Classic Ford Thunderbird Is Darling of Car Thieves


  • 1978 Ford Thunderbird Picture

    1978 Ford Thunderbird Picture

    The 1978 Ford Thunderbird is especially popular with car thieves. | January 15, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • During the 30-year period from 1981-2011, a total of 179,625 Ford Thunderbirds were reported stolen in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to a new National Insurance Crime Bureau report issues on Monday.
  • The Thunderbird eclipsed the rival Corvette in sales during its introductory 1955 model year and has proven very popular with collectors of classic cars...and with classic car thieves.
  • During the 1981-2011 time period, 90,427 Corvettes were stolen.

DES PLAINES, Illinois — During the 30-year period from 1981-2011, a total of 179,625 Ford Thunderbirds were reported stolen in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to a new National Insurance Crime Bureau report issued on Monday.

The Thunderbird eclipsed the rival Corvette in sales during its introductory 1955 model year and has proven very popular with collectors of classic cars...and with classic car thieves.

During the 1981-2011 time period, 90,427 Corvettes were stolen.

Although Thunderbird theft statistics are available from earlier years, the NICB did not include them in its study, saying that such data is not considered accurate prior to 1981, when the NHTSA standardized vehicle VINs.

Ford built 4.3 million Thunderbirds over the model's lifespan. Developed as a response to Chevrolet's Corvette, which had been introduced in 1953, the first Thunderbird debuted in late 1954 as a 1955 model. Unlike the Corvette, Ford's two-seater featured a steel body, and — more importantly — V8 engine, which immediately struck a chord with performance-minded buyers.

The first Thunderbird overwhelmed the Corvette in production volume. Ford expected to make around 10,000 in 1955 but, to satisfy eager consumers, ended up building more than 16,000. GM produced only 700 Corvettes that year, due in large part to the upstart competition.

The Thunderbird lived on through numerous incarnations, gaining a rear seat in 1958 and growing in size through the years, until 1997 when Ford killed the model. But that wasn't the end of the story.

At the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, Ford displayed a concept car that harkened back to the Thunderbird's roots, with retro styling, two seats, and a convertible top. Response from the public was enthusiastic, and in 2002 the company brought out an updated version of the classic T-Bird. This final generation would last until 2005, when Ford ended its run with a 50th anniversary limited edition.

According to the NICB, of the 179,625 T-Birds stolen in the U.S. from 1981 through 2011, the 1978 model year was stolen most often, with 14,288 going missing. This was followed closely by cars from 1979 and 1977, with thieves getting 12,100 and 11,972, respectively.

The year with the highest recorded Thunderbird sales in the U.S. was 1977, with 304,430 units sold. And the year with the fewest sales was 1998, when just 2,243 were sold.

During that same 1981-2011 time period, the NICB found that 90,427 Corvettes had been the target of car thieves. The model years of 'Vettes most stolen were 1984 (8,554), 1981 (8,262), and 1979 (6,399). The Corvette's highest U.S. production year was 1979, with 53,807 built, and the year with the fewest Corvettes produced was 1953 when only 300 were manufactured.

The NICB, a nonprofit organization funded primarily by insurance companies, detects and fights vehicle theft and insurance fraud. The organization's theft statistics are compiled from law-enforcement reports contained in the National Crime Information Center's databases.

Edmunds says: The NICB has some useful suggestions for low-cost theft-prevention on its Web site. Anyone with information about vehicle theft can make an anonymous report by calling 1-800-TEL-NICB.

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