MotorCities National Heritage Area
AHFIntProExhib4Sigs.jpg

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the Robert Tate Collection/Ford Motor Company Archives
Published 10.30.2019

1964 Ford Thunderbird Landau Robert Tate Collection 11964 Ford Thunderbird Landau (Robert Tate Collection)

The all new Ford Thunderbird was completely restyled for the 1964 model year. Thunderbird offered the consumer a longer hood and a shorter roofline that most consumers had admired.  Some automotive historians have referred to the 1964 Thunderbirds as the sculptured look because of its side view design. The 1964 models were the fourth in the Thunderbird line to be completely redesigned.

1964 Thunderbird ad featuring the interior Robert Tate Collection 21964 Thunderbird ad featuring the interior (Robert Tate Collection)

The Thunderbird was created to fill a need for a personal car in the American automotive market during the early 1950s. Despite the immediate success of the small classic car, Ford product planners realized early that design changes would need to be made. Many Thunderbird buyers were asking for two seats in the back, so they could show their vehicle off to more passengers, so a four-seater model was developed. The larger Thunderbird was introduced as a 1958 model and met with quick public acceptance and huge success.

The 1964 Thunderbird models were great looking vehicles, and the public thoroughly enjoyed the new features, which included a sculptured body and rectangular taillights that were set inside a massive bumper for extra safety. 1964 Thunderbird hardtop designs offered the consumer the Landau Roof model, which featured a durable fade–resistant padded vinyl top over the formal hardtop roof. The vinyl-covered top was available in black, white, blue and brown.

1965 Ford Thunderbird ad Robert Tate Collection 3 RESIZED1965 Ford Thunderbird ad (Robert Tate Collection)

The car’s traditional emblem was a newly styled oval at the center of the bar. The word “Thunderbird” was in script lettering which had appeared on the fender.

The 1964 Thunderbird models were priced at $4,590 for the hardtop and $ 4,955 for the great looking convertible. The 1964/1965 Thunderbirds offered a cockpit-style passenger compartment with bucket seats. Ford advertising dubbed the interior “The Private World of Thunderbird.” The interior featured a swing-away steering wheel along with a future-thinking console that traveled downward and rearward between the front seats.

1965 Ford Thunderbird Robert Tate Collection 4 RESIZED1965 Ford Thunderbird 

The Thunderbird also offered “Silent-Flo” ventilation for a comfortable, smooth ride. As an automotive historian, one of the features I liked about the 1965 Thunderbirds was the “Sequential Taillights.” When the driver would engage the turn signal, the three bulbs allowed each to light individually in a sequential pattern. This system was intended to be used on the 1964 models, but was delayed until 1965 it needed to be approved in all 50 states in order to be legally compliant.

1965 Ford Thunderbird ad image Robert Tate Collection 5 RESIZED1965 Ford Thunderbird ad image (Robert Tate Collection)

The 1965 Ford Thunderbirds were almost the same as the 1964 models with minor changes. This was the year that Thunderbird entered the category of personal luxury car. Between 1964 and 1966, Ford Thunderbird sales exceeded 90,000 units, the best in the model’s history. Car Life magazine called the 1965 Ford Thunderbird models “so quiet and effortless.”

1965 Ford Thunderbird interior with passenger Robert Tate Collection 61965 Ford Thunderbird interior with passenger (Robert Tate Collection)

In conclusion, the 1964/1965 Ford Thunderbird models were so popular that the Power Car Company in Mystic, Connecticut made small gasoline or electric models for kids and adults. The company was in business from 1954 to 1967. These miniature 1964 and 1965 Ford Thunderbirds were called Thunderbird Jr. cars. The drive train was a modified Ford starter motor that was connected to the rear axle, and the models were supplied with a 6-volt battery. They were manufactured in two versions -- an electric-powered model for children and a gasoline-powered version for adults. Learn more about these vintage miniature models here.

1964 Ford Thunderbird Jr model for children Robert Tate Collection 71964 Ford Thunderbird Jr model for children (Robert Tate Collection)

 

Bibliography


Dammann, George H. “Illustrated History of Ford 1903-1970.” Crestline Publishing.

Consumer Guide. “Great Cars from Ford.” May, 1982.

Langworth, Richard M. “Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980.” 1984.