By on April 9, 2014

10 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSajeev no doubt wept bitter tears when he saw the near-showroom-condition ’76 Continental Junkyard Find last week, and I’m going to keep those Malaise Era Ford tears flowing with another 1970s luxury FoMoCo product from the same California self-serve yard. This one isn’t quite as nice as the Lincoln, but just check out the metallic-green-and-white two-tone paint job!
07 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI could look up the horsepower numbers on the ’79 Thunderbird‘s 351M engine, but the figures would just make us all depressed. Let’s just say that this car had enough torque to get moving fairly well for its era (i.e., it would get smoked by a 3-cylinder Mirage today).
16 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis can’t possibly be a factory paint job, can it?
13 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOf course it has a landau vinyl roof!
04 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin85 MPH speedometer, according to 1979 regulations.
05 - 1979 Ford Thunderbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe velour buckets are no longer as luxurious as they once were.


This ad for the similar ’77 Thunderbird shows the 85mph speedo in full effect, plus a very cocaineophile-looking driver. Radio comes as standard equipment!

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82 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Ford Thunderbird...”


  • avatar

    HOW COULD U DO THIS TO ME!!!

  • avatar

    …I bet Sanjeev and his legions of followers put you up to this!

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    Nope, that’s not factory two-tone. Such a paint scheme wasn’t offered on the Thunderbird of that generation. If one wished to have that on your car, you’d have to get the optional vinyl top in a contrasting color.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Murilee,

    Is someone archiving your body of work somewhere? Please tell me this is so. If not, heck, I’ll volunteer. Let me know…

    A fan

    • 0 avatar

      All my photographs are organized well and backed up automatically on a RAID in the garage, plus I do regular optical-disc backups. Except for the biggest posts, I write everything in the publications’ editing tool, so the text mostly just lives on the internet. I keep meaning to put together a comprehensive page on my site linking to all the Junkyard Finds (757 of them so far), but that’s just too much work to get done soon.

      • 0 avatar
        AllThumbs

        Thank you for confirming that collection doesn’t yet exist. I tried to find them all and read old ones over the course of a month or so (I only started reading this site about a year ago) but was frustrated by having chase-search them. I figured there had to be a better way, but I guess not.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Yeah, this one can rot in the yard. Gross.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Ah, a Thundercougarfalconbird.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Ford was really into neo-classic styling. Long hoods, knife-edge fenders, up-right, central grills, landau tops. And nothing says faux luxury like a plastic turn signal lens molded to look like cut crystal.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s funny how this kind of styling was so peculiarly American. Outside of the inspirational RR, I don’t think many others were doing it.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You know, the Australians -kind- of were, with their larger vehicles. But I guess they’re related anyway.

        • 0 avatar

          They were it seems, but I don’t remember seeing on their cars the neo-classic details like joe McKinney mentioned. I could easily be wrong but I think those details (like opera windows) were unique to American cars in the late 70s. I mean in Brazil at that time the closest things we had were the Chevy Opala, Ford Galaxie and Dodge leBaron which, with the exception of the Opala, were on their way out fast. Anyway, they had something like the American cars, like the landau roof, but not really the all edgy front grill and general shape of the front of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      joeveto3

      I sincerely love this generation of T – Bird. Done.

      Give me a white one with red onterior. Or one of those dark blue on tan jobs that were so prolific when I was 9. Or seafoam green or powder blue. Who gives a shit?

      I don’t care that a Mitsubishi Mirage can smoke it. No worries. This car is cool.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “The velour buckets are no longer as luxurious as they once were.”

    When was velour luxurious?

  • avatar
    Garak

    That mishmash of side windows is stunning.

  • avatar
    alsorl

    Love those old Thunderbirds. Thought you could a 460 for an engine upgrade.

  • avatar
    TheyBeRollin

    I had to do a comparison against the video advertisement model. It looks like the median income for a male was about 10-11k and women were much worse off seeing around 4k. Using the woefully poor CPI, the price of this car is roughly the equivalent of a base Fiesta ST today (includes nearly every bell and whistle available). Of course just the body on the ’77 probably had more mass than the entire Fiesta ST.

    77 Thunderbird: 0-60 – 15.3s. 12.5mpg.
    14 Fiesta ST: 0-60 – 6.7s. 27/35mpg.

    This was as the country was entering or in the oil crisis years, if my memory of automotive history is correct.

    Sadly, today’s median personal income is only a little over double that of 1977, so even base Fiestas are more expensive relative to incomes than this car was.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Base ST – doesn’t it come pretty much fully loaded?

      Also, does AC or radio come standard at the 5,400 price quoted in the commercial?

