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The Carchive: Thunderbird Week #2: The Eighth Generation

Chris Haining February 5, 2013 All Things Hoon, Cars You Should Know 24 Comments

bird6

It’s day two of the R.A-S.H Thunderbird Spectacular. I’ve been raiding my archive to document the four generations of T-Bird that were relevant to Kids Like Me when we were growing up. How’s that for self-indulgence?

Yesterday we were looking at the freshly-downsized Seventh-Generation of Thunderbird, where, by downsized we meant not-quite-so-obscenely-mahoosive. Today, though, the ensmallening continues. Smaller, cleaner cars for a fitter, fresher tommorow seemed to be the Ford-Mercury mantra at the time, and so it was to be with Thunderbird.

So disco down to Funkytown; it’s 1980!

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“New Thunderbird elegance in a new size… and a new Silver Anniversary edition”

Ford had sliced a massive seventeen inches from the vast expanse that was the previous, slightly-downsized seventh-gen ‘Bird, in the belief that the ecologically-aware 1980s would open its arms to a more responsibly packaged personal luxury car. And, well, they were kinda right. Kinda.

Sitting on the Fox platform, just like dozens of other products across the FoMoCo empire, the thunderbird of 1980 was a far more modern proposition than ever before. It also meant a return to unibody construction for the first time since the early ’60s.

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“There have been many exciting, innovative Thunderbirds over the past 25 years, and those of 1980 are destined for fame all of their own.”

Fame? Or Infamy?

“Beautiful colors and shapes outlined against the sky. New Thunderbird Town Landau poised for take-off”.

Yep; despite the shrinkage, Town Landau was back, and Thunderbird was once again festooned with trinketry that would make Aladdin’s Cave look like a Perestroika era Moscow supermarket. Opera windows, coach lamps and padded vinyl roof coverings gussied up the exteriors and tried to translate the “style” of recent Thunderbirds past to the more compact proportions of the day. What certainly was all-new, though, was the technology.

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“The world of flight. These new Thunderbird features make it a world of electronic marvels”,

Yep; there was an electronic instrument display (hooray!) incorporating a digital speedo, all vacuum-fluorescent blue with bar-graph readings for fuel, and a Thunderbird script softly illuminated to match. There was a digital clock, too, to appease the Casio-obsessed, and an electronic-scan FM radio. Add keyless-entry and “diagnostic” warning lights, and things really had moved forward.

There were some elements of T-Bird that were seen as sacrosanct, though, and they remained. The concealed headlamps, for example, remained. As did the Thunderbird emblems on the tail-lamps:

“…the unmistakeable taillamp design that says Thunderbird going away”.

“in this new Thunderbird of  1980 there is all the exhilaration of flight without leaving the ground. In its grace of movement…….Thunderbird lets you take wing as in no ordinary automobile”.

Oh, come now. This is quite patently nonsensical; for all the huge improvements in chassis development since the lumbering previous generation (and, to be fair, reports were that the handling on the ’80+ car was far more impressive than before) this was still a time where specific power outputs were that embarrassing that this brochure makes literally no mention of them. Sources state 115-122hp for the 4.2, and 131hp for the 5.0; pitiful outputs for a car supposed to be exhilarating. At least economy was up, though. Quite markedly; although it had not quite reached European heights.

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This January 1980 brochure doesn’t quite go as far as to illustrate that time where the FoxBird hit its lowest ebb, that came when the 3.3 litre Thriftpower (lamest Ford engine name Of All Time) was made available to further qualify its economical intentions. However, it was well before then that it became clear that this wasn’t going to be the most popular Thunderbird. Sadly, it had become apparent that along with a load of weight, the ‘bird had also lost a lot of its spirit, regardless what the brochure claimed. Sadly, though they basically shared a platform the Fox Thunderbird had little of the Mustang Magic.

Ford would try again for ’83 with a totally different kind of car. See you tomorrow.

Oh yeah; AtleastIownthebrochure.

<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author, (a guy called Chris Haining) and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, resting on the bonnet of a 1998 Audi A4. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer. Ford: Bring back the Thunderbird. And make it good.>

  • To put the 131hp V-8 in prospective. My comparable 1981 Buick Regal Sport Coupe Turbo Limited had 180HP with a 4bbl, turbocharged V-6 with glacial turbo lag. These were cars seen in high school parking lots in the early 1990s.

    • vroomsocko

      "These were cars seen in high school parking lots in the early 1990s." I resembled this remark in the early 90s. In High School I had a '79 Buick Regal Coupe with the 4.9L V-8 and 4bbl. It's was fairly quick for what it was, the bucket seats made it feel faster.

