Ford Thunderbird (eighth Generation)
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Ford Thunderbird Eighth Generation
Eighth generation
Ford Thunderbird
1982 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau fL.jpg
1982 Ford Thunderbird Town Landau
Model years1980-1982
AssemblyLorain, Ohio
Chicago, Illinois
Hapeville, Georgia
Body and chassis
Body style2-door coupe
PlatformFord Fox platform
RelatedFord Fairmont
Ford Mustang
Mercury Capri
Mercury Cougar
Mercury Zephyr
Ford Granada
Engine200 cu in (3.3 L) Thriftpower Six I6
232 cu in (3.8 L) Essex V6
255 cu in (4.2 L) Windsor V8
302 cu in (4.9 L) Windsor V8
Wheelbase108.4 in (2,750 mm)[1]
Length200.4 in (5,090 mm)[1]
Width74.1 in (1,880 mm)[1]
Height53.0 in (1,350 mm)[1]
Curb weight3,166-3,477 lb (1,436.1-1,577.1 kg)[1]
PredecessorFord Thunderbird (seventh generation)
SuccessorFord Thunderbird (ninth generation)

The eighth generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a personal luxury coupe that was manufactured and marketed by Ford for model years 1980 to 1982. To commemorate the 25th year of the Thunderbird, Ford released an all-new body design, coinciding with the downsizing of the model line into the mid-size segment. For a second generation, the Thunderbird remained the Ford counterpart of the Mercury Cougar XR7.

While better-handling and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor, the body design of the eighth-generation Thunderbird was poorly received by critics and buyers[2][3][4], leading to a collapse in sales (combined 1980-1982 production outsold 1979 production by only 4,000 vehicles). Though using similar chassis underpinnings, the ninth-generation Thunderbird underwent an extensive transition in design and marketing, making the model line competitive.

The eighth-generation Thunderbird was assembled by Ford at Atlanta Assembly, Lorain Assembly, and Chicago Assembly; the former two facilities are now closed.

Model background

During the late 1970s, fuel economy became an important design factor of American vehicles (to comply with CAFE, manufacturers that sold cars in the United States were required to average 20.0 MPG for their passenger cars for 1980). For 1977, Ford repackaged the Thunderbird, shifting it from the counterpart of the Mark series to the intermediate Ford Torino chassis (replacing the relatively obscure Ford Elite). As a counterpart of the Mercury Cougar XR7, the 1977 Thunderbird remained in the personal luxury segment, competing against the Chrysler Cordoba and quartet of GM A-body coupes (Buick Regal, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Pontiac Grand Prix).

The Torino-based Thunderbird proved successful, selling over 955,000 vehicles in only three years. By 1979, the model had largely become obsolete in comparison to its competitors. For 1978, GM downsized its A-body mid-size coupes to a footprint closely matching its "compact" sedans. For 1979, Ford introduced the Panther-chassis full-size vehicles; while the 1979 Ford LTD was 8 inches shorter than the Thunderbird, it offered larger interior dimensions.

For the 1980 model year, Ford shifted the Thunderbird from the full-size segment (as the "intermediate" Torino-based Thunderbird was larger than the 1979 LTD in exterior dimensions) to the mid-size segment, becoming the first generation of the Thunderbird to truly undergo downsizing. To reduce engineering and production costs, the Thunderbird adopted the Fox platform; as the Mustang would become a short-wheelbase variant, the Thunderbird would become an extended-wheelbase version.

Design overview

The first generation of the model line to undergo downsizing, the 1980 Thunderbird shed 17.3 inches in length, 4.4 inches in width, and 5.6 inches in wheelbase from its 1979 predecessor; depending on powertrain, the Thunderbird was up to 1,400 pounds lighter. Serving as one of the most extensively downsized model ranges in the American automotive industry, in only four model years, the Thunderbird shed 25.1 inches of length, 5.8 inches of width, and 12 inches of wheelbase; in total, the Thunderbird lost nearly 1,900 pounds from 1976 to 1980. In comparison to the 1958-1960 generation, the 1980 Thunderbird is approximately five inches shorter in length and four inches shorter in wheelbase.


The eighth-generation Ford Thunderbird is a long-wheelbase variant of the rear-wheel drive Ford Fox platform; stretched to 108.4 inches, it shares its chassis with the Mercury Cougar XR7 (1980-1982), and the Lincoln Continental (1982-1987) and the Continental/Lincoln Mark VII. The adoption of the Fox architecture marked the return to unibody construction for the Thunderbird (for the first time since 1966).

Shared with the Fairmont and Mustang, the Thunderbird had MacPherson strut front suspension and a four-link live rear axle with coil springs on all four wheels; both front and rear axles were equipped with stabilizer bars.[5] As an option, the Thunderbird was offered with heavy-duty "handling" suspension, a limited-slip rear-axle, and aluminum wheels equipped with Michelin TRX tires.[4][6][7][8] For the first time, the Thunderbird was equipped with rack and pinion steering.[3] As with the Fairmont/Granada, the Thunderbird was equipped with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes.[5]


Sharing its powertrain with the Panther chassis, the standard engine for the eighth-generation Thunderbird was a 115 hp 4.2L V8, with a 131 hp 5.0L V8 offered as an option.[3][9] Both engines were paired with the 4-speed AOD overdrive automatic transmission.[9] For 1982, the 4.9L engine was withdrawn, with the 4.2L engine becoming the sole V8 offering.[10]

Late in the 1980 model year, the Thunderbird was offered with a six-cylinder engine for the first time.[4] Technically considered a delete option, Ford introduced an 88 hp 3.3L inline-6 (shared with the Fairmont and Granada), paired with a 3-speed automatic; for 1982, the 3.3L engine became standard. Slotted between the inline-6 and the 4.2L V8, for 1982, Ford introduced a 3.8L V6, producing 112 hp.[10] In various forms, the V6 powered the Thunderbird until its 1997 withdrawal.


