This 1966 Ford Thunderbird Is Ready to Haunt Your Top-Down Dreams

The Chevrolet Corvette was the king of the hill when it comes to top-down fun in an European package. That didn’t sit right with Ford, so the Blue Oval decided to come up with a response to the ‘Vette. That response was the Thunderbird, and it is an unshakeably cool part of American automotive history.
1966 Ford Thunderbird 12 photos
Photo: PodgeGK/Bring a Trailer
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The story of the Thunderbird starts in WW2. Back then, American soldiers in Europe were surrounded by elegant roadsters. They fell in love with them, and when they came back home, they wanted cars just like that.

American manufacturers didn’t have anything like that in their lineups. So ex-soldiers started to bring them in from overseas. The bigwigs of domestic car brands didn’t like that. So they had to come up with something to match the European offer. That’s how the Corvette was born, and it instantly became a success.

Seeing that they were losing ground in this segment, Ford had to come up with a sophisticated roadster of their own - that was the Thunderbird. The bird was developed by Lewis Crusoe and Ford’s chief designer, Frank Hershey. Hershey’s favorite car was the Jaguar XK120, thus, the Firebird was built on the same platform.

1966 Ford Thunderbird
Photo: PodgeGK/Bring a Trailer
The first generation of the Thunderbird was revealed at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show, and it hit the roads the following year. The first gen outsold the Corvette 23-to-one. Although the car was a massive success, Ford execs were worried that the two-seater layout would limit its sales potential. Thus, in 1958, for the second generation, it switched over to a four-seater design.

The third generation, which came out in 1961, is arguably the best one, at least the most popular one nowadays. It was completely redesigned to be as aerodynamic as possible, giving it a bullet-like shape. It is unbelievably cool, but it only stuck around until 1963, when the fourth-gen came out.

It ditched the sleek design in favor of a more angular appearance, and today we have a beautiful example from 1966, but we’ll get to it in a bit. The following generations started to suffer from lack of attention in the company.

1966 Ford Thunderbird
Photo: PodgeGK/Bring a Trailer
The problem was that it was too close in philosophy to the Mustang. So, Ford leaned into the luxury aspect of this personal luxury car, making the Thunderbird bigger. But that came at a bad time - you know, the anti-pollution norms and the oil crisis, and the bird slowly died.

Some more iterations were created in the ‘80s. And they were winning cards. The new Thunderbirds sold really well, especially the 2.3-liter (140 ci) turbocharged variant. That said, in the following decade, sales took a tumble, and in 1997, the line was completely shut down.

But, we are not here to talk about the sob story of the Thunderbirds' life. We are here to geek out over this convertible beauty from 1966.

This Thunderbird is finished in black with red pinstriping. Complementing the classy look are 15-inch steel wheels with wire-spoke covers. Also on the outside, you will find chrome… Lots and lots of chrome.

1966 Ford Thunderbird
Photo: PodgeGK/Bring a Trailer
Step inside, and you will find a mid-century space-age design turned to eleven. The front bucket seats (or, better said, fully-fledged armchairs) and the rear bench are upholstered in black vinyl. The dark theme continues throughout the cabin, with color-coordinated dash and door panels. Complementing the black look are even more chrome and a pair of red carpets. The two-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel fronts a 120 mph (200 kph) speedometer and more auxiliary gauges.

Now it’s time to pop up the hood. As I said, the Thunderbird is a personal luxury car, so the emphasis wasn’t on performance. That said, the power plant is a 6.4-liter (390 ci) V8. Being a 1966 model, the engine was revised, and it got 320 hp (325 ps), 20 more than before. You could also get it with a 7.0-liter (428 ci) V8 that churned out 345 hp (350 ps). But the engine in this car gives you more than enough oomph for comfortable cruising.

Power is sent to the rear wheels through a three-speed automatic transmission and a locking differential, for all of that smooth gliding on the highway. Speaking of comfiness, the shocks were changed out by the current owner, so no worries in the floating-on-a-cloud part. Stopping power comes courtesy of front disk brakes and rear drums, both of which were also refurbished.

1966 Ford Thunderbird
Photo: PodgeGK/Bring a Trailer
Now, I think it’s time we get to the best part of this car. The Thunderbird came in three configurations: hardtop, convertible, and a landau. The car in question today is a convertible, with a power-operated soft-top that is also black, giving this car a sinister, yet elegant look.

This particular Thunderbird is up at auction in Cumming, Georgia. The price currently sits at 10,000 dollars. The five-digit odometer shows 50,000 miles (80,000 km), but it might have rolled over, so the total mileage is unknown. The car comes with a clean Georgia title and refurbishment records.

The Thunderbird is a staple in American car culture, and, dare I say, an underappreciated one. It is everything American cars stand for - luxurious, a little excessive, and powerful, so you can snatch one while they still have reasonable prices.
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About the author: Călin Iosif
Călin Iosif profile photo

Călin’s origin story is being exposed to Top Gear when he was very young. Watching too much of Clarkson, Hammond and May argue on TV turned him into Petrolhead (an automotive journalist with a soft spot for old pieces of... cars, old cars).
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