1970 Ford Thunderbird:
Does Its Styling Make It Hard to Drive?
|A Nationwide survey in 1970 asked new Thunderbird owners how they felt about
their purchase. After driving their cars a total of 1,352,000 miles, 41.7
percent of Thunderbird owners who participated in the survey responded
their reason for buying a 1970 T-Bird was styling. When asked what they
would like to see changed, 18 percent replied, "Styling."
The main area of concern was visibility. Specifically, the small rear windows made visibility behind the car difficult. The 2-door models were said to distort the view, while the 4-doors simply had too little glass area. Forward visibility was also criticized, with one respondent saying "Low front seat, high dash, long hood all combine so I can't tell where the front stops. Usually in somebody else's rear bumper!" Another said, "I keep knocking the emblems off my hood." Another, "Too little grille protection."
Ford advertising said the protruding front grille was "shaped to slice the wind," but it made owners cringe when they parked. Ford Dealers kept new replacement grilles in stock, and at about $40, it wasn't a terribly expensive item. However, all too often repairs also had to be made to the bumper and the area above the grille, which involved straightening and painting. This quickly drove up repair bills. It didn't take long for the insurance companies to tack on an additional premium for the 1970 Thunderbirds, although it wasn't much.
Obviously, styling is a big consideration for any manufacturer, especially when it comes to expensive status cars, as the personal luxury Thunderbird would certainly be classified. So, if concessions had to be made in order to achieve the desired look, so be it. Except for the 4-door models, Thunderbirds have never been known for their rear legroom. But most have provided adequate headroom. The new roof line on the 2-door models for 1970 was the first to bring responses such as, "Difficult to enter and exit without bumping head." Another called the flight deck cockpit "claustrophobic." One owner even said, "From a safety standpoint, standard equipment should be a remote-control right-hand rear-view mirror because of blind spot from right roof pillar." And there's little doubt many current 1970 T-Bird owners feel the same way today.
Other common complaints included the long wait for parts to come in for repairs. Two or three weeks wasn't uncommon, and a large percentage of owners expressing dissatisfaction with dealer repairs cited this delay as the basis for their unhappiness.
Other areas of complaint included the turbine spoke deluxe wheel covers that would get bent in the car wash or by a high curb; the front license plate that should be moved to the middle of the bumper to not detract from the styling; front seat backs that were too high; inside rear view mirrors that were too large; and the confusing array of switches and controls on the door armrests.
Annoyances that owners would have liked to see Ford get rid of included "Hidden wipers," "bucket seat locks," "high seatbacks," "tiny glove compartment," "incompetent mechanics," and "radio antenna in windshield" were all mentioned. A few even mentioned previous Thunderbird models, making statements like, "Go back to classic styling. The 1970 is too GM-ish," "Bring back Swing-Away steering wheel," "My 1967 390 got better gas mileage, and I think it was quicker."
Motor Trend magazine pitted a 1970 Thunderbird 2-door Landau against a Chevrolet Monte Carlo and a Pontiac Grand Prix, saying they were "Three luxury cars that make it flat through the corners...it may be the start of a positive trend." The T-Bird received overall high marks, with the article stating, "...the Thunderbird not only exudes custom luxury at every pore, it has the ride and handling to match." They did mention the lack of rear seat leg room, and the difficulty in exiting from the rear seat, but strangely commented that the extreme lowness of the roof didn't restrict rear headroom, nor did the small rear window affect rear viewing! Motor Trend commented that not many people wanted a Luxury-Personal-Performance 4-door sedan, and that was the extent of their coverage of the 4-door Landau.
Thunderbird owners were a bit more harsh in commenting on their purchase, with a bus driver from Ohio saying of his T-Bird, "I could have gotten the same quality and workmanship in a smaller Ford for less money—I mistakenly bought something I thought had a little more perfection." Several owners felt that the Thunderbird was overpriced, "For a car of this price, quality is poor." "It seems to me that a car listing for $7185.64 should have a little tighter construction." "My only complaint is the high price—$6320."
In all fairness, most Thunderbird owners said they still like the car's lines and styling. And the most telling fact of how they felt about the car was the way they gloried in its appearance, and compared it to vehicles that the Thunderbird was not necessarily designed to compete with. In the big scheme of things at Ford Motor Company, the Thunderbird was supposed to compete with the Chevy Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Olds Toronado, and Buick Riviera. The Lincoln Continental, Continental Mark III, Imperial LeBaron, and Cadillac's Eldorado, Fleetwood and deVille's were premium luxury cars, and as such were technically not in the same class as the Thunderbird, although the Mark III was basically a 4-door Thunderbird underneath the Rolls Royce grille and rear deck kick up.
"Sure Track braking system sure is magnificent, and car handles like a dream, considering how heavy it is." wrote a California butcher. "Takeoff is like a jackrabbit, plus I think the radial tires contribute to the excellent handling," said a Virginia businessman. A motel operator from Michigan responded, "I like the way my Bird hugs the road." And a Texas housewife stated that "The 429 engine delivers all the power I can use, and the disc brakes are very good."
And perhaps to the dismay of Ford, another Thunderbird owner responded, "We checked out Cadillac and Lincoln and T-Bird, liked T-Bird best." And yet another, "I think Thunderbird quality is as good as the Mark III my husband drives, and I like my car better. Thunderbird is in a class all by itself."
THAT is what Ford has been telling us for years, isn't it? THUNDERBIRD—unique in all the world!
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