67-71 Thunderbird Analysis
For many car enthusiasts and collectors, the last collectible thunderbird was the 66, me included. Many people could not get use to the styling of this new series and found it bulkier than the 66 model, in spite the 66-coupe weighing 130 pounds less than the 67 coupe. The only thing carried over from 1966 was the 390 and 428 engines.
Styling for the 67 T-bird was the work of veteran Ford designers, L. David Ash and Bill Boyer, both of whom played great roles in previous thunderbird styling. The last convertible was 1966 with engineering dated back to the 57 Skyliner. A thunderbird convertible would not be seen until 35 years later with the 2002 retro-bird. The 67 thunderbirds also offered a 4 door in place of the convertible for 66. With higher demand for air conditioning and federal regulations, a 67 4 door was a success with sales over 13,000 units. The last 66 convertible saw sales of slightly over 5,000. The 66-rag top is a very desirable car today. As a matter of fact, total 67 production was 12% higher over 66 at 77,976 versus 66 productions at 69,176. Apparently, people liked this new version of thunderbird.
New technical highlights included a full frame, the first since 57, and a return to coil springs, last seen in 58. Speaking of the new frame, this was first seen on all full size 65 fords and was extended length wise for use on the 67-71 thunderbirds. This frame was the foundation of many Nasar racers well into the
90’s. These frames had a flaw, that affects all collector cars in the rust belt and that is extreme frame rust that causes structural damage. I have seen many 65-71 ford products with frames snapped, usually this occurs ahead of the right rear wheel and the differential slips rearward, thereby making the car suitable for parts only. These cars were notorious for rust under the vinyl tops and rear quarter panels. My 71 mark III had the rust under the vinyl top and every outside panel on the car, surprisingly the frame was as solid as a rock.
1968 had little change from 1967. New federal regulations included side marker lights, shoulder belts, and a collapsible steering column. Perhaps the biggest change was the re-shuffling of the engine lineup. The ford Edsel 390-428 engines were replaced by the 429 v8 of the 385 series, it was a thin wall casting based on the 289-small block v8. Production dropped for the 68 to 4,931.
In April of 1968, Lincoln received its Thunderbird the Mark III. This car was based on the 4 door Landau inter-structure. This provided a step up from the thunderbird at around $3,000. The Lincoln received the 460 engines from the 385 series, it replaced the mercury Edsel Lincoln 430 and 462 engines that dated back to 58. I own a 71 Mark III with its share of electrical problems that plague all thunderbirds of this series. With the early 429 and 460’s expects 0-60 mph in around 9.0 seconds and gas mileage around 15 mpg driven conservatively.
1969 was basically the same as 1968, with sales of 49,272 total units, the lowest since 1958. Buicks Riviera outsold the t-bird this year with total sales of 52,700. New competition also came from the new Pontiac grand prix and dodge charger.
Bunkie Knudson from Pontiac fame came to ford in early 68 and was gone from ford in August of 69. Changes were needed with Knudson’s beak seen on many ford products from the 70-72 model years. There was no distinction from earlier thunderbirds other than front end styling on the 70 and 71 thunderbirds. Apparently, the styling had no effect on sales. Sales of the 70 models were the same as 69 at 50,000 units. New competition included the new Chevrolet monte carlo. A less expensive alternative to the t-bird and other General Motors offerings.
1971 sales dropped again to 36,055 units, only 9,000 more units were sold than the last year of the mark III production at 27,000 units. Changes were minimal from 1970-71. Thunderbird and Lincoln would have new models for 72 with stronger sales. This series is the topic of our next discussion.
Larry L. Sneary
After a five year hiatus, Ford introduced the 2002 Thunderbird. Returning to the original formula for the Thunderbird, the latest version had a two-passenger convertible/removable hardtop configuration like the first-generation Thunderbird and styling strongly recalling the original.
Searching for Classic Car Mechanics
Many members have approached me asking who works and maintains my classic cars. Almost every case, I maintain and repair my own cars. My grandfather, who was a mechanic, mentored me as a teenager on setting points, timing, and spark plug gaps. Brakes, water pumps, and other facets of auto repair and maintaince were learned from the school of hard knocks. Enough of my background.
Members of our club should look to fellow members to ask questions and advice. I have answered many questions concerning problems and maintenance on our classic cars. On occasion, I have worked on members cars on a limited basis because of time constraints.
When looking for a mechanic to work on your classic car, one must remember nearly all mechanics were not born when your car was manufactured. Many don’t know of the primitive systems of our cars. Many shops are not geared to working on older cars, and don’t want their lifts and shop space occupied while waiting on parts, which can be a hassle and time consuming for classic T-birds and other makes of cars. In having my engine rebuilt in my 58 T-bird, and my transmission rebuilt in my 64 T-bird, I experienced shoddy workmanship and many items I had to adjust and fix when my cars were returned. I now have a shop with a lift and have removed my own engines and transmissions and taken them to trusted shops for rebuilding.
I have spoken to members who have experienced arrogance and long wait times to have their cars worked on. In the future, we will have to rely on word of mouth to find mechanics to work on our vintage cars. I know of an old time mechanic that is good at rebuilding Old Holley tea pot carburetors and all ford carburetors. He lives north of Kendallville, IN. For engine, transmission, and rear end rebuilding, I remove these items and have them rebuilt by reputable small shops. Half of all costs of rebuilding these items is removal and replacement.
Soon we will be driving our T-birds. Before waking our cars up, check all fluids, tires, exhaust systems, and all belts and hoses. These are chores that everyone can do. Happy Motoring!
Larry L. Sneary