Worst Car Wednesday: Dismal Dreary 1980-82 Ford T-Bird

Ford always had a winner with the Thunderbird. Until 1980, that is. The original personal luxury car was a hard combo to screw up. But Ford did one hell of a job of doing just that with the all-new, downsized 1980-82 Thunderbird. Or what we refer to as the “Thunderturd.” How anything that looked this bad, ran like crap, and was built this poorly could get the green light is a mystery. That’s why the dismal, dreary, 1980-82 Ford T-Bird is the perfect Worst Car Wednesday profile. 

So much wrong with the 1980 T-Bird it is hard to know where to start?

Where to begin? There is so much wrong with the 1980 T-Bird it is hard to know where to start? As with the Mustang, Ford thought it needed to downsize everything. With that, we got the terrible Mustang II and then this. The first problem with it was that it looked like a Ford Granada. It was very hard to tell the difference between the two. But the Granada was a much cheaper Ford. You can’t sell a more expensive car that looks like a lesser model. Strike one.

“Few cars in America will reward their owners with as much luxury and distinction as the new Thunderbird Town Landau,” advertising blared. “Luxury” if you liked the tufted, overstuffed, Barcalounger look. And “distinctive” if you wanted the distinction of looking like a fool. “Exhilaration of flight without leaving the ground in its grace and movement.” Don’t forget your barf bag just in case.

Vinyl tops, landau tops, wire wheel hubcaps, and ersatz Mercedes cues

The liberal use of vinyl tops, landau tops, wire wheel hubcaps, and ersatz Mercedes cues meant it was a hot mess of confusion. Eugene Bordinat was head of Ford design but it appears he was better suited for being the head of bad styling cliches. Rubber bumper bands, fake fog lights on top of hidden headlights, and Landau tops did not make for an exciting product.

The overhangs on this thing were crazy. With a short wheelbase, it made the thing look like it was riding on tippy toes. It seems like no one ever rolled it outside to take a long, hard, look at it before giving the green light. There was nothing a designer could do with the awful proportions of this heap.

When you view the 1980 T-Bird from certain angles the rocker area behind the rear wheel openings is angled out. It is on a different plane than the rockers between the wheel openings. It looks like a mistake and is a mystery how it could have passed observation. There was no continuity of the lower body surfaces.

The whole of the 1980-82 T-Bird looked rude and crude

Ford Thunderbird 1980.

And that error applied to the front. Except that there was nothing below the front bumpers. When your eyes carried through from the back to the front there was nothing finishing off the lower fascia. It was like something was missing. It looked crude. Actually, the whole car looked crude and rude. 

Ford knew it had a turd on its hands from the git-go. A plan was hatched to replace it as soon as possible with something completely the opposite of what it had. Something more organic with better proportions and no Landau tops or white-sidewall tires. That became the highly successful 1983 T-Bird. But Ford was stuck with this pig for three model years.

In all Ford sold fewer T-Birds from 1980 to 1982 than it did in 1979 alone. Hordes of people turned their backs on the thing it was so bad. When you look at a 1979 Bird and then look at the 1983 Bird, you’ll understand what an absolutely horrific design the 1980-82 Bird was. And that’s exactly why it is a case study of Worst Car Wednesday. See y’all next week.


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