By on June 8, 2011


Here’s a car that I’ve been seeing in my neighborhood for a year now; on a busy street that makes photography tough, it kept getting sort of overlooked by me when I went out hunting cars with camera in hand. Yesterday, however, I decided that a 45-year-old, 4,400-pound personal luxury coupe that still survives on the street deserves to be admired.

Thunderbirds of the middle 1960s sometimes get overlooked; not quite as swoopy and/or sporty as their predecessors, yet not as absurdly, bloattastically Malaise-ified as the T-Birds that grunted off Dearborn’s assembly lines in the following decade.

This one isn’t quite perfect, but it appears to be a good solid rust-free survivor.

A 275-horsepower 390 was the standard engine for 1966, but optional powerplant choices included 410- and 425-horse 427s (dual-quad carburetors on the latter), plus a 345-horsepower 428. Sadly, a manual transmission wasn’t an option.

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28 Comments on “Down On The Mile High Street: 1966 Ford Thunderbird...”


  • avatar
    tced2

    My father had a 1964 T-bird similar to this one. There was a small rear window instead of the massive rear roof. But it had rear buckets with upper cushions that curved around to the side of the passenger compartment (adding to the impression of more room?)
    It was early in my driving time but I do have some impressions. Not a particularly sporty drive – more of a personal luxury car.
    It had a pretty dramatically designed dashboard. Horizontal speedometer below which were eyeball-shaped gauges. It had a “fasten seat belt” light in the center of the console that I had to replace by tearing the whole console apart. It also had a “tilt-away” steering column. The steering wheel could be moved to the right for ease of entry/exit. Oh and do I need to mention, the sequential turn signals for the rear tail lights? I can still hear the relays clicking.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Sorry, Murilee, but the 427 engines were not regular T-bird options, though Ford might have let a few 427 ‘Birds slip out the door. The only official engines for ’66 were the 390 and 428 – both with automatic, as you said.

    1966 was one of my favorite years for T-birds, and I love the wide-pillared Town Coupe look (without the Landau’s silly vinyl roof and S-bars). I wonder if the white painted roof on this car is a factory option or done later. I suspect the latter, because the T-bird emblem is missing from the C-pillar. I think I would have left the car a solid maroon color. That huge taillight is fully illuminated all the way across and is really dramatic to see at night.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Like the Millenium Falcon… (btw, did anyone ever notice that in trying to capitalize on the success of the T-bird, Ford chose to name their entry in the compact class “Falcon”? I also wonder why, until typing it at this moment, I never heard a Falcon, or Falcon Sprint, or Falcon Futura, referred to as an “F-bird”…)

      Didn’t they refer to the relay system for the rr turnsignals as a “fire-cracker” relay system? (my guess due to sound?) And wasn’t this some kind of rotary distributor affair? (by contrast, the control unit for my early-build ’69 Cougar was a flat affair, about as thick as a couple slices of toast, though only 2/3 as tall – until new rr illumination regs came into force and relays had to be added.)

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Ford was also going to name its 1963 FWD subcompact the Cardinal. Lee Iaccoca killed it and shuttled it off the Germany where it became the Taunus 12M.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      The C-pillar emblem does appear on the passenger side of the car in these photos.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Oh, so it does.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I suspect this car originally had the vinyl top, and the owner replaced it with paint. Smart move. Rust under the vinyl usually spreads to the rear window frame and from there into the trunk. A friend of mine had a ’66 and by the time he took the vinyl off, it was too late.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I can’t tell from those photos, but for a few years, the way the back seat backrest curved around into the side panels was always super-cool in my book! The humongous blind spot, never.

  • avatar
    obbop

    I was always enamored with the power bulge upon the hood and was so proud when I was able to sport my own personal “power bulge.”

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Last of the great birds IMHO. The ’67 grew two extra doors and added ridiculous looking landau bars; sign of bad taste to come. It was all over after ’66!

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    This was the third and final year for this basic design, so the T-Bird was at a disadvantage to the dramatically redesigned Riviera. The T-bird’s revised front was arguably cleaner than the 1965’s donut bumper but other details made the car busier, e.g., the lack of rear quarter windows on this body style.

