430 MEL V8
Third generation "Bullet Birds"
Missing image
1963 Ford Thunderbird Convertible

Body styles:2-door hardtop coupe
2-door convertible
Engines:6.4 L 390 FE V8
Fourth generation "Flair Birds"
Missing image
1966 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop

Body styles:2-door hardtop coupe
2-door convertible
Engines:6.4 L 390 FE V8
7.0 L 428 FE V8 (66)
Fifth generation "Glamor Birds"
Missing image
1967 Ford Thunderbird Fordor

Body styles:2-door hardtop coupe
2-door landau
4-door pillared hardtop landau
Engines:6.4 L 390 FE V8 (67,68)
7.0 L 428 FE V8 (67)
7.0 L 429 V8 (68-71)
Related:Lincoln Continental Mark III
Sixth generation "Big Birds"
Missing image
1975 Ford Thunderbird

Body styles:2-door hardtop coupe
Engines:7.0 L 429 V8
7.5 L 460 V8
Related:Lincoln Continental Mark IV
Seventh generation "Torino Birds"
Missing image
1977-79 Ford Thunderbird

Body styles:2-door hardtop coupe
Engines:5.0 L 302 Windsor V8
5.8 L 351M V8
6.6 L 400 V8
Related:Ford LTD II
Eighth generation "Box Birds"
Missing image
1980 Ford Thunderbird

Body styles:2-door coupe
Engines:2.3 L Pinto I4
3.3 L 200 I6
4.2 L 255 Windsor V8
5.0 L 302 Windsor V8.
Related:Ford Fairmont, Mercury Cougar, Mercury Zephyr
Ninth generation "Aero Birds"
Missing image
Turbo Coupe

Body styles:2-door coupe
Engines:2.3 L Pinto I4 (turbo)
3.8 L Essex V6
5.0 L Windsor V8
Related:Mercury Cougar, Lincoln Continental Mark VII
Tenth generation "Super Birds"
Missing image
1997 Ford Thunderbird

Body styles:2-door coupe
Engines:3.8 L Essex V6 (NA/SC)
5.0 L Windsor V8
Related:Mercury Cougar, Lincoln Mark VIII
Eleventh generation "Retro Birds"
Missing image
Recent model Ford Thunderbird

Body styles:2-door convertible with removable hardtop
Engines:3.9 L AJ35 V8
Related:Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-Type


The Ford Thunderbird is a car manufactured in the USA by the Ford Motor Company. It entered production for the 1955 model year as a two-seater sporty car; unlike the superficially similar (and slightly earlier) Chevrolet Corvette, the Thunderbird was never sold as a full-blown sports car. Ford described it as a personal luxury car, a description which named a new market segment. In 1958, the Thunderbird gained a second row of seats for greater practicality. Succeeding generations became larger and more luxurious, until the line was downsized in 1977 and again in 1980. Sales were good until the 1990s, when large 2-door coupes became unpopular; production ceased after 1997. In 2002, a revived 2-seat model was launched, which will be available through the end of the 2005 model year.



Three men are generally credited with creating the original Thunderbird: Lewis D. Crusoe, a millionaire lured out of retirement by Henry Ford II to improve the Ford range; George Walker, chief stylist and a Ford vice-president; and Frank Hershey, a Ford designer. Crusoe and Walker met in France in October 1951. Walking in the Grand Palais in Paris, Crusoe pointed at a sports car and asked Walker, 'Why can’t we have something like that?'

Walker promptly telephoned Ford's HQ in Dearborn and told designer Frank Hershey about the idea. Hershey took the idea and began working on the vehicle. The concept was for a two-passenger open car, with a target weight of 2525 lb (1145 kg), an Interceptor V8 engine and a top speed of over 100 mph (160 km/h). Crusoe saw a painted clay model on May 18, 1953, which corresponded closely to the final car; he green-lighted the car in September after comparing it with current European trends.

Unlike the Corvette, the Thunderbird was never a full-blown sporting vehicle; Ford's description was personal luxury car, and the company essentially created this market segment.


There was some difficulty in naming the car, with suggestions ranging from the exotic to the ridiculous (Hep Cat, Beaver, Detroiter, Runabout, Arcturus, Savile, El Tigre, and Coronado were submitted among the 5,000 suggestions). One serious suggestion was Whizzer. Crusoe offered a $250 suit to anyone who could come up with a better name.

Stylist Alden 'Gib' Giberson submitted Thunderbird as part of a list. Giberson never claimed his prize, settling for a $95 suit and an extra pair of trousers from Saks Fifth Avenue.

According to Palm Springs Life magazine, the car's final name came not from the Native American symbol as one might expect, but from an ultra-exclusive housing tract in what would later be incorporated as Rancho Mirage, California: Thunderbird Heights.

