1981 Ford Thunderbird Overview

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1981 Ford Thunderbird Overview

The 1981 Ford Thunderbird was not one of Ford's great successes. The squared-off 'Box Bird' models didn't have much appeal for Thunderbird loyalists; without the cool Jet Age stylings or the powerful engines that had made the earlier T-Birds into an icon of the great American muscle car, the '81 Thunderbird was just another midsized sedan.

To be fair, the 1981 Thunderbird wasn't a bad little car. It got great gas mileage (up to 32 mpg highway from the 4-cylinder, 30 mpg highway from the V6, and 25 mpg highway from the V-8). It had a sturdy but agile platform, and it offered a sleek, luxurious interior. But the Thunderbird name was a lot to live up to, and this incarnation just didn't cut it.

One big problem was the radically downsized engine offerings. Yes, the new Thunderbird was a lot lighter and more nimble, but the entry-level inline-4 engine, a 2.3 liter model designed for the Pinto, wasn't worth of the TBird's performance sport heritage. Upgrade options (a 3.3 liter V-6 and a choice of 4.2 liter or 5.0 liter Windsor V8s) brought more power, but even the biggest V-8 choice topped out at a paltry 130 horsepower.

For all that, the '81 Ford Thunderbird had its charms. It had a bunch of electric options that were state of the art for its day, including flip-up headlights, digital readouts, and the then-fancy power windows. Interior options included racing-style bucket seats (I don't quite see how this illusion would have worked unless the car was parked, though) and a variety of cool console trims. If you weren't actually expecting a sports car, there were quite a few things to like!

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