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.