The Ford Thunderbird underwent multiple personality changes throughout its life. What started out as a two-seat convertible had, by the time the fifth-generation Thunderbird debuted in the autumn of 1966, become a much different automobile. Sure, it was still flashy and typically loaded with power gadgets, but one thing was missing for the first time since the first T-Birds appeared: A convertible top.
Well, the writing had been on the wall for some time, with topless T-Bird sales dropping across several previous years. Indeed, by the early ’70s nearly all the topless cars built in the Land of the Free were gone, or on borrowed time. But what to replace it with? The answer was — believe it or not — a four-door sedan.
Well, why not? Convertibles in general had dropped in desirability with the advent of factory air conditioning. You could now keep cool without folding and unfolding a fabric top, and no more worries about leaks and drafts. And if you purchased a pillarless coupe, you had most of the style of the convertible in a less demanding package. Plus, this was no ordinary Custom 300 pillared rent-a-car. The Thunderbird sedan was a kind of sportier junior Continental, right down to the center-opening doors.
While these cars weren’t quite as flashy and sporty as the earlier T-Birds, they were still distinctive in their way, and great to drive. So much so, that most of the 1967-71 Thunderbirds had the bark beaten off of them and were unceremoniously crushed before the ’80s dawned. After all, there was no convertible, and they weren’t quite as special as the 1957-66 models, right? Well, perhaps, if you’re one of those folks who follow the common crowd, interested only in the most obvious collectibles, 1955-57 T-Birds, 1955-57 Chevies, 1965-66 Mustangs, and the ever-present 1969 Resale Red Camaros with LS1s and ugly-ass Foose wheels. But I like the more eclectic, lesser seen stuff, myself. And really, when was the last time you’ve seen a 1967-71 T-Bird, let alone the scarce four-door sedan?
As a matter of fact, if I may digress for a moment (I like to digress, dammit!). I would love to see a “No F’ing Camaros, Mustangs or Corvettes” car show. Over and over and over again. I get so sick of seeing the same Boomer dream cars, CamaroMustVettes in red with American Racing or Crager or Keystone wheels on them. Over, and over, again and again! Do I hate these cars? Heck no. But man, I sure see a hell of a lot of them. You’d think only red muscle cars were on the roads in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s, to judge from the quality of show entries. End rant.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Thunderbirds. Well, in 1968, FoMoCo hired away Semon S. “Bunkie” Knudsen away from General Motors, and he immediately made his mark in the styling of FoMoCo products, starting with the 1970 cars. In addition to approving the soon-to-be-released 1972 Continental Mark IV, he also added, as was his wont, Pontiac-like noses to several of Henry’s products, the infamous “Bunkie Beak.”
It appeared on the facelifted 1970 Thunderbirds, and gave a rather Pontiac flair to the ‘Bird’s old schnozzola. But then, why not have a beak on a car named Thunderbird?
The 1970 Cougar got a beak as well, replacing the Schick razor grille seen in 1967-69, but it had nothing on the 1970 midsize Montego and Cyclones over at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships! I imagine by 1975 or so, 60-70% of these had crunched center grille sections.
1970 full-size Fords received them as well, though it was less pronounced than as seen on the Thunderbird. And a bit less prone to damage than either the Montegos or Thunderbirds.
The four-door Landau was kind of an odd duck. I personally love it, but it seems that other than a little action in its early years, it just didn’t take off. While I miss the most excellent hidden headlamps (totally unnecessary but awesome!), the 1970-71 with the new nose was really, really cool! But in its final year, 1971, only 6,553 were built.
Why? Well, this generation of T-Bird was by 1971 in its fifth year, and despite the new nose in 1970, it still had much of its 1967 DNA.
In addition, these cars were not cheap. The 1971 Landau sedan started at $5516, at a time when the then-new Pinto started at about $1900. In addition, totally redesigned personal-lux yachts were introduced over at rival GM in Toronado, Riviera and Eldorado flavors.
Even within the family, the Continental Mark III was finding lots of buyers, and despite being based on the Thunderbird itself, oozed swank even more than the T-Birds-and had a more prestigious nameplate to boot.
But there was still loads of flair and luxury in the Thunderbird. But like pretty much every Detroit automobile in 1971, even the upper-tier cars had many options. And as a member in good standing in the Grosse Pointe country club set, most T-Birds were loaded with options, such as air conditioning ($448; with climate control $519), six-way power seats ($207), cruise control ($97) and power windows ($133).
It was indeed a different time, when high-end cars still had to be ordered with air and power windows, when today’s cheapest econoboxes have them standard, but a la carte was the order of the day. And hey, just look at those seats!
This was the Brougham Interior Option, and as most of you know, in the ’70s, Brougham meant luxury, button-tufted, velour-lined, over-the-top, unapologetic damn-the-consequences AMERICAN luxury!
And while you might have had to throw a few bucks in for the proper comforts and conveniences, all 1971 Thunderbirds came standard with a 360-hp 429 CID V8 engine backed up by a Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission. After all, what else would you want?
