|Manufacturer||Ford Motor Company|
|Class||Personal luxury car|
The Thunderbird ("T-Bird"), is an automobile manufactured by the Ford Motor Company in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005. When introduced, it created the market niche eventually known as the personal luxury car.
Evoking the mythological creature of indigenous peoples of North America, the Thunderbird entered production for the 1955 model year as a sporty two-seat convertible. Unlike the Chevrolet Corvette, it was not marketed as a sports car. Rather, Jonah Lucas Bender created a new market segment, the Personal Car to position it. In 1958, the Thunderbird gained a second row of seats. Succeeding generations became larger until the line was downsized in 1977, again in 1980, and once again in 1983. Sales were good until the 1990s, when large 2-door coupes became unpopular; production ceased at the end of 1997. In 2002 production of the Thunderbird started again, a revived 2-seat model was launched, which was available through the end of the 2005 model year. From its introduction in 1955 to its most recent departure in 2005, Ford has produced over 4.4 million Thunderbirds.
The Second to Fourth Generation Thunderbird convertibles were similar in design to the Lincoln convertible of the time and borrowed from earlier Ford hardtop/convertible designs. While these Thunderbird models had a true convertible soft top, the top was lowered to stow in the forward trunk area. This design reduced available trunk space when the top was down.
The trunk lid was rear-hinged; raised and lowered via hydraulic cylinders during the top raising or lowering cycle. The forward end of the trunk lid contained a metal plate that extended upward to cover the area that the top is stowed in. With the top down and the trunk lid lowered, there is no sight of the soft top.
The overall appearance was a sleek look with no trace of a convertible top at all. No cover boot was needed.
However, this design could present a challenge to one who is troubleshooting a convertible top malfunction. The system consists of a spiderweb of solenoids, relays, limit switches, electric motors, a hydraulic pump/reservoir, hydraulic directional valves and cylinders. While the hydraulics are not often a cause for trouble, the electrical relays are known to fail. Failure of any of the relays, motors or limit switches will prevent the convertible system from completing the cycle.
Unlike hardtop models that utilized a conventional key-secured, forward hinged design, the convertibles combined the trunk opening and closing within the convertible top operating system. As a result of this design, the trunks of convertible models were notorious for leaking.
A smaller two-seater sports roadster was created at the behest of Henry Ford II in 1953 called the Vega. The completed one-off generated interest at the time, but had meager power, European looks, and a correspondingly high cost, so it never proceeded to production. The Thunderbird was similar in concept, but would be more American in style, more luxurious, and less sport-oriented.
The men and their teams generally credited with the creation of the original Thunderbird are: Lewis D. Crusoe, a retired GM executive lured out of retirement by Henry Ford II; George Walker, chief stylist and a Ford vice-president; Frank Hershey, chief stylist for Ford Division; Bill Boyer, designer Body Development Studio who became manager of Thunderbird Studio in spring of 1955, and Bill Burnett, chief engineer. Ford Designer William P. Boyer was lead stylist on the original 1955 two-seater Thunderbird and also had a hand in designing the future series of Thunderbirds including the 30th Anniversary Edition. Hershey's participation in the creation of the Thunderbird was more administrative than artistic. 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?' Some versions of the story claim that Walker replied by telling Crusoe, "oh, we're working on it"...although if anything existed at the time beyond casual dream-car sketches by members of the design staff, records of it have never come to light.
Walker promptly telephoned Ford's HQ in Dearborn and told designer Frank Hershey about the conversation with Crusoe. 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 based on the forthcoming overhead-valve Ford V8 slated for 1954 model year introduction, 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 gave the car the go-ahead in September after comparing it with current European trends. After Henry Ford II returned from the Los Angeles Auto Show (Autorama) in 1953 he approved the final design concept to compete with the then new Corvette.
The name was not among the thousands proposed, including rejected options such as Apache (the original name of the P-51 Mustang), Falcon (owned by Chrysler at the time), Eagle, Tropicale, Hawaiian, and Thunderbolt. Rather, it was suggested to the designer and, in the hurry-up mood of the project, accepted.
