Automotive Mileposts  

1979 Ford Thunderbird
Production Numbers/Specifications

October 6, 1978
Chicago: 208,248 (G)
Los Angeles: 75,893 (J)
Canada: 1,752 (144 built during calendar year 1978)
Model 87/Style 60H Thunderbird $5,999
Weight: 4,082 Built: (incl. above)
Model 87/Style 60H Town Landau $8,994
Weight: 4,104 Built: (incl. above)
Model 87/Style 60H Heritage $10,815
Weight: 4,200 Built: 18,994 (incl. in totals above)

1. F


2. H (351 Windsor - 5 valve cover bolts)

3. H (351 M - 7 valve cover bolts)

Note: 5.8L (351 CID) required in California or with High Altitude Emissions System

1. 5.0L (302 CID) 2V V-8
Bore and Stroke: 4.00 x 3.00 in.
Compression Ratio: 8.4:1
Brake Horsepower: 134 @ 3400 rpm
Torque: 248 lb.-ft. @ 1600 rpm
Carburetor: Motorcraft 2150 2V


2. 5.8 L (351 CID) 2V V-8 (Windsor)
Bore and Stroke: 4.00 x 3.50 in.
Compression Ratio: 8.3:1
Horsepower: 145 @ 3400 rpm
Torque: 277 lb.-ft. @ 1600 rpm
Carburetor: Motorcraft 2150 2V

3. 5.8L (351 CID) 2V V-8
Bore and Stroke: 4.00 x 3.50 in.
Compression Ratio: 8.0:1
Horsepower: 152 @ 3600 rpm
Torque: 278 lb.-ft. @ 1800 rpm
Carburetor: Motorcraft 2150 2V
SelectShift XPL Automatic
FMX Automatic
2.47:1 Traction-Lok
2.50:1 Traction-Lok
3.00:1 (400 V-8 only)
3:00:1 (400 V-8/Traction-Lok)
HR 78 x 15 Steel Belted Radial Blackwall
Wheels: 15 x 6.5"
Front: Power Disc
Rear: Power Drum
Total swept area: 372.3 sq. in.
114.0 inches
Front Tread: 63.2"
Rear Tread: 63.1"
Steering ratio: 21.9:1
Turning diameter: 43.1 ft.
Weight distribution: 57/43
Length: 215.5"
Width: 78.5"
Height: 53.0"
Trunk: 15.6 cu. ft. (16.8 with Inflatable Spare tire)
Front headroom: 37.3"
Front legroom: 42.1"
Rear headroom: 36.2"
Rear legroom: 32.6"
Fuel Tank: 21.0 gals. (22.0 on standard 351 V-8 California model, 27.5 with Extended Range option)
Cooling System: --
- 1979 would be the final year for the Ford LTD II-based mid-sized Thunderbird.

- 955,032 Thunderbirds were built during the three year cycle of this body style, making it the most popular in the history of the line.
1. Spoiler added under front bumper to improve engine cooling and fuel economy.

2. Standard interior upgraded to include fold-down center armrest for front flight bench seat.

3. Electronic voltage regulator introduced as standard equipment.

4. Door and ignition locks modified to improve theft protection.

5. Carburetor on base 302 CID V-8 modified to provide better performance and fuel economy.

6. Lower Bodyside Protection option introduced that added a clear vinyl decal along bottom of car (on top of paint finish) to better protect against paint chips and rust.

Thunderbird Flight 1979:
Now Boarding at Gate 79

Attention all passengers...Thunderbird Flight 1979 is now boarding at Gate 79. First class passengers may begin the boarding process immediately at their local Ford Dealer. We hope to push back from the gate on time, so don't delay your purchase of the last mid-sized T-bird of the decade. This has been the most popular body style ever, and the Bird will never again reach this height of popularity. Thank you for flying Thunderbird, and enjoy your flight.

Image: 1979 Thunderbird Heritage

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulation for the United States was first enacted by Congress in 1975, and was intended to improve the average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States, as a result of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo and the fuel shortage it caused.

