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1964-66 Thunderbirds

parmparm Posts: 723
I'd appreciate hearing from owners of 1964-1966 Ford Thunderbirds - particularly convertibles. I've always admired these cars and hope to own one someday. Let me hear the good and bad about these cars. How well do they drive? Are the seats comfortable? Are these good cars to own? Thanks. I look forward to hearing some insightful comments from you 64-66 T-Bird owners out there.
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Comments

  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Never owned one but there's plenty of old road tests out there. According to them the mid-'60s T-Bird is a wallowing underbraked barge. They weigh a lot more than they look, around 4500 lbs.

    I like the styling, especially the sequential taillights. The unit that sequences the taillights often fails but in my Cougars I could usually coax it back to life by cleaning the contacts.

    For a mid-'60s personal luxury car I think the 289-302 Cougar is a much better driver, especially the XR-7, but it doesn't have the Bird's over-the-top appeal and there's no convertible.
  • I don't think they hit 4,500 lbs. until the bloated 1967 redesign, and it was all down hill from there until 1983. No convertible after 66 either. 1967 was the beginning of the end for the Thunderbird as far as what it should have been.

    That being said, the Thunderbird was still too big in the mid 60's, but looked pretty good, and was available as a convertible.

    Comfort is also relative, as ergonomics were not thought of the same way as today, dumbed down for the 90th percentile.

    Unless you want a convertible, I would check out the 64-66 Buick Riviera as well. Better done execution of the same idea.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    For what it's worth I got the weight from The Encyclopedia of American Cars. And that's probably just the shipping weight. A Ford book I have mentions a Motor Trend test of a '64 Bird that weighed 4740 lbs. with fluids.

    Part of this road-hugging weight comes from all the gizmos they have, and probably from lots of sound deadening too. They're body on frame as I recall, and the 390 weighs more than it should. And all that weight is on a wheelbase only a little longer than a Falcon's.

    The early Riviera is an excellent driver, quick, decent handling and very solid. Made the '62 Grand Prix I had at the same time feel like a wallowing tin can. The Gran Sport Rivi is a bargain I think, although more car than most people need.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,347
    My favorite cars of all time would have to be the 64-65 Riviera. Great cars!

    In my opinion, the 64-66 T-Birds were pigs.

    I do like the way they look though especially the interiors. Seats are very uncomfortable.

    They handle very poorly. They are very hard on brakes and front end parts. The 64's with drum brakes were the worst.

    Lots of vacuum lines that caused troubles and electrical glitches.

    I'm sure others would disagree but I think you would be buying a major money pit.

    Still...running around my town there is a beautiful '65 that always turns my head.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Match these '60s cars with well-known people from the '60s:

    T-Bird...Dean Martin. Has custom wet bar installed.

    Riviera...Peter Lawford. A little British, a little Rat Pack.

    Avanti...Hugh Hefner. A little quirky, a little weird.

    Corvette...anyone with white teeth and a perfect tan. George Hamilton?

    Corvair...Bill Gates in his earlier incarnation as Robert McNamara.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,347
    Except Corvair...Ernie Kouvacs was killed in one.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Yeah, I'd forgotten about Ernie Kouvacs...he just doesn't seem like a Corvair kind of guy.

    The really obvious Corvair choice would be Ralph Nader. "Unsafe At Any Speed" is only partly about the Corvair but it was GM's response--looking for skeletons in Ralph's closet--that launched his career.
  • parmparm Posts: 723
    I started this string and have appreciated the comments thus far. The Riviera is certainly a nice car, but I want a convertible - so that eliminates the Rivi from consideration.

    I really like the look of the "Flairbirds" particularly the '64. I know the 64's drum brakes are less than steller, but I believe they can be replaced with disc units - at the very least from a '65, but better units are probably available.

    In terms of performance, I'm looking for a nice cruising car (hence my need for a convertible). My second choice is a '66 Mustang GT convertible, but nice one's are pretty pricey (though nice T-Birds aren't cheap!).

    Neck snapping acceleration and slot-car handling are not priorities on a nice autumn day while cruising in 1960's convertible - that's not the point. In my opinion, if you want to go fast, go buy a new Firebird/Camaro (while you still can) or late model Corvette. You'll spend less money (than for a restored 60's classic) and have an exponentially better car to go romping on a twisty back road.

    Anyway, this is a 1964-1966 Thunderbird discussion so let's not wander too far off of the subject. Not trying to be a "stick in the mud" - just trying to keep the conversation flowing in the intended direction.

    Thanks ISELLHONDAS for the "heads up" with regard to the confort level on the T-Bird's seats. I'd heard they weren't the greatest.