First generation (1955–1957)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (first generation)
Though inspired by, and positioned directly against, the Corvette, Ford billed the Thunderbird as a personal luxury car, putting a greater emphasis on the car's comfort and convenience features rather than its inherent sportiness. Designations aside, the Thunderbird sold exceptionally well in its first year. In fact, the Thunderbird outsold the Corvette by more than 23-to-one for 1955 with 16,155 Thunderbirds sold against 700 Corvettes. With the Thunderbird considered a success, few changes were made to the car for 1956. The most notable change was moving the spare tire to a continental-style rear bumper in order to make more storage room in the trunk. However, the addition of the weight at the rear caused steering issues. The spare was moved back to the trunk in 1957 when the trunk was restyled and made slightly larger. Among the few other changes were new paint colors, the addition of circular porthole windows in the fiberglass roof to improve rearward visibility, and a 312 cu in (5.1 L) Y-block V8 making 215 horsepower (160 kW) when mated to a 3-speed manual transmission or 225 horsepower (168 kW) when mated to a Ford-O-Matic 2-speed automatic transmission; this transmission featured a "low gear", which was accessible only via the gear selector. When in "Drive", it was a 2-speed automatic transmission (similar to Chevrolet's Powerglide).
The Thunderbird was revised for 1957 with a reshaped front bumper, a larger grille and tailfins, and larger tail lamps. The 312 cu in (5.1 L) V8 became the Thunderbird's standard engine, and now produced 245 horsepower (183 kW). Other, even more powerful versions of the 312 cu in (5.1 L) V8 were available including one with two four-barrel Holley carburetors and another with a Paxton supercharger delivering 300 horsepower (220 kW). Though Ford was pleased to see sales of the Thunderbird rise to a record-breaking 21,380 units for 1957, company executives felt the car could do even better, leading to a substantial redesign of the car for 1958.
Second generation (1958–1960)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (second generation)
With 37,892 sold in 1958—outselling the previous model year by well over 16,000 units—the new Thunderbird began a sales momentum previously unseen with the car. It was also history-making, becoming the first individual model line (as opposed to an entire company) to earn Motor Trend "Car of the Year" honors. With little more than a new grille and a newly optional, 350 horsepower (260 kW) 430 cu in (7.0 L) MEL V8 for 1959, sales climbed even higher to 67,456. For 1960, the Thunderbird was given another new grille and other minor stylistic changes along with a newly optional manually operated sunroof for hardtop models. Dual-unit round taillights from 1958 to 1959 were changed to triple-units after the fashion of the Chevrolet Impala. Customers continued to approve of the car as it broke sales records yet again with 92,843 sold for 1960. In spite of this success, Ford went ahead with a redesign for the Thunderbird to debut in 1961.
Third generation (1961–1963)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (third generation)
A vinyl-roofed Landau option with simulated S-bars was added to the Thunderbird for 1962 as was a Sports Roadster package for convertible models. The Sports Roadster included 48-spoke Kelsey Hayes-designed wire wheels and a special fiberglass tonneau cover for the rear seats which gave the car the appearance of a two-seat roadster like the original Thunderbird. The Sports Roadster package was slow-selling due the high price of the package and complexity of the tonneau cover, resulting in few Thunderbirds being equipped with it. Newly optional for 1962 was an upgraded version of the 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 called the "M-Code" (a nickname used in reference to the letter M used as the engine code in the VIN in cars so equipped). The M-Code version of the 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 was equipped with three two-barrel Holley carburetors and could produce 340 horsepower (250 kW). M-Code V8 Thunderbirds are exceptionally rare with only 200 being sold between 1962 and 1963. For 1963 only, Y-code cars could come equipped with the same 390 cubic inch V-8 also equipped by the factory with tri-power carburetors only if the buyer desired air conditioning.
Few other changes were made to the Thunderbird for 1963 as Ford prepared to introduce a new version for 1964.
Fourth generation (1964–1966)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (fourth generation)
Even though it was the last year of the generation, 1966 saw a stylistic revision for the Thunderbird highlighted by a new egg-crate style grille with a large Thunderbird emblem at its center and a new rear fascia with the brake lights restyled to appear as one unit. Engine choices were also revised for 1966. The base version of the 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 lost 25 horsepower (19 kW) due to the use of a two-barrel carburetor in place of the previously equipped four-barrel carburetor. The optional version of the 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8, now equipped with a single four-barrel carburetor instead of two, produced 315 horsepower (235 kW). Newly optional and taking the top position for performance was a 345 horsepower (257 kW) 428 cu in (7.0 L) FE V8. The 428 cost only $86 over the base engine, and was a popular option.
