There were nearly a million produced during that short 3 year run! Adding to that popularity was the fact that this was also the most personalized version of the Thunderbird ever produced. Anyone could order their car from bare bones to full blown luxury and anywhere in between! Try that in today’s package only world of ”to receive this you need that to”! The high sales numbers show the popularity, quite an accomplishment and while as popular as they were few realize that all 3 years carried slight changes in their appearance. Please find included here those visible differences between the 1977-79 Thunderbirds and information on Decoding the VIN, Certification Decal and Buck Tag.
Physical differences between the years include:
1977 Thunderbird – The headlight doors are plain with no Thunderbird emblems and no aluminum trim bezels around headlight door openings. There also is a large Thunderbird script on the left head light door. Base 1977’s used a smaller more square hood ornament, while the 77 1/2 Town Landau used a larger ornament with a color keyed insert. The 77 tail lights went completely across the back of the car and with a integrated back up light lens and there are chrome Thunderbird emblems attached to the tail light lens. Large rear Thunderbird script on the center lower section of trunk-lid. On cars equipped with body side impact moldings they started and finished at the front edge of the front fender and and ended at the rear edge of the rear 1/4 panel on 1977 & 78. The moldings actually began and ended behind the bumpers and give a more finished appearance than the 79 style. All non body side impact cars received only full wheel opening moldings with rocker moldings for all 3 years.
1978 Thunderbird – had chrome emblems on the headlight covers and aluminum trim bezels around headlight door openings and a small Thunderbird script on the left head light door. Some 1978’s used the more square 77 style hood ornament, but most 78’s and all 79’s used the larger more rectangular style hood ornament which was similar to the special edition (Town Landau-Diamond Jubilee-Heritage) hood ornament without the opaque color keyed insert. The tail lights while similar to the 1977’s, but had argent trim applied to a raised Thunderbird emblem on the tail light lens where the 77’s had the chrome emblems attached to the tail light lens.
1979 Thunderbirds – used the same headlight cover and door trim as 1978, the grille was a much larger egg crate design. The rear tail lights were no longer the full length of the car. They were more rectangular with center back up lamp with Thunderbird script removed from trunk lid in favor of an embossed Thunderbird on the back up light lens. Side moldings are shorter on the front and rear 1/4s which are approximately 3 inches shorter than the 1977 & 78’s.
Here is the basic decoding for the 1977-79 Thunderbird .
Vehicle Identification Numbers can be found for each year 1977-1978-1979 on the tag attached to the dash pad metal filler panel . There is also a partial VIN stamped into a metal tab that can be found under the windshield on the left and right side of the inner leading edge of the dash pad shelf panel. The stamping includes the last 8 digits of the VIN…
VIN Decode as follows:
8 J H
7 – 1st digit 7 Year = 1977
8 – 1st digit 8 Year = 1978
9 – 1st digit 7 Year = 1979
G – 2nd digit G Assembly Plant: Chicago IL
J – 2nd digit J Assembly Plant: Los Angles, CA
87 – 3rd & 4th: 87 = Thunderbird 2 dr Pillared hardtop
F – 5th digit F = engine 302 ci 2bbl V8
H – 5th digit H = engine 351 ci W, 2bbl V8 or 351 ci M 2 bbl V8 both used the same code! The 351 W is physically smaller than the 351 M. The valve cover decal will tell you which you have either 351 W or 351 M/400 is listed. If there is no decal it is easy to determine which you have by counting the valve cover bolts the W has 5 and the M has 8
S – 5th digit S = 400 ci in 2bbl V8 (1977-78 only not available in 1979)
123456 – Last 6 digits are the assigned serial numbers
Located on drivers side door jam.
1977 & 1978 were the same and the
Veh. Ident. No.
Color DSO BODY TRIM SCH. DATE AXLE TRANS AC
9D*(AA) 12 60H D8 14C 2 W A
Those listings were basic and included:
Color: 2 or 4 digit Paint Code (*last 2 digits of a 4 digit paint code indicates vinyl roof grain and color or 2 tone paint)
DSO: District Sales Office Code.
Body: All 77-79 Thunderbirds were code 60H 2dr pillared hardtops
Sch. Date: Assigned scheduled assembly date
Axle: The Axle Ratio code
Trans: The Transmission code
AC: A indicated AC equipped car while blank was non AC car.
The 1979 certification decal was slightly different with more information:
VEH. IDENT. NO. 9G97H123456
9D *(AA) 13
Exterior Paint Colors DSO
BODY VR MLDG INT.TRIM A/C R S AX TR
60H (XX) D6W ED A 5 (A) B XZZ11
9D*(AA) Exterior Paint Colors: 2 or 4 digit Paint Code (*last 2 digits of a 4 digit paint code indicates vinyl roof grain and color or 2 tone paint)
13 DSO District Sales Office Code.
Body: 60H All 77-79 Thunderbirds were code 60H 2dr pillared hardtops
VR: (XX) 2 digit Vinyl Roof Code
MLDG: D6W Body Side Insert molding color code
INT TRIM: ED Interior trim code for color & material
AC: A A indicated AC equipped car while blank was non AC car.
R 5 Radio equipped on car 5 = AM/FM 8 track
S: *(A) Sun Roof/T-Roof Equipped Cars no sun roof or T-Roof this would be blank.
AX: B Axle Ratio code
TR: XZZ11 X This would be the transmission code.X = FMX
ZZ11 This would be the front and rear spring codes