A Flair for the All-new ’64 Thunderbird, Part Two
By Todd Duhnke
This story was published in the January-February issue of The Thunderbird Scoop magazine. Condensed and re-printed by permission.
Photos: Ford Design. Posted by permission.
Recently in Dean’s Garage we examined the early design development of the ’64 Thunderbird. We now complete that story concluding with the final year of this design cycle, the ‘66s.
Concurrent with all the exterior work being done, Art Querfeld and his team were designing the fabulous interior. In the 1980s, Ford historian and author, Jim Farrell had an interview with Gale Halderman who was part of Querfeld’s team and discovered that addition to Halderman the other members of the studio who designed the ‘64’s interior were Jim Quinlin, Al Mueller, and Jim Darden.
According to Farrell, Halderman and Quinlin designed the instrument panel and cluster while Darden was tasked with finding a solution to making the rear seat wider than previous Thunderbird convertibles. Back seats on ’58-63 convertibles were rather narrow due to packaging constraints between the rear wheelhouses. Darden’s unique coved rear seat allowed room for the wheelhouses and was a full width. It was instantly popular and became a styling element Thunderbird used for years following.
However, the coved back seat nearly didn’t make production because of the complexity of incorporating the curve. The rear seat had to be built in four sections. A seat bottom, center back cushion structure and the two curved sides. Production was worried about the ability to line up the pattern so that it appeared as one whole unit. The solution was to make the pleats vertical, neatly hiding the two joints between the three separate back pieces.
By the time of production the multi-piece rear seat problem was completely solved by placing a retractable arm rest between a separate left and right curved back sections.
Najjar was credited with the elegant polished aluminum door panel trim line which carried through to the quarter panel and up and around the back seat.
Thunderbird and Lincoln convertibles from 1958 through 1966 utilized much of the complicated mechanism originally developed for the ’57 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner retractable hardtop. A smooth surface from seat back to taillight bezel was accomplished by retracting the top into the trunk. This eliminated the need for a conventional boot.
Taken in the Styling Rotunda on a turntable for management review, this Vintage Burgundy fiberglass model is nearing approval.
With the tooling expense of developing a new body for 1964, changes for the ’65s were limited. Sequential turn signals finally got approved from all fifty states. The instrument panel and console had a camera case black finish replacing the brushed aluminum trim. The biggest improvement to the 1965 Thunderbird was the addition of front disc brakes.
In the first three generations of the Thunderbird, the last year of the three year design cycle received the most significant changes. The same applied to the 1966s. Not much has been found showing the styling progress of the 1966 model, including the redesign of the front and bumper ensemble which is believed to have come out of Dave Ash’s Special Development Studio.
The photo of this proposal, supplied by Ford Design, is included in the Thunderbird development story and features hidden headlights, a blade front bumper, and a painted front valence.
These photos show the removal of the quarter windows and wide “C” pillar for the Town Landau.
There appears to be a raised surface on the “C” pillar. This could be proposal as detail for those cars equipped with a padded vinyl top.
In late 1964 and throughout 1965 Ford previewed the 1966 models with a show car called Palomino. This previewed for the public the upcoming Town Landau roof treatment and the rear design separating the bumper into two sections with taillights. The experimental Wrist Twist steering replacing the conventional steering wheel was also featured. Ford, GM, and Chrysler’s show cars from the era usually included integrated, non-standard headlights. The Palomino featured European French Cibie rectangular lights.
By early 1964, Dave Ash and his team of designers in the Special Development Studio redesigned the front for 1966. This model dated May 22, 1964 is close to production. This model featured glass-covered headlights with Thunderbird logos that didn’t make production. The 1965 Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial headlights were produced with clear headlight covers, and were included with the high-performance 1965 Galaxie 500 with the 427 FE engine.
The new front with the Mustang-like blade bumper and lower valence made the car look lighter and more sporty. And the design met the 1966 federal mandate for common bumper heights.
Buyers in 1966 now had three distinct uppers to choose from: The carryover ’64-65 hardtop with quarter windows (with or without a factory-installed vinyl top); the all new for 1966 Town Hardtop with a wide C-pillar and no quarter windows (a vinyl top was not available from the factory); and the Town Landau which was the same as the Town Hardtop with the addition of a factory-installed padded top and landau bars. The Town Landau was a hit and outsold the original hardtop by a little over three to one.
And lastly, this pre-introduction ’66 advertising shot of a Town Landau. As the owner of a ’64 Thunderbird Convertible, I am naturally prejudiced towards what has become to be known as “The Flair Birds.” Proud to own one too, even though I don’t have a white dinner jacket!