The classic Thunderbird was introduced in 1955 in response to the Corvette. With the same wheelbase, the T-Bird was designed to be more comfortable and luxurious. The 1958-60 models added more chrome and two seats. This car is one of the rare "J" code cars-only 250 were built in 1960- with a 430-c.i., 350-horsepower Lincoln engine, a $177 option. Other features include Cruise-O-Matic transmission, tinted power windows, power seats and air conditioning. In show condition following a three-year ground-up restoration, this car is a multiple first place winner, including Best of Show at the VTCI regional in San Diego and the Knott's Berry Farm All-Ford Show. Restoration detail is superb, right down to the correct underhood decals.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1960 Ford Thunderbird
Years Produced:1958-60
Number Produced:173,936 hartops, 24,255 convertibles
Original List Price:$4,399 (convertible)
Tune Up Cost:$300
Distributor Caps:$14.49
Chassis Number Location:Left front door pillar
Engine Number Location:Front of left cylinder head
Club Info:Vintage Thunderbird Club International (VTCI) PO Box 2250, Dearborn, MI 48123 316/794-8132
Alternatives:1961-66 Olds Starfire convertible, 1960-61 Chrysler New Yorker, 1964 Chrysler 300K convertible

At Christie’s Rockefeller Center auction on May 18, 2002, this T-Bird brought an amazingly high $47,000, including buyer’s premium. This represents a new record price for a “Square Bird.”

I’ll never forget that night at the local drive-in, 45 years ago, when the first pictures of the’58 Thunderbird were passed around. We budding car nuts couldn’t believe that Ford had scrapped its sleek two-seater for a four-passenger barge with squared-off lines and too much chrome. Then the first test reports came out, showing the two-ton sled to take 13.5 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour (as compared to 9.3 seconds for the ’57 T-Bird). Handling? Forget it. One report alleged, “that while smooth and comfortable for freeway travel, it is not particularly maneuverable. It leans and plows on hard turns. The suspension is much too soft for superior handling…steering is excessively slow.” Just while Chevrolet was turning the Corvette into a serious performance car, Ford had invented our father’s Olds before Oldsmobile did. We all swore never to buy a Ford.

But in the market at large, the car was a smash hit, as 37,892 Square Birds-more than 70% of the entire three-year 53,155 production run of the “Little Bird”-were snapped up in the first year. Robert S. McNamara, the ex-Litton whiz kid that Henry Jr. hired to save Ford, had invented the “personal luxury” car. By the time the “Bullet Bird” replaced it in 1961, over 195,000 Square Birds had rolled out of the Lincoln plant in Wixom, Michigan-almost four times the two-seater’s total production. And it outsold Corvette during the three years ten to one. The money rolled in, with Ford’s reported profit being $1,000 per unit (about $6,000 in today’s money).

In its own way, the Square Bird was a revolutionary car. Monocoque construction was new for Ford, and allowed the seats to be recessed into the floor pan, reducing overall height to an unheard-of 52.5 inches (as a comparison, the 1960 Chrysler 300F stood 55.1 inches tall). There was more interior space than in a full-size Cadillac 62.

However, due to the new lower body, the driveshaft tunnel was quite tall. William Boyer, a Ford designer who flew airplanes in WWII, was used to having a big mass between the pilot and copilot. So, as a solution, he just put a lot of stuff on top of the tunnel and invented the automobile center console, which was widely copied by Ford’s competition.

An all-new 352-c.i. V8 replaced the venerable Y block. It featured high compression, improved breathing and a front-mounted distributor. For 1959 the new Lincoln 430-c.i. V8 with 350 horsepower was an option, although rarely ordered. Its massive 490 ft-lbs of torque cut 0 to 60 times to 8.2 seconds, but its greater bulk only made handling matters worse.

Why the record price for this car? First, like most well-restored cars, the sale price was less than the restoration itself cost. Once again, a buyer paid for a restoration and got the underlying car for free.

Second, the car was already done, and ready to be shown at the Hamptons Concours. Even a restoration that goes perfectly-and none of them do-will take twice as long as you imagine, cost three times as much as you expect, and will cause the antacid consumption in the house to go up ten-fold.

Third, its concours victories are at Vintage Thunderbird Club International (VTCI) events, where judges are probably as compulsive as those at Porsche or Corvette gatherings. My own Gold Medallion ’57 once lost a point because of a wrinkle in a hard-to-see underdash trim edging.

And finally, maybe the Square Bird offered a moment of nostalgia for the buyer. One of our older buddies, whose dad let him take his ’60 T-Bird on dates, did find the rear seat had some advantages at the drive-in. Perhaps the new owner of this Bird has similar fond memories.

The Square Bird is another example of enthusiasts’ losses resulting in a bottom-line gain for the car company. As a gearhead, I wish the T-Bird had gone on to become a Corvette fighter. But if I had been a shareholder of Ford Motor Company at the time, I would have been standing on my chair, applauding as the sales results for this new model rolled in.-John Apen

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