The cars we loved.

1977-1979 Ford Thunderbird: Warning Turbulance Ahead

The 7th generation Thunderbird was a radical departure from the previous full-sized version. All new and now midsized, the 77 Thunderbird featured sleek angular styling that would become the later hallmark of most of Ford’s future products through the 80’s. Although smaller, it was still large by today’s standards and featured all the kit personal luxury coupe buyers were looking for in the late Seventies.  Offered in three basic versions, Thunderbird,Town Landu and Heritage Edition, the options list was long and was further complicated by various trim packages.

1979 Ford Thunderbird Dash

1979 Ford Thunderbird Dash

All Thunderbird’s featured the  distinctive wrap over roof design (soon copied by Chrysler on the Cordoba) and opera windows in the B pillar. The overall look was elegant, but a far cry from the sporting birds of the 60s.  As before the rear wheel drive Thunderbird could be ordered with a wide range of convience and powertrain options including four different V8 engines ranging from a 130 hp 5.0 to a huge 6.6 L with only 173 hp. Technically, there was nothing particularly special about the Thunderbird. It featured a conventional independent front and live axel rear suspension with front and rear anti roll bars, like nearly every American car of the era. Some cars were fitted with a rear limited slip differential, suggesting performance, but the “new” Thunderbird was nothing more than a comfortable near luxury car.

You could order your Thunderbird with only a V8 engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission. By this time the Thunderbird was not knows as a performance car, and its 0-60 time of around 10 seconds was encroaching on GT car territory.  It was one of the faster personal luxury coupes on the market which Ford often suggested to by featuring middle aged men in driving gloves behind the wheel.

Thunderbirds sales during this period went through the roof. Previous versions of the car had been rather exclusive, pricey and were built in smaller numbers. The sales spike was due as much to cost cutting as it was shrewd marketing. Much of the success of the Thunderbird was due to Ford’s decision to reposition the car slightly down market to compete with  lower priced iron like the Chevy Monte Carlo. Sales increased dramatically  for the 1977 model over the 76 and steadily increased for the next two model years.

The press was not as forgiving, stating that the Thunderbird’s styling  “offered every styling cliché know to civilization” (Road & Track) but in the same review praised Fords decision to make the Thunderbird more mainstream.  Things would get really ugly when a new for 1980 model appeared. Unfortunately for Ford, the public agreed with the press that the new Bird was a dud. The leisure suit set defected in droves to the Monte Carlo in droves.  The Thunderbird would not recover until 1984 when a spectacularly new aero car arrived.

1979 Ford Thunderbird

1979 Ford Thunderbird


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This entry was posted on November 24, 2009 by in 70's Cars, Ford Motor Company and tagged , , , .
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