Cruise on 4/29 with this budget 429 Thunderbird four-door

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By the mid-‘60s, Ford engineers could see the way the car and truck market was headed. Buyers wanted large, powerful cars and trucks that could haul big loads. The venerable FE family of V-8s gave birth to the 428 Cobra Jet but the bore spacing made it difficult to cast the 427 reliably. What the Blue Oval needed was a more modern big-block to compete with similar V-8s from Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and Mopar and take over for the MEL big-block that was serving in Ford’s luxury cars.

Ford’s answer was the 385-Series of V-8s that debuted for the 1968 model year. With a 4.9-inch bore spacing like the MEL V-8 it replaced, the 385-series was able to employ large bores and the accompanying cylinder heads with big valves. Even with more traditional mildly canted valve angles, the 385-series made for a fantastic performance platform. The hemispherical Boss 429 engine took that concept even further.

The first 385-series engines were introduced in the 1968 Thunderbird. With a 4.36-inch bore and 3.59-inch stroke, displacement measured in at a rather oversquare 429 cubic inches. As we mentioned, big bores have the advantage of space for bigger valves. These valves can channel plenty of air without shrouding them with the cylinder wall. Ford’s early 429s were rated at a healthy 360 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque—not at all bad for a luxurious cruiser that kept engine noise to a minimum and prioritized smoothness over all-out power.

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Pairing the totally new engine with the recently redesigned Thunderbird gave buyers a striking combo. The two-door Thunderbird, with its flush-mounted bumpers and a long hood, looked sleek and low. A sedan version used rear-hinged doors and hid part of the door cut lines with a Landau bar in the C-pillar.

Today, the two-door 1968 Thunderbird is still an affordable personal luxury coupe; #3 (Good-condition) examples are still valued at just under $11,000. Ford’s first offering with the 385-series V-8 is also the most affordable way to get a 429-powered car, with 1968 Thunderbird Landau sedans in #3 (Good) condition currently valued at $6100.

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The bigger, more luxurious Thunderbirds may not have the racing pedigree of the earliest examples or the Mid-Century swagger of the 1961–1963 “Bullet Birds”, but they do offer big-block cruising power with a ready aftermarket available. If the desire to turn that 429 into a much more rowdy powerplant ever arises, there are few obstacles to burlier performance.

Considering the stately looks, nobody would ever see it coming.

 

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Happy 4/29!

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