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1966 Ford Thunderbird Convertible in Wimbledon White with Red interior trim
1966 Ford Thunderbird Convertible
America's Personal Luxury Car
1966 Ford Thunderbird
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1966 Thunderbird Auctions

Production Numbers

ARTICLE:
Vinyl Is In! And Finally, So Is Performance

Mechanical Specifications

Exterior Paint Colors

Interior Trim

Standard Equipment

Optional Equipment

AUTO AUTHENTICITY:
1966 Thunderbird Door Trim and Instrument Panels

AUTO AUTHENTICITY:
1966 Thunderbird Seat Belt Light

AUTO AUTHENTICITY:
1964-1971 Thunderbird Safety-Convenience Control Panel

Contoured Headliner

1966 Thunderbird Body Styles

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OF INTEREST:
T-Bird Garage
About the 1966 Thunderbird: America's Personal Luxury Car

Image: 1966 Ford Thunderbird advertisementFord's introductory advertising for the 1966 Thunderbird (left) was a two-page spread that continued the tradition of beautifully photographed ads. Ford marketed four Thunderbird models for 1966, the first year since 1963 to offer more than three models. The Town Hardtop and the Town Landau would be the two new ones, joining the Conventional Hardtop and the Convertible. The new Town models differed from previous T-birds in that the rear roof quarter panels were blind—the roof extended forward in the quarter area to meet the front door glass, eliminating the conventional triangular-shaped side quarter windows. This roofline was very similar to the Ford Mustang 2+2 roofline, although not quite as raked. Ford advised its salesmen that this change was "an elegant evolution of the traditional Thunderbird roof." Inside, the Town models differed from the Conventional Hardtop in several ways: the headliner, which was normally rather traditional in appearance, with roof bows that supported the material, was now made out of two pieces of molded cardboard, onto which foam was applied, followed by a new "moon crater" patterned vinyl that was glued directly to the foam. Running down the center of the headliner, from front to rear, was a new overhead roof console, which at the forward end housed four rectangular warning lights, that advised of seat belts unfastened, emergency flasher operating, door ajar, and low fuel. The warning light that housed the emergency flasher also acted as the on/off switch. Pressing the light would activate the flashers. Another push of the control, and the flashers were canceled. Also attached at the forward section were the slots for the sun visors, which were recessed into the headliner. Depending on the model (Hardtop or Landau), black or simulated woodgrain appliqués were inserted in strips just behind the warning light assembly, to match the trim on the floor console. Chrome strips that divided the forward area of the roof console into 5 sections separated the overhead appliqués. The roof console itself was in two pieces, both vinyl-covered color-coordinated to match the interior. The back section of the roof console became narrower where it met the front section, and ran uninterrupted to the top of the back window molding. As the saying goes, "what goes up, must come down," and indeed the glue on these molded headliner panels would eventually let go, due to age and heat. Anyone who has ever had to repair or replace one of these knows it's not a fun project, and over the years we've seen some very interesting ways of dealing with these "sagging" headliners!

The Town models were equipped with the normally optional Safety-Convenience Control Panel, as standard equipment. The vacuum door locks, which were a part of this option, were relocated to the floor console, just below the Silent-Flo rear vent control. The vacuum door lock switch was very similar to the switch used to control the convertible top on convertibles. The switch had "LOCK/DOORS/UNLOCK" lettering cut into its top face, and the letters were filled with black paint. The interior rear courtesy lights were rectangular in the Town models, and a new interior rear roof quarter trim panel was used on the inside of the roof area.

The Conventional Hardtop and the Convertible are again offered for 1966; no major changes were made to either, other than interior and exterior styling updates which are covered later. However, not known to most, 1966 would mark the end of an era: Ford planned to quietly discontinue the Convertible model at the end of the model year. The body style that started it all back in 1955 would no longer be part of the Thunderbird lineup. Why? The expectation of what personal luxury cars were meant to be began to change during the mid-sixties. Owners wanted more luxury features, and fewer maintenance requirements. Fewer convertibles were being ordered, partly due to factory air conditioning becoming more popular, as well as new automobile sound systems. It was obvious that the competition wasn't concerned about the lack of a convertible in their lineup; although initially considered, Riviera never offered a drop top. The Oldsmobile Starfire, which offered only a convertible model in 1961, then added a hardtop in 1962, would discontinue the convertible in 1965, and the Starfire itself would be gone after 1966. One can only speculate as to why Ford didn't offer a Limited Edition Convertible as a way of bidding farewell to the body style; perhaps a color and trim package similar to those offered in 1963 and 1965. Had Ford made 2,000 specially-numbered editions with Landau woodgrained interiors to set them apart from the rest, in a color combination commemorating the occasion, (for just an extra $200.00, number 2 to 2,000 can be yours), no doubt they would be among the most sought after T-birds today. Ford might have looked upon the discontinuation of the model as a defeat on its part; or perhaps it didn't want the competition to know what was just around the corner. Nevertheless, it closed the door on one of the automotive world's all time beauties, and leaves the rest of us to just imagine what a 1967 Thunderbird Convertible would have looked like.

