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VINTAGE CAR FEATURED EVERY MONTH
JULY 2002 1966 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau

The View from Within
Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on
1964-1966 Thunderbird Interior Design

1966 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau coved rear seat

Every bit as important as the exterior of a luxury car, the interior design is often overlooked today. The luxury cars of the '50s, '60s, and '70s were every bit as distinctive on the inside as they were on the outside, if not more so. After all, this is where the proud new owner would have the greatest opportunity to enjoy his purchase. Since Ford's Thunderbird set the trend for interior design during much of this time, we thought it appropriate to select one of the most beautiful designs to feature in a series that highlights the view from within.

The lush accommodations you see pictured on the left are a major feature of the 1966 Thunderbird interior, the beginnings of which created a controversy that lives to this day in the hearts of vintage Thunderbird enthusiasts: the Thunderbird rear seat! For those who appreciate the view from inside as well as outside, AND need room for friends and family, the four passenger Thunderbirds were a sensation on the new car scene! From the very beginning, the Thunderbird's seating was a part of what made a Thunderbird a Thunderbird. From 1955 to 1957, the only seat provided, of course, was the front seat. Although it could seat three, the pattern of the upholstery and the amount of padding beneath suggested it was designed only for two deserving occupants.

In 1958, a rear seat was introduced on the Thunderbird to expand its market. While a few bemoaned this change, the majority flocked to the Ford Dealers to buy a new T-Bird. Ford struck oil with this move, and tapped a new market: the personal luxury car market. This caught the competition completely off guard, as it was 1963 before GM responded with the Buick Riviera, and Chrysler would not follow until 1964 with its Imperial Crown Coupe.

The pattern of the rear seat upholstery in 1958 continued to suggest room for only two occupants in the back, although most T-Birds have probably accommodated a third person at one time or another over the years. And the rear seats became more lush with each succeeding new body style. In 1961, dual overhead spot courtesy lights illuminated the area, and individual ash trays were provided in each side armrest. In 1964, the dual ash trays were eliminated, but a larger ash tray was provided on the center console, and rear passengers got a new fold down center arm rest, and coved rear seats.

The coved rear seats were one of Ford's marketing gimmicks that inferred the T-Bird was roomier in back. The thought process was that the rear passengers could sit at an angle, facing towards the center of the car. This would provide more leg and knee room, and make the atmosphere more conducive to polite conversation. On the chance that the conversation up front wasn't so polite, rear passengers desirous of relaxation could tune it all out and enjoy soothing Top 40 hits on the radio, by way of the optional rear seat speaker provided at the center of the rear package tray, just above the fold down armrest. (The factory-installed speaker grille can be seen in the photo above, with the Thunderbird emblem placed at its center. If no rear speaker was provided, the emblem remained but there was no speaker grille.)

Dealer installed accessory rear seat speaker in a 1965 ThunderbirdA rear speaker could be added to any 1964-1966 Thunderbird by the dealer, and we have provided a photo of such an installation at right. Note that the Thunderbird emblem normally mounted between the rear seat backs is omitted, and a color-keyed speaker grille is in its place. The grille is made of plastic, and over the years we have spotted several that had the emblem placed on top of the accessory speaker grille, but they seem to be the exception. Thunderbird Convertibles all featured the speaker grille and emblem, regardless of whether there was a speaker ordered, as they were provided as an integral part of the concealed power top system. If not equipped with a factory rear seat speaker, this same accessory rear speaker was also part of the optional StudioSonic Sound System, in which a reverberation unit delayed the sound to the rear speaker to create a concert hall effect. In the days before stereo, this was a real innovation, and it's a great conversation piece today!

The new-for-1964 Silent-Flo rear vent wisked unpleasant odors and smoke outside at the flick of a switch on the console. Ford was trying to eliminate second hand smoke way back in 1964, before anyone even knew it was bad! This system took advantage of the low pressure area immediately behind the rear glass of a moving vehicle. This low pressure creates a suction effect inside the car, which "pulls" air out through the vent. Along with this air goes smoke, odors, and moisture. It helps to reduce rear window fogging, as the constant flow of new air isn't conducive to moisture building up on the inside of the glass. The grilles for the rear vent run almost full length along the package tray, utilizing two separate vacuum-operated doors that open and close to control air flow through the vent. A bleeder valve in the vacuum supply line closes the vent about 70 seconds after the car is turned off.

Ford promoted the coved rear seats heavily, as if they were the best thing to happen to the automotive world since the Thunderbird itself appeared, but the fact is the coved seats aren't any more comfortable than a standard seat, and while automotive journalists of the time indicated they could be comfortable, none of them were actually able to get comfortable in the back seat of a Thunderbird! Still, the coved rear seats remained a Thunderbird exclusive feature on two door cars through the 1971 model year.

In 1966, the new Town Hardtop and Town Landau models were introduced, both of which provided a more formal appearance due to the deletion of the rear quarter windows. The rear roofline was brought forward, to meet the rear edge of the door glass. This gave additional privacy to rear seat passengers, but also created a considerable blind spot for the driver. This would prove to be a popular evolution to the classic Thunderbird profile, and would be repeated again on the 1969 and 1971 Thunderbird Tudor Landaus.

Just in case you've never had the opportunity to be a center rear seat passenger in a 1964-1966 Thunderbird, we thought we'd show you what the view would be from this position:

1966 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau center console and instument panel

Well, at least if it were hot outside, you'd have the best air flow from the SelectAire Conditioner! Which, of course, is about the only benefit to being in this particular seating position.

Hanging from under the top center of the instrument panel, you can see the three windows bordered in chrome; the left one labels the wiper/washer controls, which are the two chrome "T" stalks hanging down on the left. The "T" is split in half, with the left half controlling the wipers, and the right half controlling the washers; the center window is the clock; the right window labels the left and right floor air controls, which are adjusted by the two chrome "T" stalks hanging down on the right. The two curved lenses at each end act as courtesy lights and map lights. The map lights are controlled by the chrome "T" hanging down from the center. If the car were equipped with the optional power antenna offered in 1965 or 1966, the center "T" would be split, and the left half would control the antenna, the right half the map lights.

The SelectAire Conditioner vents are just under the curved chrome molding that joins the instrument panel and console, Below the vents is the radio, below that is the heater/air conditioner control, then the rear vent control, and finally, the vacuum door lock control. The optional power window switches would be further back on the console, not visible from this vantage point.

Despite the initially confusing appearance of the instrument panel and console controls of the 1964-1966 Thunderbirds, drivers quickly become accustomed to the various controls, and only then it is discovered how precisely and carefully they've been laid out. Everything is lit at night for good visibility, and most of the controls can be operated without looking at them, once familiarity is achieved.

While the Thunderbird may have been marketed as a personal luxury car at this point, it's obvious that guests of the driver weren't neglected. Since the interior accommodations were limited by the overall size of the car, comfort and space comparable to a full size car was not possible for rear seat passengers, although this area of the car continued to improve over the years as the Thunderbird became larger. And there is no wasted space, virtually every nook and cranny is crammed with wiring harnesses, vacuum lines, relays, and the other components necessary to make everything work.

About the only place better than the back seat of a mid-sixties Thunderbird is the front seat of one, and we'll take a look up front next month, and address some of the mistakes made during the interior design process of the 1964-1966 Thunderbirds the following month. The 1964-1966 Thunderbirds certainly were unique in all the world, and provide unique comfort and elegant surroundings to passengers ensconced in back!

The Showroom at Automotive Mileposts is edited by Sheila Masterson

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