Vintage Review: 1960 Ford Thunderbird – “There’s Nothing Quite Like It”

Once the 4-seat Thunderbird arrived in 1958, there was nothing quite like it in the US market. From the onset, it outsold the original 2-seat model by almost a 2 to 1 margin. Sales grew yearly, as the model found a field bereft of competitors. By 1960 the ‘Squarebird’ was reaching the end of its production, but desire for the car hadn’t abated. It was arguably, one of the first ‘image’ cars sold to the general public.

What ‘image’ that was, everyone was trying to pin down. Every term was tossed to the model in those early years; prestige car, personal car, and so on. It would eventually settle on Personal Luxury Car, with the Thunderbird now considered the segment’s trailblazer. And for June of 1960, Motor Life was to road test the trailblazer in its last production year.

Motor Life’s Thunderbird was an optioned-out convertible carrying some updates the model had received since its 1958 launch. First, a 430 CID V-8 of Lincoln-Mercury origin with 350HP, available as an option over the standard 300HP 352 CID V-8. Torque figures for the 430 V-8 were listed as 490 lbs.ft. at 2800 RPM, against the 352’s 381 lbs.-ft. at 2800 RPM. (Curiously, ML’s article only shows the 352’s specs in its charts, but the tested car carried the 430 mill.)

Ford had also done additional work on the Thunderbird’s rear suspension, with the Squarebird’s original coil spring and trailing links being replaced with a more conventional semi-elliptic arrangement.

Overall, the Thunderbird’s performance improved with the updates. Yet, let’s not forget that the car’s whole powertrain was “engineered more for smoothness and silence than exceptional performance.” As such, the Thundebird’s Cruiseomatic transmission was not “quick reacting”, and with the car’s low 2.91 axle ratio, it took “careful technique to get good figures.” The power steering was “not very precise and, at 4.1 turns lock-to-lock, rather slow.”

The new suspension arrangement improved the Thunderbird’s handling capabilities, but “some problems remain.” On the positive side, the car’s tendency to float at highway speeds had been reduced and rear stability had improved. The car’s overall ride was now much steadier, and the rear-end’s behavior was easier to control and predict under hard acceleration and sharp cornering.

The T-Bird’s interior was in many ways behind the car’s success, and reviewers found it to be “not exceptionally spacious, but well designed for comfort… The soft leather and comfortable bucket seats make up for little faults.” Meanwhile, rear seat comfort was “among the best to be found in a convertible of any size.”

Photo by J P Cavanaugh.


Motor Life was aware they were measuring a new kind of breed in their final summation; “The Thunderbird is sometimes regarded as a blend of luxury car and compact, but it really lacks the refinement of one and the convenience of the other.” However, “few cars have ever captured the public imagination the way the Thunderbird has.”

As such, the ’58-’60 Thunderbird combined “performance, comfort and prestige with reasonable size and price. In that respect is unique. Despite the increasing variety of cars available, there is still nothing quite like it.”


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1958 Ford Thunderbird – The Most Revolutionary Car Of The Fifties

Curbside Classic: 1960 Ford Thunderbird – Fancy Meeting You Here