Pick of the Week: 1960 Ford Thunderbird custom coupe

The custom Thunderbird takes its styling cues from a well-known 1960 custom car
The custom Thunderbird takes its styling cues from a well-known 1960 custom car

“If there was one car crying out for a custom makeover, it’s the Ford Thunderbird of 1958-1961.”

So begins the seller’s lengthy and colorful description of the clean, customized 1960 Ford Thunderbird that serves as our Pick of the Week. Located in Fort Worth, Texas, this ‘Bird is basically stock, but with paint and trim embellishments that draw from a famous custom car built in period.

The workmanship looks clean and impressive
The workmanship looks clean and impressive

With an asking price of $24,995, the coupe seems like a fair deal for a cool classic car with plenty of eyeball that had to cost so much more to create.

The description of the Thunderbird is extensive, so I’ll just let the seller tell the tale with excerpts from the ClassicCars.com advertisement:

“With its many complex shapes and curves, this 1960 Thunderbird was the perfect canvas for a makeover designed to emulate the Larry Watson custom T-Bird that was Hot Rod Magazine’s Car of the Year in 1960. For fans of the old-school customs, this one definitely delivers…”

“Obviously there was a plan here, and with the idea that they were going to create this awesome tribute, there was just no way they could do anything but make it as perfect as possible. As a result, the bodywork has crisp, sharp reflections, the paint is miles deep, and the sharp masking work for the silver accents is so crisp that it almost looks like a separate piece of trim…”

The car is strong and roadworthy, the seller says
The car is strong and roadworthy, the seller says

“The two-tone blue interior is fairly stock and beautifully executed, with stylish bucket seats and button-tufted upholstery that’s the epitome of ’60s cool…”

“Ford’s sturdy and torquey 352-cubic inch V8 makes this big Bird an effortless cruiser and doesn’t need extensive modifications to be entertaining to drive. Tilt the hood forward and you’ll find a rather neatly detailed engine bay with an original air cleaner (and) chrome valve covers…”

“The soft, smooth ride is something we’ll never experience again and the custom dual-exhaust system has a wicked cackle that’s totally in tune with the custom vibe, although the lakes pipes are purely for show…”

“A very cool custom that delivers on the old-school look that’s suddenly very much back in fashion. And underneath, you get a very clean, roadworthy Thunderbird as a bonus…”

My Classic Car: Rod’s 1965 Ford Thunderbird

Photo taken the day Ernie handed the keys to Rod | Rod Dahlgren archives
Photo taken the day Ernie handed the keys to Rod | Rod Dahlgren archives

The Story of this 1965 Thunderbird, as told by the original owner, Ernie Farrow:

After operating a 20-acre fruit ranch on Partrick Road in Napa, California, for many years, where we also raised and sold great dane show dogs, we decided to sell the ranch and move into town. We had a new home built on a hilltop in the Browns Valley area. As it neared completion, we realized that we would be unable to fence the sloping hillside lot to contain our four great dane show dogs.

After much discussion with my wife, she agreed to give up the four dogs in exchange for a new Lincoln Continental. We visited the local Lincoln – Thunderbird dealership and she fell in love with this “Dusty Rose” machine with black leather interior. It fit her perfectly and became her car for one dollar a pound (we paid $4,000 for this 4,000-pound T-Bird)

It has always been garaged, never smoked in! Few passengers have ever sat in the back seat. It has been driven an average of 800 miles per year for the past 28 years.

My wife had no idea the Thunderbird was made by Ford. Over the first few months of ownership, we received small gifts in the mail from Ford. One day, my wife noticed at the bottom of one of the letter, “Product of Ford Motor Company” and she asked why that was on the letter. I told her who made the car and she was shocked. I told her Ford also made the Lincolns we had owned before buying her Thunderbird. One of the gifts was a 1/24th scale model of the Thunderbird with an A/M radio inside. I carefully put all these items away for the future.

We traveled extensively in the ‘70 and ’80s in our motorhome and the T-Bird was at home in the garage and up on jack stands.

