Ford Thunderbird (fourth generation)

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Fourth generation
Ford Thunderbird
1964 Ford Thunderbird Landau coupe, powder blue.jpg
1964 Thunderbird Landau
AssemblyWixom, Michigan
Body and chassis
Body style2-door hardtop coupe
2-door convertible
LayoutFR layout
Engine390 cu in (6.4 L) FE V8
427 cu in (7.0 L) FE V8
428 cu in (7.0 L) FE V8
TransmissionCruise-O Matic MX automatic
Ford C6 automatic
PredecessorFord Thunderbird (third generation)
SuccessorFord Thunderbird (fifth generation)

The fourth generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a large personal luxury car produced by Ford for the 1964 to 1966 model years. This generation of the Thunderbird was restyled in favor of a more squared-off, "formal" look. The Thunderbird's sporty image had by that time become only that: the standard 390-cubic-inch 300 bhp (224 kW) V8 engine needed nearly 11 seconds to push the heavy T-bird to 60 mph (96 km/h). The softly sprung suspension allowed considerable body lean, wallow, and float on curves and bumps. Contemporary testers felt that the Buick Riviera and Pontiac Grand Prix were substantially more roadworthy cars, but the Thunderbird retained its leading market share.


The revised model was initially offered as a hardtop, convertible, Sports Roadster with dealer-installed tonneau cover and wire wheels, and Landau with vinyl roof, simulated landau irons, and wood grain interior appointments. Total 1964 sales were excellent: 92,465, up nearly fifty per cent from the previous year, but with only 50 Sports Roadster kits were sold from the factory. The 1964 Thunderbird was the only car of this generation to have the word 'Thunderbird' spelled out on the front hood instead of a chrome Thunderbird emblem. The only transmission available was the Cruise-O-Matic MX 3 speed automatic.

1964 convertible

Several features intended for the new generation were delayed until 1965, when front disc brakes became standard equipment and sequential turn signals which flashed three bulbs in the broad, horizontal tail lights from inside to outside were added; the latter had been delayed by vehicle lighting regulations in the United States. Exterior trim was revised, including a new grille, Thunderbird emblem replacing the block letters on the front edge of the hood, simulated front fender vent trim, revised Thunderbird scripts now located on the rear edge of the quarter panels, and revised taillight lens trim and a single center emblem replacing the dual lens birds and block letters respectively. The popular "Tilt-Away" steering column continued, and was a Thunderbird recognized feature that was later shared on other upper-level Ford Products.[1] Sales, impacted by increasing competition , including cannibalism by Ford's own newly introduced Mustang), dipped to 74,972. Again, the Cruise-O-Matic MX automatic was the only transmission available.

Convertibles borrowed the opening mechanism from the all-new Lincoln Continental where the trunklid would open electrically in a single piece, hinged at the back of the vehicle, then the fabric top would fold down and disappear beneath the trunklid. The mechanism was originally used on the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner hardtop convertible of the late 1950s. Opening the trunk on convertibles for storage required that the lid be opened electrically, without deploying or retracting the folding convertible top.

1965 coupe

For 1966, the 390-cubic-inch V8's power was increased to 315 bhp (235 kW). The larger 428-cubic-inch (7.0 L) V-8 became optional, rated at 345 gross horsepower (257.4 kW) and providing a notable improvement in 0-60 acceleration to about 9 seconds. All models featured a new front clip. A flatter hood, re-shaped front fenders, new headlight buckets, new egg crate grille with large Thunderbird emblem, new bumper guards, a single bumper bar, and painted roll pan replaced the previous two model year's two-piece front bumper. The rear taillights were revised, now a 3 piece unit going the full width across the rear, the backup light now located in the center section replaced the formerly rear roll pan mounted lamps. A new Town Hardtop model was offered, featured a roof with blind quarter panels for a more 'formal' look (at the cost of rear visibility). The Landau was replaced by the blind quarter formal roofed Town Landau, which retained the previous model's padded roof and landau S-bars. It became by far the best-selling model, accounting for 35,105 of the 1966 model's 69,176 sales. The transmission used on early build 390 V8 equipped T-Birds was the Cruise-O-Matic MX, however late build 390 and all 428 V8 equipped T-Birds had the new C6 3 speed automatic installed.

1965 convertible

Reputedly a very rare, special order factory-installed 427cid engine option was available through certain Ford dealers for 1963-1965 Thunderbirds; 120 of these "high performance" Thunderbirds were rumored to have been manufactured with six extant. Ford records do not support this claim and no documentation exists to suggest it is true.[citation needed] None of the remaining six cars have the provenance (in the form of a Ford build sheet, window sticker, or appropriate supporting paperwork) proving the installation is genuine. The only known 427 cars from the original time frame were dealer built cars from performance oriented car dealers like Tasca Ford who's dealer-built 427 Thunderbird was featured in CARS magazine in 1964.

1966 Town Landau

Films and Popular Culture[edit]

A black 1964 Town Landau later had a major role in the TV series Highlander: The Series as protagonist Duncan Macleod’s main mode of transportation. A yellow 1964 Thunderbird convertible was used in a chase scene in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, starring Sean Connery. A green 1966 Thunderbird convertible was prominently featured in the 1991 Ridley Scott film Thelma and Louise, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, a red 1966 Thunderbird convertible was featured in the 1983 film The Outsiders which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and a black 1965 Thunderbird Convertible was featured in the David Lynch film Wild at Heart, starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern.

Production totals[edit]

Year Production[2]
1964 92,465
1965 74,972
1966 69,176
Total 236,613


  1. ^ "History of Ford Swing-Away, Tilt-Away, and Tilt Steering Wheels". Automotive Mileposts. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  2. ^ Tast, Alan H. and David Newhardt. THUNDERBIRD FIFTY YEARS. Motorbooks. October 15, 2004.

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