shot and posted by Curtis Perry
I love how the Thunderbird is cool enough to park in the No Parking zone. There is so much in this picture.
Always a beautiful automobile. It featured power window switches on the console. That may have been a first.
I’ve been a big Ford fan for a long time and I think these ’58-’60 T Birds are interesting for their construction and their role in shaping the “personal car” market. But imo their styling leaves me cold. Having said that, I certainly wouldn’t kick it out of my driveway but it’s always puzzled me that Ford followed up the iconic ’57 Bird with this one. I know they figured a broader appeal would equal more sales and it’s hard to argue that but why did nearly every car starting in 1958 have to get so “busy” and heavy looking?
I have always thought the styling of these resembled “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
It’s so awful it’s interesting.
By 1960 it was left to be absolutely bizarre in a marketplace of increasingly beautiful cars. Yes, I know beauty is subjective.
Ford had such polarizing styling with the T-bird through it’s life. Some generations so gorgeous, others wtf.
Whatever anyone might say, there’s pretty good evidence that Ford universally played the Thunderbird correctly almost entirely throughout its life. Yeah, it originally might have been a 2-seater, but did anyone really think it was going to be competition for the Corvette? Seemed more like one of the first ‘halo’ cars designed to get prospective buyers into showrooms.
The real meat was the featured 1958 model, arguably the beginning of the personal luxury car market. It’s true that the 1958 ‘Bird suffered from the typical late fifties’ odd styling touches, but it works in an off-beat kind of way. You could do a lot worse for a domestic car during the final years of the Eisenhower administration. And while it’s not the best in the pantheon of Thunderbirds, it’s also far from the worst.
Oddly, GM didn’t respond until 1962 with the Pontiac Grand Prix and then the big splash the next year with the Buick Riviera. From then on, it was back and forth between Ford and GM in the PLC class, with even perenially late Chrysler finally getting in on the act with the 1975 Cordoba.
To paraphrase “Did anyone really think it would be competition for the Corvette?”
To the car buying public of the time the answer is “Hell Yes”.
The first Corvettes (’53-’54) with their 6cyl. Powerglide powertrain were not big sellers. The ’55 sold poorly. the ’56-’57 did somewhat better.
Total Corvette production from ’53-’57 was around 14,500.
With their 1950 era Chevy sedan based trunnion based front suspension, these were boulevard cruisers. Yes, some had mechanical fuel injection or two 4bbl carbs. But they were not the norm.
The ’55-’57 T-Birds sold over 51,000. They had a modern ball-joint front suspension and a 3-speed automatic.
A dual 4bbl or supercharger was also available. But, as with the Corvette it was mostly a cruiser.
In 1963, Corvette, with it’s new suspension was a proper “sports car”.
It seems that the earlier Corvettes were retroactively admitted to the club.
BTW, many at the time felt GM was going to pull the plug on the ‘Vette, but the ‘Bird shamed GM into making something of ‘Vette.
I believe That Chevy toyed with the idea of a four-seat ‘Vette at about this time, yes?
Yes, from what I recall reading from a long ago article, the 1963 model along with it’s major body mods and all new chassis, a change to a four seater was also considered.
About 6 years ago in another thread, I posted the about the 1956 Impala concept, and Paul Neidermeyer followed that post up with an entire thread on the subject.
Yeah I think we benefit with what the Corvette *became*, but in the context of the times the gearheads in GM probably “saved“ the Corvette from a Thunderbird like trajectory. Under the skin the C1 Corvette wasn’t fundamentally different than the 55-57 Thunderbird’s on their passenger car basis, in fact so were quite a few European sports cars of the era. Biggest difference was the SBC was better than the Y block, and Chevy used fiberglass for the body. V8s weren’t sports car engines by sports car standards of 1955, and it could actually be perceived by the sports car set that the Corvette was on the trajectory of becoming a boulevard cruiser with the switch to the I6 to the V8, before they proved themselves with additional improvements in 1956-57. Ford didn’t see the need to refine, and fussed over the spare tire in 56-57, that’s when the paths diverged but I’d say as sports cars in 1955 they were pretty equal
V8s weren’t sports car engines by sports car standards of 1955, and it could actually be perceived by the sports car set that the Corvette was on the trajectory of becoming a boulevard cruiser with the switch to the I6 to the V8,
Where do make this up from? Have you ever spent time with old magazines and such from 1955 or earlier?
There is zero basis for this statement. The only reason V8’s weren’t common in sports cars were because most sports car manufacturers couldn’t afford to create them. But the sports car world was no different than the hot rod world or the racing world: they all knew an engine with performance potential when they saw it. And in the ’50s prior to 1955, that was the Cad and Olds V8s, which were quickly adopted by those that could: Allard, and other “specials”. Briggs Cunningham and his attacks on LeMans and his series of sports cars that used the Chrysler hemi. And there were others, numerous one-off specials using available fiberglass bodies.
This includes specials and factory cars that ran in the Pan-Americana races in Mexico, where the big V8s challenged the Ferraris and such, and quite effectively.
Everyone in the go-fast world (and back then the hot rod scene was ore about genuine speed on the road as well as the tracks; drag strips were just becoming a common phenomena in 1955) lusted after these V8s. Of course they wouldn’t readily fit in a spindly MG, but if they had, there would have been many more swaps like that. Some did it anyway, or used the smaller Ford V8-60.
The 1955 SBC was greeted as the second coming. It was instantly embraced by all fields of the go-fast scene: hot rods, sports-racing cars, sports cars, etc. Its unbeatable combination of breathing, easy power potential, light weight and rugged construction was unbeatable. The SBC arrived too late in the ’55 Corvette to make a serious impact, but its performance was an eye opener. And the ’56 made it perfectly clear that the Corvette was going to be a serious sports car, properly equipped. It went racing, and proved the case effectively.
