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Ford Thunderbird

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Thunderbird
Huge front grille has been described as similar to that of a mouth organ Huge front grille has been described as similar to that of a mouth organ
This 1960 T-Bird sports a steel sliding sunroof and rear continental kit, note the large rear triple tail light cluster This 1960 T-Bird sports a steel sliding sunroof and rear continental kit, note the large rear triple tail light cluster
The ‘Squarebird’ was the first American produced car to feature a full length centre console and individual bucket seat The ‘Squarebird’ was the first American produced car to feature a full length centre console and individual bucket seat
The 430ci Lincoln V8 engine rated at 350bhp @ 4800rpm was an option from 1959 The 430ci Lincoln V8 engine rated at 350bhp @ 4800rpm was an option from 1959
Column shift for the automatic transmission and plenty of dashboard brightwork Column shift for the automatic transmission and plenty of dashboard brightwork
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What is a Second Generation Ford Thunderbird?

The successor to the original twoseat Thunderbird and one in a long line of these excellent models from the Blue Oval stable that can command iconic status. It got the name from the Indian legend portraying the Thunderbird from the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona as a divine helper of man. In a departure from the original T-Bird, which was strictly a twoseater convertible and produced from 1955-1957, its replacement was a four-seater which meant that now the whole family could go out for the day and enjoy the fun. There was also a huge boot with ample room for luggage. While the second generation T-Bird may have lacked the more sporting image of the original, it was what the American public required and it was marketed as more a personal luxury car than pure sports.


Firmly established as a highly effective competitor in a head-to-head with Chevrolet’s Corvette, which it easily outsold, the second generation T-Bird was launched to the public on New Year’s Eve 1957 at the Thunderbird Golf Club in Palm Springs, California. It was then displayed at the Chicago Auto Show during January 1958. Production of the Thunderbird was moved to Ford’s Wixom plant, which also housed the Blue Oval luxury Lincoln car division.

First year sales were 37,892, which was extremely encouraging and compared favourably with the entire production of the first T-Bird over three years, which was 53,166. Such was its popularity, the new T-Bird was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine. Some purists recoiled in horror at the restyling of the T-Bird which was not as pretty as before. With its wide pillar roof and more boxy lines the car also got nicknamed the ‘Squarebird’ and its new front grille was akin to that of a mouth organ.

But the name of the game was all about sales and the Ford hierarchy must have been well satisfied with their new car! With designs penned by Bill Boyer and Maurice King, body styling was all new with no chassis. The body was produced by the Budd Company, and the only bolton panels were the doorsplus the massicve bonnet and bootlid.

This T-Bird was the first American-produced car to sport a full length centre console and individual bucket seats. For 1959 there were a few minor styling changes to the grille, rear light cluster and the car badging. Towards the end of production in 1960, a limited number of cars were fitted with a steel sliding sunroof, the first post-war on an American car. It was designed and fitted at the factory by the Golde Company of Frankfurt am Main,West Germany who were well known for its steel sliding roofs and ran an office in Detroit.

The T-Bird kicked off with V8 engines from the outset and second generation cars were equipped with the 352ci @ 300bhp with the huge Lincoln
430ci @ 350bhp available as an option in 1959. Transmissions were the typical Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic or the standard Ford threespeed auto. Only one per cent of production got a three-speed manual transmission, with another single per cent having overdrive!

Interiors offered high levels of refinement and comfort with bucket seats, excellent quality leather trim if required and stylish dashboard with a full compliment of gauges. The last of the minor body styling changes took place for 1960 with the dual tail light clusters being replaced with triple lights. Hardtop models easily outsold the convertible by almost 8-1. 1960 was the banner year for the ‘Squarebird’ with the final arrangement of a fully automatic convertible top.


The individual bucket seats of the Tbird are a comfortable environment from which to enjoy the merits of this car. The softly sprung suspension offers a good quality ride, but don’t expect sports car handling. Much too will depend if the car is still running on crossply tyres or has been upgraded to radials. A reasonably quick car in its day, the T-Bird with the Lincoln 430 engine would propel its occupants from 0-60mph in under nine seconds which was fast for a four-seater of that era.

Even fitted with drum brakes all round, a nicely adjusted set-up will pull the car up swiftly enough without a problem, unless you continually gun it and create fade.


All Squarebirds are now prized cars with those in superb condition commanding top dollar and the 1958 convertible (2134 built) being one of the best buys from 1958. Its top is automatic, but you have to raise the rear deck lid by hand. Any 1959 convertible is collectible with 10,262 built. For a really fine T-Bird purchased in the UK expect to pay upwards of £10,000 - £11,000. For a convertible prices rise to £19,000 - £20,000 and concours cars can fetch over £30,000. Rare models like the 430s with low miles and low ownership will always command a higher price. You can buy knackered ones for £2000, but we wouldn’t advise it.

What To Look For

  • The T-Bird front wings cannot be removed as they are moulded into the bodyshell. The only panels that bolt to the structure are the bonnet, doors and boot lid. Therefore if the front end shows any signs of serious rot or worse still accident damage, it would be wise to leave well alone. The same goes for the rear quarter panels. The original undersealing from the factory was pretty good, but check the usual areas for signs of rot such as the floor pans and boot floor.
  • A T-Bird in rough condition will cost a fortune to restore, though it’s comforting to know that virtually everything is still obtainable. Replacement chrome is expensive. Cars in rough condition can be purchased for as little as a few grand but they are better left well alone. Spend your money wisely with the best advice being to go for the finest condition car that you can afford.
  • The all new FE block engine for the T-Bird was the base 352ci 300bhp known as the Thunderbird special V8. These engines are very strong and parts are readily available as the FE block was produced for many more years. However, check for wear and tear, smoke and rattles; all are bad news.
  • Carburettor for the all new 1958 car was Ford’s own Autolite, but a Holley set-up was sometimes used as well, and the 430ci engine was fitted with a Carter AFB carburettor.
  • Always check the front springs, track control arms and steering bushes as wear is very common here. A simple test is to drive the car in a straight line and brake hard. If the car surges forward, then replacement parts will soon be required.
  • The rear suspension on the 1958 T-Bird was a hopscotch set-up and the car will tend to hop around corners, so this arrangement was replaced by leaf springs for 1959/60 model year.
  • Transmissions were the new Cruise-O-Matic three-speed, but export cars would have the standard automatic set-up from the fullsize Fords of 1957. These transmissions should be good for around 80,000 miles before a major rebuild is needed – at least.
  • Interiors could be ordered with a different style of two-tone vinyl, with leather facings arriving for the 1959/60 model year.


The overall square, boxy styling may not be to everyone’s taste, especially marque purists, but it’s still a model that turns heads and the T-Bird is a well built, powerful car with luxury in mind. There’s plenty of room for the whole family, spares and servicing won’t be a worry plus there’s good club support too. Nowadays these cars are much sought after, hence the escalating values seen in recent years. Rarest cars are the 1958 convertibles and sunroof models from 1960 (2536 built).

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