    Again, keep the 64-66 T-Bird comments (good and bad) coming. I appreciate them all.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,347
    I just think there are better choices.

    My best buddy's dad bought a '63 and later a new '65 when we were in high school. I spent many an hour in both of them.

    And I was there to pick my buddy up when he would drop them off to get repaired over and over.

    My favorite of that series is the '65.

    I guess as a straight line cruiser they would be an OK car if that's what you REALLY want.

    I don't think many convertables were made.

    The ones I can't stand are the 66 landaus. I think that runied the looks of them.

    Just my opinion.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,583
    ...but just going on style, I think the '64-66 generation is my favorite. Didn't they have a steering wheel that would pivot to the right, to make getting in and out easier?

    Isell...was the Landau that model with the really thick C-pillars that totally did away with the quarter-windows back there?
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Jeez, you mean I've got to stay FOCUSED? I thought at least the Dean Martin reference was relevant ;-).
  • I think if you want a nice cruiser the Mustang would be a better choice. The problem with these 60s Birds is that they are so clumsy and such gas hogs. I suppose that really good radials and a set of Bilstein shocks and a good sway bar might get rid of the white knuckles while driving. The brakes you just have to compensate for by not doing anything risky.

    As for the fuel issue, if you can still smile watching the gas gauge needle bounce as it hits "E", well,then you don't have a problem. The 60s Birds are good "ice cream cars" to drive the kids a few miles, but for serious miles, the Mustang is more competent, I think.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,347
    Yeah...they did away with the quarter windows and tried to give it a more formal look.

    The 75 year olds loved them.

    I remember my friends 65 T-bird had a low fuel warning light. First of those I can remember. It was red and not amber.

    When it came on it was NOT kidding! You had about 2 miles to find a station.

    The swingaway steering was another gimmick that had it's problems. Even when new you had to hold pressure on the shifter while in part to get it to start. Still I loved the speedometers on those. They had numbers that looked like large magnets. Impressive when lit up at night.
  • parmparm Posts: 723
    Admittedly, I have zero experience driving a Flairbird - or, any T-Bird for that matter. Thus, I don't have a frame of reference in terms of how well they drive. Consequently, I very much appreciate comments from those with actual driving experience.

    The '64 T-Bird convertibles I've found that look like what I want (already restored and in "turnkey" condition) have "asking" prices in the $20,000 to $25,000 range and all available from private sellers. Hopefully, this would buy me a T-Bird that can go down the road pretty well and be able to stay in my garage more than my local mechanic's.

    I drove a '65 Mustang convertible the other day that is for sale in my area (Central Indiana). It wasn't in particularly good condition and didn't have power steering or power brakes. Despite these negatives, it drove fairly decently. Though, I didn't want to drive it over 50 mph (didn't feel comfortable to do so).

    One positive for the T-Bird (vs. a Mustang) is that I think the Thunderbird has a larger interior - particularly in the back seat. My wife and I have a 10 and 13 year old so back seat room is an issue. I know the Mustang's back seat is really tight.

    Ya know, after reading the posts in the "looking for reliable 50-60's family classic" discussion forum, I'm starting to think a 1970-72 Cutlass convertible might be a better choice for what I want. It doesn't have nearly as much style as a 64-65 T-Bird, but it's more modern suspension probably results in a better driving car. Plus, a 350 engine and Turbo 400 auto is a pretty good combo. Finally, it's back seat area is larger than in a Mustang. Plus, you can use the trunk when the top is down (unlike the T-Bird - bummer!).

    Speaking of price, I found a very clean, detailed 72 Cutlass convertible for sale via the internet at a classic car dealer in Las Vegas (autocollections.com). This is a Supreme with A/C and IS NOT a 442 or an SX - and still, they're asking $24,500! I've got a good base of knowledge with regard to the values of mid 60's T-Birds and Mustangs and $24,500 seems awfully high for a '72 Cutlass Supreme - albeit an extremely nice one. I know dealers charge a premium and a better deal can be gotten from a private seller.

    Consequently, you all now have my permission (ha!) to break rank and give me your opinions in terms of 60's convertibles worth considering. I love the look of the 61-62 Cadillac convertibles, but don't want to have to call in a "tug boat" every time I want to park the thing - or my loan officer in order to keep the gas tank full. Plus, a Caddy convertible worth having is out of my budget.

    Again, keep the 64-66 T-Bird comments coming (by the way, I agree the front grill of the '66 is pretty ugly), but I guess I'm now open to hearing about other 60's convertibles.

    Gentlemen, the floor is yours.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Don't ever buy a Mustang with manual steering. In fact forget any compact car. Your profile says you drive a Honda so you're used to more refinement than any small '60s car has. That's why you didn't take the Mustang over 50.

