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Automotive Mileposts  
Production Numbers
1971 Thunderbird

INTRODUCTION: September 18, 1970
Two Door Hardtop roofline (with and without optional Vinyl Roof)
(Sportsroof style roof; Vinyl Roof optional at extra cost)
65C - Bench Seat 6,154
65A - Bucket Seats 2,992
(Blind Rear Quarter Roof)
65D - Bench Seat 12,223
65B - Bucket Seats 8,133
Two Door Landau roofline
Four Door Landau roof detail
57C - Bench Seat 2,315
57B - Split Bench Seats 4,238
Farewell, Landau and Four Door

1971 was a year of good-byes for the Thunderbird. Change was certainly needed. Ford had stretched the original 1967 styling further than it should have. Virtually all of the Bird's competition for 1971 had all new styling: Buick's Riviera presented the "boat tail" to the public this year, Oldsmobile squared off the Toronado, and put extra taillights under the rear window, and Cadillac sprung "Coach" windows on us with the new Eldorado which, by the way, was available in a convertible model for 1971. The Continental Mark III entered its third year with strong sales of 27,091. It's little wonder that T-Bird experienced a sales decline for the year. Sales in 1971 were lower than any year since 1957. Even in 1958, when the T-Bird introduction was late, and during a recession, Ford made more Birds.

The Landau S-Bar was last seen on the two door models in 1969. It would return for 1972, as part of the Vinyl Roof option, and a very few 1973 Thunderbirds were reportedly equipped with S-Bars, but 1973 became the year of the Opera Window, and Birds of this vintage without Opera Windows and vinyl tops were an endangered species from the start.

The Two Door Landau roofline for 1971, minus the S-Bars, was a throwback to 1966 and 1969: blind rear quarters, which did provide more headroom than the Sportsroof Hardtop models. A vinyl roof covering was optional for the standard Hardtop model for the first time. The Hardtop would be the only model offered from 1972 forward. It had been the least popular model in the lineup since 1966.

The 1971 Thunderbirds were the best built Thunderbirds to date. Printed circuitry, introduced in 1968, continued to make the instruments reliable and accurate, but a shunt was still placed in the Alternator gauge circuit to prevent the needle from moving very much. Thunderbird's smooth ride was designed by computer. Their interiors were pressure tested at the factory to check for air leaks. Since this body style had been around for four years, they left the assembly plant pretty much perfect. Of course, there were the occasional mishaps, but the Thunderbirds for 1971—overall—were very well built, and very dependable.

The beautiful Four Door Landau also made its final appearance for 1971. And it's little wonder. Not restyled since its 1967 introduction, the public was not impressed with the same offering four years later. At least the two door models had new rooflines to offer from year to year. One can only speculate what might have happened if Ford had put a new roof on the four door model for 1970. Maybe if they had given it a more squared-off appearance, similar to the 1969 Lincoln Continental Sedan, sales would have increased. The S-Bars were deleted from the two door models, so why not do the same for the four door models? Ford may have also been a bit hasty in ditching the four door model, since the new "international-sized" Cadillac Seville was just a few years away from being introduced. The Seville, designed to compete in a rapidly-growing market, with expensive foreign imports like the Mercedes-Benz, was officially introduced in April, 1975, and hit the dealer showrooms on May 1st. Priced at $12,479, Cadillac sold 16,355 before the end of the 1975 model year! How many four door Thunderbirds do you suppose Ford could have sold to compete with the Seville? The Thunderbird certainly would have been a strong contender for the top spot in this market. The Cadillac was so popular, that Ford was forced to quickly respond with the Lincoln Versailles in 1977. Basically a Mercury Monarch, the Versailles never caught on, and the public, presented with the choice of a Versailles or a Mark V, (both were priced about the same), invariably chose the Mark. First year sales of the Versailles were 15,434, not bad, but Seville sales continued to grow, while the Versailles dropped off in its second year. Would the Thunderbird, firmly established as a luxury car at this point, been able to compete with the Cadillac? We'll never know, but it's an interesting possibility. And, had Ford continued the four door Thunderbird platform, it would have been in place to compete with the imports when that market exploded.

For 1972, the Thunderbird was destined for bigger and better things. Sales would improve over the next few years, but the market was continuing to change; unforeseen events would necessitate drastic changes in the Thunderbird before the close of the decade.

Thunderbird advertising in 1971 asked the question, "Whatever happened to individuality?" As the curtain came down on one of the most interesting, and under-appreciated, body styles to ever bear the name Thunderbird, we wonder how long it will take for others to recognize how special these cars are. Will they someday climb to the ranks of the two seaters and Sports Roadsters? After all, they were only made for five years, and the four door personal luxury car market is quite popular today.

Perhaps at some point in the future, the question posed will be, "Whatever happened to four door Thunderbirds?" Already rare, when these cars are finally given the recognition they deserve, prices will go through the roof. For four door Thunderbird collectors today, their wisdom and insight will no doubt prove to be a prudent investment for them. After all, Thunderbird people have one thing in common. They're uncommon, just like the car they admire.
Whatever happened
to individuality?

1971 Ford Thunderbird Four Door Landau in Bright Aqua Metallic
The end of an era: 1971 Thunderbird Four Door Landau, shown above in Bright Aqua Metallic with a Black Cayman Grain Vinyl Roof.