1967 Ford Thunderbird

Even the Ford Motor Company, it seems, likes to pretend these days that the Ford Thunderbird line ended in 1966. A web site about Thunderbird history produced at the time of the 2002 model year T-Bird relaunch mentions nothing between that year and the modern day, and it's the same with many unofficial web sites, parts dealers, catalogs, clubs and events. Save for the few ultra-purists who would rather forget about any Thunderbird produced after 1957 and the ending of two-seater production, the opinion is nigh-on universal. In fact, you'd be forgiven for believing there were no Thunderbirds between '66 and a few 1990s ones you still see kicking around.

So what happened in the 1967 model year that was so awful? Is the opinion of the vast majority of car enthusiasts and Thunderbird fans a valid one?

I must admit to substantial bias up front; I own a '67 myself.

What changed in 1967?

Let's examine the changes in the 1967 model year compared to the 1966 Ford Thunderbird.

Styling

The 1966 model, while not the most striking Thunderbird ever, certainly drew few detractors in the looks department. Attractive and sporty looking, and with a knack for seeming a much smaller, nimbler car than it really was, it's really hard to hate the '66 styling. It has a somewhat European look to it from certain angles, particularly from the front, and it was no bad looker from the back, either.

1967's Thunderbird, on the other hand, looked like nothing else at the time, and its very striking looks are definitely in the 'love it or hate it' category. In many respects, the '67 look was a forerunner of 1970s muscle car style, with no small amount of aggression. The Ford stylists took their inspiration from jet aircraft for the front end, particularly USAF fighter jets with great gaping nose intakes such as the F-100 Super Sabre. A large oval air intake was the major front-end feature, taking up almost the whole width of the car and filled with a seemingly full-width grille. In reality, the outboard parts of this were retractable covers over the headlights, the Thunderbird being one of the first cars with this feature.

The body lines were sleekly curved, humped over the rear wheels in what was becoming the fashion, and the tail was swept back, the outer edges being behind the center in a shallow vee. The tail-lights were full width, and featured sequential turn signals.

Certainly the 1967 to 1969 Thunderbirds, that shared the same basic styling, have a look that is unique. Nothing else looks the way they do. It was this very difference, the change from an inoffensive but attractive style to one that's aggressive, fast, uncompromising and polarizing, that I think played the largest part in the rejection of the 1967 models and later by the Thunderbird aficionado.

Body on Frame construction

All previous Thunderbirds had unibody (or monocoque) construction, in which the body structure itself is the load-bearing member, rather than a seperate, rigid chassis frame. That changed in 1967, when the Thunderbird took the seeming retrograde step of reverting to the classic body on frame style, like most American cars of the period. The reasons for this were twofold, the first being that the unibody construction made the older Thunderbirds expensive to repair after collision damage and meant that rusting affected the structural integrity of the car, and secondly that as the Thunderbird became bigger it became less and less suited for building that way. Body on frame construction is more suited to a large car, and the Thunderbird was now becoming a large car indeed, though not quite a full size automobile.

In the eyes of the Thunderbird enthusiast, the unibody construction was part of what made the birds sports cars, and the loss of it seemed to spell the end of an era. That the same frame was to be used for the Lincoln Continental may have been the last straw for them.

Greater weight and size

The 1967 Thunderbird seemed much larger than the previous model. In fact, though it was indubitably a little (though not a lot) larger, weight actually decreased from 1966 to 1967! Buyer opinion, of course, mattered more than fact, here.

No Convertible

A convertible was not part of the range in '67 for the first time since Thunderbird construction began. For good reason; much as the convertible was admired, it was not that successful in sales (partly because it added a lot to the sticker price). This seemed like another way in which the '67 model broke the chain, in some peoples' opinion.

Four-Door model introduced

Heresy! Thunderbirds were two-door sporty cars. Adding two extra doors made them practically a family sedan, in some peoples' opinion. The introduction of the four-door 'bird was due to market research suggesting that many people chose not to buy a Thunderbird because they felt the need to buy a four-door car because they carried rear seat passengers a lot, even though they otherwise were sold on the car. This proved to be an accurate prediction; the four-door sold very well. The four-door model featured suicide doors, one of the last uses of these on a volume production car, a textured vinyl roof with simulated landau S bars on the C pillar, and a wheelbase only a couple of inches longer than the two-door models.

What Didn't Change in '67?

