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1978 Ford Thunderbird
Manufacturer: Motor Max
Release date: 2007 (This one: American Graffiti)
Catalog number: 6126
Date Purchased: September 2007
Date Completed July 2008
Number in collection: 14

By the mid 1970's, The Ford Thunderbird was a significantly different car from the high-performance, two-seat luxury/sport car originally introduced in 1955. It was now one of the largest cars ever produced by an American auto manufacturer, and shared much of its body structure, chassis, and drive train with the Lincoln Continental Mark IV. The emphasis of the was now completely on luxury. It did offer one of the largest and most powerful engines made by Ford at that time. This was needed just to move the substantial mass of the car around, not for any kind of sporting performance.

Higher gasoline prices brought on by the 'fuel crisis' of a few years earlier were leading American car buyers to smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. As a result, Ford decided to base the Thunderbird off of their mid-size platform beginning in the 1977 model year. They had previously had success with the Elite, which was a more luxurious version of the mid-size Gran Torino. This new smaller T-Bird was so accepted by car buyers that it sold over 300,000 units for the 1977 model year, a significant increase over prior years.

Motor Max made a nice replica of the 1978 Thunderbird as part of their 'American Graffiti' series. It features a detailed chassis, separate chrome-plated plastic trim, decent interior details, and soft tires. My research found that this model was released in several color combinations. Mine is a two-tone green that was close to, but not exactly, factory colors. Their choice of the name for this series was a curious one, as this was a title of a movie that took place in the early 1960's and was filmed years before the actual car was even produced.

I originally worked on this car long before I started photographing them. The 'before' pictures are not of my car, but ones I found on-line of a car that is in original condition. The 'after' pictures were of my car, but taken while I was originally writing this page.

Click to zoom Click to zoom
What I started with. Actual car I used for reference.

Pictures of car before any changes were made (click to enlarge)

Disassembly was started by removing two screws that hold the chassis to the body. The remainder of this process, as well as the resulting parts breakdown, is as follows:
  • A black plastic chassis, with decent engine, suspension, and frame details moulded into it. Separate chrome plated plastic bumpers are attached to pins at the front and rear of the chassis. heat was applied to these pins to form something like a rivet, which then holds the bumpers in place. I didn't remove the bumpers as it was not necessary to add detail to them
  • Two separate wheel/tire/axle assemblies, which are not held in place to the chassis or body, Tires are soft vinyl or rubber. Wheels are chrome-plated plastic, and have a non-stock design. Backing plates are black plastic, and appear to have the ends of the axles riveted to the inside surface. I did not disassemble them any further to confirm this, as I didn't want to risk damage to these parts.
  • A black plastic one piece interior with seats, side panels, and inner fender wells moulded to it. The dash is a separate piece that is bonded to the floor of the interior by heat applied to a tab on it, which I pried apart to remove it. The steering wheel is a separate piece glued to the dashboard. I didn't remove it, as I didn't want to risk damaging this part.
  • A die-cast body, painted light green with dark green vinyl top areas and side mouldings.
  • A separate piece attached to the front of the body, that appears to be chrome plated with everything except the grille and park/turn lights painted the same color as the body. This is an unusual way of accomplishing the effect of separate chrome parts that I have not seen since. I decided not to remove it, and added detail to it while still attached.
  • A black plastic tail light piece, painted red with tampo-printed emblems. It's attached by heat applied to moulded-in pins. I cut the bonds and removed the part so I could add more detail.
  • A die-cast body, painted light green with dark green vinyl top areas and side mouldings.
  • A black plastic piece that appears to simulate the raised convertible top, even though the rear window style on any version of the actual car that I've seen. It attaches to two metal pins cast in to the body, which explains the holes visible on the outside of this piece. The rear window area is just an open hole, and there is no clear insert.
  • A single piece clear window assembly, riveted to the inside of the body. I trimmed around the rivet to remove it, as it would be in the way when I added body detail.

After disassembling the car, only paint and foil were used to add detail to it.

The following is a summary of the changes I made:
  • Wheels and tires: Sanded the tread surface with 220 grit sandpaper to simulate wear.
  • Chassis: Painted entire piece Testors acrylic flat black. Engine, transmission, exhaust system, fuel tank, suspension and frame details were painted with Testors dark light blue, Tamiya aluminum, flat steel, and semi-gloss black. Rub strips were added to the plated bumpers with Testors dark green.
  • Interior: Painted all interior areas Testors flat dark green. Painted woodgrain areas on dash and door panels Testors acrylic flat brown. Applied Testors acrylic semi-gloss clear to all interior surfaces except floor. Remaining interior details were highlighted with appropriate colors, using pictures of the actual car as a guide.
  • Windows: Painted read view mirror Testors flat dark green. Highlighted moulded in wiper blades and face of rear view mirror with Testors silver.
  • Body: Painted headliner inside body Testors flat dark green, and painted all other areas inside the body Testors acrylic flat black. Applied Bare-Metal foil to window trim, side mouldings, areas around headlight covers, and tail light panel. Painted tail lights, front park/turn lights, and side marker lights with Tamiya clear red, clear orange and Testors flat white. repainted rub strip portion of side mouldings Testors flat dark green. Painted grill with Testors flat black, then rubbed paint from grill bars after it dried. Remaining exterior details were highlighted with appropriate colors, using pictures of the actual car as a guide.
Disassembled parts, before reassembly To the left is the car prior to re-assembly.

The car was reassembled by reversing the procedure used to disassemble it. Some glue was needed.

Pictures of completed car (click to enlarge)

While the overall car looks nice, something about the proportions don't seem totally correct. The table below shows how the model measurements compare to the actual car.

Actual car 
(mm / in)
(mm / in)
Dimensions of actual car based on model scale
(mm / in)
Calculated scale based on model to actual car
Length 5474 / 215.5 86 / 3.39 5504 / 216.7 1:64
Wheelbase 2896 / 114.0 45 / 1.78 2895 / 114.0 1:64
Width 1994 / 78.5 32 / 1.25 2048 / 80.3 1:63
Height 1346 / 53.0 23 / .9 1464 / 57.6 1:59

My calculations show that this car is a very close to the 1:64 scale moulded onto the chassis plate, with the exception of height. The body does look a bit thick in the middle section, from the bottom edge of the side windows down to the rocker panels. The window area looks a bit shallow, as well, but not enough to make up the difference in total height.

Aside from giving it a thorough cleaning, I made no changes from when I originally worked on it back in 2008. Aside from slight errors in proportion that I mentioned, it's still a nice replica. I only wish that I had bought more Motor Max cars in this American Graffiti series, as well as in their Fresh Cherries series. They seemed to disappear from the stores in my area in a very short period of time. This is too bad, in my opinion, as the offered some less common car subjects.

Liked what you saw? More cars can be found HERE .

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