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Image: 1978 Ford Thunderbird 2-Door Hardtop

Above: 1978 Ford Thunderbird shown in Dark Midnight Blue Metallic

This year, take off in a 1978 Thunderbird

1978 Ford Thunderbird

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352,751. That's the number of 1978 Ford Thunderbirds built during the 1978 model year. It represented 3.94 percent of the industry total for the year, which was exceptional for a personal luxury car. In the late seventies America's "bigger is better" taste for luxury cars was on the decline. This due to rising gas prices and shortages from earlier in the decade that made more fuel efficient automobiles more attractive. When Ford decided to down size the Thunderbird for 1977, it was taking the car closer to its original intent, which was to be a compact, personal car that was also sporty and luxurious.

The Thunderbird was also intended to be affordable, and advertising of the late fifties and early sixties emphasized that the Thunderbird cost far less than other luxury cars, and held its resale value better. It also had to fit in with cars that were more expensive, giving the impression that a Thunderbird was purchased not because it cost less, but because it was a personal choice to not buy a typical full sized luxury car. Over the years, the Thunderbird grew due in part to its need to be competitive, and also due to its relationship with the Continental Mark III and Mark IV series, which at the time had to be full sized to compete. By 1980, both the Thunderbird and the Continental (it would be a Mark VI) would shrink to a size that would be comparable to what they were in the 1950s.

After a record-setting year in 1977, however, that much change wasn't necessary for 1978, so the T-bird just received mild styling updates that let everyone know it was the latest model. In front, two Thunderbird emblems were added to the headlamp doors, which were also framed in chrome.

A few technical improvements were introduced for 1978, and they included a more efficient torque converter, a lighter-weight battery, revisions to the engine air induction system, and a new power steering pump that weighed less and featured quick-disconnect hydraulic fittings for ease of service and installation.

Exterior paint colors were shuffled around a bit, and 6 of the colors were new for the year. Several new vinyl roof colors were also introduced to compliment the new paint colors, and a new Russet color for the interior was also provided along with sporty new striped cloth bucket seats in 6 different shades.

Image: 1978 Ford Thunderbird with Sports Decor GroupMid-year, a T-Roof Convertible option was introduced, which featured 2 removable glass panels over the front seats, designed by Cars & Concepts. These panels had been installed through their own dealer network on 1977 models and were very well designed and executed. Other new options for 1978 included a Sports Decor Group, which offered exciting styling touches with a distinctively sporty flair. This package included a vinyl roof with color-keyed backlite molding, dual accent paint stripes, hood/grille-opening-panel and fender louver paint stripes, vinyl deck lid straps, color-keyed vinyl insert bodyside moldings, color-keyed styled road wheels, and blackout vertical grille bars. Available in two colors, Chamois or Black, this option was limited to just 7 exterior paint choices.

A couple of other new options were listed for 1978, and they included a power antenna which was for some reason not offered in 1977, even though it had been available on T-birds since 1965. A new 40-Channel Citizen's Band (CB) Radio was integrated into the factory sound system, so if you wanted to be a part of a convoy in your new Bird, you could.

The most exclusive Thunderbird you could buy in 1978 was the Diamond Jubilee Edition [link opens in new window], built to commemorate Ford Motor Company's 75th anniversary as America's longest established automobile company. It featured virtually every luxury as standard, and had a base price to match at $10,106, which made it the most expensive model in base form ever for the Thunderbird line. A few options were available to customize the Diamond Jubilee Edition, and it was initially offered in just two colors, a monochromatic Diamond Blue Metallic or Ember Metallic. Later in the year, Polar White and Pastel Beige paint was offered with the Ember vinyl roof and interior shade, and Polar White was also offered with the Diamond Blue vinyl roof and interior.

The Diamond Jubilee Edition featured Ebony woodtone appliques on the instrument panel, steering wheel, control knobs, door/quarter trim panels, and on special keys. A hand-stitched leather-covered pad on the instrument panel was also part of the package, and matched the leather-wrapped luxury steering wheel.

1978 was a great year to take off in a new Thunderbird, and more people than ever before did so.


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Image: 1977 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau emblem