1968 was one of the biggest years of change for the Thunderbird even though
it didn't seem so at first glance. Some would say the changes from 1967
to 1968 were much less intense than the ones from 1966 to 1967, but even
without a major redesign or body style adjustment, the changes made going
into the 1968 model year were more significant than they had been for many
years. It's true that the '67 and '68 cars look very similar in appearance;
and it's also true that the Thunderbird lineup changed considerably for
1967, but 1968 was truly a big year for change as well in the T-Bird, which
we shall examine more closely in the paragraphs below.
While the outward appearance is similar, the only sheet metal that will
directly interchange without major modifications between 1967 and 1968
is the hood, deck lid, and rear valance panel. That's it! The front bumper
assembly had less chrome in '68, with a large color-keyed area below, and
the front turn signal indicators were incorporated into the design differently.
Front fenders had openings cut into them for the new-for-'68 side marker
lights, as did the rear quarter panels. The interior door panels mounted
to the inner door frame differently in '68, so '67 doors won't work on
'68s if you want to use '68 trim. The interiors were completely different,
although they retained a subtle similarity to 1967. But the similarities
are not enough that parts can be used between the two years. tail lamp
lenses and rear bumpers can be mixed and matched, but the trim around the
tail lamps is different. The material and pattern lining the luggage compartment
To the casual observer, many of these details will go unnoticed. To the
new luxury car shopper in 1968, they most likely didn't even garner a second
glance. But to the collector, these differences become important because
they serve to make certain years more unique than others. And when you
consider the financial cost of all these changes to Ford, they were apparently
very important changes.
The Thunderbird's main competition at this time was the Cadillac Eldorado,
Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. All came with a front bench seat
with center armrest as standard equipment, and none of them had a Tilt-Away
Steering Wheel, although the Riviera did feature a tilt wheel as standard
equipment. In an attempt to remain competitive, and open up the Thunderbird
to even more customers, Ford did away with the formerly standard front
bucket seats and installed a bench seat with center armrest, just like
the competition offered. The buckets and console were still available at
extra cost, but restrictions on certain colors and trim were made, so the
choice wasn't as wide as it had been in, say, 1965.
And while Ford was shuffling around the seating configuration, it also
shuffled around a few other things. For instance, the center fold down
armrest in the rear seat became an option, part of the Brougham interior
trim package. So did the door panel courtesy lights. And if you wanted
bucket seats in a 4-door Thunderbird in 1968, you'd better like the standard
vinyl upholstery or the optional leather, because the Brougham cloth and
vinyl wasn't made available. You could get it in a 2-door, at extra cost,
but not a 4-door.
Then came interior color. You like Aqua? If you wanted it in a 4-door,
you had to go with the optional Brougham cloth and vinyl upholstery with
a front bench seat. No vinyl, sorry. How about red? Available in bench
or buckets in vinyl on 2-door cars, Brougham cloth buckets in 2-door cars,
vinyl bench or Brougham cloth bench only on 4-door cars. Feeling a bit
restricted in the choices available to you? Surely Thunderbird veterans,
used to ordering just about anything they wanted in earlier years must
have felt let down by these new limits placed on them.
1968 was also a big year for change in the power team department. Equipped
on announcement day with the same, reliable 390 introduced as standard
seven years earlier, the new 429 Thunder Jet became standard on January
1, 1968. This was done to keep the T-Bird competitive, as virtually all
of its competition was fielding larger displacement engines in 1968. The
390 just wasn't impressive enough at this point, size-wise, to propel the
Bird. Plus, with new emissions standards the 390 was fast becoming dated.
Want more proof that 1968 was a bigger year for change than you thought?
OK...the vinyl pattern for the top on Landau models was changed from Levant
grain to an Alligator grain. Along with this change came new S-Bars with
the updated pattern stamped in them. The steering wheels were new. The
radios, even the standard AM pushbutton unit, were all-new. Turn signal
levers, transmission selectors, instrument panel knobs and controls were
all changed. Power window switches were new; as were door panels; door
armrests; interior door handles; air conditioning vents; seat belt buckles;
and day/night rear view mirrors. The vacuum for the concealed headlamp
covers now exhausted inside the car. Even the exterior remote mirror on
the driver's door was changed for 1968, with an enlarged glass area.
It's important to remember that this all happened in the second year of
this body cycle, and most of these components were new for 1967. Large
changes were usually reserved for the third year of a cycle, and before
1968, were unheard of after just one year.
1968 was a great year to fly with the Bird, and Ford's advertising for
the year was definitely groovy. (Which meant it was pretty spectacular
in 1968 slang.) Thunderbirds were poised in desert settings, with dramatic
sunsets in the background. Other ads showed the T-Bird at night, with the
full-width tail lamps lit. There's little doubt that these ads propelled
more than just a few new Birds off the showroom floors. If you were looking
for a new car in the personal luxury market in 1968, making a decision
was not easy. But if change was what it was all about, the 1968 Thunderbirds
were much changed cars, even if they didn't look it on the surface.