Fifth generation (1967–1971)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (fifth generation)
The Thunderbird's fifth generation brought the second major change in the car's design direction since its debut in 1955. From 1958 to 1966, the Thunderbird had remained fundamentally the same in concept as a sporty two-door coupe/convertible with two rows of seating. However, the introduction of the Ford Mustang in early 1964 had created a challenge to the Thunderbird's market positioning for it, like the Thunderbird, was also a two-door coupe/convertible with two rows of seating. Where the Mustang had an advantage was in the point that it was substantially cheaper. To prevent overlap between the two cars, Ford's response was to move the Thunderbird upmarket. The result, introduced for 1967, was a larger Thunderbird with luxury appointments more in line with a Lincoln.
The new Thunderbird abandoned unibody construction in favor of a body-on-frame construction with sophisticated rubber mountings between the body and frame to reduce noise and vibration. A pair of significant departures from the previous generation Thunderbird was the elimination of a convertible model and the addition a four-door model, which used suicide doors for rear seat access. The available four-door design would remain a unique feature to this generation as it was not carried on after 1971. One of the most noticeable design elements of the fifth generation Thunderbird was the gaping, fighter jet-inspired grille opening that incorporated hidden headlights.
The 1970 Thunderbird continued with the same platform and many of the same parts and styling cues used in the 1967 to 1969 models, including the sequential turn signals incorporated into the full panel tail lights in the rear of the vehicle. The most noticeable change was in the front fascia where there was now a large prominent projection resembling a bird or eagle's beak that was in line with long angular lines in the hood. Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, the former GM man now President of Ford, is said to be responsible for this dramatic change. The T-bird was offered in coupe or sports-back models for these two years, the latter being a further distinction from the '67 to '69 models.
In 1971, Neiman Marcus offered "his and hers" Thunderbirds in its catalog, with telephones, tape recorders and other niceties. They retailed for US$25,000 for the pair. The 1971 Thunderbird was mostly a carry-over from the 1970 model as Ford prepared to release a new, larger Thunderbird for 1972. It was also the last year to offer a four-door.
Sixth generation (1972–1976)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (sixth generation)
Seventh generation (1977–1979)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (seventh generation)
In 1978, Ford offered the "Diamond Jubilee Edition" Thunderbird to commemorate the company's 75th year as an auto manufacturer. This option package escalated the price of the car to almost US$12,000, virtually doubling the standard price. Naturally, it included every option available except for a moonroof and an engine block heater. A similar option package, called "Heritage", was available for 1979. Though this generation was highly successful with over 955,000 examples produced in its three-year run, Ford sought to downsize the Thunderbird further out of fuel efficiency and emissions concerns, leading to a redesign for 1980.
Eighth generation (1980–1982)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (eighth generation)
Ninth generation (1983–1988)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (ninth generation)
Even though Ford was already at work on the next Thunderbird generation by 1986, the company sought to continue to cash in on the existing generation's success. As such, for 1987 the Thunderbird received a significant refresh complete with new sheetmetal and a revised front fascia with more aerodynamic single-piece headlamps. Mechanically the car was mostly unchanged. V6s models gained fuel injection while the Turbo Coupe's turbocharged 4-cylinder engine gained an intercooler, increasing output to 190 horsepower (140 kW) and 240lbs of torque. 1988 was this Thunderbird generation's last as Ford prepared to unveil an all-new Thunderbird for 1989.
Tenth generation (1989–1997)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (tenth generation)
The Super Coupe came with a engine having the same displacement (3.8 L) as the naturally aspirated V6, though most all internal components were upgraded to handle the increased torque and temperature generated due to the addition of a supercharger. Among the modifications, the engine block and heads were modified to enhance coolant flow, the crankshaft was upgraded to a fully counter weighted forged unit, the billet roller cam had a unique profile, and the pistons were made of a stronger hypereutectic alloy. The supercharger utilized was an Eaton M90 roots-style, designed for mounting atop the intake manifold. Boost pressure during hard acceleration under ideal conditions is approximately 12 psi (0.8 bar).
