Make A Little Thunder of Your Own
1974 was not a good year for the Thunderbird. Or for any big car, for that
matter. The 1974 Thunderbird was introduced in September 1973, and expectations
were high that another good sales year was ahead. Then on October 17, 1973,
just weeks after introduction, what is now commonly known as the oil crisis
of 1973 began. This was because members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OAPEC, which consisted of the Arab members of OPEC
as well as Egypt and Syria), announced that they would immediately cease
shipment of oil to all nations that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur
War, which was Israel's ongoing conflict with Syria and Egypt. This meant
that the United States and its allies in Western Europe, along with Japan,
all found themselves with an oil shortage virtually overnight.
And very quickly, this became big news because gas prices increased, gas
stations started running out of fuel, and the nightly news opened with
images of long lines of cars waiting sometimes hours just to buy gas. And
after waiting for hours, customers would learn that the station had just
run out, so they had to start the process all over again. Fuel efficiency
became an immediate concern, and people started buying cars that got good
gas mileage, which left the Thunderbird off the short list of possibilities
1974 was the first year for the new down sized Ford Mustang II, which was
advertised as "the right car at the right time." Ford certainly
couldn't have predicted the oil crisis years earlier when the Mustang II
first went into development, but they were right on target with their ad
Thunderbird sales dropped to 58,443, a drop of 33 percent over 1973. With
prices starting at $7,221, most people considering a Thunderbird probably
didn't care WHAT gas cost, but the issue was could they find it? The T-bird
had never been known for its fuel economy, but what good would it do to
have a new T-bird if you couldn't find any gas to fill the tank?
And it's a pity, too, because the 1974 Thunderbird offered a couple of
Special Edition models that were quite unique. The Burgundy Luxury Group
consisted of deep, sparkling, Burgundy Fire paint with a matching vinyl
roof and Dark Red Victoria Velour or Dark Red Leather seating surfaces.
Discreet gold stripes and wire wheel covers added even more sparkle. This
was a very rich-looking automobile.
The other was the White and Gold Luxury Group, which featured an upper
body finished in Polar White, with Gold Metallic Glamour Paint on the lower
body sides. A Gold Levant grain vinyl roof and gold wide bodyside moldings
complimented the Gold accent stripes on the hood, bodyside, and deck lid.
Even the Thunderbird insignia in the opera windows was Gold. Inside, two
tone seating with white leather upholstery and Gold Flare vinyl appointments
throughout was a harbinger of things to come, as striking two toned interiors
would become more popular in future models. Even the Deluxe Wheel Covers
were color-keyed with Gold paint. Very flashy, and very rare.
With the oil crisis, having a newly-standardized 460 V-8 engine to propel
you around isn't exactly a good thing. But that is all that was available
for the 1974 Thunderbird. Standard equipment was upgraded late in the 1973
model year to include many items commonly ordered anyway, so not a lot
changed there. But there were some interesting new options for 1974, including
a silver or gold tinted glass Moonroof, a gold tinted Quick Defrost Windshield/Rear Window that used an electrically charged film between the glass layers to melt
frost and ice quickly, an Autolamp On/Off Delay System for the headlights,
and wire wheel covers, among others.
Upholstery ranged from the standard Aurora cloth to optional Super-Soft
vinyl, Picardy velour, or genuine leather. The individually-adjustable
split bench front seats with dual fold-down arm rests returned as the only
offering, and they were really all that was needed or expected on a luxury
car of the Thunderbird's caliber. Driver and passenger could choose to
lower their arm rest, or leave it up for additional room on the cushion.
And anyone who's ever taken a long trip in one of these cars can testify
to the fact that they are as comfortable after 6 hours on the road as they
were when you first began the trip.
Exterior appearance was nearly identical to 1973, except for the all-new
taillamp and rear bumper treatment. The full-width lights remained, but
they no longer were a solid band of red. In the middle was a clear back-up
light with Thunderbird insignia mounted at center. It did not illuminate
unless the car was in reverse gear. This left four segmented taillamps
on either side. All illuminated with the running lights, but only the two
outboard segments lit up brighter when brake lights or turn signals were
on. The new rear bumper jutted out away from the car in order to comply
with the new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which required the
rear bumpers to withstand a 5 mph impact into a flat surface without without
damage to latching devices, fuel, exhaust, propulsion, suspension, or braking
systems. A bit clunky looking compared to past designs, but the Bird wore
them better than most.
As if an oil crisis and new bumper impact requirements weren't enough to
contend with, one of government's all-time most bone headed, idiotic ideas
ever hit the showrooms in the Fall of 1973. That would be the Ignition/Seat
Belt Interlock System. In an attempt to force people to wear seat belts,
it was ordered that 1974 model automobiles destined for U.S. delivery be
equipped with this device that prevented the engine from starting if the
driver and front seat passenger hadn't buckled up before attempting to
start the car! A logic circuit prevented the belts from being permanently
buckled behind the seat, or before the occupant sat down on the seat. What
that logic circuit couldn't determine was if the weight in the front passenger
seat was actually a passenger or a bag of groceries!
If the system failed, a button was provided in the engine compartment that
would by-pass the interlock system and allow the car to start, but it had
to be pressed each time the car was to be started until repairs were made.
Pity the fool in a rush to get his wife to the hospital when the baby decides
it's time to make an appearance if the interlock system fails. Or the frantic
woman trying to escape from the hoodlum trying to hold her up! It was a
bad, bad, bad idea all around, and thankfully it didn't last long. Mechanics
soon found ways to permanently disable the system, and did so at the request
of their irate customers who would probably have worn seat belts anyway,
but didn't like being FORCED to do so.
Thunderbird print advertising for 1974 frequently showed an attractive
couple posed with the car. The woman was normally found sitting in the
passenger seat looking at the camera which was located outside of the open
driver's door. The man was looking down at the camera through the Moonroof.
Both were, of course, thrilled with their new Thunderbird.
A catchy song was recorded for the television ads in which a female voice
sang, "This is your year, make a little Thunder...of your own."
The 1974 Thunderbird sales brochures were quite slick. Printed on high
gloss stock, the brochure actually consisted of a folder with interior
pockets that held individual sheets. Each sheet addressed one topic, such
as standard features, options, interior trims, paint finishes, etc. One
sheet featured the two Special Editions, one on each side. A very clever
piece of art work that probably stood out from the rest with new car shoppers
at the time.
The 1972-1976 Thunderbirds are still a bit cool in the collector car market
today. In order to have a really valuable one, it must be in perfect condition
with very low miles. And if it's a Special Edition, or equipped with rare
options, even better. These are large, heavy cars that do like to consume
fuel. Driven carefully, they aren't much worse than modern SUVs, but if
you put your foot into it often, you'll pay dearly for it at the pump,
especially if the majority of driving is in city traffic.
These cars can be somewhat rust prone. The lower front fenders seem especially
susceptible. Check the front overhang lower edge as well as the fenders
behind the wheel well; the area around the cornering lamp fixture is normally
one of the worst. Rust under the vinyl roof is a concern, too. Check carefully
under and around the vinyl roof moldings as well as under the rear window
and at the tops of the rear quarter panels where the vinyl roof molding
If sheer comfort, luxury, and quiet are what you seek in a collectible
car, there's no better automobile than the 1974 Thunderbird to pamper you,
and take you back to a time when owning a new Thunderbird was still a dream