In April of 2007, I decided the Thunderbird needed to be protected and not used as a regular daily car. I placed the car in the care of Rod Dahlgren, who I trust will care for it for years to come.

— Rod Dahlgren, Napa CA

My Classic Car: Keith’s 1968 Ford Thunderbird

The next owner seemed quite happy with changes made to this '68 Thunderbird | Keith Wahl photos
The next owner seemed quite happy with changes made to this ’68 Thunderbird | Keith Wahl photos

We call her “Thelma, the Bad Bird.”

Initially a docile 42,000-mile, one-owner car purchased in 1998, this original 1968 Magnolia Yellow Ford Thunderbird 429 landau coupe underwent a transformation to become a “ Bad Bird.” I put on a little more than 18,000 miles in 16 years that I owned the car.

Modifications included Pertronix ignition, custom exhaust , black-out powder-coated grille, two-tone paint and pinstriping. A Thunderbird theme — including a tribute to our troops with the American Eagle on the back window — and a real Eskimo thunderbird on the trunk with functioning Unity brand spotlights, make it unique.

That's an American eagle in the rear window
That’s an American eagle in the rear window

All of these “touches” contribute to an individual but stylized look. With American Racing wheels and dual exhausts behind the rear wheels, the appearance was anything but docile.

When I originally posted the car for sale and made reference to the car on the cover of Hemmings Great American Cars of the ‘60s 2001 Calendar, I received nothing but “ridicule” for desecrating the classic look (some thought the original landau bars were “add ons!”). This was in distinct contrast to show awards and numerous “thumbs up” I received while I owned the vehicle.

However, that commentary did not stop admirers from Norway — and one from Pennsylvania who spotted the car on eBay – wanting to purchase it. Shipping and import duties made it difficult for that Scandinavian buyer. A former 1968 Thunderbird owner from Pennsylvania had the interest and trust in the 60,000-mile car to purchase a one-way airplane ticket with the expectation of driving it home after checking it out.

Following his own test drive, he asked me to drive him so he could be a passenger and check out the ride. We did a little test run on a straight road. With my hands off the wheel — to validate the front end alignment – the car ran laser straight. He was comfortable that the car would make it home.

The hood art
The hood art

But the driving proof was confirmed when I asked him if he “felt that?” Felt what, he said. Felt that we were just passing 105 mph with no shakes, rattles or rolls. Ice-cold air, electric windows and sheepskin seat covers made this “Bad Bird” the ultimate “rolling living room.”

He sent a photo after his 3,147-mile trip home. The only thing he needed was fuel. He achieved a little more than 15 mpg, which is not bad for a 429 old school V8.

To all the naysayers of my changes in the original appearance – you missed what was most important and that is the appreciation of a classic style — a matter of individual, personal taste.

To those who enjoy the freedom of the open road and a “good old car” with everything working, I say “oorah!”

— Keith Wahl, La Jolla CA


Vehicle Profile: 1955 Ford Thunderbird


Henry Ford II’s answer to the successful launch of the Chevrolet Corvette in 1953, came in 1955 as the Ford Thunderbird (1st generation, 55 through 57 T-Bird). Backtrack a couple of short years…. after a visit to Europe in the early 50’s, Henry Ford II decided he wanted to build a 2-seater, convertible sportscar for the American public. He had also heard rumors, to the effect, that Chevrolet was working on a similar sporty concept vehicle made of a new lightweight material and so, he was further inspired to push his designers to come up with a competitive vehicle. He sought out and commissioned Vince Gardner, formerly a top designer with Cord Automobiles, to design a lightweight, 2-seat roadster for the Ford Motor Company. The result was a beautiful, yet European-looking vehicle named the Vega (also, ironically, a name used later on by Chevrolet for one of its models).

The Vega, completed in 1953, ended up a one-off, aluminum bodied, 2-seat sportscar with many styling characteristics borrowed from the Cord/Auburn automobiles including hide-away headlamps incorporated into the front fenders. Unfortunately, it proved to be much too costly to put into production and besides, Mr. Ford was looking for something more modern and American in the style department. So, back to the drawing board and a team of FoMoCo designers came up with the Thunderbird, so named, after a mythical “Bird of Prey”. Oh, and the Vega sat in the Ford Rotunda Exhibition Center for many years in Dearborn, MI, until it was eventually sold at the 2006 Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction in Scottsdale, AZ for $385,000.