The ’53-’54 Corvette was really a show car that Harley Earl wanted to have built, as a halo car. But there weren’t any hard-core sports/racing guys at GM; it was something they had never done before. That’s where Zora Arkus Duntov came in. He showed them how, and what it took.
The Thunderbird and Corvette in 1955 were anything but “equal”. The T-Bird carved out the definitive path to the civilized sporty personal car, with its bench seat, roll-up windows, and relatively soft suspension. It could be made to perform, but that was not its real mission in life.
The ’55 Corvette was actually a pretty hot performer, with its 195 hp V8 and manual transmission. And the Corvette chassis was always set up for more genuine sports car handling and it weighed less.
Chevrolet was of course thrilled when Ford went with a four pass. T-Bird, because they now had the sports car market for itself. They knew it would never be as big as the T-Birds’, but it was really all about image. And let’s face it: who had the much better image when it came to performance in the late ’50s and ’60s: Ford or Chevy?
No comparison. The Corvette was a very effective halo car, and having a “Corvette” V8 in your Chevy sedan was well worth it.
Everyone saw these
Alright, fair enough on the V8 front, but not a matter of engineering the cars were saddled with, most sports cars had engineering mercy to the manufacturers parts were sourced from, hot rods even more so. In that respect if Ford hypothetically had a V8 as well engineered as the SBC instead of the Y block, with all else being equal, do you think it would have been considered the proto-personal car it would become in 1958, rather than a competitor for the Corvette on similar footing in that one year? Other hypothetical to ponder is what would the Corvette have become had Zola Arkus Duntov not been brought in to make it serious?
Reputation wise is why I suggested they might be an equal, the 55 Corvette was on an upswing, as you said the 53-54 was a halo show car not a legit sports car, whatever pros/cons it had preceded it for the 55 model year. The 55 Tbird came on the scene at that moment, just as unestablished but just as stylish.
The SBC arrived too late in the ’55 Corvette to make a serious impact, but its performance was an eye opener. And the ’56 made it perfectly clear that the Corvette was going to be a serious sports car,
This is the crux of it. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the thunderbird’s chassis that couldn’t be corrected just as the Corvette’s was in 56, both needed help to become serious sports cars, the difference was the Corvette had Duntov, Ford didn’t. Maybe the Y block was the killer, Ford had nothing in the pipline to make it as competitive with the Corvette even if handling had been improved in a similar fashion, so they steered hard into the glamour personal luxury aspect that brought us the 58s, but I don’t believe that was the plan from the start. Plenty of early 50s sports cars had bench seats or at least bench seatbacks, and luxuries inevitable ended up on sports cars in the next decade, plus the whole spare tire/luggage compartment compromises and changes that happened for 56-57 could have been baked out for 55 pretty easily if the intent was to carve out an untapped niche, rather than enter the sports car field with the still green Corvette. The cars were on much different arcs but they crossed in 1955 IMO
It’s sad though that Ford gradually debased the brand until it evaporated into meaninglessness. They may have sucked out the last sale from the available market at the highest profit percentage, but they destroyed a unique brand in the process.
I think consumers remember such approaches, if only at a subconscious level, and may forever harbour lingering doubts about the commitment of said manufacturers to their products and customers.
The 1958-60 Thunderbird somehow works as a design. It looks somewhat overwrought today, but buyers at the time were comparing it to the contemporary Buicks, Oldsmobiles, DeSotos and Chryslers. Compared to those designs (particularly the 1958 Buick and Oldsmobile), it seems positively restrained.
I’ve never realized until now how much was going on, styling-wise, on the doors of this generation T-Bird.
I guess it depends on your definition of competition for the Corvette. Certainly, in sales it beat the Corvette, and building showroom traffic that could be argued, of course. What even the two seater T bird lacked though was a V8 with the outright potential that the SBC offered. Ford had horsepower to match Chevy but in a big heavy package that didn’t like to go in anything but a straight line.
I always felt the styling on the ’58 T-Bird overwrought, but compared with the styling of the era they were relatively restrained. My favorite T-Birds remain the ’61-63 Bullet Birds.
I have a sort of love/hate with the 58-60, as a pioneer in the personal car field, which is my favorite segment, I gotta give it respect, and there are bits of cool in its design(there are just too many of them).
What I’m not a fan of, and wonder how people who loved the pseudo sporty aspects of the 55-57s in the day reacted, is how heavy it looks. I believe were basically on a shortened Lincoln Continental unibody platform, which were absolute tanks in their construction, so the heavy ness is there as well, but the dimensions are midest(ish) nonetheless yet every Tbird in this generation looks like the body is overwhelming the tires and suspension just standing still. The styling traits look like an evolution of the 57, with the fins, longer rear overhang, afterburner taillights and heavier bumpers, but the girth makes the 71 Mustangs look like it had a little gas bloat from its predecessor by comparison.
Although Bullet Birds are obviously (I own one) my favorite, this is a wonderful Squarebird. It’s well worn and looks to be ready for many years of driving all over the place. It’s even one of my favorite colors. I love it!
Ian Fleming owned a black squarebird with a red interior. It replaced a black 2-seat T-bird that was also black with a red interior. The squarebird was then replaced by a black Studebaker Avanti with a red interior. A slightly modified squarebird convertible was owned by the character, Elvira (The Mistress of the Dark) played by actress Cassandra Peterson who christened the car, “the Macabre Mobile.”
Whatever decisions were made by Ford management, the resulting Wixom built ’58 unibody Lincoln and T-bird were strange creations at a strange time in US auto styling.
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