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The Arab Oil Embargo, which kicked off the first fuel crunch in this country, began in December 1973 and ended in early 1974. The second fuel crunch was caused by the Iranian Revolution, which began in February 1979. This car was built just in time for the second gasoline shortage. This generation of Thunderbird was in its final year in 1979, as the downsized 1980 model was transferred to Ford’s evergreen Fox platform.

      Regarding the comparison in prices – the Fiesta is faster, more fuel efficient, safer, better handling, cleaner, better built and more reliable than this car. So, unless you are buying cars by the pound or square foot, the Fiesta is a much better buy than this car was. (And the ST version of the Fiesta is the special performance edition. Most Fiestas are considerably cheaper.)

      It’s also important to remember that the base price of the 1977 or 1979 Thunderbird is misleading. Virtually everything aside from an automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes was an option. An AM radio was standard, but air conditioning was optional. By 1977, people buying this car would have wanted an AM-FM stereo system, which was an extra cost option. They also would have wanted air conditioning.

      The standard V-8 was the 302, and most people paid more for the 351 V-8 to get some more performance.

      You had to load it up with a few thousand dollars worth of options to get the full “luxury” effect, which is what most people did with these cars. Very few, if any, 1977-79 Thunderbirds were sold at the base price featured in the advertisements.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    What’s a man gotta do for a tachometer??

    Deplorable.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      An automatic transmission was standard, and the people who bought this car didn’t care that it lacked a tachometer.

    • 0 avatar

      That gauge package was like $80 or so. Why would most Americans care to spend that cash when they could burn it at the discos?

    • 0 avatar
      AllThumbs

      Seriously, why does someone want/need a tach in a auto transmission car? I don’t know the answer to that other than just to know your RPMs in case, um, you want to know them.

      What is the reason?

      I have a manual truck now with no tach and two auto trans cars that DO have tachs. How does that kind of thing happen?

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Besides the anemic engine, let me point out another factor that made for the slowriffic 0-60 times: egregiously tall (meaning numerically low) rear axle ratios.

    I pulled a 9″ third-member out of one of these cars to put into my 1971 LTD, and it had 2.49 gears in it (my 429-powered LTD had the 2.75 ratio and I still could easily break tires loose with all of the torque, so I figured that 2.49 wouldn’t hurt my acceleration too much and would help the fuel economy on the highway). I never did get around to installing it and it went to the metal scrapper a few years ago (couldn’t even give it away on CL).

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    In the commercial, it took 10 seconds to go from 10-40 MPH. I timed it. So they sped up the frames to make it look faster.

    I think that paint scheme was part of the Decor Group?

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    This car really does sum up the 70s in so many ways, doesn’t it?

    My goodness, it was a gangly decade, a time in which the US (at least, if not everyone) was struggling to find what fit. In the case of this car, what doomed it wasn’t really excess or poor taste so much as being mystified or paralyzed by the times, by having to guess what might work. “Hell if I can come up with a vision; let’s just throw everything at it and hope something somehow resonates.”

    The end result– to me, anyway– was a sense of unremitting impermanence.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      Yeah, a lot of people have this nostalgia for the 1970′s that I cannot relate to.

      I lived them, and remember them as a nasty, depressing, tacky, deplorable mess.

      Gotta admit, they did make a bunch of good movies during that decade. But, other than that…

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        I have no nostalgia for 70′s cars, save for maybe the Opel Manta I had in high school. What I am nostalgic for is a 70′s girl: tall, slender, with long Laurie Partridge style hair, wearing a rib knit top and hiphugger jeans. Mmmm.

  • avatar
    Quad442

    Did this yard have a Shelby CXT VNT?

  • avatar
    thunderjet

    Man these things are fugly, at least to me. I know a couple of guys in the local Thunderbird club who love these things. One guy has 3 (wtf!) of them: a 77, 78, and 79. The other two guys have 78s. The styling on them is just so overwrought. I personally think the Thunderbird is fugly from ’72 till ’82. They look good from ’55-’71 and didn’t look good again till the Aerobirds in ’83.

  • avatar
    davew833

    I think the mint green (it was probably closer to jade) was a factory color, there are pics of ’79 T-birds in that solid color online, like this one:

    http://www.cardomain.com/ride/3809351/1979-ford-thunderbird/

    The white band across the body has been added to make it “sportier” or maybe to cover up some body work?

    My favorite color combo on ’77-’79 T-bird was midnight blue with desert tan vinyl top and body trim and matching tan alloy wheels! Only in the late ’70s would that seem fashionable.