Despite the total change in exterior appearance, quite a few things didn't change in 1967; many of them would change in 1968, making the 1967 model year in many respects a one-year model despite its close resemblance to the 1968 and 1969 Thunderbirds.

Engine Choice

Just as in 1966, available engines were two: both in the V8 Ford FE-series and fed through a four-barrel Holley or Autolite carburetor, they differed only in displacement and minor details. Both had compression ratios of 10.5:1 and require 100 octane premium leaded gasoline.

Engine Code Z: 390 cubic inch Ford FE-series V8. This was by far the most common engine choice, just as in 1966. Rated at 315 horsepower.

Engine Code Q: 428 cubic inch Ford FE-series V8. Approximately 90% of '67 owners opted for the 390ci engine, but those who didn't got a real treat. Rated at 345 horsepower, most of the 428-equipped cars are the larger and heavier 4-door models.

Transmission

Again, the only transmission choice was the Ford C6 3-speed heavy-duty automatic transmission. This immensely strong unit was used in trucks and buses as well as Thunderbirds, so it was quite capable of handling things.

Suspension

Again, coil springs all around for the Thunderbird, unlike the leaf springs common in other cars. The rear was still a solid axle, however, with no independent suspension.

Front Bucket Seats

Just as in previous years, Thunderbirds only came with bucket seats in the front, unlike many cars that came with front bench seats as standard. This was to change in '68 ...

Interior Styling

Very similar to the 1966 models internally, the instrument panel, high center console, and upholstery was also to meet a major change next year. Pleated seat-covers vanished and a few other details, but things were similar enough that publicity shots used a 1966 interior with minor airbrushing.

Models and Production Totals

Ford called its two-door and four-door models 'tudor' and 'fordor' respectively, for historical reasons dating back to models in the 1920s and 1930s.

Tudor Hardtop

A two-door model with a painted metal roof instead of vinyl, and with large chromed Thunderbirds on the C pillars, this was the only Thunderbird model available in two-tone paint (this is rare to find). 15,567 of these were produced, and they would have cost you $4,603 without options.

Tudor Landau

This featured a vinyl covered top with simulated S-bars on the C pillars, and was the most popular model despite not featuring at all in that year's advertising. Vinyl tops were big in 1967. Cost was $4,704 and 37,422 were built.

Fordor Landau

In its first year of sale, 24,967 of the Fordor Landau model were built. Featuring a vinyl roof, simulated S bars and suicide doors, these were quite a unique automobile for that year. One of these would have cost you $4,825.

Equipment

Being luxury cars, albeit on the lower end, the 1967 Thunderbirds were really well equipped.

Standard Equipment

The Thunderbird featured a power Tilt-Away steering wheel, which fipped upwards and to the right when the driver's door was opened, making it easier to get in and out. This still amazes people! Disc brakes were standard up front, making the T-Bird stop a lot better than most of its competitors that year. Safety features started to make themselves known with lap belts as standard and a padded steering wheel center, but shoulder belts were a very unpopular option. Sequential turn signals were standard. The wipers, hydraulically (!) powered from the power steering system, had seven different speeds (but no intermittent setting).

Optional Equipment

Vinyl seats were standard, but extra-cost options gave you fabric panels or even full leather (only available in black). A 6-way adjustable power driver's seat could be had, as well as power windows and power door locks. Tied into the latter, the Overhead Convenience Control Panel, set on the roof above the interior mirror, gave overhead warning lights and equipped the Rolling Door Lock feature, which automatically locked the doors once the car was in motion. The standard AM radio could be replaced by an AM/FM unit (mono or stereo FM!) or even an AM/FM/8-track player. A power antenna could be fitted, too, though the control was awkward for the driver.

Externally, whitewall or red stripe tires could be fitted, and there was a limited slip differential option available. Air conditioning was a fairly popular option, and the big engine definitely gave enough power to drive it. Tinted glass with a blue sunshade strip in front could be fitted. Finally, emissions control reared its head for the first time, with an optional (standard in California) emissions package including a Thermactor air injection system for more complete combustion. No catalyst, of course, this was too early.

A 1967 Thunderbird today?