    With the 1961 redesign, the T-Bird became the second American car (along with the Continental) to gain curved side glass (the 1957 Imperial was the first). Oddly enough, in 1964 Ford switched back to flat glass — which made the car look rather pontoonish. By 1966 the T-Bird was one of the few passenger cars left that didn’t have curved glass (e.g., Chevy II, Valiant, Studebaker). Ford kind of blew it on that one.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      Although not stoned, I just had a stoner-type insight: The slow start of curved side glass in American cars, followed by its sudden predominance in new cars for the 1965 model year, is closely paralleled by production of TV shows in color. In the days of the late-1950s Imperial there were one or two series filmed and broadcast in color (although very few people had color receivers); for example, Bonanza, which started in 1959, was always a color production. In the fall of 1966, a large number of series suddenly followed suit, not only new ones but some that had already been in production in black-and-white, such as I Dream of Jeannie. When I have some free time, I will attempt to show that the widespread appearance of color TV and curved automotive side glass was (in combination) a prerequisite for the late-1960s counterculture, or at the very least was more important to its genesis than, say, the novel Stranger in a Strange Land…

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        Right-on with that comment. One reason why GM left Ford in the dust! With the onset of the GM 1965 models, Ford’s cars looked like yesterday’s news. The 1965 & 1966 Galaxie 500 are still among my favorites to this day, but Chevy won the war.

        As to Color TV, I believe the announcment was made in TV Guide or somewhere that 1972 was the last year for B&W commercials. I never owned a color TV back then because I almost never watched TV, and when I did, what I watched didn’t matter if I saw it in color or not. Remember when, after a certain year, most movies had to be edited for TV? I refused to watch ‘em. TV shows? Didn’t matter, hardly bothered. Cars, cruising and music!

  • avatar
    frazgo

    My FAVORITE generation of the Thunderbird. My uncle has a ’65 and my son’s 18 yo friend is restoring a ’64. All with the trusty 390 under the hood.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    A 4,400 pound compact two door four seater coupe. That is a problem.

    The problem for the TBird was the Mustang. The Mustang was the new TBird, built cheaper, earning a much higher profit, and based on auto parts that doubled in Falcons, creating greater flexibility of manufacturing. The TBird was a dedicated vehicle with fewer stablemates from which to share. The TBird was obsolete by 1964 when the Mustang arrived.

    After Mustang established itself, the TBird should have been killed off. The Mercury Cougar became the luxury Mustang.

    Since it had the cash, Ford hedged it’s Mustang bet by retaining the TBird. If Mustang tanked, TBird would have remained around with enough market presense to continue in the line up. But with the success of the Mustang, the new market appearance of the TBird challengers, Riviera, Tornado, Marlin, Monaco and Avanti, Ford believed there existed enough demand somewhere for a new TBird.

    Ford spent the next twenty years trying to figure out what a TBird was supposed to be, and never quite got it again until it returned as a retro two seater a decade ago. But by then, no one really wanted a retro two seater anymore, especially one that was really just Ford’s version of an old Cadillac Allante or Buick Reatta which failed years earlier.

    If it wasn’t for the TBird, we would not have had the baroque age during the 1970s and 1980s. Believing there was a market for a bloated luxury coupe kept American manufacturers searching for some kind of Holy Grail of rolling Bordellos until everyone cried “uncle” and stopped buying them. The history of the TBird after this point demonstrates how not to keep a dead idea around because a dead idea can live on long enough to corrupt and rot a market by pointing it in the wrong direction. The Personal Luxury Coupe was a dead end and always looked like a fad that should have died after five years, not twenty five. The TBird became the Kitchen Sink approach to profitable cars, even when the car evolved into a piece of crap. It was the profits collected by throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a car that made personal luxury coupes attractive for the industry.

    This is the last of the heavy compact four seater coupe.

    This should have been the last year for TBird too. This was where the American auto industry took a hard turn towards the unsustainable, unrealistic world of Craptastic Autos.

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      “A 4,400 pound compact two door four seater coupe. That is a problem.”

      I don’t know, this is about what I have always purchased, from our ’64 Riviera through my ’89 Supra Turbo to my current Audi A5. They were not all 4400 pounds, and it would be pretty tough to call the Riviera a compact, but still they were all four seat personal coupes.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      You write all that, but I don’t believe that these cars were produced at a loss:
      – what about the economies of scale of producing the birds on the same line as the Marks and the 4-dr Continentals (the birds even, at least in the early 60’s, even shared the front cowl and a-pillar structures with the conti’s);
      – what about the huge numbers of torino-platform-derived birds produced in ’77-79?

