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1970 Thunderbird - Did You Know?
1. Sequential Turn Signals
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MILEPOSTS Garage | The Pontiac Thunderbird for 1970

About the 1970 Ford Thunderbird

1970 Ford Thunderbird Four Door Landau (click for larger image)

For the first time in its history, the Thunderbird wasn't restyled after its normal three year cycle. Historically, Ford made minor revisions to the original design during its second year, and more significant changes in its third year, to keep sales from slipping too much due to a stale appearance. The 1970 T-Birds would break that trend. Since the Thunderbird was now tied in very strongly with the Continental Mark III, with which it shared basic body structures and assembly facilities, the T-Bird was no longer able to support a new design every fourth year. This meant the original 1967 styling would remain, although it would be heavily face lifted in an attempt to give it a new look.

The lack of a new design didn't escape many people, since only the sheet metal panels from the windshield forward were changed, and the two door models got a new, lower roofline that looked as if it had been customized by chopping the top. This was a somewhat racy look for the T-Bird, one that almost gave it the appearance of a muscle car. With the same sheet metal from the front doors on back, it didn't look as fresh as it should have, and this prevented the normal sales rush a new restyle normally creates. In fact, sales only rose marginally from 1969. Fortunately, none of the competitors did a full redesign for 1970 either, so the Bird wasn't the only one in the personal luxury car market that still wore a modified (but dated) design. The Cadillac Eldorado got a new front grille and headlight treatment, and modified taillight lenses, but little else. The Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado wore styling that dated all the way back to 1966 - ancient history at the time - with the Riviera looking strangely heavy for 1970, and the Toronado sporting a massive new front bumper with exposed headlamps for the first time ever.

The most noticeable feature for 1970 had to be the sharply pointed front end, which jutted out dramatically in the center. "Shaped to slice the wind" the ad copy said, but the grille was poorly protected by the front bumper, and was prone to damage. Ford Dealers became very adept at replacing bent and mangled grilles because of this. In another unusual move, the two door Landau models no longer featured their trademark S-Bars on the sides of the roof. In their place was a new Thunderbird emblem, the same as the one used on two door Hardtop models. The only item that comprised the Landau model on a two door was the vinyl roof. The four door Landau would be the sole model to use S-Bars in 1970, and since it went to market without a new roofline or rear window treatment, it would somehow seem more dated in appearance than its two door counterparts.

After three years of production and a similar service history to consult, Ford had the opportunity to fine tune the T-Bird to a new level of quality and dependability. And this additional time to make improvements showed in the cars delivered for 1970. The number of vacuum and electrical connections was reduced, making these systems more reliable than ever. The suspension was modified to accommodate the new standard radial-ply tires, making the 1970 Thunderbird the first American car to include them as standard equipment. The automotive magazines of the time were very impressed with the new Thunderbirds, one stating that its handling was "uncanny" for such a large car. Another said they didn't think Ford could improve on the 1969 models, but assured their readers that they had, indeed, improved them.

If you think the T-Bird's dramatic 1970 styling is reminiscent of some of the cars built by Pontiac at the time, there's a reason for that. Ford had hired Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen away from General Motors, and since the changes he made at Pontiac had been so good for the brand, he thought the same treatment at Ford would have similar results. Needless to say, it wasn't long before Ford and Bunkie had a parting of the ways, but it was too late to make changes to the cars he had already influenced the design on. Prototypes built during his tenure show a very GM-like appearance, and we can all be thankful that they never made it to production.

Sales of the Thunderbird had been slipping for the past few years, due mostly to increased competition in the marketplace. The personal luxury field in 1970 had six nameplates competing for buyers, up from only four in 1966, and there's no doubt that the competition was a consideration that influenced the Thunderbird at this time. Gone were the days when Ford could have a free hand at design, taking a square car (1960) and shaping it into a sleek missile (1961) with no thought for the competition. In fact, there was literally NO competition at this time. And even considering the total lack of competition, when Ford did so, sales were not as expected, so perhaps the design of future Thunderbirds needed to be a little less flamboyant. The lesson had been learned: be conservative in design, but make it distinctive and keep an eye on what's happening over at GM.

The 1970 restyle would last only two years, and a totally new car would emerge for 1972, but the 1970 Thunderbird represents a time when quality control was very good, performance and handling were breathtaking for such a large car, and its road manners and ride were impeccable. Ford said the 1970 Thunderbirds were the most beautiful Thunderbirds ever built. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if the feeling of exhilaration you get when sitting behind the wheel when under way is considered a thing of beauty, Ford was right.

For additional information on the 1970 Thunderbird, read The Pontiac Thunderbird for 1970 at MILEPOSTS Garage.

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