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Last week Ford filed for the Thunderbird name with the US Patent and Trademark Office. While some would explain it is only to protect Ford from losing it, with trademark law you have to use it or you lose it. You can’t just own a trademark without actually putting it into, in this case, a “motor vehicle, namely, concept motor vehicles, four-wheeled motor vehicles.” So, is Ford bringing back the Thunderbird?

You can’t just call up Ford to get an answer-it and most all other manufacturers never give out information about future products. But recently CarBuzz asked Ford North America Product Communications Manager Mike Levine about the trademark application. He said that “trademark applications are intended to protect new phrases, designs, or symbols, but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans.” 

If applied to a new vehicle it won’t be in the traditional Thunderbird mold

1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible that was once owned by Frank Sinatra | Mike Fiala

That’s a lot more than you get from most Dearborn insiders. So what do we make of it? First off, if it is applied to a new vehicle it won’t be in the traditional Thunderbird mold. That train left the station years ago. Ford is all-in on trucks and SUVs. So, if Ford is thinking about reviving the name it would probably be for an SUV. 

The first Ford Thunderbird arrived in 1955. It was the iconic two-seater that lasted through 1957. In 1958 a zoomy four-seater debuted. It looked like a concept vehicle, and in the late-1950s concept vehicles were wild-looking. When Ford went with an all-new design in 1961 it continued with the concept car look. But this new Thunderbird was completely different from its previous self. 

As the Thunderbird continued it got bigger

1966 Ford Thunderbird | Thelma and Louise

As the Thunderbird continued it got bigger, and a four-door was added in 1967 with suicide rear doors. It lasted through 1971. By then the Thunderbird had competition from Chevy with the Monte Carlo, and numerous models from Buick with the Riviera, Pontiac with its Grand Prix and Grand Am, and Oldsmobile with the front-wheel-drive Toronado. And of course, Cadillac had the magnificent Eldorado which debuted in 1967.

Personal luxury vehicles were a thing in the late-1960s and 1970s. Even siblings Mercury shifted the Cougar into the segment and likewise Lincoln with the Mark III. By 1997 the Thunderbird had run its course and was retired. But Ford brought it back as a two-seater in 2002. 

The last T-Bird was made in 2005 after just under 10,000 had been built

The last Ford Thunderbird | YouTube screen grab

Its downfall was partly attributed to being revealed years before, and by the time it was finally released nobody cared. Plus, being as large as a four-seater convertible but able to hold only two limited its appeal. The last T-Bird was made in 2005 after just under 10,000 had been built. So it has been gone for over 15 years. 

But just like other Ford names, Thunderbird has a lot of brand equity. Think Mustang, Bronco, and even Maverick. Ford’s small pickup currently in development will take the Maverick name. And though the Mustang has been in continuous production since 1964 Ford saw enough value in the Bronco brand to revive it. So Ford sees lots of value in names from its past. Will Thunderbird be the latest to see daylight as with Maverick and Bronco?