Automotive Mileposts  
1967 Thunderbird Front Bumper with Thermactor
You might be surprised to learn there are two different bumpers!
1967 was another year of big change for the Ford Thunderbird. The car that caught America's heart in 1955 as a two passenger personal luxury car, and became an immediate automotive classic for all time, as well as an icon of the good life, was responsible for setting new trends, and was always at the forefront of innovation in the personal luxury field. After all, it was the Thunderbird that established the personal luxury market, so it's appropriate that it continued to lead the market and set new standards. For 1958, Ford determined the Thunderbird would be better suited to a larger, more flexible platform, and increased passenger capacity to four. A new Hardtop model was introduced, for those who didn't care for "wind in the hair" open car touring. This made the Thunderbird available to more people than ever before. Some Thunderbird devotees were shocked and dismayed at what Ford had done to their little Bird. Others fell in love with it immediately. Fortunately, the latter group outnumbered the former, and sales skyrocketed. The 1958 Thunderbirds were the basic platform for all Birds built through 1966, but the Bird was growing a bit old at this point. The aging 1958 platform had been modified and redesigned as much as possible, and it was time for a change if the Thunderbird was to continue its position at the top of the personal luxury field. 1967 saw new competition in the increasingly crowded personal luxury market, with the introduction of Cadillac's Fleetwood Eldorado. If the T-Bird was to remain competitive, change would be needed.

And change came. For 1967, gone was the Thunderbird Convertible, which had suffered from slow sales for a few years, and it was a model not deemed necessary in the personal luxury market. None of the competition offered a convertible, and with vinyl tops, factory air conditioning, and car stereo systems becoming very popular, convertibles just weren't selling as well as they did in the early sixties. In an effort to address the needs of people who loved the Thunderbird, but needed a four door car, the new Fordor Landau debuted in 1967. With center opening rear doors that featured a section of the roofline that opened with the door, a limousine-style rear window, and muscular new styling, the new 1967 Thunderbird model was a big hit!

1967 Thunderbird - quarter view of standard front bumperOne of the most distinctive features of Thunderbird's new for 1967 styling was the full width oval grille assembly. The outer ends housed concealed headlamps, which were all the rage in 1967. In fact, with the exception of the Crown Imperial from Chrysler, all of the personal luxury cars had them in 1967. Vacuum motors rotated sections of the grille to reveal the stationary headlamp assemblies behind. A large Thunderbird emblem adorned the center section of the grille, and a massive chrome bumper which housed the front parking light and turn indicator units sat below.

On most 1967 Thunderbirds, a small opening in the center of the bumper, just above the license plate, contributed additional cooling air. The ends of the bumper curved around the sides of the front fenders. This jet-like front appearance gave the Thunderbird a very aggressive stance on the road, and was instantly recognizable as a Thunderbird.

The 1968 and 1969 Thunderbirds would maintain this same basic appearance, although the bumper would become a two piece assembly, with the lower section of the bumper color-keyed to match the color of the car. This update made the bumper appear smaller, although anyone who has removed one of these assemblies will tell you it is just as massive as the original 1967 unit.

About this same time, car manufacturers were having to contend with air pollution concerns, especially in California, where congested freeways and urban sprawl made for long periods of idling, and more than average miles driven. On cars destined for California delivery, Ford installed the Thermactor Exhaust Emission Control System to reduce emissions and comply with California emissions standards. This system was designed to reduce the hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide content of exhaust gases created by gasoline engines. This was accomplished by controlling the amount of contaminants emitted through the exhaust system to acceptable minimums.

The Thermactor system controlled the exhaust gases by burning the hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide concentrations in the exhaust ports of the cylinder heads. It worked by injecting air under pressure into the exhaust ports near the exhaust valves. The oxygen in the air plus the heat of the exhaust gases induced combustion during the exhaust stroke of the piston. The burned gases then exit through the exhaust manifolds to the exhaust system.

Individual pieces of the Thermactor system include an air supply pump; an air manifold for each cylinder head; an anti-backfire valve; air cleaner; a check valve on each air manifold; an air nozzle for the exhaust port of each engine cylinder; and the air hoses and vacuum lines to connect everything.1967 Thunderbird - view of front bumper with Thermactor grillesIn order to supply air to the Thermactor system, a different front bumper was used on Thunderbirds equipped with this option. This bumper differed from the standard front bumper by the addition of two small openings on either side of the license plate. These openings were fitted with small grilles that matched the grille above the bumper. They were very inconspicuous, but did tend to make the front of the car even more aggressive in appearance. These air intakes were very much functional, and were only utilized in 1967. The 1966 Thunderbirds were the first to offer this system, and 1966 cars equipped with the Thermactor option did not feature any external changes. The option was discontinued for most 1968 and all 1969 models, due to the introduction of the Thunder Jet 429 V-8, which was specifically designed with emissions control in mind with the IMCO (IMproved COmbustion) system, and did not require the Thermactor system to meet federal emissions requirements.

So now you are in the loop on a little known fact about these cars. The 1967 and later model Thunderbirds are widely criticized by many enthusiasts, who largely have judged them by the absence of a convertible model, and often know very little about them. The fact is, the Thunderbird was competing in a much changed market during these years, and had to address concerns unheard of in the late fifties and early sixties, which had a strong influence on the product that hit the streets. Most people who have driven various Thunderbird models over the years will agree that the 1967 and later models generally handle better, brake better, and are easier and more satisfying to drive than their predecessors. Long misunderstood, and too long under appreciated, these cars are now becoming very hot in collector circles, and interest is growing rapidly.


C7SZ-17757-A (standard bumper facing)
C7SZ-17757B (with Thermactor)
C7SZ-17B968-A or B (Grille insert left or right with Thermactor)

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