Our featured car for today, a 1971 Landau sedan in Dark Brown Metallic, is owned by a friend of mine, Ray Freyer. He’s had it a few years now, and still loves it. It is the garage queen, and only comes out on nice days-though he did get caught in the rain once! It is pretty much like new, and as one of the less frequently seen generations of Thunderbird, attracts lots of attention.
For 1972 there would be a new Thunderbird, and the four-door would be unceremoniously axed, with a heavily Mark IV-derived coupe being the sole offering. And so it would remain a two-door the rest of its days, with nary a four-door ever seen again.
This is my favorite generation of Thunderbird. I am enough of a traditionalist that my favorite is the 2 door with the electric shaver grill and simple roofline.
This generation always gets tarred as if the bean counters of evil Lido had run amok on it. I think the interior shots of this prove otherwise, though one sees the required extra padding. To them who prefer neither, the woodgrain can look less special than plantichrome.
Ford must have been starting to feel the pressure of the turning away of affluent buyers. The idea of a car built by white coated German “technicians” or in an English blacksmith shop, just sounded more romantic than an assembly line in Detroit. Your own country be dammed.
I know the slogan refers to the fortified wine rather than this 429 fortified Ford. but still
What’s the word………Thunderbird
my brother bought a new ’67 Thunderbird 2 door in Brittany Blue inside and out with no vinyl roof. Always thought the car was sharp. Would love to see that combination in a 4 door. Agree the electric shaver grille looks cleaner than the Bunkie beak. I understand the 4 door Birds were popular with the Boston mob. Really like these
I remember how dismayed I was when the Thunderbird got four doors in late 1966. In my high school boy view, it was just all wrong, like adding four doors to a Corvette. But time passes and outlooks change, and now I think that dark brown ‘Bird is a handsome car. I’d almost pay admission just to hang out in it. Those seats…!
This seems like the real harbinger of cars like the Mercedes CLS and BMW Gran Coupes, although that may be unfair to the T-bird.
This was one of those cars that caused a strange reaction when first seen as a kid, seeing as how the 4 door was gone 6 years before I ever came around, and as Tom mentions, lots were destroyed in the 70’s, in the pre-internet, and even pre-having access to lots of car books, I KNEW, at least in my head that the Thunderbird was a 2 door car, as sure as the sun rose, but one day, I came across one of these, I must have seen it on the road or something, “a 4 door Thunderbird?….thats as crazy as a 4 door Eldorado”, at least I though in my child-mind.
The 4 door T-Bird was one of those cars that hit big its first year and then blew its wad quickly after, supposedly, I recall reading that the 4 door was a “doodle” done by one of the Thunderbird stylist while they were working on the 1967 and it was seen by Iaccoca and he fell in love with the concept and fast tracked it to production.
Wonder if the suicide doors scared off the kiddies, or a least the mothers who had to sign off.
That 71 (my birth year) T-Bird is a beauty. It’s unfortunate we’ll never see unique color options that were available until the mid 80s. It’s a sea of gray, black and white these days.
Love all the pre-1977 T-birds. And the car show idea has merit. Nitpick: it’s Cragar, not Crager.
I’ve never known about nor seen that gen of Thunderbird. I love it though! I feel like Lincoln is starting to get the message about what “American” luxury is all about with the Continental. Hopefully we’ll see a resurgence of Brougham!
An aunt and uncle had a ’70 Thunderbird coupe (not the Landau) in Medium Ivy Green, with matching vinyl roof. They traded in a ’68 Imperial Crown Coupe to buy it. I don’t remember a whole lot about it, except for the across-the-border taillights and the wraparound rear seat. They traded it a few years later for a brand new ’75 LTD Brougham two-door, in Dark Yellow Green. I love the Beakbirds, especially the four-door Landau.
Long after the au courant articles by the owners of this site are passé, these Klockau articles will be back en vogue.
Please do not let comments be closed on these articles; I see a resurrection in the decades hence.
Also, it would be nice if the advertisement images in these posts were enlargeable—either by clicking, or by right-click>open-in-new-tab, so one can read the flamboyant puffery.
I’ll work on that.
Totally concur about the car shows. These are greatly underappreciated.
Went to a little show this summer at a local church and there was a very well done custom lip on a 64 ‘Vette and the usual assortment of Camaros and Mustangs. However although I am not a JDM guy (not really a boomer pony/muscle guy either, I am much too sophisticated) seeing a 25-year-rule Skyline in the metal was the highlight for me. Went to a cruise-in and the same assortment of boomer value inflations were there, but there was also a real, metal, flat-head Ford that a guy older than me had built with his father.
Back to the four door T’bird, didn’t know it existed but it looks Brougham-tastic.
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Had a 1970 2 door, the beak and 429 were synonymous. you want the razor grill you got the 390. the seats were the best I have ever sat in, and the wrap around back seat made it almost worth not having the opera doors. replaced the 750 carb with a 650 spread bore and went from 14 MPG to 18 MPG. Miss that car.