The Hot Wheels® '57 T-bird Story
Thunderbird Collectibles homepage

                  ------------ From my point of view!

 Part I - June 1998
2nd edition Nov. 2003

by Dot Lang

     Most stories start in the beginning but this one will start in the middle.  1998 was Mattels 30th anniversary and they issued a series showcasing a model that debuted for each year of it's Hot Wheels productions.  Mattel used the 1957 T-bird in its promotion for the year 1978, therefore, this series is starting in the middle.   Larry Woods was the designer of this model.  The following photo is of the earliest colors of Thunderbirds from the years 1978 to 1982.  There was a previous model of the classic 1957 T-bird debuting in 1969 and that will be the subject of another month.

    All the models shown here have U.S.A. package # 2013 other than the red box is Japanese & number is 78.  Both yellow and white were also found in the playset, "T'Bird Tossup"- pkg. #2386, which included a power booster, five 24" pieces of track, loop braces, and 2 ramps.  The white model appeared on the market first in packages with a copyright date of 1975, including the box from Japan - those packages were #'d with a 2-digit # - US #49, Japan #78.  Not sure why the much later release or early copyright date but apparently Mattel wanted to bring it out for 1978.  It certainly did not coincide with Ford's release of the new Thunderbird bodystyle for 1977 nor the 20th anniversary of the 55, in 1975.  The t-birds' chassis are dated 1977.

    In 1982, Mattel started releasing the Thunderbird model made in Malaysia - without the porthole.  With their necessary practice of using stock on hand before changing to new colors, you will find a few of the Malaysian cars with their first paint job of yellow with the red and blue tampo.  A little observed fact:  The first Malaysian Thunderbirds are further distinguished by looking at the chassis - a date of 1981 instead of the 1977 you may be used to seeing.

    It is easy to tell a Malaysian model from the Hong Kong version --  for these two colors only-- simply because Hong Kong models only used the porthole version during that time period.  During the next color change, that distinction disappeared.  see 01/2009 update below

Next month will showcase the transition to the next color in line for the "1978" model of the '57 T-bird.
Update 01/2009 - Found - yellow Hong Kong model with 1981 chassis and NO porthole.

Update (03/00): click on highlighted words to view pictures It's been a while since I read this article and I see a need for clarification. The white T-bird was only made in Hong Kong, the yellow porthole T-bird was made in Hong Kong & the yellow non-porthole model made in Malaysia. I'm not sure of the exact year of intro on the yellow color but I highly suspect the color was not available until 1979 or 1980. The box with the yellow model has a 1978 copyright date.

Just recently I picked up a couple of special edition sets using the Hong Kong models. The first set came out in 1978 with the white T-bird, a Hot Bird & a Jaguar XJS, along with a brass Hot Wheels belt buckle - set #2385. I think it was issued to commeemorate 10 years of Hot Wheels though there is nothing that says that on the package. The second set came with the yellow T-bird & the first issue of the Stutz Blackhawk - set #1878-0910. The card was printed in 1979 so it was either issued in 1979 or 1980.

There was also a "T-bird Tossup" set issued using the yellow T-bird. The package has foreign language also printed on it so I suspect it was a foreign issued set & I did pick it up from Canada. This package has a 1978 date on it but I don't think it was on the market with the yellow T-bird until 1979-80, when the yellow T-birds made it to market.

Note that packages are designed & printed well before the actual model makes it to market. You will notice many times that the date on the model or package often doesn't correspond with the year that the model actually appeared on the market. You will even find the white Thunderbird in some foreign issued boxes that are dated 1975 even though the model wasn't introduced until 1978.

A suspicion of mine is that the yellow, non-porthole model from Malaysia is much rarer than the yellow porthole model from Hong Kong. Though the Hot Wheels price guides list it at a lower value, it was only available for about one year  - dated 1981 on chassis so probably was only available during 1982. 1982 was the year of the color changes for the Hot Wheel T-birds. Dealers say they had a hard time selling the non-porthole version in this tampo & assumed that collectors already had them but I really suspect that collectors were passing up the non-porthole version in their search for the porthole version which was no longer being made. Collectors always go for the discontinued models plus the color had already been on the market for a couple of years so those who had the color were not as interested in the non-porthole version at the time. I have seen much fewer of the yellow non-porthole models for sale in the last 15 years than of the porthole version.

link to Part II 

To view the other articles in this series click below:

Part I -  First Tampo Phase  Part II - Cranberry Models
Part III - New Tampo Part IV - Next Tampo
Part V - Promotionals Part VI - Regular issue to present
Part VII - Mattel's Specials Part VIII - Different Molds
Part  IX - Thunderbird Anniversary Years Part X coming soon
Hot Wheel List UPDATED

I'm always looking for more information on the Thunderbird model.
reach me here

©1998-2009 Dot Lang
not affiliated with Mattel