Rare Rides: The 1979 Ford Thunderbird, Last of Largesse

rare rides the 1979 ford thunderbird last of largesse

The Ford Thunderbird is popular here at Rare Rides, apparently. Thus far, we’ve covered one from 1982 which was hacked into a convertible, and one from 1988 which was turbocharged and very good. Today’s Bird hails from 1979, which was the very last year the model was large(ish) and in charge.

Ah ha, you’ll think, this article will be very similar to the ’77 Lincoln Continental Mark V featured here recently. Surely they’re the same car, just in different levels of luxury, right? In previous generations of Mark-Thunderbird adjacency, that assumption was correct. But things changed for the Thunderbird and Mark in 1977. That year, the new Mark V kept on keepin’ on with the Mark IV’s platform, while the seventh gen Thunderbird moved down market a bit. It migrated to the same platform as the Cougar, Torino, and LTD II.

You see, things were changing in the car market and the personal luxury coupe was the hot ticket. Ford needed a replacement for its original cheaper-but-Thunderbird-like offering, the Elite (nee Gran Torino Elite) which wasn’t selling. So the Thunderbird became a bit less than it was before, and brought with it some name cachet.

The Thunderbird’s switch-up was necessary in part because of competition from Chrysler and General Motors. Those two companies had their intermediate personal luxury cars (like Monte Carlo and Cordoba) pinned to lighter and cheaper family sedan platforms. The old Thunderbird with its Lincoln personality was too expensive, too large, and too heavy. For 1977, the new generation brought with it a $2,700 price drop (some $12,000 adjusted for inflation), and meant it was priced competitively with its competition.

Because of its new and more common underpinnings, the T-bird offered four different V8 power plants depending on how much fuel a customer wanted to consume. The smallest was the 4.9-liter (302) Windsor, along with two different versions of the 5.8-liter 351. The largest option was a 6.6-liter 400, of the Cleveland family. Californian People’s Republic buyers were offered only the 351. CAFE rules meant the 400 was not available in 1979.

Consumers took notice of Thunderbird’s sudden affordability, and started buying Birds like never before. In 1977 Ford shifted 318,000 Thunderbirds, and moved a best-ever 352,000 in 1978, before sales dropped down to a still considerable 295,000 in 1979. Today’s navy over camel example is light on options, and lacks T-tops or power windows. Its current owner pulled it out of the storage location where it resided since 1991, and got it back to running condition. The slightly imperfect specimen is yours for $5,000.

[Images: seller]

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Nov 19, 2020

    Yes today those items are standard on even the most base model including a stereo FM radio which my Monte had too. My Monte even came with front and rear GM floor mats which today are standard on most vehicles. The 73 Monte Carlo was the first Monte Carlo with swivel buckets. It also had dual outside mirrors which were adjustable inside.

  • Boxermojo Boxermojo on Nov 21, 2020

    The fact that these embarrassing leaden puffbarges were marketed as sporty is why I have happily enjoyed cars from everywhere else in the world but the US for my entire adult life. I have this dreadfully un-American fixation with cars that can turn.

  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=noform&path=1&year1=2022&year2=2022&make=Jeep&baseModel=Wrangler&srchtyp=ymm&pageno=1&rowLimit=50Annual fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.