A Fine Looking 1966 Ford T-Bird Convertible / Photos, Specs

Ford Thunderbirds have long been know as America's Luxury Cars. The 1966 Ford Thunderbird Convertible featured in this article was part of the fourth generation models that began with the 1964 car.

1966 ford thunderbird

1966 Ford Thunderbird

This new generation of Thunderbirds of course had new styling. The cars had squarer lines and sold well. Convertibles during this generation made up a lower proportion of total production.

The 1964 models also had plenty of other new items. 1964 was the first year for transistorized ignition, “Highway Pilot” speed control and the Silent-Flow through ventilation system. The ventilation system was for hardtops and landaus only. The Safety Convenience Control Panel was also new to the fourth generation Thunderbirds. This included a low fuel warning light, door ajar light, four-way emergency flashers and a second toggle switch to activate a vacuum operated door-lock system. Fourth generation Thunderbirds had these safety and convenience items as standard equipment.

Thunderbird Models for 1966

There were four styles offered in 1966. Thunderbird choices included a Conventional Hardtop, Town Hardtop, Town Landau and Convertible.

The Landau's were offered as a dealer installed option beginning in 1964. There was no Roadster offered that year. The Landau did give the buyer that 1950's two seat sports car feel.

fourth generation thunderbirdsThe full rear tail lights on the 66 model debuted in 1964. Power steering and brakes were standard for the 66 model.

1966 Ford Thunderbird production totals came in at 69,170 units.

1966 Ford Thunderbird Specifications

There were three engines available for the 1966 Ford Thunderbird. These engines included a Thunderbird 390 Special V-8 with a four barrel carburetor.  This engine was rated at 315 HP.

Another was a standard 390 cubic inch V-8 that was rated at 265 HP. The third engine option was a Thunderbird 428 cubic inch V-8 that delivered 345 HP.

Transmissions used in the 66 Thunderbird was a three speed automatic. During the 1966 model run there were two different transmissions used. The first was a Cruise-O-Matic that was used only on the 390 engines and was discontinued in November 65. The other transmission was called the C6 Dual Range Automatic and was used with the 428's and used exclusively put in the Thunderbirds beginning in November 65.

The 1966 Ford Thunderbird had front disc brakes as standard.

Suspension included Helical Coil Springs with hydraulic shock absorbers. Rear suspension was comprised of Longitudinal Semi elliptic Leaf Springs.

Dimensions included a 113.0 inch wheelbase and an overall length of 205.4 inches. Width was 77.3 inches and height varied by exact model. Height ranged from 52.5 to 52.7 inches.

See additional Auto Museum Online articles on the links below...

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66 ford thunderbirdFord Thunderbird Collector Cars and Values

The Ford Thunderbird was one of the longest running models in Ford history. The automobile was originally designed to compete against Chevy's new Corvette. Both cars would also compete against the foreign sport car imports of the 50's. The Thunderbird however differed from the Corvette in several respects. The car was first marketed as a personal luxury vehicle possessing more creature comforts than the Corvette.

The Ford Thunderbird went from an original two-seater to a four seater and at one time had a design that made it appear as a mid size car. Highest collector values today of course go back to the first generation beginning in 1955.

When you see a 55 T-Bird on the road today it most likely will be immaculately restored and at an auto show or meet. These pristine first generation Thunderbirds as of today have average values of $40,000 to $70,000 depending on degree of restoration. These figures are from recent price guides.

The second and third generation (58-63) values drop to an average range of $25,000 to $35,000. Fourth generation T-Birds of which the 1966 model shown in this article is a part of appear to have top tier valuations in a range of $15,000 to $35,000 with the Convertible model usually with the higher price. After that year the redesigned Thunderbird values drop precipitously until the model was discontinued in 1997.

66 ford thunderbird dash

66 T-Bird dash

Ford brought back the Thunderbird beginning in 2002 for a a four year run. Those models were all two-seaters with Convertible and Removable Hardtops and sold new in the range of $38,000 to $42,000. Today's average top values are in the range of $18,000 to $24,000.

Reference material included Ford Motor Company Archives...The Book of the Ford Thunderbird from 1954 by Brian Long...1966 Ford Thunderbird Handbook.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Auto Museum Online)


An Early Classic / A Red 1961 Ford Thunderbird

The 1961 Ford Thunderbird represented the beginning of the third generation Thunderbirds and they were sleeker than the ones before them.

