1964, 1965, and 1966 Ford
Thunderbird Seat Belt Light
It seems Ford Motor Company has always been at the leading edge of automotive safety. As far back as 1956, Ford announced its "Lifeguard Design" safety equipment. This included a deep dish steering wheel with recessed hub, padded instrument panel and sun visors, seat belts, and door latches that were designed to not open on impact. Some of these items were made standard, while others were optional. Ford had hoped these items would help sell some cars as well as offering additional protection for occupants, but in the fifties people were more interested in horsepower, chrome, tail fins, and gadgets rather than their own personal safety.
It took government intervention to ensure that cars became safer over the years, and Ford was often ahead of the game with safety features in place before the requirement for them went into effect.
One of the safety features included on many cars in the sixties was a "Fasten Seat Belts" reminder light. In most cases, this light was placed prominently to serve as a reminder to the driver and passengers to buckle up. This feature was first included on the Thunderbird in 1964. The decision to place it on the floor console was a wise one, as both front seat occupants could easily see it. But its placement was not the same on all '64 T-Birds. Some early cars had the warning light assembly mounted near the center of the flat part on the floor console, close to the optional power window controls (shown above). It was soon moved forward, to a point just under the rear vent or convertible top control, (shown at left), which is where it stayed for the rest of the year, as well as through 1966 production, with a couple of exceptions.
Those exceptions were the 1966 Thunderbird Town Hardtop and Town Landau models, which featured a standard vacuum door lock system, and a chrome rocker control to lock or unlock the doors was mounted in the spot where the seat belt light was located on other models. There's a reason for this, which we will get to in a minute.
The confusion about the warning light wasn't limited to its placement, either. Its operation also changed during the 1964-1966 production period. For 1964, the light was designed so it appeared almost black when it wasn't lit. Turning the ignition key on caused the lens to glow a bright red, with the words FASTEN SEAT BELTS embedded within the glowing rectangular lens. To extinguish the light, the lens needed to be pressed downward lightly. This turned off the light, and it would not come on again until the next time the ignition was cycled by turning it off and then back on again.
This seemed to work out quite well, until complaints from new owners started coming in. Pressing the lens to turn off the light was a bother. And leaving the light on all the time was annoying. So, Ford incorporated a switch into the driver's outboard seat belt retractor on October 5, 1964, shortly after 1965 Thunderbird production began, which eliminated the switch inside the warning light assembly. When the belt was not being used, the light would be lit as long as the ignition was on. As soon as the belt was extended, the light would go out automatically, and stay off until the belt was allowed to retract back into the assembly, at which point the light came back on again, regardless of whether the ignition switch had been cycled. This would seem to be a good solution, but a lot of people didn't wear seat belts at this time, and the constantly glowing light was a disturbance.
So, it was back to the drawing board, and a fix was finally rolled out on November 15, 1965 during 1966 model production. Early '66s were still equipped with the seat belt retractor switch, but a timer was incorporated into the warning light circuit to automatically extinguish the light about 20 seconds after the ignition was turned on. It would remain off regardless of seat belt usage until the ignition switch completed the off/on cycle again.
What's confusing about this is that there are basically three different lights: some of the warning light assemblies have switches built into them, while others don't. Some cars have a switch in the seat belt retractor, while others use a timer instead. You can probably see where this might lead to confusion by enthusiasts today, who remove parts from one car only to find they won't work due to the difference in build dates.
And to add just a bit more confusion to the mix, the previously mentioned 1966 Thunderbird Town Hardtop and Town Landau models incorporated the seat belt light into an overhead roof console, (shown at left), while the 1966 Thunderbird Conventional Hardtop and Convertible still utilized the warning light on the floor console.
In case you have this all figured out, we must throw in just one more kink. We haven't confirmed this 100%, but it looks like a few very early production 1964 Thunderbirds apparently left the factory without ANY warning light at all, although it is believed most were fitted with the light at the dealer level before being sold. We have verified one very early Hardtop that has no light whatsoever, nor is there any sign the car ever had one.
We should add as a matter of general interest that color-keyed, front retractable seat belts became standard equipment on all Thunderbirds in 1964, and rear seat belts became standard in 1966. You could also get your local Ford Dealer to install a rear seat belt kit in 1964 and 1965, as well as front and rear seat belts on earlier T-Birds. A rarely seen Rotunda brand belt retractor was also available for the front or rear seat belts as an additional extra cost accessory.
So there you have it, everything you've ever wanted to know about the fasten seat belts warning...erm...reminder light in the 1964-1966 Thunderbirds. Buckle up!
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