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"The World's Largest Thunderbird"

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

ARTICLE: Jack Logan PHOTOS: Jessica Roybal

Located on the southwest corner of Lomas Blvd. and University Blvd., the “World’s Largest Thunderbird” sprawls across the sloping site of the former Frontier Ford dealership.  This artwork, cast in place of concrete and terrazzo, was constructed in 1959 as part of the new, modern Ford dealership in Albuquerque. Although the building was razed after a fire, the Thunderbird ground sign remains as a landmark for auto enthusiasts. 

The facility was touted by Ford Motor Company as being a flagship design acknowledging the new, modern markets for automobiles in the southwest. The goal was to sell more than trucks and family sedans, including the new line of “Personal Luxury” cars called Thunderbirds. For the first time, the dealership featured a dedicated service entrance, 260 feet of service, lube and wash bays, with an exit at the opposite end. The facility featured innovations such as modular furniture, color-coordinated telephones, and “Blaze Pink” walls in the showroom.

The grand opening of Frontier Ford required a full, dedicated section of the Sunday, November 22, 1959 issue of the Albuquerque Journal. There were free orchids for the first 2000 ladies, cigars for the gentlemen, and chances to win a Thunderbird go-cart for the kids. The crowds could vie to win a Motorola console stereo, portable TV’s, and phonographs. The announcement introduced the owner, Jack Jones, all department heads, their families, education, and experience in an effort for the public to get to know the personnel. 

The Thunderbird mosaic was a tricky exercise in design and construction.  Located on a slope meant to visible from Lomas it was cast on concrete of multi-colored terrazzo - a cement, epoxy, and marble chip mix.  J.B. Martina Mosaic of Denver meticulously laid out the 1959 Thunderbird logo to scale and then cast the difficult, multi-layered, sloping image.

Over the years, the image has remained even though the building no longer stands. The University of New Mexico now owns the property. Used for parking and bus station staging to the Balloon Fiesta, patrons park on the concrete floor slab where the service bays and showroom once stood. The whole complex is visible on Google Earth, including the Thunderbird. The construction is starting to crumble around the edges due to wear and moisture seeping into cracks of the terrazzo matrix, losing some of the fine detail. The University stated that there are no immediate plans for development of the property, nor are there funds to protect and restore the Thunderbird. Indeed, the staff was unaware and have no record drawings of the sculpture. Now that its history has been brought to light, we urge the University to preserve and incorporate the design into future plans for the site.  The Thunderbird represents a unique engineering and construction achievement and a time of optimistic growth of the burgeoning Albuquerque automobile culture.  Perhaps funds could be raised by the University and concerned auto enthusiasts. An artistic restoration, fencing, lighting and landscaping could be utilized to enhance the parking lot and delight future patrons.  Until then, view it while it exists.

BELOW: Jack Logan sits in his 1960 Ford Thunderbird near the site of the sculpture. The car sported the same Thunderbird design depicted in the mosaic.

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