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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