1973 - 1976
1977 - 1979
1980 - 1982
This 5th generation is the first in a long, weird string that the
Thunderbird didn't get off of truly until 1983. The convertible
was dropped this year, the first time you could not get an open air
T-bird, an option that didn't return until 2002. Ford added two
more doors, making the car available for the first time as a four
door. This generation's nickname of 'suicide birds' was earned by
the suicide doors found on those models.
Smaller was actually better as this Thunderbird set the sales
record, blowing away all 'birds that came before it. Buyers
responded well to the new dowsized design which was
groundbreaking in a way that defied conventional thinking at
that time in American automotive design. The record amount
of Thunderbirds (352,751 in 1978) produced that year has
not been approached by any other Thunderbird since.
This Thunderbird debuted at a time when the entire industry was
downsizing. Ford utilized the new Fox chassis for this model.
These cars are unfortunately anything but hot collector's items
with microscopic horsepower ratings and small engine choices.
These cars sold moderately after the initial launch in 1980, then
dropped to less than 5% of Ford's total sales in 1982, but the new
platform was sound and paved the way for future generations.
At one point during the '73-'76 run, Thunderbird owners
could have been treated to a large 460 motor that generated
130 net horsepower. Things were bad, but these cars
carried the Thunderbird name through the dark ages of
automobile manufacturing. Many options found on these
cars were merely signs of the time (see split vinyl roof,
opera windows), and thankfully would never be heard from
again when automotive designers stopped doing drugs.
1972 saw the millionth Thunderbird produced. Starting in 1970,
Thunderbird had become longer, wider, and weaker thanks to
choking emissions laws. Ex-Pontiac chief Bunkie Knudsen was
responsible for giving the T-Bird a long grille that stuck out more
like a beak. Buyer response was minimal. This generation
pioneered the long, overblown models of the Seventies, finally
doing away with any pretense of sportiness as the marque began
to be sold as 'personal luxury'.