December 14, 2017

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After the whirlwind love affair with the American Convertible of the 1950’s and 60’s, time was running out on the American built convertible by the mid 1970’s.  As most know, Cadillac ended the ‘production’ run of factory convertibles with its behemoth 1976 “Bicentennial Edition” Cadillac Eldorado convertible (final 200 produced were all identically prepared Bicentennial Editions in white with red white and blue pin striping) and in a moment they were gone.  For the true convertible lovers, there was not a dry eye in the house that day.  With the advent and wide use of Air-Conditioning the Sun-Roof and the more recently produced T-Roof (in some sport models) to “simulate” that cooler, open air feeling, the hand writing had been on the wall for several years.  Add to this the increasing pressures of Ralph Nader and his merry bunch of henchmen along with the “rumored” threat of monumental increases from the insurance industry and the story was over for the American Car builders, or was it? Towards the end of the era, the news media was promoting to the American Public to the point of almost being brainwashed that “Convertibles are BAD” and Air-Conditioning is good!

Richard Klein & Don Holton’s ACC T-Birds at Ford’s 100th Anniversary

By the end of 1976 a few of those consumers, that had not been swayed by all the negative publicity, hung tough to their open air feelings and made it clear to all that they still wanted their ragtops! The 1977 Model year however dawned without a US built convertible in the ranks.  For those seeking the open air feel, the closest thing one could find were sunroofs, and the recently introduced T-Roof options found in some sport models.  Also beginning production for 1977, the yet to be seen all time best selling and ever popular 1977-79 Thunderbird production run had begun.  With all the ways to be personalized, the new down sized, lesser is more Thunderbird was off and running!

After a short time and coming to the call of those consumers “wants”, several of the custom body companies were now eyeing up the convertible product conversions and stepped to the plate to fill the convertible niche from 1978 to the mid 1980’s.  With that said, towards the end of the 1977, one of the custom body houses, American Custom Coachworks (ACC) of Beverly Hills, CA had begun to eye up the run away popularity of the 1977 Thunderbird line!  The 1977-79 Thunderbird being a hot seller as well as having true hardtop style doors made it a natural for the conversion!  In a short time ACC in early 1978 brought a Ford Authorized Thunderbird convertible back to those that had wanted one for the first time since 1966.

For more info:


                                                         1978 ACC Sales Cards

This all began months before the Ford factory T-Roof Thunderbird Convertible was offered as an option (produced by Cars & Concepts for Ford) in January 1978.  At the time American Custom Coachworks was converting convertibles from Ford and Lincoln hardtops and a few General Motors models as well. The Thunderbirds were designated with a American Custom Coachworks plate on each front fender and a “Sport” logo right behind the doors.

Norm & Sandy Adams
1978 ACC Convertible (red)

For at least the early 1978 Thunderbird version, the rear seat was covered when the top was down making it a pseudo roadster. While the top was down it covered most of the rear seat. A boot-tuneau was then included to cover the top and covered the entire area from the back of the front seat to the top well area. An update to this design was found on the 1979 versions with a improved top which now was contained in a well behind the rear seat. This allowed the rear seat to be used when the top was down. A great improvement over the 78 design!

The ACC Thunderbird “Sport” Convertible was available through ACC franchised Ford Dealer Network in very limited numbers!  A new “base” Thunderbird was selling in the $6,000.00 range for 1977 add  the conversion and that price more than tripled!   To say the least to purchase one of these exclusive conversions was not for the budget minded! Most all of the cars I have seen are heavily optioned and one did pay dearly to have the honor of owning one.  A prospective Thunderbird Sport Convertible owner had to be prepared to shell out a cool $21,000.00 plus any additional options for one of these interesting but highly expensive drop-tops to have that open air feel.

1979 ACC Brochure Card

There are no official production figures available from American Custom Coachworks nor does the company offer any assistance when contacted in regards to these vehicles!    I have it from fairly good sources that came from inside ACC that there were 249 ACC Thunderbird convertibles produced for both 1978 & 1979 but some feel that the 249 was the 1979 production run only and did not include the 1978’s!  Any way you cut it having one of these “Custom Convertible” Thunderbirds was the only way to go for the open air fanfare missing in the Thunderbird line since 1966!  The June 1979 issue of Motor Trend magazine even ran an article on the rise in Convertible availability and even mentioned the Thunderbirds being converted by American Custom Coachworks LTD in the article {Motor Trend June 1979 MEGABUCK $ Motoring article (pg 104)}  Even though the Thunderbird Sport was mentioned, there was no photo for the article but it did mention the cool $21,000.00 base price!  All in all you could have it if you wanted to pay the toll!  I would have imagined if this article had been run in 1978 it may have sparked more interest as most had no idea these cars were even available even at the extreme cost!

At the time I started writing this article there were no less than 3 1979 American Custom Coachworks Convertibles (at least 3 that I know of) owned by International Thunderbird Club Members:  Don & Kathy Holton’s Polar White 1979 of Elmira NY, George Brundo’s Polar White 1979 of Hornell, NY and Robert & Robin Bottomley’s Black 1979 of Aurora, CO.

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