In contrast to the Mercury Cougar, which was also offered in notchback sedan and station wagon body styles (non-XR7 Cougars were produced as the counterpart of the Ford Granada), the eighth-generation Thunderbird was produced solely as a two-door coupe. In what would be a disastrous design decision, many design elements from the 1977-1979 Thunderbird were directly adapted onto the body of the 1980 Thunderbird, including its hidden headlights, rectangular radiator grille, taillights (revised to wrap into the fenders) and opera windows. While well accepted on the previous generation, many design features did not transition well onto the far smaller 1980 Thunderbird.[4]

During its production, the exterior of the eighth-generation Thunderbird saw few changes. Dependent on trim, several rooflines were offered for the Thunderbird; a full or partial vinyl roof was fitted to all examples.[6][7][8] For 1981, a simulated convertible top was introduced (on standard-trim Thunderbirds).[7] The Thunderbird marked the Ford debut of the Keyless Entry System, a 5-button door-mounted keypad allowing access to the vehicle (through the entry of a 5-digit code). In different forms, it remains a feature on Ford and Lincoln vehicles today (along with keyless-entry remotes).

As a consequence of its downsizing, the seating capacity of the 1980 Thunderbird was reduced from six to four.[8] Dependent on trim, several seating configurations were offered for the Thunderbird, with Recaro bucket seats offered as an option.[6][7][8] Although the Thunderbird was among one of the few cars to offer functional vent windows in the 1980s, along with power windows. Alongside standard analog instrument panel, as an option, a digital instrument cluster offered a speedometer and fuel gauge; in 1982, a trip computer was added to the latter system.[8]


Each year of its production, the eighth-generation was offered in three trim levels; the Thunderbird served as the base trim, slotted below the Town Landau and Heritage (1981-1982).[2] For 1980, the commemorative Silver Anniversary Edition was the top-level trim, repackaged as the Heritage for 1981-1982.

Each trim level of the Thunderbird was distinguished by its own roofline. The standard Thunderbird was given the largest windows between the B-pillar; for 1981, a simulated convertible top became an option. For 1980, the Town Landau was styled with a recessed opera window, then sharing the roofline of the Heritage for 1981-1982. The Silver Anniversary Edition, Heritage, and 1981-1982 Town Landau have B-pillar opera windows in the style of the 1977-1979 Thunderbird (without the large rear quarter window).

Silver Anniversary Edition

To mark the 25th anniversary of the Thunderbird, Ford offered a commemorative "Silver Anniversary Edition" for the 1980 model year. Offered as a cosmetic option package as the top-level trim, the Silver Anniversary Edition consisted of an exclusive color scheme (Anniversary Glow Silver)[11], with silver/gray velour (or leather).[12] Offered only with the 4.9L V8 and AOD transmission, the Silver Anniversary Edition included every feature offered on the Thunderbird, adding a "frenched" rear window, rosewood interior trim, commemorative badging, and an integrated garage door opener.[13]


For the 1981 season, two major changes were adapted by NASCAR for its Winston Cup racing series. Coinciding with downsizing of passenger automobiles, NASCAR reduced the wheelbase of Winston Cup cars from 115 to 110 inches.[14] To ensure chassis consistency, NASCAR abandoned its previous practice of three-year model eligibility, requiring teams to adapt to current-production vehicles.[14]

For the 1981 NASCAR season, the eighth-generation Thunderbird made its debut (while eligible, the Mercury Cougar XR7 was not fielded by any drivers).[14] While the Buick Regal was the most successful design of the season (winning 22 races), the Thunderbird finished with the second-highest win total (with 7).[15] For 1982, the Thunderbird was less successful, winning only a single race.[16]

Production totals

Year Production[17]
1980 156,803
1981 86,693
1982 45,142
Total 288,638


  1. ^ a b c d e "FORD Thunderbird 1980 - 1982". Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Thunderbirds Through The Years | 1980 - 1982 ... The Boxy T-Birds". Retrieved 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "How the Ford Thunderbird Works | 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 Ford Thunderbirds". Retrieved 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d "Ford Thunderbird History". Retrieved 2014.
  5. ^ a b Ristic-Petrovic, Dusan. "1981 Ford Thunderbird Brochure". Retrieved .
  6. ^ a b c "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved .
  7. ^ a b c d Ristic-Petrovic, Dusan. "1981 Ford Thunderbird Brochure". Retrieved .
  8. ^ a b c d e "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1982_Ford_Thunderbird/1982_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved .
  9. ^ a b Ristic-Petrovic, Dusan. "1980 Ford Thunderbird Brochure (Rev)". Retrieved .
  10. ^ a b "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1982_Ford_Thunderbird/1982_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved .
  11. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved .
  12. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved .
  13. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird/1980_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved .
  14. ^ a b c "Historical Motorsports Stories: The Saga of the 1981 NASCAR Downsizing -". Retrieved .
  15. ^ "1981 NASCAR Winston Cup". Retrieved .
  16. ^ "1982 NASCAR Winston Cup". Retrieved .
  17. ^ Tast, Alan H. and David Newhardt. THUNDERBIRD FIFTY YEARS. Motorbooks. October 15, 2004.

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