By Dave Turner
“A New Kind of Thunder” – 7th Generation Thunderbird 1977-79
Photographs of the models discussed may be found at the end of the article.
The 1970s was an extremely difficult time for the US motor industry. Apart from the recently mandated 5mph bumper regulations there was the Government dictated CAFE (corporate average fuel economy targets) as well as escalating fuel prices. Having just produced the biggest and heaviest of all Thunderbirds, sharing much of the huge Lincoln Mk 1V structure, there was a desperate need to downsize the T’bird while at the same time retain its super luxury image and features.
For 1977 therefore, the new Thunderbird can be regarded as the successor to the Gran Torino Elite, as well as a close relation to the then new LTD 11. Compared to the previous car, the 7th incarnation of T’bird was no less than 10” shorter in overall length as well as 4” less in wheelbase and 3” narrower. this allowed the car to be 900 lbs. lighter. This together with uprated steering geometry made the 7th Series much more fun to drive. The styling was extremely sharp and square, featuring such features as hidden headlights and the ‘B’ post that extended up and over the roof liked a tiara in which there were small opera windows that must all have made sense at the time. Engine choices were all V8s, 302, 351 and 400ci all with three speed SelectShift automatic. List price had been able to come down by means of deleting a lot of equipment once regarded as standard on the bigger Thunderbirds, although a new model in mid year called Town Landau identified by the brushed aluminium tiara re-introduced them as standard once more adding 200 pounds to the weight and nearly $3000 to the price.
Luckily for Ford, the new cars were a positive hit and the 7th Generation T’birds were the best selling of the whole models history. Cars for 1978 were changed very little, identified only by their bright trim surrounds for the headlamp covers. A new option this year was a ’T’ bar roof with removable glass panels over the front seats while an additional model celebrated Fords 75th Anniversary. This Diamond Jubilee Edition featured a vinyl covering over the rear roof section that deleted the rear side windows.
Once again, 1979 cars changed very little but could be identified by their changed grille with just three horizontal bars rather than the previous six, and the now divided rather than full width rear lights. The lavish Diamond Jubilee Edition became the Heritage. In just three years total 7th Gen production was 955,032.
For 1980 Thunderbird shrunk even further, being based on the Fox platform that began with the Fairmont and Zephyr going on to feature beneath Mustangs, Capris and Cougars.
In view of the real cars popularity when new, it is a little surprising that only a couple of models of the the 7th variant of Thunderbird have so far been found. No models at all of the next smaller T’birds have been found!
For 38 years since the real car appeared, Lindbergs 1:32 plastic kit was the only model of these Thunderbirds available, it is of the simple ‘Snap fit’ type so that assembly should be straightforward, its ultimate success depends solely on how it is painted.
Recently a superb 1:43 ’79 model came from Neo, the detail of which takes time to study. It appears to depict a car with the Sports Decor-Group of extras that include the styled road wheels and the extra instruments in the dash. Even the seat belts are visible extending down from their roof mounting although the dummy luggage straps on the trunk lid are omitted.
|Lindberg||1977||USA||383||1978 Thunderbird||1:32||plastic kit|
1) Linberg 1:32 plastic kit from USA: 383 1978 Thunderbird
2) Neo 1:43 resin from China: 44780 1979 Thunderbird
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