1961 ford thunderbird

1961 Ford T-Bird

Chevrolet was the first of the Detroit automakers to test the sports car market with the introduction of their Corvette. Ford of course wanted to follow suit and did so with it's first Thunderbird. The first Ford Thunderbird was introduced at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show.

Thunderbirds were the cars from Ford which in 1955 started out competing directly against the Chevy Corvette. After several years each model went their separate ways. The Ford Thunderbird was always considered somewhat sporty but in a luxurious way. Ford called their Thunderbird a personal luxury car. Chevrolet Corvette went the sports car route and never looked back.

the bullet bird thunderbird

The 1961 "Bullet Bird"

The 1961 Ford Thunderbird

There were several designs on the drawing board for the 1961 third generation Thunderbird. As it turned out, Elwood Engel’s design proposal lost out to the winning one by Alex Tremulis. Ford President Robert McNamara saw the Thunderbird design and liked it so much he also turned it into the 1961 Lincoln. This was advantageous on a production standpoint since both the Thunderbird and Lincoln were able to share many aspects of their unibody construction and the cars were both built at Ford's Wixom production plant. It should be noted that Engel's design did have a lot to do with the Lincoln Continental design.

The chassis design was similar to the second generation Thunderbirds, 1958-60, but was modified slightly to provide better handling and a smoother ride.

1961 ford thunderbird dashboard

61 T-Bird interior and dashboard

In 1961 the Thunderbird went through a complete redesign. The car was lower. longer, wider and bigger. In fact the Ford Thunderbird was lower than just about any car on the road in 1961.The third generation cars came with many firsts. The body shell was all new with a prominent pointed front prow, modest fins above the Thunderbird's large round tail lights. Many referred to the third generation Ford Thunderbirds as the "Bullet Birds". Others referred to these automobiles as the "Projectile Birds".

A Cutting Edge Interior

The interior design featured a dash which curved at its outboard ends to blend in with the door panels, and the first "Swing Away" steering wheel, which would swing to the side when the car was in park and the door was opened to help with entry and exit.

The new hard-top model had softer roof lines than its "Square-Bird" predecessor. On the convertible models, the forward end of the trunk lid was still rear-hinged.

Options for the 1961 Ford Thunderbird included air conditioning, power windows, power seats, AM radio, fender skirts and white wall tires. Standard features which cost extra on other models included power steering and power brakes, back up lights and bucket seats.

1961 ford thunderbird taillight

Large round Thunderbird tail light

1961 Ford Thunderbird, A Milestone Car

As an added honor the 1961 Ford Thunderbird was the pace car during the 1961 Indianapolis 500 Race. Also, President John F. Kennedy rode in a 1961 Thunderbird during his inauguration parade.

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An excellent illustrated book about the Ford Thunderbird is...Thunderbird! An Illustrated History of the Ford T-Bird (The Ford Road Series, Vol. 4) by author Ray Miller.

1961 Ford Thunderbird Specifications

The only engine available in 1961 was the 390 cubic inch V8 with a Holley four barrel carburetor which delivered 300 horsepower. As a side note, a small number of 1962 and 1963 third generation T-Birds were built with M version engines. These were comprised of 390 cubic inch six barrel carburetor V-8's putting out 340 horsepower. The 300 horsepower engine did the Zero to 60 MPH in 8.8 seconds.

Transmission was a three speed automatic. This was Ford's Cruise-O-Matic.

The 1961 Ford Thunderbird had a wheelbase of 113,0 inches and an overall length of 205.0 inches, width of 75.9 inches and a height of 52.5 inches on the hardtop. Weight averaged about 4,200 lbs for the hardtop and about 4,130 lbs for the convertible.

The two door hardtop 61 Thunderbird cost about $4,300 new.

Thunderbird production numbers for 1961 were 62,535 hardtops and 10,516 convertibles.

1961 t-bird rear

61 T-Bird rear

Third Generation Ford Thunderbird Collector Cars

There has been and still is a lot of interest in early generation Ford Thunderbirds. The styling of the third generation models was a big upgrade over the first "Square 'Birds" following the conversion to a four-seater offering a sleek profile. Personal luxury was the Ford Thunderbird's primary goal and as a collector car the early Thunderbird has a unique place.

