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Automotive Mileposts  
Production Numbers
Image: 1968 Ford Thunderbird Fordor Landau
Fordor Landau shown in Sunlit Gold Metallic
INTRODUCTION DATE: September 22, 1967

65C - Tudor Hardtop 9,977 (Bench Seat 4,557/Bucket Seats 5,420)
  $4,638.91 Before January 1, 1968
  $4,715.47 After January 1, 1968
65B - Tudor Landau 33,029 (Bench Seat 13,924/Bucket Seats 19,105)
  $4,768.36 Before January 1, 1968
  $4,844.92 After January 1, 1968
57C - Fordor Landau 21,925 (Bench Seat 17,251/Bucket Seats 4,674)
  $4,847.28 Before January 1, 1968
  $4,923.84 After January 1, 1968
Note: Price increases listed at left are due to the addition of the Thunder Jet 429 V-8 Engine to the standard equipment list. Also, Front Seat Shoulder Belts were added to meet government safety standards. The cost of these two items combined was $76.56. Both of these changes officially took effect on January 1, 1968.

There is reason to believe that the 429 engine was actually a mandatory option virtually from the first day of production, until it was listed as a standard item in January 1968. Records indicate that just one (1) Fordor Landau model left the assembly line with the 390 engine, which would indicate Ford planners changed their minds on including the 390 as standard equipment at the last minute, long after brochures, advertisements, and product information for sales staff had been printed.

Since all of Thunderbird's competition in 1968 included higher displacement engines as part of their standard equipment, this decision makes sense as it would keep the Thunderbird competitive in its market segment.
Despite early reports in automotive publications of a new Thunderbird Town Sedan model for 1968, there are no records that indicate this model ever went into production. The Town Sedan was planned to be identical to the Fordor Landau except it did not include a vinyl roof. It's likely that a prototype was built, but since vinyl roofs were overwhelmingly preferred by luxury car buyers in 1968, it is likely the new model was deemed unnecessary and shelved before production began.
Thunderbird 1968: Room For the Family, But At What Cost?

Image: 1968 Ford Thunderbird Fordor Landau S-Bar MedallionAt first glance, Ford's Thunderbird for 1968 didn't undergo any major changes from 1967. It had the same body styles, after all they were just one year old. Modest updates to the front grill, valance, rear taillights, and interior. Certainly nothing to get too concerned over. Ford had thrown more dramatic changes at its T-Bird customers before. For instance, the change between 1957 and 1958 was certainly a big one, going from a two seater convertible to a four passenger hardtop; and just the previous year, some were shocked to discover no more convertible in the lineup, and (gasp!) a four door Thunderbird sitting in dealer showrooms! On the surface, everything seemed to be settling down again for the car in its second year of its 5th body style. A few new colors, some cool new options, but certainly nothing to rock the boat. Or was there?

Upon closer inspection, the changes to the 1968 models were much bigger than one might have first suspected. Gone, for the first time in ten years, were the standard bucket seats! The Thunderbird was the car that started that trend! The T-Bird's competition at this point all charged extra for bucket seats, including Cadillac's spiffy new Eldorado, and that may have been the basis for the change to the Bird. The Riviera started charging extra for bucket seats in 1966, after just three years of providing them as standard equipment. The bucket seats and console had defined the Thunderbird, and set it apart from its competition. But the changes to the standard equipment list didn't stop there. Where was the Tilt-Away Steering Wheel? Introduced in 1961 as the Swing-Away Steering Wheel, it was so popular that it became a standard item early in the 1962 model year. Why, just the previous year Ford updated it, and it not only moved up and over out of the way for ease of entry and exit, automatically, it also tilted up and down to make the driving position more comfortable. Did people not like this new convenience innovation? Virtually overnight, two of the Thunderbirds most unique and beloved features were now OPTIONS at extra cost!

And the changes didn't stop there. What happened to the script? Inside and outside...gone. Sure, the rear side marker-reflector had a nifty Thunderbird script—set against a background of simulated alligator grain as part of the assembly, but a few years of car washes and weather quickly made the black paint in the background fade away, making the script almost invisible. The door panel assist straps, introduced as a standard feature in 1967, were now part of the extra cost Brougham Interior Trim option. And what about the rear seat fold down arm rest? It had been standard on all models since 1964, and it was now part of the extra cost Brougham trim option. The console, of course, disappeared with the bucket seats. At this point, it might sound like we don't care for the '68 Thunderbirds, but that's just not true. We feel that Ford gave away too many of the Bird's unique, standard features in 1968. Features that had always made the car stand out from all the others. And to make matters worse, it was now also becoming very confusing as to which interiors were available for two door models, and which ones were for four door models. Certain colors could be had with one, but not the other. Choice is good, but placing limits on options gets to be bothersome.

To be fair, some really great things happened to the Bird on the way to '68: the standard front bench seat did broaden Thunderbirds appeal, making it available to more people than ever before. The instrument panel was cleaned up in the process of redesigning it meet federal government safety standards. The heavy rocker moldings of the previous year were replaced by thin ones that made the Bird look lower. The emblem in the round air register vent on the instrument panel in front of the passenger was a nice touch, placed to line up perfectly with the round gauge pods in front of the driver. And Ford's advertising campaign for 1968 was slick: great color photography with the cars set in remote desert locations with cool special effects. The ads were very distinctive, very well done, and very impressive when compared to other automobile advertising of the day.

Since we've complained so much up to this point, may we offer a solution for the issues we mentioned? Well, you've come this far with us, so you might as well read on...instead of making the bench seat standard, Ford could have offered the buckets and console, OR the individually-adjustable front bench seat with dual arm rests—straight from their upcoming Continental Mark III—as standard at no extra cost. They could have let the customer choose their seating arrangement. (Yet one more decision to be made.) Ditto for the Tilt-Away Steering Wheel. Delete it for credit, if the customer objected to it. The script should have remained on the rear quarter panel, the designers should have lost the alligator grain part of the reflector, centered it under the script, and put a light bulb in the marker from the very beginning! For years we thought all '68s had a wiring problem, as early production models didn't come equipped with a light in the rear side markers, they just had the reflector! This was changed during production, but it looked strange at night. The Thunderbird could have had a new script for the instrument panel, included door assist straps on all interiors, (and save a few cracks in the plastic door arm rests), and not penalize rear seat passengers in cars with the standard interior with vinyl upholstery: the rear center arm rest should have remained as part of the standard equipment.

Hindsight would correct a lot of things, but Ford didn't ask us, and this is just our opinion. Tell us what you think! We really do love the 1968 Thunderbirds, we just feel that Ford gave up too many of its unique features all at one time. Perhaps there are reasons for the changes that are not known to us. Whatever the reason(s), in 1968 Ford advertised: "It's never been easier to fly with the Bird." We agree!