    If you like '60s Ford styling, a great upscale driver would be the '69-70 Cougar convertible, ideally an XR-7 (better, psuedo-Jaguar interior) with the 351-4v Cleveland. They were getting a little jukebox by then but not the full Wurlitzer like the '71.

    If it was me I'd go with a '64-67 Chevelle 283 or maybe a '66-7 Fairlane 289, preferably with 4-speed. Good styling, useable back seat, not too big or heavy, excellent engines and good parts availability. But these are also going to feel a little flimsy compared to what you're driving now.

    If you like them big and Baroque how about a '65-66 Bonnevile or Catalina convertible? Good styling and drivetrains, great interiors.
  • I kind of went through the same thought process you are currently considering, the only difference is I started with late 50's Chrysler's (Fury, then a New Yorker) before laying a few ground rules for me to follow:

    I decided I wanted a convertible that was as original as possible, in as good shape as possible, and didn't want to spend more than $8,000 tops. (Since your price is higher, you will have more choices). It had to be something I could inspect myself before purchase, so that eliminated cars across the country. I was not necessarily brand loyal, but it had to be something that I found attractive and something I would want to drive. Lastly, a concern for older cars is to get one that will fit in your garage (measure them, some are huge!)

    I ended up with a 67 full size Ford convertible, which surprisingly very few people have ever seen. They are not as expensive as full size Pontiac's or Chevy's, (about the same as full size Dodge or Plymouth), and they built almost 900,000 full size Fords in 1967, so parts are cheap and easy to find. They are not as flashy as a Thunderbird, but they have much simpler electronics and mechanics than the Bird, and people still love them. I also think the 67's are the best looking of the post 64 full size Fords.

    Most smaller muscle cars from that period have been so heavily customized or thrashed that I think a full size is a better idea, especially if you can find one that has not been used much.
    Keep an open mind, but set some limitations down beforehand.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,347
    Cutlass and Skylark convertables are excellent, well built cars.

    Much more practical than that T-bird!
  • Those 60s T-Bird convertibles are "asking" prices indeed....even as 100 pt show cars $20K is all the money to the moon. And this would be a show car you'd never dare drive and should be perfect in every way...better than new.

    Geez, for $25K you can buy a very decent '55-'57 Bird. Crazy prices, especially in today's market. I don't see why you couldn't find a decent 60s T-Bird convertible in the $13K-15K range with cold hard cash in hand.

    I agree, GM convertibles of this era are far better vehicles.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,583
    ...are a good choice, I think. For their size, they handle very well, and with the right setup can get suprisingly good gas mileage if you don't stomp on it too hard. Most Catalinas back then either had 389 or 400 2-bbls, with fairly tall 2.56:1 gearing, so they had good off-the-line performance, but out on the highway, you could still break 20 mpg with 'em.

    Jsylvester makes a good point about the size of some of those old cars though. Back then, I think the typical full-size car was about 78-80" wide. As for Pontiacs, well, I think my '67 Catalina is about 215" long. Bonnevilles usually ran about half a foot longer or more, all of it in the trunk. So if you don't have enough space, a big car may not be that practical.

    Another late 60's 'vert I like, which is much more practical in terms of size, is the '67-69 Dart convertible. They're only about as wide as a modern Accord or Camry, but around 195" long, so they're about as long as a current Taurus or Century. Very easy to maneuver in parking as well, because they're squared-off enough that you can tell exactly where the car ends. Most of 'em either had 225 slant sixes or 273/318 V-8's, although the GTS had a very potent 340 as its base motor. Even though they were considered compacts back then, they were still pretty roomy and comfortable.
  • Pontiac's are super nice up to about 1970, and then the styling got unattractive in my opinion.
    Chevy's and Pontiac's are going to cost more than other domestics from the period, but you should get the money back out when you sell (subject to the cyclical market conditions). My choice would be Pontiac first, but expect to pay more, and to me condition was more important than the brand to me.

    This is because, in general, it is cheaper to buy one already in good condition than to spend the money to restore yourself, unless you have the time and ability. I would try to find one driven by an elderly person if possible, or by someone for whom it was a hobby, and not a daily driver.

    I found a good place to look at older cars is on E-bay. The ads tend to have good pictures, it gives you a chance to see what the older models looked like, and the ability to contact the owners. I almost never see any of them hit their reserve price, it is mostly just an advertising forum. You can limit your search to Indianapolis area if you like. Hemmings.com is another good one.

    In the end, you will be paying for it, so the most important thing is to buy what you like. For weekend cruising on a nice day, a Thunderbird does sound appealing.
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