Ford Thunderbird Thefts

Frank Scafidi

Hot Wheels Classics: Ford Thunderbird

Four Times Motor Trend “Car of the Year”

DES PLAINES, Ill., Jan. 14, 2013 – The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) today released its latest Hot Wheels Classics report on another automotive icon, the Ford Thunderbird. Hot Wheels is NICB’s analysis of vehicle theft information reported by law enforcement and contained in the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) database.

Thunderbird History

The first Thunderbird rolled off Ford’s Dearborn, Mich., assembly line on Sept. 9, 1954, and went on sale on Oct. 22, 1954, as a 1955 model. The Thunderbird was an instant hit, and sales grew steadily.

The Thunderbird went through several design changes over its life, and production halted after the 1997 model year. Production resumed in 2001 with a look reminiscent of its 1955 ancestor and lasted through the 2005 model year when the Thunderbird finally ended its run with a 50th anniversary limited edition.

Work on the concept for a Ford sports car began in 1953 when Ford authorized its engineers and designers to create a two-seat convertible weighing 2,525 pounds, equipped with Ford’s Interceptor V-8 engine and the ability to reach a top speed of more than 100 mph.

Naming the new car was not so easy until a young Ford stylist, Alden Giberson, submitted the name Thunderbird. It was inspired by the legend of the Thunderbird, a mythical creature that is popular in the culture of the many indigenous peoples of North America. It was an instant winner.

The base sticker price of $2,695 included the removable hardtop, but not the soft top. Clock, tachometer, power-operated seats and a 292 CID V-8 engine also were standard equipment. However, practically none of the early Thunderbirds left the dealership without either overdrive or automatic transmission and most of the power options. Prices of the 1955 models ranged from $3,000 to $4,000.

Beginning with the 1958 model, Ford moved production of the Thunderbird from Dearborn to its Wixom, Mich., assembly plant where it remained until Ford retired the nameplate in 2005. A total of 4.3 million Thunderbirds were produced over its life span*.

Sales vs. Thefts

As with other classic cars, many of them capture the interest of thieves, as well as enthusiasts and collectors. The Thunderbird is no different.

NICB reviewed Thunderbird theft data from 1981-2011 and identified 179,625 theft records. Although theft records exist from 1955, only theft records from 1981 on are included in this report. That was the year when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required vehicle identification number (VIN) standardization.

In 1981, a total of 9,914 Thunderbirds were reported stolen. For the 30-year span reviewed by NICB, the 1978 Thunderbird was the most stolen model year with 14,288 thefts reported.

Top 10 Model Year Thefts
 Rank   Model Year  Total Thefts 
 1  1978  14,288
 2  1979  12,100
 3  1977  11,972
 4  1984  10,390
 5  1985  9,185
 6  1986  8,958
 7  1980  7,302
 8  1988  6,981
 9  1983  6,869
 10  1987  6,510
   TOTAL  94,555

Top 10 Theft Years 1981-2011
 Rank   Theft Year  Total Thefts 
 1  1981  9,914
 2  1989  8,284
 3  1988  8,227
 4  1990  7,962
 5  1991  7,931
 6  1982  7,889
 7  1986  7,846
 8  1995  7,811
 9  1987  7,751
 10  1985  7,679
   TOTAL  81,294

Top 10 Theft States 1981-2011
 Rank   State Total Thefts 
 1  California  27,521
 2  Texas  14,771
 3  New York  13,338
 4  Florida
 5  Michigan  8,335
 6  Illinois
 7  New Jersey  5,456
 8  Pennsylvania   4,944
 9  Massachusetts   4,864
 10  Ohio  4,476
   TOTAL  101,589

See all Thunderbird theft data here.

During the 30-year period from 1981-2011, a total of 179,625 Thunderbirds were reported stolen in the United States and Puerto Rico. From 1955-2005, a total of 4.3 million were sold. The year with the most U.S. sales was 1977 with 304,430 sold. The year with the fewest Thunderbird sales was 1998 when just 2,243 units were sold.

At NICB, we have been in the business of identifying and recovering stolen vehicles since 1912. Our expertise has been sought by law enforcement agencies all over the nation to assist with major auto theft investigations. Frequently, NICB recovers stolen vehicles that have long since been forgotten—except by their owners.

Whether or not you own a classic 1963 split-window Corvette or a 1955 Thunderbird, take steps to protect your vehicle from theft. NICB urges motorists to follow its “layered approach” to auto theft prevention. By employing these simple, low-cost suggestions, people can make their vehicles less attractive to thieves.

Anyone with information concerning vehicle theft and insurance fraud can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or by visiting our website at Or, iPhone or iPad users can download the NICB Fraud Tips app to make it easy to quickly send a tip and get a response.

*All Thunderbird historical information, including verbatim passages appear courtesy of Ford Motor Company at:

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is the nation’s leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness. The NICB is supported by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote over $339 billion in insurance premiums in 2011, or approximately 80 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance. That includes more than 94 percent ($156 billion) of the nation’s personal auto insurance. To learn more visit

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