1955-1957 "Classic Birds"

The car was shown at the first postwar Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954. The first production car came off the line on September 9, 1954. It went on sale on October 22, 1954) as a 1955 model, and sold briskly; 3,500 orders were placed in the first ten days of sale. Ford had only projected building 10,000; eventual 1955 sales were 16,155.

As standard, the 1955 Thunderbird included a removable fiberglass top; a fabric convertible top was an option, although commonly specified. The only engine option was a 292 Y-block V8. The exhausts exited through twin "bullets" above the rear bumper, as was the fashion.

For the 1956 model, Ford made some changes. To give more trunk space, the spare wheel was mounted outside, Continental-style; the exhausts were moved to the ends of the bumper. Air vents were added behind the front wheels to improve cabin ventilation. To improve rear-quarter visibility with the removable hardtop in place, "porthole" windows were added to it. An optional 312 Y-block V8 was made available for those that wanted more performance.

1956 sales were 15,631, the lowest of all three 2-seater Thunderbird model years.

For 1957, a more radical restyle was performed. The front bumper was reshaped, with heavier sides, "bullets" at the ends of the grille, and the section below the grille dropping down. The grille was larger. The tailfins were made larger, more pointed, and canted outward; larger round tail-lights were fitted. The spare wheel moved inside the trunk again, which had been redesigned to allow it to be mounted vertically and take up less space. The side "Thunderbird" script moved from the fins to the front fenders.

Engine options increased, because Ford went racing with the Thunderbird that year. As well as the standard 292 and 312 engines, versions of the 312 were produced in higher states of tune, and even a McCulloch supercharged version.

1957 sales were 21,380, including three extra months of production because the 1958 models were late.

1958-1960 "Square Birds"

Ford marketing research showed that Thunderbird sales were inhibited by its being a two-seater, this making it impractical as a first car for families. Therefore, the second generation, introduced for the 1958 model year, added a second row of seats. The styling was sharp and angular and upright, following the style of the rest of Ford's range, earning this generation the "Square Bird" nickname.

A new assembly plant at Wixom, Michigan was constructed to build the Thunderbird and Lincolns. Various delays conspired to have production start only on December 20 1957, much later than the normal September start; the 1956 Thunderbird was thus built for three extra months. Both the Thunderbird and the new Lincolns were built with unibody construction, where there is no separate frame.

The new, four-seat Thunderbird was created by the stylists and the form was decided upon before any significant engineering involvement. It was a very low car, nine inches (230 mm) lower than the standard American car of the time at 52.5 in (1.33 m), with only 5.8 in (147 mm) of ground clearance. The significant transmission tunnel intrusion required to fit the powertrain into such a low car was turned into a feature by making it a large, full-length center console, with ashtrays, switches and controls mounted upon it.

The engineering underneath the skin was very conventional. Ford's new FE-series engine was used, in a 352 in³ (5.8 L) capacity, driving either a 3-speed manual transmission (an overdrive was an option) or a 3-speed automatic transmission. Unequal-length A-arms with coil springs formed the front suspension, while coil-sprung trailing arm suspension carried a live rear axle.

The new Thunderbird captured Motor Trend's Car of the Year award in its debut season, the first of three it would eventually accumulate. While many fans of the earlier, 2-seat Thunderbirds were not happy with the new direction, Ford was vindicated with sales figures of 37,892, more than double the previous year despite losing three months of production and 1958 being a very poor year for car sales—the Thunderbird was one of only two cars to show a sales increase that year (the other being the Rambler. Only 2,134 convertibles were built, mostly because the convertible model did not become available until June 1958.

For the 1959 model year, Ford made changes to the front, rear, and side ornamentation, improved the rear suspension, and made available leather upholstery for the first time. A new engine, the 430 in³ (7.0 L) MEL-series, was available in small numbers. Sales almost doubled again, to 67,456 units, including 10,261 convertibles. Thunderbird advertising in 1959 targeted women in particular, showing glamorous models in country club and other exclusive settings, and the sales figures bore out Ford's marketing plans.

1960's sales figures hit another record: 92,843 units sold, including 11,860 convertibles. A rare option in this year was a sunroof; this "Golde Edition" (Golde was a German company whose sunroof patent Ford licensed) sold 2,530 examples.

1961-1963 "Bullet Birds"

1961 saw new and much sleeker "Bullet Bird" styling, with a pointed nose and rocket-ship lines, terminating with twin jet exhaust-like round taillights with fins above. Sales were strong, if not quite up to record-breaking 1960, at 73,051 including 10,516 convertibles. A new, larger 390 in³ (6.4 L) FE-series V8 was the only engine available. The Thunderbird was 1961's Indianapolis 500 pace car, and featured prominently in US President John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade, probably helped along by the appointment of Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense.