Thanks to the unpopularity of the 1967 and later Thunderbirds, even a good example is cheap. As a general rule as of this writing in April 2003, no car should cost you over $10,000 no matter how good the condition, with the possible exception of a truly concours-quality example. Good examples with no major problems and fit for daily driving can be had from $3000-$5000; this will be a largely unrestored car but in quality condition, good upholstery and reasonable paint, and good mechanical reliability. Perfect restored examples should fetch between $7000-$10000, while restorable and running cars should cost between $1000-$3000.

Rust is the major problem with these cars as with most American cars of the era; the important part to check is the frame, which should be solid and strong. With the low value of these cars, an example with a rusted frame should not be considered when a better car can be obtained for so little. The engine and major mechanicals are little trouble to get working, since parts are reasonably common with other FE-engined cars of the period, including some Mustangs. Major restoration and repair headaches are more in minor parts that are not shared with other Fords of the era. Hydraulic hoses, for example, are hard to find.

Generally speaking, the 1967 Thunderbird owner enjoys a car which is mechanically well understood yet not so desirable as to raise prices for cars or parts to significant levels. The only problem is that reproduction parts, except for a few items, are not made for these cars, since the demand is so low.

I own a 1967 Fordor Landau in cream with a white roof and Parchment interior, and the 428 engine, equipped with most optional extras available at that time. Few cars get so many looks on the street, unless you have something a whole order of magnitude (or several) more expensive. The car cost me $3500 and apart from a few mechanical niggles is flawless, especially in the interior.

Even though it's badly in need of a tune-up, it's deceptively quick (the 4-door model in particular doesn't look like a performance car, especially from the side or behind) and it proves perfect for smoking community-college rice boys at the lights. Even in a car weighing over two tons, 345 horsepower, seven litres of engine and bottomless torque shouldn't be taken as lightly as these boys do. I've rarely even floored the thing.

Its true abilities, though, are away from the stop-light drag race; it's a freeway cruiser par excellence, a Grand Tourer in the true traditional style. Even on 20 year old bias ply tires it cruises at 80 with scarcely a touch on the gas, though I don't want to push it on such old rubber. Those are being changed, soon! Correspondents on the mailing list I'm on say that pinning the speedometer at 120 mph is easy, and top speeds of 140 or greater are quite within the big Bird's reach.

All this with a ride so comfortable it's amazing, plenty of room to move around for all four passengers, and roadholding that's quite reasonable for such a heavy vehicle. What else can you buy for $3000 to $5000 that's so capable?

Set against this, annoyances with the car include:

  • Everything one thinks should be electrically powered actually being driven by a buggy vacuum system - headlamp covers, power door locks, valves in the cabin ventilation system.
  • Fuel consumption that while no worse than a big SUV at between 10 and 20 miles per gallon depending on driving and state of tune, is hardly good
  • a preference for impossible to find 100 octane premium leaded gas (lead substitute additive partly helps, but an engine rebuild is really required to run happily on 91 octane unleaded)
  • abysmal rear vision through a small, limousine-style rear window and small center and drivers' mirrors - passenger side mirrors are impossible to find, and the car's rear corners cannot be seen when backing up.
  • An air-conditioning system badly in need of overhaul.
  • Safety worries - lap belts only in front, no seatbelts at all in the rear, and while it's enough of a tank to survive an accident with a modern car relatively unscathed, it doesn't have the progressive deformation abilities of a modern car to help the passengers survive a serious collision.

Conclusion

Is the almost total condemnation of the 1967 Thunderbird justified? A rousing 'Hell no!' from this old car owner, at least. Do I want that to change? Despite that it might make it more expensive to find parts, I'd love these to be 'discovered' - and as the supply of unrestored and cheap earlier Birds dwindles, it just may. Hemmings Motor News, the collector car marketplace, picked the 1967-1969 Thunderbird as one of its 2002 "Sleepers" choices - cars their writers feel are highly under-appreciated relative to their merits, and that they believe are good candidates for an explosion in popularity in years to come. Will it happen? I'll let you know.


A number of you have asked for any addresses of sites where you can see some pictures - after all, it's hard to describe in words how something looks but one quick picture tells all.

The site Automotive Mileposts has a set of pages at http://automotivemileposts.com/tbird1967selections.shtml that include a lot of the original advertising literature.

For pictures of Thunderbirds submitted by their owners, one good place to look is the Thunderbird Registry at http://www.tbirdregistry.com/. Search under the model year to find all the registered cars - most will have pictures. My car is there, number 703.

A Google search for 1967 Ford Thunderbird will bring up many more.

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