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1977, 1978, and 1979 Ford Thunderbird
Body Side Moldings

We clarify the vast array of options available

In an advertisement from 1969 for the Thunderbird, the copy said: "Your choice. That's what it's all about." And while that statement was true in '69, it was also true for the 1977, 1978, and 1979 Thunderbirds. Consider the choices available to new T-bird buyers of the time: paint color. Vinyl roof or no. Accent stripes or no. Bench, split bench, or bucket seats. Cloth, vinyl, or leather upholstery in multiple colors. Standard interior trim level, decor interior, or luxury interior. And then you had to pick still more options such as exterior body side moldings. It was quite a task, and you can be sure it took some time to decide which styles and colors to pick from.

All of this can be confusing to collectors today, who are interested in authenticating their cars and may not be sure what was available more than three decades ago. So, here's a detailed explanation of what you got in standard form, and what was available optionally. Plus, which options were tied into the various body side moldings.

STANDARD

Image: 1977 Ford Thunderbird
Above: 1977 Ford Thunderbird in standard form, with no optional exterior body side moldings.

The standard Thunderbird of the late seventies came with no body side moldings whatsoever. You did get things like brite roof rail, windshield, and rear window moldings, plus a rocker panel molding and full wheel lip opening moldings. Those things were just always expected on a Thunderbird, and that held true for these cars as well.

BLACK VINYL INSERT BODY SIDE MOLDING

Image: 1977 Ford Thunderbird
Above: 1977 Ford Thunderbird with optional Black Vinyl Insert Bodyside Molding.

This was the first step up, and wasn't available with the Exterior Decor Group, Sports Decor Group, Tu-Tone Paint Treatment, Town Landau, Diamond Jubilee Edition, or Heritage Edition trim packages. It consisted of a short molding that ran mid-body behind the front fender louvers to just before the rear wheel arch on the rear fender. This molding was not available with any of the decor groups, Tu-Tone Paint, Town Landau, Diamond Jubilee, Heritage, etc., because all of those either featured or required a different type of molding with that option. The standard bright rocker and full wheel opening moldings remained.

WIDE BRIGHT BODY SIDE MOLDING

Image: 1979 Ford Thunderbird
Above: 1979 Ford Thunderbird with optional Wide Bright Bodyside Molding.

More decorative in appearance than the previous molding, this one really didn't protect the body sides that well when you considered instead of a ding in the paint, you wound up with a ding in the soft bright metal of this molding. This one deletes the rocker moldings and full wheel opening moldings, replacing them with partial wheel lip moldings that were thicker and dressed the car up a bit more. A black painted insert near the top gave the moldings added definition. This molding was not available with any other trim option that included exterior moldings as part of the option, but could be ordered with the Tu-Tone Paint Treatment, which required either this molding or the one listed next.

WIDE VINYL INSERT BODY SIDE MOLDINGS

Image: 1978 Ford Thunderbird
Above: 1978 Ford Thunderbird with Exterior Decor Group with Wide Vinyl Insert Bodyside Moldings keyed to the Midnight Blue paint finish.

These included color-keyed vinyl inserts that really dressed up the exterior of the car. In most cases, they were keyed to the color of the vinyl roof, if equipped, as shown below, but they could also be keyed to the exterior paint color with the Exterior Decor Group or Tu-Tone Paint Treatment as shown above. Not all paint colors were available to match, however, so there were some restrictions. On Diamond Jubilee Edition and Heritage Edition, the vinyl moldings always matched the vinyl roof color.

Image: 1977 Ford Thunderbird
Above: 1977 Ford Thunderbird with Exterior Decor Group with Dove Grey Wide Vinyl Insert Bodyside Moldings keyed to match the Dove Grey vinyl roof color. The gentleman is Tom Selleck, who also appeared in promotional images for the 1979 Collector's Series Continental Mark V. "Charlie's Angels" actress Cheryl Ladd did the television ad for the 1977 Thunderbird.

PRICING

Black Vinyl Insert Bodyside Molding 1977: $39; 1978-1979: $42

Wide Bright Bodyside Molding 1977: $39; 1978-1979: $42

Color-Keyed Vinyl Insert Bodyside Molding 1977: $51; 1978-1979: $54

It's easy to see why the Black Vinyl Insert Molding is seldom seen during these years, since it was priced identically to the more upscale-looking Wide Bright Moldings. There were those who didn't care for the looks of the wider color-keyed vinyl moldings, but most did as this was another Thunderbird styling touch that was introduced in 1973 that later became popular on other models.

Hopefully, this article will help you to determine what was available for exterior moldings in 1977, 1978, and 1979, and will likely leave you somewhat amazed at the many choices Ford offered its customers at this time.

Automotive Mileposts would like to thank Michael Imaoka for his assistance in the research of this article.