The 1966 Thunderbird represents the last gasp of the brand as a personal car. The original 1955 Thunderbird was created and marketed as a sporty “personal car,” meant to be upscale transportation for one or two people. Despite the Thunderbird becoming a four-seater in 1958, the brand remained faithful to the original concept. The new rear seats were intended to accommodate only two people on an occasional basis. When Robert McNamara, president of Ford Motor Company in the late ‘50s, approved a plan to expand sales of the Thunderbird in 1967 by making it a four-door family car, the personal Thunderbird’s days were numbered.
Since the beginning in 1955, the Thunderbird had been redesigned in three-year cycles, and the fourth generation introduced in 1964 was no exception – 1966 would be its last year. The model lineup for 1966 included the usual hardtop and convertible, but was expanded to include the new Town Hardtop and the Town Landau. The Town models had a new top design with blind quarter panels, eliminating the rear quarter windows of the regular hardtop. The Town Landau also included a padded, vinyl-covered top and traditional landau bars on the quarter panels.
The standard 390 cubic inch V8 engine was upped to 315 horsepower for ’66, but for an additional $64 you could opt for a new 428 cu. in. V8 that produced 345 ponies. The bigger V8 took a second and a half off of the 390’s 0 – 60 mph time of about 9 seconds. The only available transmission was the Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic. Front disc brakes were carried over from 1965, as was a feature that just about everyone under thirteen thought was “cool” – sequentially operating rear turn signals.
The T-Bird’s interior was luxurious with front bucket seats, a full-length center console, and a dazzling, almost aircraft-like, array of instruments and switches. Ford carried on with the aircraft theme by including an overhead center console with a variety of warning lights. The magic of flight was in the air in 1966, even on the ground, as Ford added to the flight analogy with their advertising slogan, “Flight plan cleared – proceed to Thunderbird.”
With prices between $4,393 and $4,843, Ford sold 69,176 Thunderbirds in 1966, with the Town Landau leading the sales parade with 35,105 cars.
Ford, having lost sight of the concept of the original Thunderbird as a ‘personal car’, continued to make T-Birds in varying sizes until the final car rolled off the Lorain, Ohio production line on September 4, 1997. Making the car ever more generic to increase sales eventually pushed the Thunderbird into extinction. Although 1997 was the official end, there are those who believe the “real” Thunderbird died when that last ‘66 T-Bird came off the assembly line on June 10, 1966.
Automotive Mileposts: http://automotivemileposts.com/tbird1966specifications.html
How Stuff Works: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1964-1966-ford-thunderbird1.htm
Photo by That Hartford Guy and Greg Gjerdingen