Four-Door Thunderbirds (1967-1971)
It's certainly no secret that yours truly is in lust with cars that have suicide doors. There's just a curiosity about them to me, especially on newer cars (Later than 1960, if you will) that catches my eyes. This may have started with the 1960s Lincoln Continentals, but the cars that I dream about most in my driveway with center-closing doors are these four-door Thunderbirds.
Why? Maybe because they are smaller than the mighty Continentals, therefore possibly awarding the driver a somewhat more pleasant driving and parking experience. I mentioned the Lehmann-Peterson Lincolns as my favorite car to be driven in, but if I were to drive one of these, it would surely have "Ford" written on it, not "Lincoln."
By 1966 (when the 1967 models were introduced), the Thunderbird was competing with Ford's own strong-selling Mustang. So to separate the two models, Ford moved the Thunderbird upmarket, maybe even scratching at Lincoln territory. No longer a small sports coupe, the T-bird finally came of age. I feel these cars are more "Lincoln" than "Ford," with all their unique touches and styling cues and posh, overstuffed interiors.
Its styling may be over the top by today's standards, but these cars were built while our Apollo space program was in full force, and we were landing on the moon. So if the design went a bit into the future, so much the better. They also came out the same year "BATMAN" premiered, and any resemblance to the TV Batmobile is strictly coincidental. I think.
The four-door Thunderbirds were only made from 1967-1971. A two-door landau coupe was also offered; one was briefly featured in James Bond's "Diamonds Are Forever." The Fifth-Generation T-bird was changed little during the run, except for a beak-like front end in 1970-71 and new taillights. I personally prefer the "jet engine intake" look of the first three years.
These T-birds also had a mechanically-operated sequential taillight blinker system, shared with the same-year (1967-68) Mercury Cougars. The animated turn signals have now been retro-styled onto the 2010 and 2011 Mustangs, though they operate bright LEDs by electronic means, not mechanical. Does it seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same? I read years ago that the four-door Thunderbirds had self-locking rear doors to help keep your passengers in the car. Some of our newer cars also lock you in back there.
How big were these 'birds? Well, the '69 models were 209.4 inches long and 77.3 inches wide. A 2010 Honda Accord is 194.9 inches long and 72.7 inches wide. So these were big cars by today's measures, maybe mid-sized by 1960s' means. The only engine choice I can find (For 1969) was Ford's 429 cubic-inch Thunder Jet V-8 with a 4-barrel carb and 360 horsepower.
These cars may be the antithesis of a true driver's car like, say, a BMW 635CSi, but that was the point of them. The Bimmer didn't even offer a cupholder (And neither did these), but the T-Birds swathled you in true American luxury that was emulated a few years later, yet never achieved. After all, for genuine automotive luxury, nothing can replace flip-up headlights and actual functional outside and inside Landau Bars, right?
The Tunderbird's dash was pleasant enough. It was an early "cockpit" design, which placed controls, instruments, and gauges in a wrap-around pod favoring the driver. No tach was there, but it had a speedometer and fuel gauge (duh), plus ampere, coolant temperature, and oil pressure gauges.
I prefer gauges over idiot lights that usually come on too late. If it's running "A little hot," I'd like to know ahead of time if possible.
There was also a large clock just to the right of the steering column. Maybe it should have been placed to the far right in the cluster, so everybody else in the car could have seen it more easily.
The dash also featured a Thunderbird logo-shaped high-beam indicator, and I saw where the steering column not only tilts, but telescopes too. That large steering wheel today might be fitted in a bus.
I have to wonder if modern suspension and steering upgrades are available for these. Imagine rack-and-pinion steering and 4-wheel disc brakes. Definitely a more modern powerplant and a 5- or 6-speed automatic transmission. Glue it to the road with stiffer springs and shocks and (Dare I say it...) some steel-belted radial whitewall tires. These cars were built for ease of driving, but surely they can be made into a better handling large car (By today's standards).
I've also played with the idea of having one of these cut in half and stretched like the same-year Lincoln limousines. The body lines certainly would support that. But the T-bird is built on a frame, unlike the unibody Lincolns, and as they say, it's been done. No, I guess it's best to leave these bodies alone and improve them as a driver's car, not make one into a limo.
There seems to be a good number of these four-door 'birds still available, and most of the prices seem to hover around the $9,000 price range. Not too bad, but I have to wonder about parts availabilty, especially trim pieces. I guess if I were to buy one, it would be in as good of shape as possible, at least body-wise. If it had a blown engine, so much the better for the "improvements" listed above.
I know there's a four-door Thunderbird out there somewhere, waiting for me. Now to get some bird seed. Here, chickie, chickie, chickie!
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
The first image is from AffordableClassicsInc.com. The blue Thunderbird image is from Wikipedia/Commons. The massive 429 V-8 image is from Onzuka.com. Wikipedia/Commons also is to thank for the dash image. The salvage Thunderbird image is from www.farm3.static.flickr.com. The red beauty is from www.TBird.org.