1980 Ford Thunderbird

“New Thunderbird elegance in a new size …”

To me, the 1980 Ford Thunderbird was one of those “why?” cars, though the competitive drivers were obvious. The third Ford based on the “Fox” platform (the Fairmont and the Mustang had come first), the eighth generation ‘bird was of one of the most radically downsized automobiles in the North American auto industry. In comparison to its 1979 predecessor, the base 1980 Thunderbird was 17 inches shorter and 900 pounds lighter.

Standard power for 1980 was a Windsor 118 bhp 4.2 liter/255 cubic inch V8 with a Motorcraft two-barrel carburetor paired with a SelectShift three-speed automatic transmission. Powertrain upgrades were available: buyers could specify a $150 131 bhp 4.9 liter/302 cubic inch V8 with a two-barrel carburetor and could then add a $133 automatic overdrive transmission (with that engine only).

With the standard powertrain, 0-60 took about 15 seconds in the 3,100-pound car—the best powertrain combination dropped that time to a far more respectable 12 seconds. Mileage was 18 city/26 highway by the standards of the day—with a 17.5-gallon gas tank, a Thunderbird owner could expect a range of about 345 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $6,816 base Thunderbird (about $22,400 in today’s dollars) included variable ratio power rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, Thunderbird hood ornament with color-coordinated insert, full wheel covers, and P185/75R x 14 black sidewall tires. Inside, a tweed cloth-and-vinyl Flight Bench seat, a day/night inside mirror, an electric clock, and an AM radio were all standard.

Moving up to the $10,424 Town Landau (approximately $34,200 now) added a lot of equipment, including cast aluminum wheels, dual remote control mirrors, interval windshield wipers, velour cloth split front bench seat, six-way power driver’s seat, SelectAire air conditioning, power windows, power lock group, tilt steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo radio.

The top of the line Silver Anniversary edition ($12,172 then, $39,900 now) added the 4.9 liter engine, the automatic overdrive transmission, Keyless Entry System, a patterned luxury cloth split front bench seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fingertip speed control, a power antenna, and turbine-spoke cast aluminum wheels.

Options included a power-operated moonroof ($219), electronic information cluster ($275-$313), and leather upholstery ($349).

Two pages from the 1980 Ford Thunderbird brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

To say the market was not ready for the 1980 Thunderbird is a distinct understatement. Despite a much better level of standard equipment, the Thunderbird was only five inches longer than the plebian Fairmont. Sales of Ford’s halo model collapsed: dropping from 284,141 in 1979 to 156,803 in 1979, and losing almost a full percentage point of sales during a year when none of the main General Motors competitors in the personal luxury coupe market had more than a facelift.

It would get worse in the following two years: 86,693 in 1981 and 45,142 in 1982. By 1982, the Thunderbird was being handily outsold by all four of the mid-size GM coupes: Buick Regal, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Oldsmobile Cutlass, and Pontiac Grand Prix. It would take the next Thunderbird design in 1983 to redress this balance.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1980 Thunderbird Silver Anniversary in #1/Concours condition is $13,400, with a far more typical #3/Good car going for $5,000. This generation of Thunderbirds maintains some presence in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this in November 2017, there’s a black/silver two-tone 1980 with 85,000 miles for sale in Germany. The price: $12,800.

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