1970 Ford Thunderbird

Pontiac's Grand Prix had a major effect on the looks of the Thunderbird in 1970. Former Pontiac executive Semon E "Bunkie" Knudson had become Ford's CEO in 1968, and he was instrumental in introducing Pontiac styling touches to Ford cars. The 1970 Thunderbird was the first chance he had to influence the T-Bird's styling, and the sales success of the Grand Prix in 1969 had to have strengthened his hand on this one. 112,486 of them were sold, compared to 49,272 Thunderbirds, though the Grand Prix was aimed at a lower price bracket and carried a lower standard level of trim.

Bunkie was limited to minor styling changes on the Thunderbird, since it shared a platform with the Lincoln Continental Mark III which was new as a 1969 model and had two years left to run. The decision had been made to share a platform for the T-Bird and Mark, but the Thunderbird clearly needed a revamp - three years with the same look was enough, and falling sales despite good automotive magazine reviews said the public was bored with the styling. Changes were largely confined to ones in front of the windshield and yet another set of cosmetic changes to the taillights.

Up front, the oval 'air intake' front was gone. The gaping maw was replaced by a sharp-pointed beak of a grille, in Pontiac style, protruding markedly from the rest of the front end. The grille was raised, and a raised section of the hood swept back from it, vee-ing wide. There were no headlight covers this year. This all gave the Bird a notably 1970s style.

At the back, the full-width taillights returned as a big, flat arch of light with a small inset Thunderbird emblem in the middle. Beneath the light was a body-colored strip with the word THUNDERBIRD in big capitals, with a narrow strip of a full-width reflector underneath. The sequential turn signals were retained.

Between the two changed ends, little else was different. The rear quarter windows returned for the Two-Door Landau, which lost its S-bars that year, replaced by Thunderbird emblems just like the Two-Door Hardtop. The hardtop was unchanged, as was the Four-Door Landau.

Power was the same Ford 429 ThunderJet V8 with 360 horsepower and the Ford C6 automatic transmission. The power steering was improved in '70, and for the first time radial tires were standard. The new hood meant that for the first time, the windshield wipers were concealed.

Inside, the most obvious change was the loss of the Tilt-Away Steering Wheel, replaced by a normal tilting column. Safety standards were continually improving at this time, and it's possible that the Tilt-Away system couldn't pass newer standards. The next thing a new driver would notice was that for the first time in the Thunderbird, interior controls for the mirror, power seat, power windows and power door locks were all placed on the driver's armrest. The seat belts were also changed, for the first time a combined shoulder and lap belt rather than separately locking belts. The power sunroof was still an option. The air conditioning, optionally, included a thermostat for temperature regulation.

By the time the 1970 models reached production, Bunkie was gone, replaced by Lee A. Iacocca, but his styling changes would live for another year, as 1971's model would be very similar. The Thunderbird did OK in the marketplace, selling 50,364 examples, a modest increase on the year before. This was helped by the fact that, even though its 1970 remake wasn't even fully skin-deep, nobody else's car that year had anything new at all. Buick's Riviera was now on its fifth year as essentially the same car, as was Oldsmobile's Toronado, while the more expensive Cadillac Eldorado carried its 1967 styling almost unchanged. The Thunderbird was generally rated the winner by automotive journalists in reviews of the 1970 models.

A breakdown of the production figures shows that the Two-Door Landau sold the most, at 36,847, while the Four-Door Landau sold 8,401 and the Two-Door Hardtop only 5,116. Vinyl tops were definitely fashionable, and the four-door model was suffering from no change to its styling since '67 and little marketing attention - it doesn't even appear in that year's brochure.

Today, it's safe to say that the '70 and '71 birds are less desirable than the '67-'69 models, which in themselves aren't that highly desired. The front grille changes make the car less distinctive, and make the car much more Seventies in style. It's starting to look like a land yacht, even though it's actually no larger than the Sixties models. That said, production quality improved every year, and the 1970 Thunderbirds are solid, reliable cars with plenty of style. Whether you like the looks depends on whether you like that Seventies prow up front, but the styling is at least less controversial than the '67-'69 cars. Some like it, and if you do, they're fine and very affordable classic cars.