Rare Rides: The Very Special 1982 Ford Thunderbird Cabriolet
Rare Rides featured exactly one example of the legendary Thunderbird name in previous entries: A late Eighties Turbo Coupe that was basically brand new. While the Turbo Coupe has a following amongst classic car folks, today’s early ’80s Thunderbird is not held in such high regard.
In fact, I’ll go ahead and call it the worst Thunderbird ever.
Bring on the Malaise.
By the turn of the Eighties, Ford’s legendary Thunderbird nameplate was due for a new eighth-generation model. The outgoing seventh-gen car was the last of the large Thunderbirds. Derived from the Torino platform, Thunderbird Seven was 217 inches long and utilized only V8 engines. But those sorts of figures were from a different era; downsizing and fuel economy were en vogue by 1978.
Those two things in mind, Ford changed the Thunderbird considerably for the 1980 model year. The coupe moved to the newer Fox platform, which Ford was keen to spread around as much as possible. Gone were the full-size dimensions; the new model was 17 inches shorter than its predecessor, and over four inches narrower.
Power started at a lower cylinder count than before: six. The base engine was an inline Thriftpower 3.3-liter, eventually offered alongside a larger 3.8-liter Essex V6. Two V8s rounded out the range, 4.2- and 4.9-liter mills from the house of Windsor. Like past Thunderbirds, only automatic transmissions were offered, in three and four forward speeds.
Thunderbird sales were strong at the conclusion of 1979, and production expanded from two to three factories in 1980. Thunderbirds were born at the Chicago, Atlanta, and Lorain Assemblies. The new car benefited from a lower curb weight, better handling and fuel economy, and incredibly low consumer interest.
Critics panned the new midsize T-bird, while customers shopped elsewhere for a personal luxury coupe. Between 1980 and 1982, Ford shifted 288,638 Thunderbirds, a total just 4,000 cars greater than sales for model year 1979. Ford couldn’t ready the Aero Bird soon enough, and the ninth generation was on dealer lots for the 1983 model year.
However, in the early Eighties one customer in New Jersey loved their Thunderbird, but felt it wold be better without a roof. They contacted Coach Builders LTD in Florida and asked for a beheading. The shop was happy to oblige in exchange for payment of $12,000. The New Jerseyan agreed, then shipped his $8,500 Thunderbird to Florida. Coach Builders scalped the Thunderbird and installed a custom powered roof, and their job was done.
Over the years the custom Thunderbird racked up 66,000 miles and found its way to California. It’s for sale there now, where this one-of-one (with two sets of wheel covers) asks $12,500.