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A DIFFERENT VIEWER-SUBMITTED
VINTAGE CAR FEATURED EVERY MONTH
AUGUST/
SEPTEMBER 2002
1966 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau
Owner: Cole Stafford

N O T I C E

Due to my vacation, The Showroom for this month will run two months, through September. I still need to have additional cars submitted for future publication. If you have a car, an idea or a particular model you'd like to see here, please let me know. My E-Mail address is listed at the bottom of the page. I have cars for several months still, but some of them are being held back until a particular section of the site is published. Without new cars to feature, we won't be able to update this section each month. So, send us your photos and stories! Remember, it doesn't have to be a show car! Daily drivers and survivors are welcome as well. Thanks, Sheila

The View from Within

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series on
1964-1966 Thunderbird Interior Design
1966 Thunderbird Town Landau interiorLast month we discussed the rear seat accommodations in the 1964-1966 Thunderbirds. This month, we'll take a look at the Pilot and Co-Pilot areas up front, both critical in the consideration of which personal luxury car would be purchased in the mid-sixties. The 1964-1966 Thunderbird interiors were based on the same front bucket seat/console concept introduced with the 1958 Thunderbird, yet it had evolved into something much more refined.

By the mid-sixties, optional equipment was the big thing on cars, including luxury cars like the Thunderbird. The base version was considered a well-equipped car for its day, but very few were actually delivered that way. New comfort and convenience options were all the rage, and the way they were packaged was important. While both the 1958-1960 and 1961-1963 Thunderbirds provided the driver and front passenger with a "compartmented" effect, by 1964 it was time for a change. The padded instrument panel on earlier Thunderbirds was designed to provide two very distinct areas, separated in the middle by the optional radio. This panel blended into the door panels, providing front occupants with a "wrap around" sensation that continued to the back seat area. By 1964, this design was no longer efficient with all the new controls being added for optional equipment, each vying for a choice location within easy reach of the driver and front passenger. The console provided additional functionality, and was the traditional location for heating and air conditioning controls, ash tray, and cigarette lighter. In 1961, the glove compartment was moved to the console, between the front seats. The storage area was quite shallow in this series, and held little more than the owner's manual and a pair of gloves. It was lockable, convenient, and freed up the area behind the passenger side of the instrument panel for other components, like the heater fan and duct work. Still, it was very limited in capacity, and this was an area Thunderbird customers complained about.

Ford responded promptly to their complaints. For the 1964-1966 series, the console glove compartment was raised, to serve as an arm rest for front passengers. The padded top was still lockable, and the storage area concealed below was much deeper, providing a generous capacity capable of storing not only the owner's manual and gloves, but the 8-track tapes that would soon need a place to rest. The lock was cleverly placed on the driver's side of the console, and the ash tray and cigarette lighter was mounted at the forward end, concealed below a rotating brushed aluminum panel. At the rear of the console, just behind the glove box lid, was another ash tray for rear passengers. While other cars of the era cluttered up their consoles with tachometers, floor shifters, and ribbed chrome trim that performed no function, Ford made sure the console in the T-Bird was attractive and functional, without being cluttered with useless items. After all, luxury car drivers had little use for floor shifters and tachometers, but they did require convenient access to other controls.

The higher console of the 1964-1966 Thunderbird swept forward and integrated with the instrument panel in a totally new way. Instead of splitting at the instrument panel and wrapping around to meet the door panels on both sides, it angled to the left, providing a cockpit-type atmosphere for the driver-only controls. For the first time, a full array of instruments graced the dash panel on the Thunderbird. Placed just under the linear 120-mph speedometer, which featured a band that changed colors from white to orange according to speed, four individual pods housed gauges for oil pressure, fuel level, engine temperature, and charging amperage. A red high beam indicator was placed in the center, tucked between the fuel and temperature gauges. Below the gauges was an uncluttered area, finished in the same trim that adorned the console. The headlight switch was to the left of the Swing-Away steering column, and the air conditioner register was to the right. Matching trim panels attached to the steering column track moved into place to fill the opening as the standard Swing-Away steering column was moved.
The section of the console between the front bucket seats was more efficiently used on the 1964-1966 Thunderbirds than ever before. At the front, controls for the heater or optional air conditioning were placed just below the standard radio; making both easily accessible by the driver or passenger. Below the heater control was the new standard Silent-Flo rear vent control or the power convertible top switch, depending on body style. At this point, the console went from an upright angle to a flat plane, and continued straight back to the raised ash tray/glove compartment assembly between the bucket seat backs.

1965 Thunderbird Landau consoleEarly production '64 models featured a "Fasten Seat Belts" reminder light mounted about half way back, between the rear vent/top control and the raised ash tray assembly. Later '64 models would have this light assembly moved forward, and placed at the forward section of the console, under the rear vent/top control. It would remain there through the end of 1966 production. Optional power window controls were placed at the rear portion of the console, just below and slightly ahead of the ash tray/glove box. The ash tray/cigarette lighter assembly in front of the glove compartment actually jutted out over the console, leaving a gap between it and the console itself. This area actually came in handy, as it provided room for locating and manipulating the buckle part of the front seat belts, which would invariably fall down between the side of the seat and the console.

