The Thunderbird legacy started as a top down thrill. However, the thrill was a bit muted in some ways. To give the original Thunderbird a leg up over a host of sports cars, the Thunderbird was marketed as a “personal” car. As such, comfort and convenience was built in from the beginning.
Featuring an optional Hardtop, and a slew of convienience options, the open air quotient always seemed to be an optional one. Ford flirted and fielded the idea of closing off the full free-breeze feeling as early as 1960 with an option of a sliding metal sunroof for Hardtop Coupes. But by 1966, the writing was on the wall within the confines of the Private World of Thunderbird.
Realistically, more and more new competitors for the Thunderbird came to market sans a vibrant halo convertible. The Buick Riviera considered, then nixed it. It didn’t make practical sense to engineer nor style a Olds Toronado as a Convertible as well.
The more work-a-day Olds Starfire rival saw its convertible sales drastically shrink in contrast to hardtop sales. The Pontiac Grand Prix nor the now dead Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk never ever bothered with a convertible up to that point. Open air enjoyment shifted to cars more orientated to youthful buyers. Mustangs, GTOs and the assortment of compacts and intermediates appealing to those under 30 saw continuing health of their drop top sales. The Thunderbird, always pitched as a luxury conveyance for the well-to-do, could be optioned within a few dollars of a Cadillac Calais Coupe, especially at the nearly $4,900 entry price for the convertible model.
As the Thunderbird itself concentrated further on luxurious isolation, the more the convertible model seemed out of sync with the whole migration pattern. The sales, although part of a downward trend for Flair Bird sales in general saw just over 5,000 examples go to customers for 1966.
It’s perhaps a shame, since the 1966 edition was perhaps the finest version of the Flair Bird. Although sharing much under the skin with the Bullet Bird that debuted as Kennedy won the office in 1960, further styling refinements and boosts in performance brought the aging chassis as up to date as possible.
Disc Brakes came online in 1965 to haul the remarkably porcine and overbuilt Uni-body down to a stop more efficiently than before, and ahead of a number of rivals. The FE 390 V8 saw an output tweak to 315 horsepower, which possibly shaved a few tenths off of the 0-60 run.
Healthier performance came in the form of the optional 345 horse 428 version of the FE block. With the extra 30 horsepower, 0-60 now came in a more competitive range in the upper 8 second zone, as to not be completely embarrassed by General Motors rivals that had been making it to 60 mph in 8 seconds or less for years. Although the additional performance came with another nick at fuel economy, for those paying luxury entry prices, consumption of fuel was the least of their concerns.
All of the improvement, along with the less gaudy, dechromed styling for ’66 presented the prestige plummage of the last “classic” Thunderbird at its best. The next year a Body-On-Frame Coupe and Sedan did their best to be focused moreso on the burgeoning brouhamification of American Luxury. With its Jet-Setting Mid 60’s vibe becoming dated, it was time for the Bird to hang up its formerly beguiling ways and hand them off to the younger members of the family.
The Mustang larded up on options and the Mercury Cougar offered a healthy dose of the swagger the Thunderbird used to spread over the newly minted interstates with panache and winking tail lamps. All delights have to come to an end as the garden turns over for harvest of resources. The last classic Thunderbird of 1966 surely gave a rousing performance during its last act. There’ll never be a Ford nearly as special, unique and unabashedly egotistical as it once was. We’re all the lesser in our automotive choices in its absence.