When it comes to collectible cars, the Ford Thunderbird is a bit unusual. While it was generally pitched as a personal luxury car over most of its life, it’s really been all over the place visually.
The 1955-57 two-seat ‘Birds remain the most iconic. The ’58 – ’60 is the Square ‘Bird. The ’61 – ’63 is the Rocket ‘Bird, or sometimes Bullet ‘Bird.
The ’64 – ’66 cars sometimes get called Chisel ‘Birds, but there really isn’t a well-established nickname for them. I like them because they’re so strange, and there seem to be fewer survivors of this generation than many others. This ’65 caught my eye on the north side of 72 west of Athens, on the way to Aaron’s Scholar’s Bowl tournament this morning. I was pleased it wasn’t raining when I went back through so I could get a shot or two.
When I was 8 or 9, Dad restored a ’65 Thunderbird Special Landau for an acquaintance. It was very much like this car, only that one was a copper-bronze color, with an off-white textured vinyl roof and big landau bars where this one has bird logos on the greenhouse.
These are sequential turn signals. (Are they the exact units that would find their way onto the ’68 Shelby Mustang? Looks like they could be.) It looks like there are six lights per side, but there are only three (the segments light up two at a time). I think these were unique for ’65. Seems like the ’64 and the ’66 have solid lenses (though they might still cover sequential indicators).
The motor that controls these is mounted just under the package shelf in the trunk, and it was one of the first things I ever genuinely helped my dad fix on a car instead of being just underfoot. He showed me how to clean the electrical contacts for one of the segments, and I did the other two.
I didn’t realize how much glare was on this shot or I’d have repositioned a bit, but you can get a look at the swing-away steering wheel here. You could move it pretty much to the middle of the interior so it wasn’t in your way when you got in or out.
This car is just a little rough here and there, but it looks complete and like someone has cared for it at least semi-significantly. It’s 50 years old but presents well and looks usable, and that’s something right there.
Dad told me later he wasn’t crazy about the car he restored. “Too deco,” he said. As for me, I like this Thunderbird generation as the last truly distinctive one. From ’67 through ’82, you didn’t have to wander very far in the Ford lineup to find an essentially similar car. Sometimes it was a Lincoln Continental. Sometimes it was an LTD. A lot of the time it was a Mercury Cougar. It became a well-regarded driver’s car again with the ’83, but I don’t think it was ever magical again after 1966.
I wondered if someone would see me photographing this car and ask if I was in the market for it. I would have said no. I have neither the space, nor the money, nor the time for such a thing. Plus, even if I did there are several other cars that would beat out a ’65 Thunderbird. But I like knowing it’s out there, and being driven. And I appreciated the look and the memories it sparked today.