      • There were probably a dozen G bodies in my high school parking lots. I had the only one with a turbo hood bulge.

  • "…taillamp design that says Thunderbird going away."

    They probably should have worked on how that was phrased.

  • danleym

    They really couldn't give the flight imagery a rest. A mention or two is ok, that's in "oh that's a cute play on words territory." But really, give it a rest after a time or two, because it gets old quick.

    • The writer must have had his head in the clouds.

      • danleym

        Probably couldn't get his mind off the bird he'd been chattin up during lunch.

    • ptschett

      They stuck with it through the '90's. On my wall at my parents house hangs a full-page T-bird ad clipped from a '96 or '97 issue of Popular Mechanics. The headline reads "How do Birds handle corners? They fly around them." (It then asks "how do they fly" and mentions features like the whopping 205 HP of the early Romeo 4.6L 2V…)

  • stigshift

    A friend of my father's bought one brand new in 1980. Six cylinder automatic, blackwalls, AM radio, vinyl bench seat, manual everything, no a/c. I was 16, with a '67 Pontiac Ventura 2 door hardtop with a 400 in it. He offered to let me drive it if I washed and waxed it for him. His car stayed very dirty. I never got why anyone with the means to buy a brand new stripper T-bird, would buy a brand new stripper T-bird.

    • danleym

      Same goes for most cheap new cars now (with a few exceptions). I could buy a baseline Kia easy, but why bother? Or even any of the big 3s low price entries- I could afford them, but if I was looking to spend that kind of cash on a car there's a whole lot more fun stuff in the 5-10 year old used segment I'd rather have (or the 20-40 year old used segment, for that matter).

      • Two reasons: warranty and 75 month financing. The two areas where new beats used.

        • stigshift

          That makes more sense now than it did 33 years ago. But this guy was an engineer and by no means financially challenged. I could have understood a base level econo car, like my (engineer) father's Civic, but a "luxury" car minus the luxury just doesn't make sense to even now.

          • To each there own. Sounds like something I might do, minus the no A/C part. You like the T-Bird, but how many of the options do you really NEED. Today, I don't think you can get anything other than pick up trucks and rental car versions of little cheap cars without power windows and power locks.

      • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        Exactly, danleym!

        While I could afford to go even decently-nice, new, I'd rather have a few year old bona-fide luxury ride, with all the goodies, and pay cash for it.

        Car payments suck.

  • And just to show how far Ford took the Fox body parts mixing, the dashboard on the '83-'86 LTD and Marquis was a direct pull from the T-bird parts bin. I've secretly wanted to find a digital dash equipped T-bird and retrofit the gauges to my LTD, but I know that it would be way more trouble than it's worth.

    • Kris_01

      We had one – an '84 LTD Brougham complete with Cambria-Cloth roof. Digital dash all the way.

  • JayP2112

    Pop bought one too- with that neutered V8. Except for the paint, that is his car on the brochure.'

    Had it for 2 years when some drunk guy tried to run us off the road. Dad got it into a shopping center where drunk guy rammed it with his pickup. Mashed it so bad that the insurance company told him to pick out a new car.

    1983 LTD- mom hated that car. Tried to kill it. Traded it in for a W116 280S 3 years later.

  • skitter

    It's amazing how similar this looks to the previous entry, yet somehow modern*. The blings play a big role, but the '79 looks Victorian** by comparison.

    *Modern ≠ Good
    **Victorian ≠ Good

  • Mr. Smee

    My big brother had one of these. The most unreliable thing he ever owned. I got to drive it a bunch of times and as a new driver I was utterly fixated on the amazing digital speedometer. Those green-glowing numbers were the original driving distracted technology. a year later I bought a 1978 Malibu with F-41 suspension that was a revelation compared to the Thunderbird.

  • Maymar

    My grandmother drove one of these for a few years. I was too young to really know any better, and loved it.

    At the very least, it'd make for a hell of a sleeper.

    • Alcology

      That's true, it is big enough to sleep in.

  • topdeadcentre

    Ahh, the styling that says "The last days of disco!", and says it loud and proud…

  • SVT2888

    My dad had one of these in '93-94. Maroon exterior with matching Maroon interior. I distinctly remember the digital gauges and how it would always break down. I also remember a car dying when he turned it on early in the morning and it got shredded by the radiator fan.

    I remember that once when it was broken a friend loaned him a 10th generation T-bird. That car was soooooooo far ahead of the 8th gen. It started my love affair with the MN-12 generation of T-birds.

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