The trim on the face of the console itself differed depending on the year and model of the car. In 1964, all Hardtop and Convertibles came with a brushed aluminum finish. In 1965 and 1966, this was changed to a textured grain black panel. Landaus had simulated woodgrain, although the 1966 cars came with a different type of simulated wood, and the 1965 Special Landaus also had a unique woodgrain appearance. If the optional speed control was ordered, the controls for it would be placed on the chrome finish molding on the driver's side of the console. This included a "pull up" on/off switch for all three years, and a chrome plated dial for 1964 and 1965. The controls to regulate the speed moved to the steering wheel hub in 1966, which eliminated the need for the dial on the console.

The "Fasten Seat Belt" reminder light, mentioned earlier, underwent a few operational changes during the production run. Most 1964 and early 1965 models required that the lens be pressed down to turn off the light after the car was started. The light would be reset each time the car was turned off, so this procedure was required on every start up. Many drivers apparently couldn't be bothered, as some cars today are found with the plastic lens distorted from excess heat from the bulb below. Ford got the message, and added a switch to the driver's side seat belt retractor that automatically extinguished the light when the belt was extended and fastened. This was still a bit of a problem, as lots of people didn't wear seat belts in the sixties, so Ford again changed the light during 1966 production in November, 1965 to add a relay to the circuit that extinguished the light automatically about 15 seconds after the car was started, regardless of belt usage.
1966 Thunderbird Town Landau interiorThe 1964-1966 Thunderbirds featured a coved instrument panel that extended the full width of the interior. "Thunderbird" script appeared on the panel in front of the passenger. Heavily chromed, this script had a very distinctive look to it. It was also much larger than previous scripts, and left no doubt as to the mode of transportation! The front contoured shell design seats were less bulky than previous T-Bird seats, and they featured a more body-fitting shape. Most agree they were the most comfortable seats to date in a Thunderbird. In 1964 and 1965, both seats could be ordered with a 4-way power adjustment, and a manual passenger side recliner was also offered as an option. The top section of the reclining seat extended upward on two chrome rods to provide a head rest for the passenger when reclined. The reclining passenger seat was a fairly popular option on these models, and are easy to find today. In 1966, a 6-way power seat adjustment was offered for either front seat, which allowed tilting of the seat cushion, in addition to the forward/backward and up/down movement of the seat.

The headlining overhead on Hardtop and Landau models was a perforated vinyl in 1964 and 1965, and in 1966 as well on the Conventional Hardtop. The sun visors matched the color of the headliner, except for Convertibles which all had a black lining on the inside of the top, to match the roof frame. On Convertibles, the sun visors matched the lighter shade of the interior. All 1964 Thunderbirds (except Convertibles) used a white headliner and sun visors. In 1965, the headliner and sun visors matched the lighter shade of the interior, although white was also used from time to time. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for this, as cars built at various times have been documented with white instead of color-keyed headliners and sun visors. They appear to be the exception to the rule, however.

In 1966, two new "Town" models were introduced. The Town Hardtop and the Town Landau both featured two piece molded headliners, with a two piece full-length roof console assembly running down the middle of the car, from front to back. The forward section of the roof console housed brackets for the sun visors, as well as warning lights for "Seat Belt", "Flasher", "Door Ajar", and "Low Fuel". The flasher light also served as a push-on, push-off switch for the standard emergency flashers. The original door ajar bulb was designed to flash after remaining on for a period of time, to call attention to a door not completely closed. The molded headliners of the Town models generally matched the lighter interior color, except for cars with dark blue interiors. These cars used a light blue headliner with a dark blue roof console. In fact, two shades of light blue have been documented, one being very light, and almost matching the Algerian Blue exterior color; the other a medium blue, closer to the Brittany Blue exterior color. The lighter shade of blue is generally seen on early production 1966 models, with the medium shade on later production cars. We've also spotted a few Town models with red interiors over the years that had white molded panels and sun visors with red roof consoles. The forward section of the roof console had either a black or woodgrain insert, depending on model, to match the trim on the floor console.

Owner's Dash Nameplate

One somewhat rare item not often found still attached to these cars is the Owner's Dash Nameplate. A gift from Ford, this stainless steel plate had a silver Thunderbird emblem mounted on its left side. A space to the right allowed the owner's name to be engraved, and the plate was either given to the owner to be attached to the car, or the dealer attached the plate for the owner. A double-sided foam adhesive strip mounted on the back of the plate allowed it to be removed easily without leaving any holes. The plate is normally found mounted just above the radio on the console, but they have also been documented on non-A/C cars in the area of the console where the air conditioner registers would be. Again, they were centered above the radio.

Plates like the one pictured above, which has never been engraved, are very rare. Most of these plates were removed by the original owner when the car was traded in, or by a subsequent owner of the car. This fact makes them a very rare and highly desirable accessory to find today, especially if they haven't been engraved, which allows the current owner to engrave his or her name on the plate.

In October, we'll wrap up our 1964-1966 Thunderbird Interior Design Series with a look at a few design mistakes and oversights that were made when the Interior Studio designed the 1964-1966 Thunderbird interiors. Many of these goofs give restorers and owners of these cars fits today. Some of them were also headaches for the original owners as well.

The Showroom at Automotive Mileposts is edited by Sheila Masterson

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