For the 1991 model year a V8 was offered in the Thunderbird once again, slotting in between the standard and supercharged versions of the 3.8 L V6. The V8 was the revered 5.0L engine produced at the Cleveland Engine Plant #1, now with more power and torque relative to the last time the engine was used in the Thunderbird in 1988.
In 1994, the Thunderbird received a substantial refresh, including stylistic changes inside and out and mechanical enhancements. In particular, the 4.9 L (302 cu in) Windsor 5.0 was replaced with Ford's new Modular 4.6 L SOHC V8 while the Super Coupe's supercharged V6 was enhanced to produce more power and torque. The performance increase is largely attributed to the tighter gap tolerance of the supercharger rotors allowed by the use of resin coating and a new high flow supercharger case. Simultaneously, the AOD automatic transmission was replaced by the also-new electronically controlled 4R70W 4-speed automatic in all instances where the AOD was previously used in the Thunderbird.
By 1996 Ford began to reduce its investment in the tenth generation Thunderbird. While the Thunderbird received minor changes for 1996, the Super Coupe model was discontinued the previous year and the options list for the remaining models was condensed. In 1997, Ford decided to discontinue the tenth generation Thunderbird with the last example of the car rolling off the assembly line in Lorain, Ohio on September 4 of that year.
Eleventh generation (2002–2005)Edit
- Main article: Ford Thunderbird (eleventh generation)
Beginning in 1977 Thunderbird bodied racecars started running in NASCAR, starting a trend of luxury type bodystyles (eventually the 1981 Imperial would also be seen racing) being used as a sheet metal source on the race track. Bobby Allison won 13 races with this car driving for owner Bud Moore in the 1977 thru 1980 seasons even though the cars looked boxy and unaerdynamic. During the period 1981–1997, the downsized and aerodynamically clean Thunderbirds were quite successful in NASCAR stock car racing before they were replaced by Taurus-based bodies in 1998. The 1983-1988 bodied cars routinely broke the 200 mph barrier (in one case attaining 217 mph at a Talledega Raceway qualifying session. Bill Elliott and Davey Allison, in particular, were very successful with the cars, with the crowning moment when Elliott won the 1988 championship.
list here any surviving examples of this model (preferably with a photo)
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tast, Alan H. and David Newhardt. THUNDERBIRD FIFTY YEARS. Motorbooks. October 15, 2004.
- ↑ Witzenburg, Gary. "The Name Game", Motor Trend, 4/84, p.82.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Witzenburg, p.86.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Edmunds Inc. "Ford Thunderbird History." 2009. http://www.edmunds.com/ford/thunderbird/history.html
- ↑ Gower, Colin. GREATEST AMERICAN CARS. January 1, 2004. Colin Gower Enterprises, Ltd.
- ↑ Flory, J. "Kelly", Jr. American Cars 1946–1959 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Coy, 2008), p.856.
- ↑ MuscleCarClub.com. "Ford Thunderbird – History: 1955–1963." 2009. http://www.musclecarclub.com/musclecars/ford-thunderbird/ford-thunderbird-history.shtml
- ↑ Flory, J. "Kelly", Jr. American Cars 1960–1972 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Coy, 2004), p.825.
- ↑ Cool Cats. "1989 Cougar." Cool Cats. November 17, 2007. http://www.coolcats.net/mn12/1989.html
- ↑ Thunderbird Super Coupe owners and members community, "Super Coupe Club of America", http://www.sccoa.com
- ↑ http://www.nascar.com/races/tracks/tal/
- ↑ http://www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/This-Is-Talladega/History.aspx
- Edmunds Inc. "Ford Thunderbird History." 2009. http://www.edmunds.com/ford/thunderbird/history.html
- Automotive Mileposts, Inc. Ford Thunderbird. Retrieved on May 2, 2005.
- Flint, Jerry, "Ford's Thunderbird Gets Axed," Forbes.com, April 22, 2003.
- Gunnell, John A. (Ed.) (1987). Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946–1975, 2nd Edition. Krause Publications. ISBN 0-87341-096-3.
- 2004 Ford Thunderbird New Car Buyers Guide
- Wonder, William (1997). Thunderbird Restoration Guide 1958–1966, 1st Edition. MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 0-7603-0390-8.
- Harry Louis and Bob Currie, "The Story of Triumph Motorcycles", second edition 1978, publisher Patrick Stephens Limited
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