1973 Ford Thunderbird: Thunderbrougham!
I love mid-summer—peak car show season. In back-to-back weekends I saw at least a dozen amazing cars that I will likely write up soon, but today’s subject was the result of a change in plans due to an extra-hot week in the Midwest.
Every Wednesday during the summer there is an evening cruise in on the Davenport, Iowa, riverfront. Sometimes there is a great turnout and sometimes there are only a few cars. Of course, this is dependent on what the weather is like. Extremely hot and humid, usually means a low turnout, so I wasn’t expecting much, but since my office is nearby I figured I’d swing by for a quick look.
As I crossed the bridge, I could tell there were only two cars, one which may have not even been vintage, so I just continued on through downtown. And as I passed the Hotel Blackhawk, I spied this magnificent 1973 Ford Thunderbird.
I immediately vectored my car into the nearest empty parking spot and frantically ran over to gawk at it—no surprise, as I’m frequently spied in the greater metropolitan area darting into traffic to geek out at some well-preserved example from the Brougham Age.
This car was a sweetheart. I’ve seen a few of these around, including a very sharp white one with dark green leather and dark green top, but this was amazingly nice. I couldn’t find a thing wrong with it, not a ding in a wheel cover or one sprung stitch in the upholstery. I was also particularly fond of the ice blue metallic paint with navy top and cloth.
This was the second year of the “Thunderbrougham,” as I call them. Never again would the T-Bird be so large or extravagant. Built from 1972–76, it shared its body and chassis with the Continental Mark IV.
Some wags have said the Mark was simply a dolled-up Thunderbird, but as I recall, the Mark IV was designed first, then the Thunderbird was adapted from it. Either way you slice it, these were large, imposing personal luxury coupes. My friend Carmine refers to them as the “Thunder Thighs” T-Bird.
The ’73s, like all other cars that year, had a new bumper designed to withstand a 5-mph knock with no damage. This resulted in the “park bench” bumper style that became so common on cars in the U.S. in the mid-to-late ’70s. In addition to the new bumper, the T-Bird got a new eggcrate-style grille to replace the ’72’s horizontal-bar version and revised front turn-signal lenses, and the headlights moved into separate pods, replacing the previous year’s style, where they were housed in a shadow box-type chrome frame with a repeating pattern from the grille within them.
The trim rear bumper and full-width taillights carried over for 1973. Thunderbirds now had a base price of $5577 ($38,646 today) and weighed in at an impressive 4572 pounds. It was a very good year for personal luxury coupes, and the T-Bird was no exception: 87,269 were built for the ’73 model year.
The new front bumper stretched the overall length to 218.9 inches (in 1972 it was was an even 216 inches). Wheelbase was 120.4 inches and height was 53.1 inches. To put that in perspective, a 2023 Cadillac Escalade is 211.9 inches long with a 120.9-inch wheelbase! The 429-cubic-inch V-8 with 201 horsepower was standard, with a 219-hp 460 optional. Both breathed through a four-barrel Motorcraft carburetor.
As you’d expect of Ford’s top luxury coupe, standard features included power steering and power front disc/rear drum brakes, along with AM radio, spare tire lock, ample sound insulation, full wheel covers, side body protective moldings, Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, and power ventilation. An amazing 23 colors were available, eight of them at extra cost.
Options included SelectAire air conditioning, a power sunroof, the Exterior Decor Group, deluxe bumper group, leather interior, bucket seats with matching center console, cornering lamps, and a power antenna.
Our featured car is finished in Silver Blue Fire, which was one of the optional exterior paint choices. An identical one was shown in the ’73 Thunderbird brochure. I later found out that it had a reputed 20,000 original miles and was equipped with the 460 V-8. It was a beauty, and it more than made up for that messed-up cruise-in!