The Showroom Archive
Automotive Mileposts
1966 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau and 1966 Ford Thunderbird Conventional Hardtop
Owner: Cole Stafford

N  O  T  I  C  E

The Showroom this month will run two months, through November. 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 3 of a 3 Part Series on
1964-1966 Thunderbird Interior Design

1966 Ford Thunderbird Conventional Hardtop interior in Burgundy vinylThis month, we're going to take a look at the interior design issues of the 1964-1966 Thunderbirds. Prior to 1964, the pattern on the front and rear seats of Thunderbirds was identical. The leather interior of 1960 featured a different pattern on the seats and door panels, but the front and rear seat pattern itself matched. In 1963, some Thunderbirds with the vinyl interior featured a contrasting color for the seat bolsters, (depending on the interior color combination), which tied in to the darker shade on the carpeting, padded instrument panel, and the tops of the door trim panels and rear quarter trim panels. For some reason, several vinyl interiors for 1963 did not receive a contrasting color for the carpeting or seats, for instance the Rose Beige interiors, but did have the darker shade on the instrument panel and door and quarter trim. Still others were all one shade, with no contrasting color anywhere. The Black and Red interiors are examples of this color scheme.

In 1964 and 1965, Thunderbird interior color combinations were pretty much the same, regardless of upholstery material. Two tone color combinations continued to be offered for most interior colors, except for Black which (in 1964 only) had a white headliner and sun visors to provide contrast. The pattern on the front and rear seats was not uniform, however, as it had been in the past. We pointed out earlier that the coved rear seats were new for 1964. The pattern was a distinctive pleated design from the bottom of the seat where it met the carpeting, to the top of the seat where it met the rear package tray. Separating the two coved side sections was a smooth section in the center, with a fold-down armrest. This center section could accommodate an additional passenger, but it was not the most comfortable seating position in the car. There were no Thunderbird emblems on the rear seats, just a single emblem mounted on the rear package tray above the arm rest.

The front bucket seats were an exact opposite of the rear seats; the pleated pattern ran down the center of each seat, with a smooth bolster section on each side of the pleats. Thunderbird emblems were positioned on the seat backs, unless the car came equipped with the optional reclining passenger seat. In this case, the emblem was omitted, since the adjustable head rest section was separated from the seat back at this point.

In 1966, the pattern on the front and rear seats was again changed, but in keeping with the mismatched patterns from 1964 and 1965, the front and rear seats were again different. The rear seats of the 1966 interiors featured a pleated design on the upper seat backs, with a horizontal strap about halfway down. Below the strap, a biscuit design appeared, which continued to the edge of the seat cushion. From the edge of the seat down to the carpeting, the cushion had a smooth appearance. On the back of the seat, below the strap, a button was placed in the spot where the horizontal and vertical stitching crossed over each other. This created a series of squares on the lower seat back and seat cushions. The squares were stacked two high on the seat backs, and no buttons were placed on the seat cushions.

The front bucket seats had a similar pattern, but the front seats had bolsters on each side of the seat, which the rear seats didn't have. Strangely, the biscuit pattern on the seat back wasn't stacked two high as it was in the rear, but featured just one row of the biscuit pattern. This dropped the horizontal strap much lower on the seat back, and allowed the pleated pattern at the top to drop further down as well. This is unusual, since the horizontal straps on the rear seats line up with the pattern change on the rear quarter trim panels, which utilized a pleated design on the top section to match the seats. This pattern continued forward to the door panels as well. If the pattern on the front seats matched the rear seat pattern, the pleats on the seats would have lined up visually with the pleats on the door panels. This would have made the horizontal strap on the front seats higher, and the straps on the front seats would have then lined up with the pattern change on the front door panels, creating a uniform look.
In addition, there's an interesting pattern mismatch on some 1966 models as well. The horizontal straps on the rear seat backs should line up evenly, but they don't. Take a look at the picture above again. The strap on the driver's side is lower than the strap on the passenger side. We've checked quite a few cars over the years, and find this to be the case on about half of them. We also checked several Thunderbirds available to us to make sure the seats we were inspecting hadn't been re-upholstered or installed incorrectly, and to make sure that the car hadn't been involved in an accident that might shift the mounting tabs. It appears this was just a mismatch from the factory on some cars. We've also found quite a few cars equipped with the optional leather interior that had the top pleated section on the passenger's side rear seat back upholstered in vinyl instead of leather. Specifically, just the pleated section above the horizontal strap. We verified that this was indeed a factory installation, and not something that had been re-upholstered over the years due to damage. Perhaps the vendor who supplied Ford with the seats saved a bit of money by skimping on the genuine leather...who knows, but it's interesting that it's always in the same spot on the same seat when we notice it!

The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

Ford came up with a very clever idea in 1966 on the Thunderbird Town Hardtop and Town Landau models. Instead of a traditional vinyl headlining, suspended overhead on rods, Ford wanted something a bit more sophisticated. So it introduced a two piece molded headliner with a roof console splitting the car in half, right down the center! In what must have been a moment of sheer brilliance, Ford went one step further and moved the Safety-Convenience Control Panel warning lights to the forward edge of the roof console. This uncluttered the area under the clock, and gave the Thunderbird yet another exclusive feature that no other car on the road offered. To top it off, the Safety-Convenience Control Panel was made standard on the Town models. The vacuum door lock control was moved to the floor console in the spot where the "Fasten Seat Belts" light had lived in '64 and '65, and the belts light moved to the new roof console.