1962 saw strong production figures of 78,011 (including 9,884 convertibles) and the introduction of the Thunderbird Sports Roadster. This model included a tonneau cover that fitted over the rear seat area, making the car into an apparently 2-seat model, as well as Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels and special trim. The model was appealing, and was owned by Elvis Presley among others, but its high price led to poor sales.

Also introduced in 1962 was the Landau model, with a vinyl roof and simulated S-bars on the rear pillars. This was the beginning of the 1960s/1970s fashion for vinyl roof treatments, and a vinyl roof was a popular Thunderbird feature for the next twenty years.

1963's numbers were down at 63,313. The Landau became the no.2 model after the standard hardtop, at 12,193 sold, while a Limited Edition Landau model sold 2,000. Only 5,913 convertibles and 455 Sports Roadsters sold, indicating a decline in convertible popularity at the time.

1964-1966 "Flair Birds"

1967-1971 "Glamor Birds"

Main article: 1967-1971 Ford Thunderbird.

From the 1967 model year, Thunderbirds were much larger, and some fans of the classic Thunderbird consider 1966 to be the last year of interest. The convertible model was discontinued in this year, and 1967 also saw the introduction of a four-door model (with rear suicide doors), as pictured. The four-door would remain available through 1971 but never generated substantial sales.

The new 1968 Lincoln Continental Mark III was based on the four-door Thunderbird chassis, and from that point until the late Nineties, Thunderbirds and Continental Marks were generally related cars, the Thunderbird following the Mark's growth to enormity in the 1972 model year. The Mercury Cougar also often shared components.

In 1971, Neiman Marcus offered "his and hers" Thunderbirds in its catalog, with telephones, tape recorders and other niceties. They retailed for $25,000 for the pair.

1972-1976 "Big Birds"

These were the biggest Thunderbirds ever produced. They housed massive 429 in³ (7.0 L) or 460 in³ (7.5 L) V8 engines. These cars weighed in at around 5000 lb (2250 kg). They were the kings of the road. Unfortunately, due to their enormous proportions and large engines gas mileage was abysmmal. These cars averaged anywhere from 8 to 12 miles per gallon (29.4 to 19.6 L/100 km) depending on driving condtions. With the 1973 oil crisis taking its toll on the United States, automobiles where forced to downsize and become more efficient.

1977-1979 "Torino Birds"

Main article: 1977-1979 Ford Thunderbird.

For the 1977 through 1979 model years, the Thunderbird nameplate was shifted to the smaller chassis that had underpinned the discontinued Ford Torino, as Ford's first effort at downsizing the car. The 1977s came with a slight price reduction over the 1976s.

1980-1982 "Box Birds"

Main article: 1980-1982 Ford Thunderbird.

1980 saw a new, shrunken Thunderbird that was little more than a sedan with nicer trim. In fact, it was merely a rebodied Ford Fairmont compact—though in post-fuel-crisis America, these vehicles could be thought of as intermediates, rather than compacts.

1983-1988 "Aero Birds"

However, 1983 saw a much improved and aerodynamic car and the launch of the Turbo Coupe, and a much sportier image. In 1987, the Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe was redesigned and came with such notable features as automatic ride control, anti-lock brakes, and the intercooled turbocharged engine from the Ford Mustang SVO. All this resulted in a personal luxury car that produced 190 horsepower (142 kW) from a 2.3 L 4-cylinder engine and had a 140+ mph (225 km/h) top speed. The Turbo Coupe was Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 1987.

1989-1997 "Super Birds"

In 1989 the car was restyled again, becoming again somewhat larger, and this bodyshell lasted with minor styling changes and powerplant changes through the 1997 model year, which was the last for five years. The Thunderbird SC was Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 1989. The last four-seater Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line in Lorain, Ohio on September 4, 1997.

2002-2005 "Retro Birds"

However, 2002 saw a new Thunderbird launched; this Retro Bird was again a two-seater and received the model's third Motor Trend Car of the Year honor. It was also nominated for the North American Car of the Year award that year.

The new Thunderbird was based on the Ford DEW platform, shared with the Lincoln LS. It followed the recent trend for nostalgic recreations of old-fashioned styling (See VW New Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser), being a recreation of the 1955-1957 two-seat Thunderbird in a modern style. Available only as a convertible with a removable hardtop, the new Thunderbird certainly turns heads.

The Ford Motor Company announced in March 2005 that the Thunderbird will again be discontinued in July 2005. Ford plans to release a new Thunderbird sometime in the years to come, but an exact date has not been specified. Sales had been declining.

In the last 50 years, some 1.2 million Thunderbirds have been sold.


See also

External link

sv:Ford Thunderbird


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