This regulation first applied to vehicles in 1978, when the average was 18.0 mpg. By 1979, the average was bumped up to 19.0 mpg, and Ford Motor Company was having a difficult time not dropping below that average due to the size of its cars. Ford's new smaller, more fuel efficient cars was scheduled to hit the market for the 1980 model year, so some rather drastic steps had to be taken to keep Ford's corporate average up until the new models hit the streets.

If a manufacturer's average fuel economy were to fall below the standard, that manufacturer must pay a penalty in U.S. currency for every 0.1 mpg under the standard, multiplied by every vehicle built for the domestic market. This could get very expensive very quickly, so Ford certainly didn't want to tempt fate.

To keep fuel economy up for the 1979 model year, Ford dropped the big 460 CID V-8 engine from the Lincoln line, as well as the 400 CID V-8 from the Thunderbird line. There were also some mid-year price increases on full-sized models, to encourage people to buy smaller, more fuel efficient cars. The 400 CID engine was original intended to be standard on the 1972 Thunderbird, but after a few were built it was dropped in favor of the 429 CID engine, which had been standard on the Birds since 1968. Now, in a more fuel conscious world, the 400 was the standard fare in the big Lincolns for 1979.

Before saying goodbye to the seventies, the Thunderbird introduced a couple of new options for the year. The Heritage replaced the Diamond Jubilee Edition, and came in two monochromatic color schemes, Maroon and Light Medium Blue. The two trim packages were essentially the same, although the Heritage did get rocker panel moldings and speed control as standard equipment.

Other options included a new AM/FM Stereo Radio with Cassette Tape Player, which was a good thing since 8-track tapes were about to become obsolete. A new Seat Belt Reminder Chime gently encouraged people to buckle up. An Extended Range Fuel Tank increased fuel capacity to 27.5 gallons, an increase of 6.5 gallons over the standard tank, and was a bargain at $36, considering 6.5 gallons can mean the difference between making it home, or not making it home. Gas shortages were still very much on people's minds, and this option provided an extra degree of comfort.

Sales dropped for 1979, but were still very good all things considered. Ford introduced a new color for 1979 named Cordovan. A dark brown shade, Cordovan replaced Saddle and Russet. It's interesting to note that for 1978, nothing in the red color family other than Lipstick Red was offered for the T-bird, and it was only offered as a lower body color for Tu-Tone paint option units. The new 1978 Russet color had a lot of red in it, but wasn't a true red. For 1979, almost as if to overcompensate for the lack of a red the previous year, no less than three were available. The Heritage came in Maroon, which was exclusive to that model, but a Dark Red and an optional Red Glow could be had on the standard models.

Thunderbird's base price increased in 1979, up $466 to $5,411 which represents an 8.6% increase in price. This isn't really surprising, since during the first nine months of 1979, average annual inflation jumped to 10.75%. This dramatic rise was due in part to a new round of oil price increases, but even the core CPI rate, which excluded the volatile food and energy components, averaged a 9.4% annual rate. This meant that the cost of most optional equipment increased as well, although in some cases it only came to a couple of dollars. A few options, like the Tu-Tone paint, actually decreased, but that was one of the exceptions.

As the new decade of the 1980s became reality, the decade known as the 1970s was to forever be committed to history. The Thunderbird began the decade shaped to slice the wind in 1970, and exited it in 1979 with a smaller size and all three years of the 1977-1979 body style taking the top three positions of the sales chart. The Thunderbird that would debut for 1980 would be a new smaller size, but would meet with a cool public greeting. Its styling was very boxy, and came across as over decorated to many. The 1980-1982 era would not be a memorable one for the Thunderbird, but more changes would be coming down the road, and they would dramatically change the Bird.

The Ford Thunderbird was always a trend setter. It was often the first place new innovations and ideas would appear. The 1979 version closes out a chapter that continued the proud heritage established back in the fifties, when Ford's new T-bird set the world on fire and sparked desire in the hearts of America's automobile loving public.