As prices go for the early Thunderbirds, the third generation cars depending on condition, originality, mileage and degree of restoration are relatively inexpensive collector cars. In general, you should find asking prices in the $15,000 to $35,000 range with non restored cars with very high mileage being below those figures.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)

1955 to 1957 Ford Thunderbirds

1956 Ford Thunderbird

The very popular Ford Thunderbird came about as an answer to the Chevrolet Corvette. The first Ford Thunderbird rolled off the Dearborn Michigan assembly line on September 9, 1954. The two seat Thunderbirds are very popular collector's cars. The start of design work for the Thunderbird came right after Chevrolet introduced it's Corvette at the 1953 Metrorama. It's a well known fact that auto designers during the early 1950's at Ford were well aware of the potential of a two seat sports car and when the assignment was handed to them they were quite ready. Everyone knew of the popularity of the British MG.

The 1955 to 1957 Thunderbirds were two seat vehicles just like the Corvette. The styling added a few more creature comforts than the Corvette. Interestingly enough, when the first Thunderbird rolled off the line for the 1954 model year, Ford Motor Company already had plans for a four seat version for the 1958 model year. This fact alone virtually guaranteed that the two seaters would become a collectors model. Relatively low total production figures of sporty cars eventually make that automobile valuable.

Ford Thunderbird Two-Seater

Production Figures and Specs

Production figures for the two seat Ford Thunderbird were 16,155 cars in 1955, 15,631 in 1956 and 21,380 in 1957. Ford Thunderbird 1955-57 specs included a length of 173.3 inches for the 1955 model...185.2 inches for 1956 and 185.2 inches for the 1957 model year. The wheelbase was 102.0 inches for all three years and the weight for the three years the two seat Thunderbirds were built ranged between 2,980 to 3,145 lbs. Available engines were the 292 Overhead Valve V-8 for all three years and a 312 Overhead Valve V-8 for the 1956 and 1957 models.

You'll also enjoy our article and photos on the 1955 Gull Wing Mercedes, a very unique and quite different high performance sports car. Also our article on the compact muscle car, the 1964 Ford Falcon Futura Convertible

Two seat Ford Thunderbird front end with sporty hood air scoop

Thunderbird vs Corvette

Since the Ford Thunderbird and the Chevrolet Corvette were in direct competition with each other, the question that arises is what were their primary differences? The body material was different since the Corvette body was made of fiberglass. The Ford Thunderbird was made with stamped steel.


The Corvette was also modeled in many ways toward the European idea of a racing car. The Ford Thunderbird on the other hand presented a "California flavor" in auto design. The Thunderbird was really built more like a mid 1950's convertible than a true sports car. Ford's Thunderbird was in the "personal luxury" class. While the Corvette had such true sports car features of the time such as no exterior door handles, the Thunderbird had these as well as roll up windows and a fold down convertible top. Such cars had a sportier feel that sedans, but they were not all-out sports cars. Some contend that the design of the 1955 Thunderbird ushered in an era of a totally different class of car. It was a luxury personal car that a "banker could drive to work". It wasn't a luxury sedan but a luxury two seater.

Car handling went to the Corvette. The Thunderbird handled quite well but with about 800 lbs more weight that the Corvette, the Chevy product won the prize. The Ford Thunderbird delivered every bit the power of the Chevy Corvette. It's V-8 outperformed the 1955 Corvette 6 cylinder engines and pretty much matched the power of the Corvette V-8. Corvette changed to V-8's in 1956.

The famous Ford Thunderbird logo on front of car

The Four Seaters

When the four seat Thunderbirds came out in 1958 they were very popular. Although they really didn't offer the artistic design element of the two seats, their sales figures were very impressive.

As an example, during the first 1958 model year, sales figures totaled about 50,000, several times the sales figures of the two seaters. I would assume the four seat design simply added more potential buyers who either wanted of needed a four seat vehicle but weren't big on standard luxury sedans.  Since the 1958's delivered that along with the Thunderbird sports flare, many more buyers were hitting the dealer showroom floors.

While the two seaters didn't match the sales figures of the four seat Thunderbirds, the first Thunderbird model year of 1955 certainly did well against it's perceived competitor Corvette. The 1955 two seat Thunderbirds, priced about $500 less than the Corvette, outsold the 1955 Corvettes at a ratio of about four to one. The year 1955 was not a good one for the Chevrolet Corvette although things improved a lot during the 1956 model year with it's V-8 power and some restyling.

(Article and photos copyright AutoMuseumOnline)