      The t-bird more-or-less was the poster-boy of adaptability to continuous – and sometime wrenching – changes in the market-place… it was an elastic-enough brand to be able to be all the different flavors that it was over its life-time, and almost always profitable while doing it…

      Despite the expansion and contraction of market-segments, due to buyer-changes and new entrants, as well as the immediate demands placed upon them by the energy shocks, the physical changes the t-bird undertook to respond to these, in an almost always profitable way, should stand as a tribute to the brand, the men, and the machine.

      (Although to be honest, except for the SC, I never liked the MN12, and thought the M205 encapsulated the unoriginality of J May’s lame-o “don’t call it retro but instead call it reinterpretation school of rip-off design”…)

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      Why should the T-bird been killed off? Do you think Ford was alone on this? The introduction of the 1963 Buick Riviera validated Ford’s choice to make the T-bird a big, plush personal car. By 1970, GM made sure that every one of its divisions had a luxo coupe. It took Chrysler until 1975 to jump into the game but the Cordoba was hugely popular and actually played a big role in keeping the troubled company afloat. The personal luxury cars might not been what you liked but the buyers loved them and kept buying them for years. Have you forgotten that Ford sold nearly a million T-birds in 1977-1979 alone? I don’t love the 1967 to 1982 Thunderbirds but they made sense at the time. Ford’s big mistake was not allowing Mercury to have one too.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      The 4 seater t birds sold far mare per year than the 2 seaters ever did. Kind of sad but the 2 seaters weren’t that special either. Overstyled creampuffs witha charm that’s not aging well.

      I have a weak spot for the circa 62s and I’m sure – like most t-birds – they are pretty horrible to drive.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “A 4,400 pound compact two door four seater coupe. That is a problem.”

    The CTS coupe says hi.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Ford sold 635,000 compact four seater TBird coupes.

      The CTS coupe sales account for a fraction of total CTS sales last year of 45,000.

      As long as Cadillac can find taxpayer’s dollars to keep building the CTS coupe, then the coupe can remain on the Market.

  • avatar
    M 1

    There are very few Fords that I like, stylistically. This is one of them.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    my friend drove us around in this car back in the day, it was his moms. beautiful car, fast, stylish. love the proportions, long and sleek. no cars like that today. the cts is tall, fat and headless. the a5 comes close but its not sleek. sigh.

    i may need to buy one. a guy here has a pretty cool convert for sale kinda cheap. http://www.genesclassics.com/Inventory/details.asp?VID=410653

  • avatar
    thrashette

    Crazy! My dad drove this EXACT model when I was growing up, except in bright red with a black top. It always smelled like old leather and gasoline, and for some reason the passenger seat was in the basement, not in the car. I got made fun of sooo much by my peers about this car because it was “so old” (I grew up in the 90s… still–crazy kids!). I guess I hated this car at the time, but it hindsight, it was damn sexy. I remember sitting on my dad’s lap as a toddler, steering it down the dirt road. I miss the raucous “CLICK” noise of the old seatbelts, stale scent of old leather, the menacing, growling, most-likely malfunctioning roar the engine produced… After breaking down one last time on a one-lane bridge, my dad wound up selling this beauty to some farmer. I also remember this as the day I bought my first Pokemon game… now I am rambling. :) Great car. I’m glad you featured it.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    About 2-3 years ago, there were 2 vintage classics that used to park near my apartment, one a 64-65 Riviera and a 64-66 T-Bird. Both were fully restored with the Riv being turquoise in color, the T-Bird being this very color but don’t recall if it had a vinyl top and I don’t think it had this massive C pillar either so it might’ve been either the 64-65 model instead and both totally stock too.

    Sadly, they kept getting hit with parking tickets for staying in one place too long (can’t leave your car sitting for more than 72 Hrs in one spot or a ticket will be placed under your wiper) and this was done to hopefully avoid abandoned vehicles and give the city leverage to haul cars off if left on the streets too long.

    One day, they disappeared and I don’t recall if they got the dreaded orange notice plastered to the windshield saying the cars will be towed if not moved so don’t know if the owners dealt with them appropriately or they were simply towed away.


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