It's also interesting to note that in its first year, the new Town Landau became the most popular Thunderbird model, accounting for just over half of the year's total sales. The Conventional Hardtop, which had always taken top place, fell to third place this year, in front of only the convertible. This shows the impact models with vinyl roofs had during this period. The Town Landau's sister model, the Town Hardtop, which was perhaps the one predicted to take top place by Ford, took second place honors for the year.

The 1966 models received a very becoming face lift to their interiors. New trim patterns on the seats, door panels, and rear quarter trim panels gave the interior a change of appearance, very necessary for a car in its 3rd model year. The seat pattern was changed to a "biscuit" and "pleated" pattern, while the side panels were molded vinyl pleats, slightly wider in appearance than on previous models in this series. The polished trim that had run from the front of the door panel, just below the vent window, and along the molded armrest, to the rear seat, was eliminated. A much simpler (and smaller) molding was used to clean up this area of the interior. A new acrylic centerpiece was used in the center of the round padded steering wheel hub, and on cars without the Safety-Convenience Control Panel, the newly standard emergency flasher system was mounted just below the map light switch on the center section of the instrument panel. On Conventional Hardtops and Convertibles, the standard seat belt reminder light was mounted in the same place as it was in 1965. (Which is also the vacuum door lock switch mounting on Town models). Early production 1966 models had the seat belt light wired into the driver's side retractable seat belt. Later in the model year, a change was made to automatically have the light extinguish 20 to 30 seconds after the ignition is turned on.

Image: 1966 Ford Thunderbird HardtopThe Thunderbird received very attractive exterior styling touches as well. The front appearance of the car took on a more Mustang-like appearance this year. For the first time ever, the front bumper was a blade-type bumper, mounted much lower than on the 1964-1965 models. The new grill was die-cast, and featured a lattice work design that thrusted forward to meet the rounded lower edge of the hood. A new Thunderbird emblem was mounted on the grille, instead of the lower edge of the hood. A color-keyed front valance panel was mounted below the blade front bumper, and housed the front turn signal indicators, which curved around the corner of the panel slightly at their outside edge, as well as the front license plate mounting bracket. Two chrome bumper guards, similar to those used on the Mustang, ran on either side of the license plate bracket, from the bottom of the bumper to the bottom of the valance panel. The hood scoop was lowered, but was wider than previous models. The front fenders were changed to eliminate the ridges that ran from the turn indicator housings back to the roof quarters. The new hood design would incorporate these ridges and intersect at the front door area before continuing back to the roof quarter.

New, bright-metal moldings would accent front and rear wheel openings. The full sized wheel covers (carried over from 1965), would sport a new center medallion, and an updated appearance by the addition of black paint to accent the wheel cover. Ford really tried to push the T-bird without rear fender shields this year. Almost all advertising, as well as the sales catalogs, illustrated the cars with full wheel openings. Whether Ford was attempting to preview T-birds to come, or update a three-year-old body, is up for debate. If the optional rear fender shields were equipped, the trim around the wheel opening would be deleted, and placed instead at the bottom of the fender shield.

1966 introduced a Thunderbird styling trend that would remain popular for years to come: the full-width taillights. Housed in the same bumper as 1964-1965, the new taillights retained the sequential turn signal system introduced in 1965. The back-up lights, previously located below the bumper, were moved up into the center section of the taillights, behind a Thunderbird emblem. The center section of the taillights illuminated with the parking and headlights, but did not activate with the brake or turn indicator lights. A total of 9 light bulbs were used, and the back-up lights were invisible until lit. The center section of the taillights, except for the part located inside the rectangular ring around the Thunderbird emblem, is red. The area inside the ring is clear. This allows the back-up lights, when lit, to appear clear. The running lights, or the ones that illuminate with the parking and headlights, have red domed covers over them—this gives them the red appearance when lit. A similar setup was used on Cadillacs during the early sixties.

