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1965 Ford Thunderbird
Town Landau Show Car

A preview of things to come for 1966...

Image: 1965 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau Show CarDuring the first few days of 1965 Thunderbird production at the Wixom, Michigan assembly plant, Ford pulled a regular production Hardtop model (VIN #5Y83Z101336) off the line after it passed inspections and delivered it to the Special Vehicles Activity/Advanced Concepts Department where it was made into the Town Landau Show Car. Intended for the International Show Car Association (ISCA) show circuit for 1965, at first glance it might have appeared to be a production 1966 Thunderbird Town Landau, were it not for the heavily revised interior, and its customized front and rear exterior appearances.

Internally referred to as the Palomino at Ford, it was given the name of a new model to be introduced for 1966, the Town Landau. This was done to avoid any confusion with the previous year's show car, the Golden Palomino. The Town Landau took some of its design inspiration from a 1964 Thunderbird customized by Providence, Rhode Island Ford dealer Bob Tasca. The European-inspired rectangular Cibie driving lights and painted sheet metal lower valance under the front bumper were two of the ideas that were inspired by Tasca's Thunderbird, which had been viewed by Ford stylists and engineers earlier at the Ford Design Center.

Perhaps the most notable exterior styling feature was the blind quarter roof, which unknown to visitors at the shows would appear on the 1966 Thunderbird. This new roof line was accomplished by eliminating the rear quarter windows and moving the B-pillar forward to meet the rear edge of the front door glass. The top rear corner of the front door glass curved downward, mimicking the Mustang Fastback model to some degree. The S-bars used on the roof sail panels of the show car were stock 1964 Thunderbird Landau parts. The roof was padded and covered in Levant grain vinyl, a pattern that would also be used in 1966-1967 on the Landau models.

Up front, in addition to the rectangular headlights, a custom grille with a fine vertical texture appeared. The upper section of the standard 1964-1965 front bumper was used, but the lower chrome part was omitted and a painted valance panel was used in its place. This was the first use of painted metal below the front bumper on a Thunderbird by Ford, and this too would be introduced for the 1966 model year, in revised form. Initially, stock rectangular front turn signals were used, but these were changed later to a rounded shape that looked better.

In back, the only stock parts used were the 1965 Thunderbird tail light lenses, surrounds, and vertical chrome trim. Rectangular exhaust ports were fitted in the pan below the tail lamps, where the back-up lights were normally located. The center section of the rear bumper was eliminated, and the deck lid curved down between the tail lamps to meet the lower pan. No provision for access to the luggage compartment was provided externally, instead the optional new-for-1965 automatic deck lid lock was included, which used a T-handle vacuum valve in the console glove compartment to unlatch the deck lid. The Silent-Flo rear vent grille below the rear window matched the fine vertical chrome trim look of the front grille.

Initially, stock 1965 Thunderbird standard wheel covers were fitted, but these were later changed to another design that was a modified version of the 1964 deluxe wheel cover.

Inside the Town Landau Show Car, a prototype steering concept called "Wrist-Twist" replaced the conventional steering wheel. The two hand grips provided worked in concert to maneuver the Town Landau, and made the interior look like something that one would expect to find in the latest jet airliner! Other changes inside included front and rear bucket seats with a full-length floor console. The coved rear seat backs and center fold-down arm rest provided on production models were not included in the show car, but a separate radio with controls for rear seat passengers were included in the console between the rear passengers. A vinyl-covered rear package tray was contoured to match the tops of the rear seat backs, and included a radio speaker with chrome grille at center. Door panels included full-length arm rests that didn't taper upward to terminate near the vent window post as on production models, but continued forward to the instrument panel. The upper sections of the door panels, rear quarter trim panels, and floor console included a textured aluminum insert bordered by a section of polished aluminum trim. Seats were deeply padded and upholstered in a combination of vinyl bolsters with a metallic nylon pleated cloth insert. This cloth was also used on the interior quarter trim panels and headliner. Polished aluminum interior roof moldings made the interior of the car really sparkle. The standard Thunderbird pistol grip interior door handles were reversed to match the angle of the trim on the door panels.

Image: 1965 Ford Thunderbird advertisementThe back drop for the Town Landau Show Car display (seen in photo above) was inspired by a photo taken for an advertisement for the 1965 Thunderbird (shown at left). In the ad, an Ivy Green-colored (dark green) Landau was posed in the foreground of a cleared area. In the background, a lush, thick forest served to provide a secluded setting for the young couple attired in evening wear. Seated at a small table with a hot pink tablecloth, the couple is apparently enjoying the sunrise, as the ad copy referred to "the dawn patrol in the picture" when it indicated they had chosen the Landau model for their Thunderbird.

Despite there being four other empty tables, all with brightly-colored red, purple, green, and aqua tablecloths, our Thunderbird couple are the only ones in the scene. Vases with huge arrangements of red flowers are scattered about, but the couple doesn't seem to notice.

The whole setting was quite lush, and very appropriate for an automobile of the Thunderbird's stature. No doubt people attending the show would stop to fall in love with the Town Landau, perhaps only subconsciously noticing the couple in the background. Then, while at home days or weeks later casually thumbing through the new National Geographic magazine, the ad appears before them in full color! Clever, huh? Do you suppose this was a successful tactic that sold a few new Thunderbirds? You can bet it did!

While the scene depicted in the ad was all a dream, the 1965 Thunderbird was a dream car that you could take home. The new sequential rear turn signals pointed the direction of your turn with a ripple of light. Imagine one's first encounter with these turn signals back in 1965! This was amazing technology for the time. The standard 1965 Thunderbird interiors were straight out of an airplane, with the linear speedometer below which the gauges for oil, fuel, temperature, and amps sat in four round pods. The chrome levers for wiper, washer, map light, and air vents were placed under the padded instrument panel, and everything was positioned and lighted for "flight deck clarity," according to ad copy of the time. The coved rear seats with fold-down center arm rest invited quiet conversation, and were reminiscent of the cozy curved booths in a cocktail lounge. The individually-adjustable front bucket seats and console with concealed ash tray and cigarette lighter were comfortable, convenient, and functional. And there were chrome accents everywhere. Dazzling is an understatement. This was when the stylists could still allow their imaginations to run wild, and they did. Every 1965 Thunderbird was someone's dream car, and all of them were show cars. Few cars in 1965 commanded the attention that the Thunderbird did. The couple in the advertisement weren't real. They were likely models being paid for their time, but the aura they created in that snapshot of time has never faded.

The 1965 Thunderbird Town Landau Show Car was delivered to Ford's marketing people late in January 1965, and spent the next few months on display amazing the crowds, who were unaware that some of the styling features they were viewing would be available for sale in their local Ford dealer's showroom the following year. As the 1966 models hit the streets, the 1965 show car was retired, and it was reportedly sold to a man in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 15, 1965, with the understanding that it would be used only for display purposes. It's believed the car still survives today.