  • avatar
    skor

    My parents had a 77 with the 302 2 barrel. I think that engine was rated at 130hp or so. The car was slow, it needed training wheels on the door handles to go around corners, and despite the small V-8 sucking air through a couple of straws, it got abysmally bad gas mileage. On the plus side, it was reliable…by the standards of the day…and it had ice cold AC. Ford sold a crap ton of these things back in the day, they were a big money maker for Fomoco.

    BTW, I was occasionally allowed to drive that car to high school. I have an interesting story involving that T-Bird and a stolen tool box. Maybe I’ll write it up and submit it someday.

  • avatar
    Panther Platform

    It’s a given that these cars are grossly inefficient with horrific gas mileage and laughable power. But 1979 was 35 years ago – a completely different world. I was 22 years old back then commuting to college in an AMC Rebel dreaming about driving something like this.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    For those trashing 70′s cars, don’t lump in the 1970-72 model years. IMO

    Anyway, one could drop a 460 into the 77-79 Bird, since it was really a re-skinned 1972 era Gran Torino.

    Also, “Skor” pointed out “parents’ TBird was reliable”. Some big tuna boats would run and run, and that’s why many older Americans loved big cars til the end.

  • avatar
    April

    My first girlfriend’s Mom had one of these downsized beasts. Brand new. White with a white vinyl/leatherette interior. For the time it had a rather snappy look plus the acceleration (with the 351 V8) wasn’t horrible. She insisted on letting us use it when I took her daughter to the local drive-in movie. Comfy seats. :)

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    While the profile with the silly opera window looks ridiculous now I recall when they were new thinking they didn’t look all that bad .Of course it was the seventies .Besides the side windows Ford offered some wierd options , like color-keyed vinyl wheels and fake trunk straps . Recall a co-workers new ’79 Tbird with the lipstick red with white interior IIRC thinking looked sharp, at least better than the Elite , which is really what it replaced . And they made more of these than just about any other edition . The hideous square early eighties Tbird that replaced it I always thought was perhaps the ugliest Ford of all time .

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Not my cup of tea but still interesting. At over 4100 LBS my school friends blue 1979 T-bird with the exact same interior but in camel tan vinyl sported the std 129 HP 302 and the rare alloy wheel option. At the time I had a same year and color Fairmont sedan with the 200 six and could pretty easily out accelerate him in a race. Then I got a lower mileage 1979 white Grand Prix LJ with a 231 V6 that ran surprisingly well and that car would blow the doors of his T-Bird. Pretty sad considering it was rated for only 115 HP but then 800 LBS less curb weight will do that!

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      My mother had a rental of these for awhile while waiting for her next company car, a 1980 Buick LeSabre. I guess it had the 302. That was the summer I learned to drive and sold sandwiches to drivers waiting for gas at Kostopoulos Shell.

      My folks preferred me driving this slug T-bird rental to my Dad’s ’78 Century V06. I didn’t. The Century was a street racer by comparison. For that matter, even the Plymouth Volare in driver ed with the constantly stalling Slant Six was faster and more nimble.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    This car typifies the American buyer in those times :

    ” The average American car buyer will always buys the biggest car they can afford ” .

    I’d not have it for free but I do understand why they were so popular .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    threeer

    While not 100% the same, it reminds me so much of my mother’s 1976 Mercury Montego, although our blue beast had vinyl seats and hand-crank windows. I will say that the rather large bench seat (both front and back) came in rather handy when I started dating…

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      This is weird.

      Back in college a buddy of mine had a ’75 Torino. He was driving once and turned a corner at 15 mph with his pinky. Then he said, “see how well this thing handles.”

      A year or two ago, I saw a Starsky & Hutch episode where Starsky went undercover, living the high life and driving a Ferrari. When the case was over, Hutch commented on how hard it would be to get back to normal life. “Not really,” said Starsky. “Nothing handles like a Gran Torino.”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Had a brand new 78 T-Bird. 351 engine, velour interior and most of the available options. Silver/grey exterior and matching interior with split bench seats. Even the floor mats had white thunderbirds embossed on them.

    Personally back then I loved the look, as did my peers. It was an aspirational car, considered a ‘personal luxury vehicle’, combining all the available creature comforts with a big V-8. T-Birds still had a lot of carry over prestige at the time. In its day I would say it was comparable to how a 5 Series BMW is viewed today as far as status/prestige and the type of person who would buy one.

    Unfortunately the darn thing was a true lemon. Unbelievably bad gas mileage. Bad starter and bad alternator right out of the factory. Each morning when you went to start it one or both of the hideaway headlight flaps would be raised (think that they ran on a vacuum system).

    Traded a 76 Corvette for it and then traded the T-Bird to get a customized disco style van (another story for later). It might be entitled the stupid things that you do when your young and have more money than brains.


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