Ford released a very different sort of car this year: the fourth generation Thunderbird. This third series of four-seat models made absolutely no gesture toward sportiness. There was no more Sports Roadster, although some dealers fitted leftover tonneaus and wire wheels to some 45-50 standard convertibles, and no more M-series engine. The plain 390 V-8 was again the only powerplant listed, still carrying the same 300-bhp rating it had three years earlier.
The Thunderbird was given completely new sheet metal, featuring busy side body sculpturing, a bulging hood, and a drooped center rear deck. Still keeping to a 113-inch wheelbase, the designer put strong emphasis on quiet and refined luxury. The roofline retained the formal air of past models, but had a new feature in its “Silent-Flow” ventilation. By flicking a lever on the console, the driver could activate a servo that opened a full-width air vent under the rear window. The result was an extraction effect that pulled air entering at the cowl through the car and out the vent into the slipstream behind.
Exterior styling was overshadowed by a very jazzy interior that was built around a dash that would have done justice to an airplane. No sporting driver liked the ornate speedometer with its red-banded drum pointer; the chrome-trimmed gauges, or the highly styled buttons, knobs, and levers that sprouted from every corner. Thunderbird owners simply loved their cars. Despite rivalry from the elegantly muscular Riviera, the T-Bird ran up satisfying sales totals. The ’64 broke 1960’s record with 92,465 sold; the 1965 sold 74,972; and the ’66 scored 69,176. No three-year generation did better.
Thunderbird was only mildly face-lifted in this, the second year of the fourth generation. A Bird emblem replaced block letters on the nose, chrome “C-spears” adorned the front fenders, and taillamps were segmented into thirds for sequential turn indicators, a then-new idea. A more significant change was the standardization of front-disc brakes for 1965, something this weighty personal car had long needed. In late March a fourth model, called the Limited Edition Special Landau, was added. It boasted “Ember-Glo” metallic paint and matching wheel covers, a parchment-color vinyl top, pseudo-wood interior trim, color-keyed carpeting, vinyl upholstery, and a console plaque bearing the owner’s name. Priced less than $50.00 above the regular Landau, it saw only 4,500 copies. The total Thunderbird production for the model year was down to about 75,000 units.
A mild restyling and a couple of new options marked the last of the fourth generation Thunderbird. Joining the lineup were the new Town Hardtop and Town Landau, the latter with dummy S-shaped landau bars. They differed from the normal hardtop by the absence of the small, triangular rear quarter windows, replaced by C-pillars extended right around the doors. Unique to both Town models was a standard overhead “console” (optional on the base hardtop), housing a bank of warning lights above the windshield header. The new roof gave the T-Bird a bulky formal look – even more so when the accessory rear fender skirts were added – but it proved very popular with style-conscious Thunderbird buyers. Combined Town hardtop sales were well over 50,000 units, while the “plain” version found only a little over 13,000 sales.
The T-Bird’s standard engine remained the trusty 390 V-8, now rated at 315 bhp; and the new 345-bhp 428 was now available. A new feature was a cruise control system, with buttons mounted in the steering wheel spokes for convenience. Ford initially called it Highway Pilot Controls, later it would be renamed Fingertip Speed Control. Leather upholstery with reclining front passenger seats was another new extra, as was the 8-track stereo tape player combined with AM radio. All models featured a new checked grille pattern adorned with a wide-winged Thunderbird emblem, and taillamp lenses spread completely across the back panel for the first time, still with sequential turn signals.
Significantly, 1966 would be the last year for the factory-built Thunderbird convertible. Buyers in this market had long shown a preference for the greater comfort of the closed models with air conditioning, reflected in sales of the final ragtop of only 5,049. Overall, Thunderbird sales slipped this year, dipping to 69,000 units.