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Cheap Survivor: 1980 Ford Thunderbird

I realize this 1980 Ford Thunderbird is not a particularly special car. However, the design of this malaise-era T-Bird has always caught my eye for combining the decidedly old-school look of flip-up headlights with a thoroughly 80s-appropriate unibrow taillight panel. It’s evident they were trying to combine eras, and my feeling is that with a suitably large set of wheels and lowered suspension, this car would look positively bad-ass. Find this low-mileage example here on craigslist for $2,600. Thanks go to Barn Finds reader angliagt for the tip!

In an odd way, there’s a subtle homage to the 1965 Thunderbird in this taillamp arrangement. This panel – the aforementioned unibrow – is doubly striking for the slight indent made by the trunk, resulting in a tiny lip of metal that raises up when you lift the lid. It would have been simple enough to make it one even line, but Ford decided an iconic car like the Thunderbird deserved that extra custom tough to set it apart from the crowd.

56,000 original miles means the interior has remained in excellent condition. The red and white exterior is definitely a take-it-leave-it combination, largely let down by the overly small wheels and tires. The interior, however, is a bright spot, with near mint seating surfaces, door panels, and dash board. Of course, it is odd to see manual crank windows in a car that’s supposedly marketed to a high-end customer. These were dark days indeed for the automotive industry.

The seller knows that this body style of Thunderbird was only made for two years, but that doesn’t translate to higher values, unfortunately. These were underpowered and overweight, even if significantly slimmer than the generation that preceded it. I pass by one of these routinely in a local junkyard I frequent and can’t help but think what a pretty cruiser it would be with the right suspension and tire combination. Would you resto-mod one of these Thunderbirds or is it simply too obscure?


  1. Cadmanls Member

    It’s not a great car by any means but it is a fox body. Plenty of parts out there yet to improve the suspension and drop a stroker small block Ford in it and enjoy the sleepy look.

    Like 2
  2. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    Like most people, these just never appealed to me.

    It is interesting to follow the early Fox Body styling themes. First was the Fairmont, very square and boxy and plain, which fit its mission. It sold well. Next was the Mustang, still angular but with more style. It sold well. Then this Thunderbird, which too was angular but tried to evoke themes from older Thunderbirds. For whatever reason, it just never worked and thus sold poorly. I always thought the rear wheel to body dimension was awkward — it looked like the rear axle was too narrow.

    Wouldn’t it have been interesting to be at the Ford styling studios when they realized this was a dud, to participate in the discussion which led to a complete restyle in the ‘jellybean’ mold. Which worked great — the 1983-1988 Thunderbirds sold better, and I think they remain very attractive cars.

    This is a nice example. Maybe someone will buy it and take care of it.
    Thanks Jeff.

    Like 4
  3. NotSure

    Cousin Lance had the Cougar which used the same thing platform. He loved the car. I think his ex took it as part of the settlement…

    Like 1
  4. Dan

    This generation of the T-Bird was made for 3 model years – 1980, 1981 and 1982 – not 2. I remember when it came out and when it went away not a moment too soon. These days it is merely an awkward oddity left over from when the Big 3 were still trying to figure out the new rules of the game.

    Like 2
  5. irocrobb

    Not loved by most people, but you could go to the local cruise night and have some fun with a small investment. A nicer set of rims would do wonders.

    Like 5
  6. Dennis Prichard

    I had an 82 Thunderbird for several years bought used. Always enjoyed driving it and found it very comfortable. Mine was a chocolate brougham with vinyl roof and beige velour interior in perfect condition. Always seemed to have a minor shimmy in front end at certain speeds that I could never eliminate. That would be my only complaint.

    Like 4
  7. Jason

    My grandfather bought one of these new: black with a red cloth interior. This brings back a lot of memories!

    Like 4
  8. CCFisher

    It must be difficult to apply styling details from a larger predecessor to a new, smaller car. The hidden headlights, grille, bodyside detailing, and full-width taillight all pay homage to the ’77-’79 Thunderbirds, but the whole presentation comes off as “We tried to make the new one look like the old one. Sorry, this is the best we could do.”

    Like 3
  9. J Paul Member

    A friend in high school was given one of these (in dark blue with red velour) when his rusty 280zx finally gave up the ghost. He hated it, but his dad (in perfect dad wisdom) told him that he wasn’t allowed to get a new car as long as the Thunderbird was still working.

    Challenge accepted!

    The horrors that poor car went through still make me cringe to this day. Bombing through off-road trails in the woods. 30mph shifts from drive into reverse, and then back again. A complete absence of maintenance, or care. Yet the car wouldn’t die.

    Eventually the dad relented, and my friend bought a beautiful ’85 Mustang GT that he treated with the utmost of care.

    I note with irony that both cars, under the surface, were very similar!

    Like 4
  10. gtyates

    My grandparents had one of these, a 1980 version as well. Theirs had a 302 V8 and the TRX suspension/wheel package. It was not a bad driving car. They kept it about 9 years, unusual for them, and bought a 1989 T’Bird as a replacement. Oddly enough, even with the TRX package their car also had crank windows, but yet had the digital dash, power antenna, upgraded audio with amp. Odd package.. Largest failure they had on it was the heater core failing, which required the entire dash to be removed. She was the book-keeper for a repair shop, so that helped, but…

    Like 0
  11. Michael

    Detail it. Keep it completely stock. Pamper it. Re create or obtain all the original factory tags and markings. Before you know it, you may have the best example left in the country, when nearly everyone else has junked them.

    Like 4
    • Vance

      This car was the prelude to the Family Truckster owned by Clark Griswold. Cladding everywhere, this car is just ugly plain and simple. Take it to a car show and set fire to it. That’s the only way it could draw a crowd.

      Like 0

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