Ford Thunderbird (1958-1960)
Article by Mark Trotta
The Ford Thunderbird was now a four-seater, measuring eleven inches longer and weighing nearly 1,000 pounds more than the original two-seater it replaced. Distinctive styling featured quad headlights, a large chrome grille, and prominent tail fins. Along with the convertible, a hardtop coupe was also offered, whose boxy lines and wide-pillar roof earned it the name "Squarebird."
The majority of today's modern cars are based on a unibody structure, but in 1958 it was new technology. The unit construction process allowed the second-generation T-birds to sit long and low. A solid rear axle used coil springs, and front independent suspension used control-arms and coil springs. To accommodate the back seat, wheelbase was stretched to 113-inches.
Conceived as a personal luxury car with distinctive style, Thunderbird interior had bucket seats in front with a full-length center console running into two rear buckets. Powering the T-bird was Ford's new FE block, a 352ci V8 producing 300 horsepower. A 3-speed manual transmission was standard with an automatic transmission optional. Dual exhaust was standard.
1958 Thunderbird Convertible
With limited funding available, the convertible body was to be discontinued. In its place, a power-retractable hardtop, like Ford's Skyliner, was slated for the Thunderbird. However, engineering issues with the retractable roof prompted the decision to reinstate the convertible. What Ford engineers came up with instead was a rear-hinged trunk lid that raised and lowered with hydraulic cylinders.
The soft-top was also hydraulically operated, and when lowered, hid completely in the trunk. With the top down and the trunk lid closed, the appearance was clean and required no top boot.
Although the Thunderbird began life as a convertible, drop-top Birds accounted for less than a quarter of production in 1958. 35,758 hardtops were sold versus 2,134 convertibles. Total sales figures for the year were 37,892, which was more than double sold in 1956.
A major suspension change saw rear coil springs changed to semi-elliptic springs. Exterior changes included a new grille and a switch from six tail-lamps to four. The big news under the hood was the availability of Lincoln's 430ci V8, rated at 350-horsepower. Sales climbed again, with 57,195 hardtops and 10,261 convertibles sold.
Thunderbird in NASCAR
In 1959, many Ford stock-car teams went away from the Galaxie model to the Thunderbird for NASCAR competition. Holman and Moody, one of Ford's most successful race teams, built a fleet of racing T-Birds with 430-cid engines. Many modifications were made, including heavier front and rear springs and shocks to help the 3,900 pound car handle better.
The above photo shows a "zipper top" T-Bird, so-called because the hardtop could be removed for the convertible-series races, which were popular at the time.
The T-bird saw a new front grille this year, and tail-lamps went from four back to six. Popular options included power windows, power steering, and power seats. A manually-operated sliding steel sunroof was offered on the hardtop model.
Although 1960 set another sales record with 80,938 coupes and 11,860 convertibles sold, another redesign would be seen on the 1961 Thunderbird.
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