From the day the 1973 Thunderbirds were introduced on September 22, 1972,
they were brisk sellers. Production ticked upward, and was very close to
record territory with 87,269 Thunderbirds built for the model year. This
represents a difference of 29,455 cars, or a 51 percent increase over 1972!
People who liked the 1972 Bird loved the 1973 Bird, and flocked to their
nearest Ford Dealer to buy one! It received a modest restyle, with the
most notable change to the front end. Tthe new 1973 Federal Standards required
substantially improved impact resistance to the front and rear bumpers.
Specifically, up to 5 mph frontal impact protection and up to 2.5 mph rear
impact protection straight into a flat, vertical fixed barrier without
preventing normal operation of the car's latching, fuel, cooling, and exhaust
systems or of the propulsion, suspension, steering and braking systems.
Tests showed that, with bumper guards, no substantial damage to sheet metal
should result from such a barrier impact at or below the specified speeds.
Highlighted by a new egg crate grille and headlamps placed separately with
individual chrome bezels around each lamp, the frontal restyling was very
well done and gave the car a more elegant, upscale appearance. In fact,
this new look would continue virtually unchanged through the 1976 model
year, a first for Thunderbird. Never before had styling not been updated
for such a long period of time. Above the new grille, THUNDERBIRD was spelled
out in block lettering. And above the lettering appeared an attractive
new oval-shaped Thunderbird hood ornament. A highly stylized Bird emblem
surrounded by a chrome oval ring, the new ornament would also remain unchanged
through 1976. In standard form, these few items were about the only things
that differentiated the 1973 cars from the 1972 cars.
The full width taillamps returned unchanged, as did the interiors which
provided individually-adjustable front seats with dual center arm rests
as standard equipment. Upholstered in a soft cloth, the side bolsters and
trim panels were vinyl. Leather seating surfaces were optional, as were
Super-Soft Vinyl seating surfaces, and cloth and vinyl bucket seats and
Early in the model year, standard equipment remained about the same as
it was the previous year, but on June 11, 1973, Ford added several popular
options to the list of standard equipment, and increased the base price
accordingly. Added were a vinyl roof, opera windows, power side windows,
Manual SelectAire Conditioner, tinted glass, and an automatic seat back
release. The base price jumped $837 to cover the cost of these items, and
apparently this was a good move on Ford's part as sales remained strong
all year long. The last time the Bird was this popular was back in 1964,
so almost a decade had passed since the T-bird experienced such strong
sales. But unfortunately, it would not last.
New options for 1973 included the relocation of the power door lock switch
back to the front door arm rest. The 1972 cars had the switch built in
to the door lock plunger, and it was not convenient if you were seated
in the car. Additionally, an extra switch was provided on the passenger
door for the first time for added convenience.
A remote controlled right side view mirror was a popular new option that
allowed the driver to adjust the passenger door mirror without lowering
the window. An adjustment knob was placed on the instrument panel to the
left of the radio, which allowed full adjustment even while underway. Priced
at just $26.67, it was well worth the cost for the additional safety it
Opera windows, inspired by the 1971 Cadillac Eldorado (Cadillac called
them coach windows), and the Continental Mark IV, were an attractive new
option for 1973. The Eldorado windows were stationary and rectangular,
stood upright, and took the place of rear quarter windows. The Mark IV
had them located further back in the sail panel, and they were an elegant
oval shape with the Continental star embedded in the glass. The rear quarter
windows remained operable on the Mark IV (and the Thunderbird). The T-Bird
window featured a more angular design, with an almost upright front edge
and a sloping back edge to match the slope of the rear roofline. This caused
the bottom of the glass to be wider than the top, and it looked quite good
on these cars. A Thunderbird emblem was embedded in the glass, and rear
seat reading lights were added to the interior moldings above the opera
windows for the convenience of rear seat passengers. The opera windows
were so popular that very few 1973 Thunderbirds were built without them.
A new AM/FM Stereo Radio/Stereo Tape Player sound system was introduced,
several years behind the competition. Most General Motors cars offered
an AM/FM/Tape beginning in 1971, but Ford products didn't have that combination
until this year. Formerly, you could choose between AM/FM Stereo Radio
or AM Radio/Stereo Tape, but those were the only combinations offered.
The new sound system cost an extra $311, and many people ordered it. It
came with four speakers which enabled front to rear as well as side to
side balance controls so the sound could be customized to suit any driver's
1973 was the last time the 429 engine would be available for the Thunderbird.
Going forward, the 460 would be the only engine installed until the downsizing
of 1977, which would include smaller engine displacements. After 1973,
the full width rear taillamps would also disappear, again until the all-new
1977 restyling. The 1974-1976 Thunderbirds would utilize a clear center
back up light, which split the red sections of the assembly, thus doing
away with a distinctive styling touch.
One more Thunderbird item would appear for the last time (until 1977) this
year: the bucket seats and console. Made popular by the Thunderbird in
1958, front bucket seats and a center console were a staple until 1968,
when they were made optional in order to provide additional passenger capacity.
From 1974-1976, only the split bench seat would be offered, an indication
that Ford was taking the Thunderbird more upscale, and was dropping any
pretense at being sporty. Of course, a new Gran Torino Elite was about
to be unveiled, and it was actively marketed as a smaller, more affordable
Thunderbird. The Ford Elite (the Gran Torino was quickly dropped from the
name), was killed off when the Thunderbird itself was made smaller and
more affordable for 1977. After all, why buy a copy when you can have the
The strong sales of the 1973 Thunderbird placed it in the number three
spot for all time best sales to date, which bumped the 1962 and 1967 models
out of third and fourth place, respectively, and so on down the line. The
Thunderbird was marketed as a luxury car that didn't cost as much as a
Mark IV. Ford prepared literature for its dealers comparing the two cars,
showing dollar for dollar the Thunderbird was the better buy. Of course,
the cars were basically the same except for some additional trim and other
features on the Mark IV that weren't shared with the Thunderbird. There
are even reports of Thunderbirds leaving the Wixom, Michigan Assembly Plant
with Continental Mark IV instrument panel inserts, and vice versa. So apparently
there was some confusion on the assembly line, as well.
1973 was a great year to buy a Thunderbird. They were beautiful, popular,
and gas was still plentiful and inexpensive, so who cared what the gas
mileage was? That—as we all know now—was about to change.