Automotive Mileposts 1965 Ford Thunderbird Special Landau:
Only 4,500 Special Landaus were built in 1965. So why do numbered nameplates exist with higher numbers on them?
4,500 or 4,576 Built?
Special Landau script
1965 Thunderbird Special Landau wheel coverThe 1965 Thunderbird Special Landau package included a special exterior paint, vinyl roof, and interior trim color combination, not available on other Thunderbirds, unique simulated burled walnut woodgrain accents in the passenger compartment, Special Landau badges on the exterior roof quarter panel trim and interior door panels, color-keyed deluxe wheel covers with Emberglo accents, and a personalized limited edition numbered nameplate to mount on the console.

There has been a considerable amount of confusion over the years regarding the installation of these nameplates. Some have said the plates were installed by the dealer when the cars were returned for service. Others insist the plate was in an envelope in the console glove compartment on delivery. Some insist the plates were already mounted on the car at delivery. Original owners tell us the plate arrived by mail directly from Ford, along with a nice letter thanking them for purchasing a new Thunderbird. For years, the nameplate mystery—specifically how they managed to find their way onto the cars—seemed to be the only real confusion about the Special Landaus.

Then a few turned up painted Wimbledon White instead of Emberglo. That's understandable, Emberglo is a very strong color and perhaps some T-bird owners in 1965 wanted something a bit more conservative. Then one, possibly two, appeared that were painted Navaho Beige from the factory. Unusual and rare on a Special Landau for certain, but that was a regular production color, readily available at Wixom Assembly in 1965, and it's not going too far to believe that out of 4,500 cars just possibly a few of them would be specially ordered with a different paint color.

Just about the time we were getting used to Special Landaus in three different color combinations, we were surprised to discover something very unusual on eBay. A numbered nameplate was up for auction. This is certainly a rare occurrence but not unheard of. What surprised us was the number on the nameplate: 4,576! It's a known fact that only 4,500 of these cars were built, so why was there a numbered nameplate in existence with a number higher than 4,500? Is it possible there were actually more made than we originally thought?

Image: 1965 Thunderbird Special Landau nameplate number 4,576

Armed with this new revelation, we set out to determine what the story was. And while we were at it, we wanted to see if we could get the facts straight for once and for all about how these nameplates actually came to be attached to the cars. We soon discovered this task was going to be more difficult than we first imagined.

Our normal sources were vague at best on details regarding these plates, and just about the time we determined we'd likely never know the truth, we came across somebody who knew the story. First of all, we'll tell you right off that only 4,500 were built. There are no additional, higher-numbered cars lurking around out there waiting to be discovered. Ford had no need to build more, since new Special Landaus were sitting on dealer lots even as the new 1966 models were arriving. The new Mustang had impacted Thunderbird sales pretty hard in 1965, so even with all the new improvements and innovations for the T-bird in '65, the truth is they were a bit slow moving off the lot.

Our source told us that the nameplates were made for Ford by the same vendor that made the regular Thunderbird owner nameplates. They also made a similar plate for the Mustang. In fact, most of the plates made during this period are very similar except for the indented border around the Special Landau plate and its more squared off edges. Other than that, the stainless steel plates themselves, and the Thunderbird emblem on the plates are identical, with the exception of the "SPECIAL LANDAU LIMITED EDITION NO." notation at the bottom. The Mustang plates got the running horse logo on them instead of the bird emblem, obviously. All were affixed to the car with double-sided foam adhesive tape, pre-cut and applied to the back of the nameplate. Just peel the protective coating off, and stick it on. The one exception is the Lincoln Continental. Folks who purchased new Continentals also received an engraved plaque, but it was very different than the ones from the Ford Division. A black anodized insert revealed the bare stainless beneath when engraved, giving them a distinct look. Each had a gold Continental star affixed to the left side, and a heavy chrome bezel adorned the outside edges.

Over the years, these plates have turned up in various locations on the cars, but the factory recommended position was centered on the console, just above the chrome bezel that surrounded the radio. A few cars, not equipped with the optional SelectAire Conditioning have been spotted with the plates mounted in an alternate position higher up on the console panel, where the SelectAire vents would have been located. In fact, the television commercial prepared to announce the new model to the public clearly showed this plate mounted on a car in the alternate position.

All of the nameplates were made at the same time, and stamped with numbers from 1-4,700. That's right. 4,700. Why you ask? We'll tell you. Extra plates were made in the event an original plate was damaged or destroyed during the engraving process, lost in the mail, or arrived with the new owner's name misspelled. Oops! Extras were also available for second owners, in the event a Special Landau was traded in prior to the end of the model year. It may be hard to imagine anyone would do that, but it very likely happened. So there is no real mystery to the higher numbering on the plates. Extras were ordered, and were consecutively numbered by the vendor per the specifications of the order. So, plates numbered 4,501-4,700 were extras. The fact that a plate with number 4,576 has turned up indicates at least 76 of the extra 300 were used.

Now regarding the mystery of how the plates eventually got mounted to the console, the fact is there was no one specific procedure for making this happen. The plates did not necessarily correspond with build dates, VIN numbers, or anything else. It's almost as if they were all thrown in a big box when completed, shipped off to Ford, and someone just reached in and grabbed one when needed. Some cars did arrive at the dealership with the plates already engraved and attached to the console, but this was somewhat rare. For this to happen, the car had to have been a retail (special) order, and there had to be enough time between the order date and delivery date to have the plate engraved. As we said, it didn't happen often.

While it's possible that some of the plates were delivered with the car in small manilla envelopes in the console, the majority were engraved and shipped by Ford to the new owner at the address specified by the owner. Normally the plates arrived in the mail within three weeks, accompanied by the previously mentioned letter of thanks, installation instructions, and a coupon for free installation by the dealer, should the owner desire to not be bothered with mounting it.

There's little doubt that some plates were never mounted. A few have survived untouched, along with the box they were mailed in. But the majority were mounted to the cars, and removed later by the second or another subsequent owner, who did not want someone else's name adorning their "new" used car.

If you have a Special Landau that has survived with its original nameplate intact, you are indeed very lucky. And if you happen to be an original owner who recalls the details of this nameplate, its delivery, and installation, drop us an E-mail and tell us about it. The limited edition personalized nameplate was just one detail that made the Thunderbird unique in all the world, and another reason why these cars led their class in sales, innovation, and concept.
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