Home » Cold Start: What’s Going On Here With These Thunderbirds?

Cold Start: What’s Going On Here With These Thunderbirds?


For a lot of reasons, I tend to really like the no-background images for these brochures, but I have to admit that without the inherent context of a background, it’s kind of hard to tell just what the hell is going on. For example, does the guy on the left have a gun, some sort of rifle, in that bag? I mean. it has to be unless it’s a strangely shaped guitar or oar or an odd bag for a party sub.

And what’s going on with this dude?

What’s that thing in his hands?Is it another rifle? A shotgun? some kind of camera, or maybe an ultrasonic mic?

And what’s on that guy’s vest? It looks like burnt cheese. Should I be able to identify that? Did these people just randomly drive into what I think may be a hunting area? Are they lost? Was this a big plan?

I’m so confused. Handsome Thunderbirds, though.

(UPDATE: Ooohhh, I see, it’s one of those shotguns where you load from the back of the barrels–breech loading! Now this makes sense. I mean, a bit more sense, that dude is wearing awfully nice loafers for hunting, but whatever.)


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49 Responses

  1. The combination of focusing on luxury and comfort and these shooters is supposed to make things seem aristocratic. They are clay shooters or possibly the sorts who coordinate “hunts” where all they have to do is walk a path and shoot. Exactly the sort of thing that you could get to in a Thunderbird without worrying about even scratching it.

    1. Wrong shoes, even for ‘put and take’ hunting; plus no dog in sight, so you would have to leave said path to retrieve your downed birds.
      Or perhaps .. in the alternate reality that is advertising .. your valet would obtain the dead birds so you did not have to deal with all that unpleasantness.

  2. Disclaimer: I’m Australian so whilst I intellectually understand how America has arrived at its love for guns, I also don’t understand America’s love for guns.

    But even taking that into account, it seems an odd choice for a Thunderbird ad. Sure, shooting is a sport, but not ‘sporty’ in the context of the ad. Is carrying your gun in a bag considered ‘luxury’ or does it deliver a greater degree of ‘comfort’?

    Were these ads specific to the media that they appeared in? Is it possible this ad was only in an NRA Quarterly, or some sort of ‘outdoor life’ magazine?

    1. Trap shooting or skeet shooting is considered a somewhat upscale sport. Picture the Royal family shooting sporting clays at Balmoral Castle and you get the idea. (Lots of tweed, fancy boots, and Range Rovers, etc.)

      Shooting clays fits perfectly with the upscale image of the Thunderbird of that era.

      1. This was also back in the 60s before professional sports came to so completely dominate what we conceptualize as sports today. For instance a sports jacket is a sports jack because that’s what people use to wear for shooting and hunting sports. And, colloquially, a “sportsman” is a hunting enthusiast, not an NBA player.

        1. I just read a 19th century account called “Journey of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile,” and apart from the expected racism I was disturbed by the author casually and universally equating “sport” with killing things. And it wasn’t just the colonizers, local kings would have lions and other large beasts captured and penned so that they could easily kill them while remaining seated.

      2. Yep, trap shooting was a common sport for the upper middle class then. The vest would have had patches for various achievements. This ad would have been a good fit for advertising Thunderbirds to the Field And Stream set.

    2. They were specific to a whole different time and world. The cars pictured are either 1958 or 1959. What was relevant and relatable in the late 50’s was much different than what we have decided is relevant in relatable today. FWIW, when the ’58 model came out I was 11 years old.

  3. I would guess they’ve been trap shooting (you played “Clay Shooting” in Duck Hunt, right?). The guy on the right is holding a shotgun with the breech open. For those unfamiliar, a breech-load shotgun/rifle is where the whole gun seems to snap in half at the rear of the barrel(s) and that’s where you load it.

    I cannot explain the vest. I assume it’s covered in sacred runes that grant him dark and terrible powers, though it doesn’t appear strong enough to counter her body language of, “No, never, not even when you vaguely threaten me with a shotgun.”

    1. They’re likely gun club award patches for competitions.

      Very common back in the day, and kinda (wonderfully) American-ized a very upper class British sport.

  4. To be pedantic, it’s a break-open firearm. Breech-loaders are any firearm that’s loads from the rear, i.e not a muzzle-loader such as a musket.

    1. My first shotgun was a break action 20 gauge; Santa brought it for the aspiring 12 year old hunter..
      It lasted until October of the following year when a mishap left it with a bent barrel during duck season.
      (Destroyed in a rather unique way, by another shotgun’s projectiles)

      The vests we wore when pheasant hunting looked similar, but more orange and with a special pocket in back (and no silly patches).

  5. Are you and your co-conspirators going to make this sort of thing (old car ads) a regular feature? I’m getting a vibe like James Lileks’ “Gallery of Regrettable Food” here!

  6. “Ya know Jack, we’re really a Chevy/Olds neighborhood here – so don’t be surprised if we try some bird shooting now that you’ve brought this here Ford around.”

  7. Torch,
    I am disappointed that you did not comment on how the outer set of tail lights are in the same radius centerline as the bezel but the inner set of tail lights are not.
    BTW… I am fitting these exact Thunderbird tail light lens into my 1992 Miata Garage Vary rear panel.

  8. I think you should repost those photos with cartoon speech bubbles and hold a contest for readers to submit most interesting conversations amongst those happy people.

  9. Here are some of the taglines that were found on the cutting room floor…

    “8 out of 10 murderous husbands prefer traveling to the scene of the crime in a Thunderbird”

    “You wouldn’t believe how many bodies will fit in the truck of this Thunderbird.

    1. We’re going to go to the sock hop and lure Johnny outside with some reefer. Then we’ll fix him for getting you knocked up. With our new Sears Gentlemanly Fashions (TM) they will never suspect us.

  10. When you’re on a nice Sunday drive and someone dressed for a trap shooting competition approaches your new Thunderbird, don’t stop to chat, no matter how friendly they look.

    “Hey, are you folks lost? That’s a really nice car you got there. You wouldn’t mind if I take it for spin, would you?” (Racks in a shell and points it at the driver’s head)

  11. I’m going to hazard a guess that this image was based on a photograph taken at a shooting competition parking lot where a photographer said “Oooh, there are two t-birds parked side by side. Nice picture. ” and Ford found it and decided to paint over it to avoid copyright fees, then used it in a brochure.

  12. Caption for the right image:
    “Well, Martha, it’s time for us both to admit that this marriage just isn’t working out; but I don’t see any need to get the lawyers involved.”

  13. I’d bet its meant to invoke the image of trap/skeet shooting, for those that are hoity-toity enough to own fancy long guns, but not want to actually hunt with them.

    1. Clay sports seem to have the widest economic breadth of any sport I’ve ever participated in. It’s something Cletus can enjoy with his $200 Maverick 88, and something Archie can enjoy with his $13k Blaser.

      Seriously, got to any gun club doing shooting day and there will be Audis parked next to rusted out 15 year old work trucks and everything in between. Though, if you live in an area where shooting sports are really popular, the clubs tend to get economically segregated.

    2. I’ve seen rednecks go trap shooting way more often than “hoity-toity” people. also i had to copy that from you, I’ve never considered how to spell hoity-toity before.

      1. Yeah, but rednecks go hunting with their guns, which was what I was alluding to. The rich folk have a shooting gun, and a hunting gun, or multiples of each.

        I honestly had to look it up. I got it right except for the hyphen which everyone seems to think is essential.

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