The 1976 Thunderbird.
Could It Be the Best Luxury Car Buy In the World?
The private world of Thunderbird for 1976 was elevated to new heights by
advertising that took the previous year's ad slogan, "Could it be
the best luxury car buy in America?" and expanded it to include the
entire world for 1976! It might seem a bit far fetched at first, but let's
look a bit deeper at it.
The 1976 Thunderbird was introduced on October 3, 1975, and had a $7,790
base price. A total of 52,935 were built, which is pretty good considering
the car was now in its fifth year of this body style, and that externally
it hadn't changed much at all since 1974. 1976 sales increased 10,250 units
over 1975, and the price was only increased by $89, which is very reasonable.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Enough time had passed since the
oil crisis of 1973 for people to forget the long lines and gas shortages.
And, word was out that if you wanted a big Thunderbird, this would be your
last chance to buy it.
Much of the year's automotive news was about the final Cadillac Eldorado
Convertible being built. The Eldorado Convertible represented the last
of an American breed: the final convertible to roll off the assembly line.
For years, convertibles had been the glamour queens of most car lines;
and in the days before factory air conditioning and stereo systems, there
was nothing better than the exhiliration of driving with the top down and
enjoying the scenery and fresh air. But once factory air conditioning and
stereo radios in automobiles became popular, demand for convertibles dropped.
The availability of power sunroofs, T-Tops, and the like also contributed
to the decline of the convertible. Other manufacturers had stopped making
convertibles years earlier. The last Thunderbird Convertible rolled off
the line in 1966, and the final Imperial Convertible was built in 1968.
Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Chevrolet all built their last one in 1975.
Ford built its last Galaxie 500/LTD convertible in 1972, and the Mustang
followed along with its last convertible in 1973. Truly, the Eldorado was
the last American convertible being built, and everyone just knew they
were going to be collectible.
The final 200 1976 Eldorado Convertibles built were all identical with
white paint, white tops, and white leather interiors with red piping on
the seats and red components. Wheel covers featured white accent paint
instead of the normal black. Red and blue paint stripes decorated the exterior,
and a plaque was mounted to the instrument panel announcing it was one
of the last ones. Window stickers on the final 200 indicated an option
of "LAST CONV RPL DECOR PACKAGE" for $85. The real last one off
the assembly line was kept by Cadillac Division. Many were hardly driven
before they were put up for storage. Some were offered on the market seconds
after the last one Cadillac had to sell had been sold. Prices went into
outer space for a time, then came back down to Earth quickly. It seems
there were just too many nice ones around, and Cadillac spoiled it all
by marketing another Eldorado Convertible in the early eighties. So, it
was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last for long.
The Thunderbird, on the other hand, has never been as big as it was in
1976. And '76 was a good year to buy one, as they were great cars. Very
few problems presented themselves to owners, as almost five years of production
had eliminated most concerns, and the assembly workers had built so many
of them that they could almost do it in the dark.
In a fitting tribute to the final big Bird, Ford introduced several new
Luxury Groups. The Creme and Gold Luxury Group [links in this article open in a new window or tab] consisted of two tone
paint with Gold Starfire on the body sides and Creme on the hood, roof,
and deck lid. A Gold half-vinyl roof, Creme wide vinyl bodyside moldings,
Gold emblem in the opera windows, unique gold tape stripes, gold instrument
panel plaque, Deep Dish Wheels, and color-keyed luggage compartment dress-up
trim completed the picture. Inside, luxurious Gold Media Velour upholstery,
or soft Creme and Gold leather seating surfaces, with gold bolsters, instrument
panel, and carpeting, and Creme inserts on the seats and side panels. Very
Next was the Bordeaux Luxury Group, which was pretty much like the Burgundy Luxury Group from 1974. Rich
looking Bordeaux Starfire paint was complimented by a matching Dark Red
or Silver half-vinyl roof. Dual bodyside and hood paint stripes were in
gold or silver, depending on vinyl roof color. Dark Red wide vinyl bodyside
moldings protected the sides, and Simulated Wire Wheel Covers flashed in
the light as the Bird flew by. Inside, Media Velour upholstery in Red,
or Red leather seating surfaces pampered the lucky passengers. Red luggage
compartment dress up trim reminded everyone that this was not a standard
And if Creme and Gold and Bordeaux weren't your thing, the spectacular
Lipstick Luxury Group might have been. Flashy is an understatement! A Lipstick Red paint finish
was topped off with a Bright Red half-vinyl roof, dual white bodyside and
hood stripes, Bright Red wide vinyl bodyside moldings, and Simulated Wire
Wheel Covers. Inside, white trim in leather or Super-Soft vinyl, with vibrant
Red components. The luggage compartment dress-up trim was in Red. Spectacular
is the word!
Many features that were standard in 1975 were moved to the options list
for 1976, which may have been done to keep costs low. These items included
Tinted Glass, Automatic Seat Back Release, WSW Tires, Front Cornering Lamps,
AM/FM Stereo Radio, and Power Rear Quarter Windows were eliminated completely,
as they were now just stationary glass and didn't open at all.
New options were limited to a Kasman cloth interior trim, which was available
in five colors, a driver's side lighted visor vanity mirror, power lumbar
adjustment for the driver's seat, a signal seeking AM/FM Stereo Search
radio, and an AM/FM Stereo Radio with Quadrasonic Tape Player. The latter
played pre-recorded tapes that separated the music into four separate channels,
one for each speaker in the car. Speakers could be individually balanced
for the best sound quality, which fine tuned the listening experience to
individual preferences. This took stereo to a new level by literally adding
another dimension to it. Despite its $382 cost, it was a popular option.
The 1976 Thunderbird was not the only car to be in its final year prior
to a down sizing. Most of General Motors' full size cars would be much
smaller for 1977, including every Cadillac model in the line up except
for the Fleetwood Eldorado, which wouldn't be down sized until 1979.
After 1976, the Thunderbird would become a different car. Again. As needs
evolved, so did the Thunderbird. What began as a sporty two passenger convertible
for 1955, became a four passenger hardtop for 1958. A convertible was made
available late in the year. Styling changed every three years or so but
the Bird maintained the same character until 1967, when the convertible
was dropped and a four door sedan was added to the line. Built to accommodate
those who had always loved the Thunderbird's looks, but needed the convenience
of four doors, the new model was a sensation in its first year. Sales fell
during the following years, as it was truly a car about 4 years ahead of
its time when the last one was built in 1971. Cadillac's new "international
sized" Seville for 1976 would sell like crazy, and that is what the
four door Thunderbird could have been, had it been given more time.
In 1972, the Bird got bigger, more luxurious, and began to shed any pretense
of being sporty. And this is how it remained until 1976. When the 1977
models were introduced, a much smaller, lighter, more efficient car appeared,
with a much reduced price sticker, as well. And it was once again a huge
hit. More Thunderbirds were sold in 1977 than in any other model year prior.
And just as many lamented the passing of the original two passenger convertible,
others said the new smaller Birds weren't really Thunderbirds. But that
has always been one of the Thunderbird's secrets: the ability to change
with the times, and set new trends while doing it.
The Thunderbird has always been a leader, and it is the car other manufacturers
wished they'd had the foresight to build first. There is only one original,
and Thunderbird has always been it. Everything else is just a copy.