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1972 Ford Thunderbird
1972 Ford Thunderbird in Burgundy Fire Glamour Paint
1955-1972 One Million Thunderbirds
1972 Ford Thunderbird

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Reaches One Million

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One Millionth Thunderbird


1972 Thunderbird: Bigger Is Better

Flashback to 1972: This was a year of so many memorable events and crazes. Bell bottom pants were in. So were platform shoes with fake woodgrain heels. Dark wood paneling on the walls. Shag carpeting in shades of Avocado green, gold, and chocolate brown. The Watergate burglaries, which ultimately led to the downfall of Nixon. Top television shows included All In the Family, Sanford and Son, Hawaii Five-O, Maude, Bridgett Loves Bernie (when was the last time you thought of THAT show?), Mary Tyler Moore, Adam-12, Ironside, Gunsmoke, Flip Wilson Show, Bob Newhart Show, The Partridge Family, and The Waltons.

At the box office, you'd likely be going to see The Godfather, Cabaret, Deliverance, or Deep Throat, if you were in to that kind of thing. And while driving to or from the theatre, you'd likely hear top hits on the radio like Brandy by Looking Glass, Garden Party by Rick Nelson, A Horse with No Name by America, Goodbye To Love by Carpenters, Heart of Gold by Neil Young, or Hot Rod Lincoln by Commander Cody.

1972 was at the beginning of the swingin' seventies, when a new sound called disco was first being heard, and almost everything was getting bigger: our hairdos, waistlines, and automobiles. And so it was with the 1972 Thunderbird. Just about ready to give up any claim to being a sporty vehicle, the big, bold, new Thunderbird was brand new from front to rear. The same 429 Thunderjet V-8 engine that had powered the Bird since 1968 returned as standard equipment for most of the production run, but it was now joined by a larger optional engine, the 460 V-8 from Lincoln. The early sales brochure listed a 2-barrel 400 V-8 engine as standard equipment and the 429 as an option, with no mention of a 460 being available, but only 2,006 early production cars were actually built with the 400 engine, as Ford determined it was not powerful enough for the heavy T-bird, and most of the Thunderbird's competition at the time was fielding larger displacement engines, which might have hurt sales if the Bird was viewed as being underpowered by the public. So, the 400 was quickly (and quietly) pulled from production, but would return as an engine option on the 1977-1978 Thunderbirds, which were smaller and lighter due to down sizing.

While the 1969-1971 Continental Mark III series may have been borne of the Thunderbird, this time the Bird and the new Continental Mark IV were designed to forever be together. The Mark IV offered an updated version of the classic Rolls-inspired chrome grille and concealed headlamps up front, an opera window in the roof quarter, and a deck lid kick-up in back, but if not for these items, the overall look of the two cars was very much the same.

The Thunderbird still featured a prominent nose, although it wasn't as prominent as it had been in 1970-1971. A chrome grille displayed vertical bars, and was flanked by the widely spaced headlamps on both sides. Surrounding the headlamps were grilles that mimicked the front grille. Front turn signals were now mounted on the leading edge of the front fenders, giving them added prominence.

In back, the wall-to-wall taillamps were still there, although the sequential turn signal feature was no more. (The 1973 Mercury Cougar would be the final production car with this feature.) The body profile was sleeker and plainer than last year's model. Inside, a luxurious new interior featured individually-adjustable split front bench seats with dual fold-down arm rests (initially optional, but made standard shortly after the start of production). A new instrument panel retained the round gauges of previous T-birds, which now only housed the speedometer, fuel gauge, and clock. The oil pressure, engine temperature, and charging system gauges had been replaced with lights, as apparently it had now been determined that Thunderbird driver's don't want to know about a problem until it's too late to do anything about it.

And for some strange reason, despite the bigger, better, more luxurious theme of the '72 Thunderbird, several items that had been standard now either became optional at additional cost, or disappeared completely. One of them being the remote control left hand mirror. A standard item since 1963, it was replaced with the stock Ford manual mirror that was used on everything from the Ford Maverick to pick up trucks! Oh, the disgrace of it all! (Ford came to its senses soon after production commenced, however, and made the remote mirror standard again.)

Another strange move was eliminating the front cornering lamps from the list of standard items. (Front cornering lamps were made standard during early 1969 production.) And if you wanted a rear seat center arm rest in 1972, you were out of luck. Even with a trim upgrade, it was history. The Continental Mark IV had one, but that cost several thousand dollars more than the Bird, so if you wanted your resr seat passengers to enjoy the comfort of a center arm rest,'d have bought a Lincoln Continental Town Car that had both the arm rest and rear leg room! (A rear seat center arm rest had been standard on Thunderbirds from 1964-1967, and optional with trim from 1968-1971. Rear seat leg room was standard only on the 1967-1971 4-door Thunderbirds.)

1972 was a landmark year for Thunderbird, as the one millionth Thunderbird was built on June 22, 1972. The one millionth car was decked out with several special items to document its status, but not even Ford really made a big deal about it. When you consider it took the Ford Mustang only 18 months to sell that many cars, this was somewhat of a non-event. Of course, the Thunderbird was always directed at a more specialized market, and as such wouldn't be expected to sell in huge numbers like the Mustang.

There really weren't any new options introduced in 1972, and about the only new standard feature was the previously mentioned split bench seat set up. In another strange move, applicable to 1972 models only, Ford relocated the power door lock switch into the door lock plunger assembly. This meant that instead of having a switch conveniently located on the door arm rest, to lock or unlock the doors with the power locks you had to reach back and pull up or push down on the plunger knob! Convenient perhaps when entering or exiting the car, but not so much when you're buckled in the seat. This experiment was short lived, thankfully, and the control moved back to the front door arm rests for 1973.

Advertising for the 1972 Thunderbirds emphasized their new size, exceptional ride, and superb handling characteristics. It was obvious that Ford was now marketing the Thunderbird right up there in the same class as the Lincoln and Cadillac, at the very top of the luxury line. And everything they did improved the bottom line. Sales for 1972 rose to 57,814 cars, its best sales performance since 1968.

So for 1972, bigger was better, and this trend would continue for another year until gas shortages and the continuing onslaught of the foreign car into America would force American car makers to change the way they did business. But not to worry, because it's 1972 and the Dow Jones would close above 1,000 for the first time ever. And the Volkswagen Beetle would become the most popular car ever with over 15 million sold, many of them right here in America. But those events would never impact the powerful American car manufacturers, right?

Now all of a sudden she started to knockin'
And down in the dips she started to rockin'
I looked in my mirror, a red light was blinkin'
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln

They arrested me and they put me in jail
And called my Pappy to throw my bail
And he said, "Son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin'
If you don't stop drivin' that Hot...Rod...Lincoln!"

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