1967-1971 Ford Thunderbird

Anxious to preserve the Thunderbird's popularity, Ford planners warily eyed General Motors's moves in the personal-luxury market. If GM's cars were big, the 1967-1971 Ford Thunderbird would be, too.

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1967 Ford Thunderbird
The 1967 Ford Thunderbird was dominant in the
full-size luxury market. See more classic car pictures.

In the 1960s, the Ford Thunderbird ruled the full-size, personal-luxury segment, consistently outselling the Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Toronado, and Cadillac Eldorado. In 1967, the Thunderbird beat the Riviera and Toronado combined; it even finished ahead of the lower-priced Pontiac Grand Prix every year from 1964 to 1968.

The Riviera snuck past the Thunderbird in 1969, only to be slammed back in its place in 1970. Even as late as 1971, neither the fabulous boattail Riviera nor the new and outlandishly gothic Toronado could out-gun a five-year-old Thunderbird body shell wearing a year-old face lift.

That said, it is nonetheless clear that from 1964 on, the product planners responsible for the Thunderbird were carefully watching the General Motors "E-bodies" in their rearview mirror -- and perhaps paying a little less attention to the road ahead.

The General Motors coupes were larger than the Thunderbird and, beginning in 1966, offered more conventional interior layouts. Veteran Ford designer Gale Halderman, who worked on every generation of Thunderbird from 1958 to 1989, recalled a general feeling that the Thunderbird had to grow larger, too, to maintain its position in the sales race.

The all-new Thunderbird that resulted for 1967 was unquestionably quieter, more refined, and more roadable than any of its smaller ancestors. But whether it remained "unique in all the world," as its advertisements still insisted, is debatable.

1967 Ford Thunderbird suicide doors
The new trick up Ford's sleeve for 1967 was a
four-door Thunderbird with "suicide doors."

The 1963 Riviera surely must have turned some heads in Dearborn, but Ford looked particularly hard at the first Oldsmobile Toronado, long before it ever appeared in showrooms. Its influence is there to see in the 1967 Thunderbird; in the concealed headlights, in the blade-like thrust of the front fenders, in the roofline that fades into the trunk and quarter panel, in the wide-open wheel flares.

There's a story, difficult to confirm, that the Toronado design had been leaked to Ford around 1964. Certainly, Ford designers shaped some very Toronado-like clays around that time.

Of course there were other, competing proposals for the 1967 program. In his invaluable memoir, Thunderbird: An Odyssey in Automotive Design, former Thunderbird studio chief William P. Boyer identified at least six, two each from three separate studios. One tried to push the crisply folded, rocket-ship theme a little further, only to find that it had already gone as far as it could go in 1964-1966.

Other proposals displayed a slab-sided Lincoln massiveness. But design vice president Gene Bordinat mated Boyer's own "very smooth [and] flowing" theme to a bold, jet-scoop front end created in the Corporate Projects Studio under Dave Ash.

To learn about the resulting 1967 Ford Thunderbird, continue to the next page.

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