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1968 Ford Thunderbird -
Did You Know?

Rear Side Markers
Image: 1968 Ford Thunderbird rear side marker

As the 1960s progressed, automobile safety became more prominent in the minds of legislative bodies, which resulted in numerous new requirements imposed on the manufacturers. Among these were changes to the interior to reduce the likelihood of injury on impact, as well as structural changes to the design of automobiles to create crush zones that would absorb energy during collisions.

Accident avoidance was also a big consideration, and an area that was identified as a problem was the side of an automobile. In darkness, it was difficult to see the side of a car, this was even more so in inclement weather. So, a new requirement for side markers was imposed for 1968. This requirement consisted of an amber reflector or light near the leading edge of the car on the front fender, and a red reflector or light on the trailing end of the rear quarter panel. This would provide a means of illuminating the vehicle from the side, making them easier to see.

Image: 1968 Ford Thunderbird front cornering lamp

The Thunderbird took advantage of this new requirement to introduce a new optional side cornering light as part of the front marker. This allowed Ford to meet the new safety requirement as well as offer a new safety and convenience item for its customers. You will notice on some 1968 and 1969 Thunderbirds, there is a chrome assembly on the front fender with a Thunderbird emblem on its forward edge, and a square lens toward the rear (see detail). The square lens is illuminated by means of an amber bulb whenever the parking or headlamps are on.

However, some 1968 and 1969 Thunderbirds do not have the emblem, and the entire assembly is a clear lens (see photo at left). The rear (about 25 percent total) section of this assembly still contains the amber side marker bulb, but the forward part contains a separate chamber with a clear 50 candlepower bulb. As bright as a headlight, this bulb is only illuminated when the turn signal indicating a turn in that direction is activated. This light does not flash, but remains on steadily until the turn signal is cancelled. This provides additional light to see around corners, as well as serves as notice to other drivers of an intended turn in that direction.

During early 1969 production, this cornering side light became a standard item, as was continued as standard equipment through the 1971 model year. Strangely, it was retuned to the options list for the newly redesigned 1972 Thunderbird, although that model had the turn indicators mounted in the front fenders in a manner that allowed them to be seen from the side.

Image: 1968 Ford Thunderbird left rear side marker detail

The rear side markers for 1968 were incorporated into a rectangular chrome housing, which featured a red lens at the rear and a simulated Alligator grain insert in front of that. Etched into the textured area was the Thunderbird script, which was a brilliant design when the cars were new. Over time, the black painted area on the Alligator grain faded to the point where the chrome behind it was visible. This made the Thunderbird script difficult to see.

Image: NOS 1968 Ford Thunderbird rear side markers

Early production 1968 Thunderbirds did not utilize a light bulb in the rear side marker assembly, it was only a reflector. This led to complaints from some owners, since it appeared to them and others that the rear marker bulbs were out. Sometime around the first of the year in 1968, a light bulb was fitted to the center area of the red lens in the rear markers, splitting the reflective section of the lens in half, which created a small rectangular area that was lit, with reflective areas in front of and behind the illuminated area. This change resulted in different part numbers for the rear markers, a fact that has confused people restoring these cars today. You have to make certain you get the correct assembly when shopping for parts.

The clear lens on the front markers is the same with or without the cornering light feature, (see detail), the bezel with the Thunderbird emblem just covers up the unused portion of the lens on cars without the cornering lamps.

Another little known feature of the early 1968 Thunderbirds is the sequentially flashing interior turn indicators on the instrument panel. But we'll save that story for another article.



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