The blind-quarter Landau returned for 1971, and three bright horizontal bars across the grille distinguished 1971 Ford Thunderbird hard-tops and four-doors from the previous year's models.
Landaus accounted for more than half of the 36,055
1971 Ford Thunderbirds assembled.
Against this aging Thunderbird, General Motors deployed a totally restyled and re-engineered Toronado and Riviera. Both had softened considerably in the chassis, leaving the Thunderbird, for the first time, with a firmer ride than its General Motors competitors.
Motor Trend still found body roll better controlled in the General Motors products, and the Riviera out-sprinted the Thunderbird to 60 mph. But then the Ford gathered speed and passed the Riviera to turn the fastest quarter mile at 16.25 seconds and 86 mph.
The Thunderbird also delivered the quickest, straightest stops. Motor Trend even liked the Thunderbird's "Cave of Love cockpit ... with button-tufted brocade cloth upholstery ... ." The Toronado was "Spartan" by comparison.
"One gets the impression that T-bird is about to move off in a new direction," Motor Trend suggested coyly, "and hasn't yet made up its mind as to the intended path." Of course, the path had already been chosen, and according to Halderman, it was Bunkie who had chosen it. "Every time we made it bigger," Halderman recalled, "it seemed it sold a little better and broadened its appeal a little more."
When the new mid-size cars arrived for 1972, the new Thunderbird and Continental Mark IV shared a stretched version of their mechanical platform. But with a wheelbase of 120.4 inches and a shipping weight of 4,420 pounds, the "mid-size" Thunderbird was actually longer and a little heavier than its "full-size" predecessor.
Gone was the slow-selling four-door; there was just a single body style now, a bulky, straight-edged two-door hardtop wearing a few vague styling cues from its sleek 1970-1971 ancestors. Sales edged back up to 57,814 -- the T-Bird's best performance since 1968 -- then rocketed to 87,269 in 1973. The one-millionth Thunderbird, a copper hardtop with unique commemorative badges on its landau bars, rolled out of Wixom in 1972.
Ironically, no one was happier with Bunkie's last Thunderbird than Lee Iacocca himself. "The bigger [the Thunderbird] got, the better he liked it," recalled Halderman. "I really don't think Lee would ever admit this, but I think he learned a lot from Bunkie."
See the next page to find out how the 1967-1971 Ford Thunderbirds stack up in the collectible market.
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