Graded – Ford Thunderbirds

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

The Thunderbird may be the second most recognizable model name in Ford’s history; after the iconic Mustang of course. Over the span of 50 years, eleven generations of Thunderbirds came and went: some legendary, others completely forgettable.

Below we have taken a sampling from each generation of Thunderbird and graded them based purely on our own thoughts and feelings. How did we do? Do we love the Super Coupe too much? Let us know!

1957 Ford Thunderbird

Autolobotomy Grade: A+

Many consider the first-generation Thunderbird as the icon for the nameplate and it is hard to argue that point. Each year of the first-generation car is slightly different and picking a favourite is a matter of personal preference. For me it has to the 1957 model that could come with a supercharged V8 making 340 hp.

1960 Ford Thunderbird

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The second-generation Thunderbird differed greatly from the original car as it was much larger and could now included a rear seat. Like the first-generation car, the 2nd gen car differed slightly each year. I’m personally a fan of the 1960 model with the triple taillight on each side of the rear the car.

1962 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

The third-generation Thunderbird continued the tradition of lasting for three model years. It furthered the themes of the 2nd gen car as a large personal luxury coupe and convertible, with even more premium content added. For the 1962 model year Ford introduced the Sports Roadster which fitted a fiberglass tonneau cover over the rear seats, turning the giant convertible in a pseudo roadster.

1966 Ford Thunderbird

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

The fourth-generation Thunderbird is one of the most recognizable cars in the model’s history thanks to its many appearances in television and film. Being the mid-‘60s, the Thunderbird couldn’t escape the muscle car madness that was gripping North America and included an optional 428 cubic inch V8 for 1966.  

1968 Ford Thunderbird

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The fifth-generation took the Thunderbird in a new direction, focusing much more on luxury rather than performance. Big brawny V8 engines could be had, but this was not a muscle car. The styling was a love it or hate it affair for most. But even if it is not your cup of tea, it was unique.  

1974 Ford Thunderbird

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

By its sixth-generation, the Thunderbird had become a 5,000 pound behemoth of a car. To match its immense size and portly weight, a monstrous 460 cubic inch V8 was available in 1974. I do like the styling of this car, but it was missing that special element of previous models.

1978 Ford Thunderbird Diamond Jubilee Edition

AutoLobotomy Grade: C

If excess were a car, this is it. The Diamond Jubilee Edition crammed every available option into the Thunderbird and then some. It skyrocketed the price of the car into the stratosphere. But regular sixth-generation Thunderbirds were well received and sold like hot-cakes. The car is just underwhelming to me.

1980 Ford Thunderbird

AutoLobotomy Grade: D

This was the low water mark for the Thunderbird franchise. Significantly smaller than the previous model, the eight-generation Thunderbird did not catch on with consumers, and for good reason. It was mediocre in every way.

1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

With the ninth generation Thunderbird, things began to turn around; especially with the Turbo Coupe. Powered by the 2.3-liter turbocharged engine found in the Mustang SVO, power was up to 190 hp in 1987 for the big two-door Thunderbird. Styling for this car was well received and sales were significantly up over the previous generation.

1994 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

I may be biased as this was the Thunderbird I remember most from my impressionable teenage years. But the Super Coupe is thee modern Thunderbird; the epitome of the franchise in recent times. By 1994 the car pumped out 230 hp and a massive 330 lb-ft, paired to a five-speed manual transmission. Also, that sleek styling has aged well.

2002 Ford Thunderbird

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

The eleventh-generation Thunderbird attempted to cash in on America’s obsession with retro-designed cars during the early 2000s. For the most part, Ford succeed with the Thunderbird featuring many visual cues of the early models and sales were strong for the first year of production. But a high price tag and ho-hum performance kept buyers away over the next few years before the car was axed.

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