The standard 390 Thunderbird Special V-8 had its horsepower increased this year from 300 to 315. A new engine, the 428, with 345 horsepower was also made available as an option for the first time. A new transmission, the C6 Dual-Range Automatic, was provided with all 428 installations, and after November 1965, would become the sole transmission for both 390 and 428 engines. The dependable Cruise-O-Matic, which had been around for a while, was not as strong as the C6, and was becoming dated by this time. Ford also changed the engine paint colors for 1966 model run, with most components painted Ford Corporate Blue, including the air cleaner assemblies. Some early 1966 models had the radiator surge tanks as well as the power steering pump with integral reservoir painted black, but by mid-November, these were also Corporate Blue. A new Thermactor Exhaust Emission Control System ushered in the pollution control equipment era, but was optional at extra cost.

New options for 1966 included the Highway Pilot Automatic Speed Control, which featured the control buttons mounted within the spokes of a unique vinyl color-keyed steering wheel. The on/off control switch was mounted on the chrome console molding, just to the right of the driver. This switch was pulled up to engage, and would automatically snap to the off position when the ignition was turned off. Two control switches mounted on the steering wheel controlled the Highway Pilot. The left rocker switch, when pressed up or down, would set the speed. The right rocker switch, when pressed down, would retard the speed, apply the brakes, and illuminate the brake lights! Even the brake pedal pad has a switch in it to disengage the system. To resume to previously set speed, press the right rocker switch up, and speed automatically returns to original setting. Pretty high tech for 1966! The system was also quite involved: a vacuum motor was mounted under the dash, and attached to the brake pedal by a pull chain. The dealer to suit the customer's deceleration preference could adjust the pull chain. Set incorrectly, this system was capable stopping the car quite quickly! A sensor pump, located under the hood, utilized a special fluid to monitor and control the car speed. A speedometer cable connected the sensor pump to the transmission, and another went from the pump to the speedometer. Somewhat complicated, but a rare option if your 1966 is equipped with it. You should be aware that many parts are specific to this system, and will not interchange with non-speed control equipment. (The steering column has specific parts, as well as the speedometer cables, brake pedal pad, console molding, among others.)

Music lovers could select Ford's new StereoSonic Tape System with integral AM radio. Mounted in the console, this unit played pre-recorded 4-channel tape cartridges, with no threading, no winding. Four speakers, two mounted on the bottom front and rear of each door panel, provide true high fidelity stereo sound. The tape system automatically turns the radio off when a tape is inserted into the slot, and back on again when the tape is removed. The stereo will play continuously for an hour and twenty minutes through the four different channels on the tape. The operator of the tape system can select the channel to listen to by pressing in on the on/off/volume control knob on the radio. You loose the 5 radio station preselect buttons with this option.

Six-way power seats, available for the driver and/or passenger seat(s) were another new option for 1966. The power passenger seat seems to be a rare option, especially when equipped with the reclining passenger seat.

A new deluxe wheel cover was introduced for 1966. It featured five simulated knock off spinners with a bright red center medallion. This wheel cover is the one featured in most advertising for the T-bird.

A few new interior colors were offered this year: Dark Blue, Emberglo, and Parchment. Parchment, of course, was available in 1965, but only on the Special Landau models. For 1966, it is coupled with a variety of interior accent colors, similar to the white interiors for 1965, as well as 1966. (See Exterior Color and Interior Trim Availability listing, coming soon.) A few interior colors from 1965 did not return, they included Medium Palomino all-vinyl, cloth/vinyl, and leather; Light Blue Metallic all-vinyl, cloth/vinyl, and leather; White Pearl Leather, and Burgundy Leather.

The Dark Blue color for the Landau vinyl roof was discontinued, as was the Dark Brown. New vinyl roof colors for 1966 include Sage Gold (coordinates with exterior paint color Sauterne Gold), and Parchment.

As the curtain closed on the 1966 model year, so closed a long and distinguished chapter in the Ford Thunderbirds history. Never again would the marque be in a position to face little or no competition, for the competition had caught up to the Bird by this time, and for the first time ever, Ford was in the position of having to make changes to the Thunderbird just to keep it in line with what the others were doing. Government regulations would also have more of a say in how future Thunderbirds looked and performed. The T-Bird would still be unique in all the world, but that world was getting smaller every day.


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