Ford Thunderbird… Flair Bird !
The Ford Thunderbird is a car manufactured in the United States by the Ford Motor Company.
It entered production for the 1955 model year as a two-seater sporty car ; unlike the superficially similar (and slightly earlier) Chevrolet Corvette, the Thunderbird was never sold as a full-blown sports car.
Ford described it as a personal luxury car, a description which named a new market segment.
In 1958, the Thunderbird gained a second row of seats for greater practicality.
Succeeding generations became larger and more luxurious, until the line was downsized in 1977 and again in 1980.
Sales were good until the 1990s, when large 2-door coupes became unpopular; production ceased after 1997.
In 2002, a revived 2-seat model was launched, was available through the end of the 2005 model year.
Three men are generally credited with creating the original Thunderbird : Lewis D. Crusoe, a retired GM executive lured out of retirement by Henry Ford II ; George Walker, chief stylist and a Ford vice-president ; and Frank Hershey, a Ford designer.
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?‘
Walker promptly telephoned Ford’s HQ in Dearborn and told designer Frank Hershey about the idea.
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 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.
There was some difficulty in naming the car, with suggestions ranging from the exotic to the ridiculous (Hep Cat, Beaver, Detroiter, Runabout, Arcturus, Savile, El Tigre, and Coronado were submitted among the 5,000 suggestions).
One serious suggestion was Whizzer.
Crusoe offered a $250 suit to anyone who could come up with a better name.
Stylist Alden Giberson submitted « Thunderbird » as part of a list.
Giberson never claimed his prize, settling for a $95 suit and an extra pair of trousers from Saks Fifth Avenue.
According to Palm Springs Life magazine, the car’s final name came not from the Native American symbol as one might expect, but from an ultra-exclusive housing tract in what would later be incorporated as Rancho Mirage, California: Thunderbird Heights.1964-1966 Flair Birds
For 1964 the Thunderbird was restyled yet again, discarding some of the rocket-ship styling cues of the previous generation in favor of a more squared-off, formal look.
Dimensions changed only fractionally, and the suspension, engine, and transmission remained as before, but continued efforts to minimize noise and vibration from the unit body led to a weight increase of some 244 lb (110 kg).
The Thunderbird’s sporty image had by that time become only an image.
The standard 390 cu. in. 315 bhp engine needed nearly 11 seconds to push the heavy T-bird to 60 mph (96 km/h), although with enough room a top speed of about 120 mph (200 km/h) was obtainable.
The softly sprung suspension allowed considerable body lean, wallow, and float except on smoothly surfaced highways ; there was an export suspension package available as special order.
Contemporary testers felt that the Buick Riviera and Pontiac Grand Prix were substantially more roadable cars, but the Thunderbird remained the leader of the market segment.
The revised T’bird was initially offered as a hardtop, a convertible, or Landau, with vinyl roof and simulated landau irons.
The tonneau cover and wire wheels of the Sports Roadster remained available as a dealer-installed option, although only 50 were sold.
Total 1964 sales were excellent: 92,465, up nearly 50% from the previous year.Several features intended for the new generation were delayed until 1965, when front disc brakes became standard equipment and sequential turn signals were added.
The latter feature flashed the individual segments of the broad, horizontal tail lights in sequences from inside to outside to indicate a turn.
The delay resulted from legal difficulties with various U.S. state laws on vehicle lighting.
Sales, impacted by increasing competition (including from Ford’s own Mustang), dipped to 74,972.
For 1966 the larger, 428 cu. in. (7.0 L) V-8 became optional, rated at 345 gross horsepower (257.4 kW) and providing a notable improvement in 0-60 acceleration (to about 9 seconds).
A new Town Hardtop model was offered, featured a roof with blind quarter panels for a more formal look (at the cost of rear visibility).
The Landau model was replaced by the Town Landau, which retained the previous model’s padded roof and landau S-bars, but applied them to the Town Hardtop’s formal roof.
The Town Landau was by far the best-selling model, accounting for 35,105 of the 1966 model’s 69,176 sales.
There was a very rare special order 427 available through certain ford dealers for 1963-1965 Thunderbirds, 120 of these high performance T-birds were made.
Only 6 are still known to exist today.
See a 427 tbird at http://www.cardomain.com/ride/2080960
It is documented that Bob Tasca a well known drag racer of the 60’s ordered a factory fitted 427 1964 T-bird that was said to do 0-60 mph in 6 seconds flat with a top speed of 135 mph.
A « Flair Bird » later had a major role in the TV series Highlander as protagonist Duncan Macleod’s main mode of transportation.
A green 1966 Thunderbird convertible was prominently featured in the 1991 film Thelma & Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, and directed by Ridley Scott.
1965 Ford Thunderbird Power Top
Ford Thunderbird… Flair Bird !