Thunderbirds are go: we select our favourite big-screen birds

19 January, 2016

Over the years, Thunderbirds have appeared in dozens of movies and TV series — and here are a few of our favourite big-screen Birds

American Graffiti

In American Graffiti (1973), although the white ‘baby’ Bird only makes a brief appearance, driven by Suzanne Somers, the car (and the girl) provide the impetus for all that happens to the movie’s main character, as portrayed by Richard Dreyfus.

Patrick Swayze may have wowed the girls with his Dirty Dancing (1987), but the boys were probably more interested in Jennifer Grey — and the bright-red ’56 T-bird that appeared in the first part of the film. 

T-Bird Gang

If the actors were the stars in the two films noted above, then the cars were most definitely the stars in the 1959 movie T-Bird Gang — a low-budget black-and-white thriller that involves murder and gang of juvenile delinquents. However, the only reason to watch this film would be to see the featured ’56 Thunderbird.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

Pneumatic horror host, Elvira, ended up driving a ’58 Thunderbird convertible in her movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988). Appropriately, her car was ‘tastefully’ customized by George Barris to include a spiderweb front grille plus skull-and-crossbone wheel inserts.
Disney got around to featuring a Thunderbird in its 1961 film The Parent Trap, with one of the main characters driving around in a light-blue 1960 model, while fans of Perry Mason will probably remember Paul Drake’s black 1960 convertible.

Thelma & Louise

Less seriously, there was the flying 1963 convertible in the Robin Williams comedy, Flubber, although the best ‘flying’ Thunderbird has to be the 1966 convertible that came to a sticky end in Thelma & Louise. Then there was the ’64 convertible that played a small role in the 1964 Bond blockbuster, Goldfinger

Die Another Day

Interestingly, Thunderbirds appeared a few more times in 007 films — next in 1965’s Thunderball, as driven by the villainous Spectre No. 2, Emilio Largo, and then again in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever. Finally, the all-new Thunderbird, as resurrected in 2002, appeared in Die Another Day driven by Halle Berry.

We couldn’t find any motor sport–type films involving the Thunderbird, although if you check out the 1969 Paul Newman racing title, Winning, you’ll get to see a Thunderbird cutting a lap at the brickyard.

TV series which feature cameo appearances from a Thunderbird include The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rockford Files, Crime Story, The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive, Bewitched, CHiPS, Hawaii Five-O, and Charlie’s Angels, amongst many others.

This article was originally published in New Zealand Classic Car Issue No. 290. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below:


Travelling companion

It’s easy to see why the Morris Minor Traveller was one of the best-loved variants of the Morris Minor. Introduced in 1953, it was equipped with the same independent torsion bar front suspension, drum brakes, and rack and pinion steering as its saloon sibling but, with their foldable rear seat increasing versatility, many Travellers were used as trade vehicles, says Derek Goddard. Derek and Gail Goddard, the owners of this superbly restored example, have run Morris Minors since before they were married in 1974.
“Our honeymoon vehicle was a blue Morris Minor van — it was a rust bucket,” says Derek.

Super Leicht Gullwing

It’s fair to say that nothing much in the classic Mercedes world gets past Mercedes-Benz Club stalwart Garry Boyce so it wasn’t surprising to learn that around 15 years ago he had sniffed out an extremely rare 300SL lightweight Gullwing as well as a 1958 300SL Roadster hiding away in the Waikato. The cars were not for sale but Garry eventually managed to persuade the owner to allow him and his restoration team to take a look at the Roadster. They discovered a very distressed but largely unmolested car. The car was so original that the body had never been off the chassis, meaning most of the parts and fittings were still present and correct, as they had been fitted by the factory.