The two piece headliner was actually made of a thick cardboard material, which had the vinyl headlining material glued to it. A thin layer of foam padding separated the two materials to give it a bit of cushion. The headliner even had recesses molded in to the forward edge for the sun visors. It was very well thought out, and beautifully executed. During the Summer of 1972 or thereabout, owners of 1966 Town models started noticing a bubble in the rear corner of the headliner, usually beginning on the passenger side of the car, for some reason. Owners of cars painted dark colors or with black vinyl roofs seemed to notice it first. The vinyl material was separating from the foam padding. Since there was nothing in the center of the molded panels to support the vinyl, it continued to come unglued until it was held up only by the center roof console and trim moldings.

The good thing was that your friendly neighborhood Ford dealer could still order replacements from Ford in 1972. But the replacements started coming unglued very quickly once installed. Time and gravity took their toll. We won't go into some of the interesting ways people "fixed" this problem, but suffice it to say some of them were Regluing was not an option for most, as the foam would become saturated and pull away from the cardboard. Some people just removed the foam completely and reglued the vinyl to the cardboard. This worked, but in most cases the vinyl had shrunk a bit and no longer fit well. Ford continued to use the molded headliner on Tudor Thunderbirds in 1967, but returned to the traditional headliner for 1968, and a new molded overhead console was introduced that year as well.
1966 Thunderbird Town Landau door trim panelOne area inside the car that started to show wear and tear rather quickly was the molded arm rest area on the door panels. Ford introduced a new one piece molded panel just before production ended on the 1962 Thunderbirds, and the 1964-1966 Birds used a one piece molded panel as well. But the molded panels were softly padded, and weren't designed to withstand the abuse of drivers that didn't consider their cars would be collectible someday!

The true Achilles heel of these door panels didn't show up until the 1965 model year, however. Although shown in some advertising for 1964, the arm rest fingertip insert, recessed into the arm rest, didn't make production that year. To close the door, the pistol grip door handle would have to be used for 1964. Some drivers complained that the position of the handle didn't give them adequate leverage to pull on the door, so the fingertip insert was provided for all 1965 and 1966 models. The insert was a rectangular metal cup that was recessed into an opening in the arm rest. Two flat headed Phillips screws mounted the insert to an L-shaped bracket underneath, and were concealed by a color-keyed vinyl plug that laid in the bottom of the insert. Elongated holes in the top of the bracket allowed for proper alignment of the fingertip insert with the door panel. The opposite end of the bracket was firmly attached directly to the inner metal door panel, so the insert itself ideally didn't actually have much contact with the soft door panel material.

This should have worked well, but it didn't. The flat headed screws eventually worked loose, allowing the insert to move about in the elongated holes in the bracket. This allowed the insert to contact the door panel material, and exerted pressure on it when the door was being pulled shut. After a while, this pressure split the vinyl where the rectangular opening was cut in the door arm rest. This normally first occurred on the driver's door panel at the rear corner of the opening. One can only imagine the attempts that have been made to "repair" the cracks over the years. Some of them were even more horrific than the headliner repairs!

There are other areas inside these cars that haven't performed as intended over the years. The glove box latch and lock assembly is one area, the latch never seems to work properly, even after spending considerable time adjusting it; the screw holes in the floor consoles are notorious for stripping out; the metallic silver paint on the speedometer numerals began to come off within just a few years, as did the lettering on the power window switch housing.

It's important to note that these cars weren't designed to last forever. They were mass produced to a very high standard, but the fact that certain items began failing before they should have proves it's difficult to determine what will hold up well once the public gets a hold of it. The life expectancy of these cars was 7 years or 100,000 miles, but the fact is many of these problems popped up long before the cars reached that age or mileage.

To the collectors contemplating purchasing one of these beautiful machines, this will clue you in on some of the problems with these cars. Most owners are very familiar with these items, and you will notice as you look at more and more of these cars they all seem to have the same issues. There is one thing you should do next time you have the opportunity to get in a 1964-1966 Thunderbird. Just sit there for a few minutes and really look at the interior. Notice how all the gauges and controls are placed. Observe how every angle and corner compliments the overall appearance. Appreciate the creative talent that went into putting this design on paper, and the people who executed it from the drawings. These interiors are works of art. They are not perfect, but they are inspired designs from an era that is sadly long gone.

With the new trend towards the retro look in the automotive world, today's designers are looking to the past for ideas and inspiration. Perhaps the days of new cars that all look alike, in varying shades of gray and beige, are about to come to an end. Today's hectic schedules and demands may leave little time for escape, but for people who Thunderbird, a private world to escape to is as close as your nearest 1964, 1965, or 1966 vintage Thunderbird.

Special thanks to Cole Stafford, who owns several very beautiful 1964-1966 Thunderbirds.

The Showroom at Automotive Mileposts is edited by Sheila Masterson

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