The excitingly new Ford Thunderbird was quickly pushed into production and by October 1954, they began to arrive in dealerships across the country, thus, the 1955 T-Bird was born. Although inspired by and built to compete directly with the Corvette, Ford maintained that it was more a personal luxury vehicle and not just a sportscar. This must have appealed to the public, as in 1955, Ford sold a whopping 16,155 units, against the Corvette’s 700 units for the same year. Complete with its non-functional, yet stylish, hood scoop and front fender vents and borrowing many other characteristics from its Ford siblings of the era; it really took off. One of the few changes for 1956 was the addition of an extended rear bumper area to accommodate a continental kit spare tire arrangement intended to improve trunk capacity. This, however, was dropped in 1957, as it created undesirable steering issues due to the added length and weight in the rear of the vehicle.

During the entire 50 year run of the fabulous T-Bird, 1955 to 2005 (with a brief hiatus from 1998-2001), over 4.4 million units were produced. In fact, one famous racing T-Bird, driven by Bill Elliott, still holds the fastest lap speed record of 212.809 mph in a 1987 NASCAR version of the vehicle, at the Talladega SuperSpeedway . . . A record that has yet to be broken to this day.

Vehicle Profile: 1962 Ford Thunderbird

The 1962 Thunderbird offers two different models for classic car buyers to choose from. One is the Landau. This model originally featured vinyl roofs and simulated S bars on the sides. The introduction of vinyl roofs on the Landau was the beginning of a popular design trend that continued for Thunderbirds over the next twenty years.

The other 1962 Thunderbird model is the Sport Roadster, a limited production model. This model originally featured special upholstery on the seats and chrome plated Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels. The Sport Roadster was also designed with a fiberglass Tonneau cover, that makes the vehicle look like a two seater. The Sports Roadster is considered the more exciting of the two 1962 Thunderbird models, by classic car enthusiasts.

Before we discuss innovations include the bases. The style was influenced by fashion, “Kalifornia Kustom” of the early 60s, the model 62 had a redesigned grille with four horizontal lines with small bright vertical bars. In front of the grid a “jaladera”. Moldings were replaced “stacked” in the back of the compact model 61 by a horizontal dashed line. After the spring, some cars were built with a horizontal chrome line along its side. Large, round taillights brand attributes were decorated with more chrome.

The price difference between each of the models was a little over $151 U.S. dollars. Apparently it was a modest amount, but it was in 1962. From 1958 to 1960 the increase in the price of the car averaged $60 per year, but the brand new T-Bird 1961 jumped more than $400 in price. An increase of $150 in 1962 would have been seen as a stepping stone for anyone who negotiates the purchase of a 1959 model. But for those who bought a T-Bird a year was less than the previous year’s effort. It is also worth noting that the convertible broke the line of $4,000 for the first time in 1960, whereas it did in 1961 Hardtop. Convertible Roadster for 1962 came to $5,000.

A long list of standard equipment included in the high price of the car. According to Car Fax 1962, including auto exhaust system with dual output, fuel filter, oil filter, engine 390 cubic inch carburetor four throats padded dash, padded sun visors,electric clock with a second , courtesy lights, directional, deep center wheel, the horn ring and horn dual, individually adjustable front seats, adjustable rear view mirror day-night double door locks with safe, completely covered in the wheels, armrests built , carpet, vinyl upholstery, Ashtray, lighter ashtray air filter, automatic transmission, power brakes, power steering, electric windshield cleaners, hand brake (or emergency), glove box lights, ashtray, luggage, support and in magazines, heating and defroster, a movable steering column (new to the standard equipment list), a console between the front seats, and black tires 8.00 x 14. The Sport Roadster convertible included cover rear seats with padded back for the head, chrome spoke wheels and a handrail for the front passenger.

To appreciate the stature of the Thunderbird at the time, we must consider that in the period 1961-1962, the base models of Ford and Chevrolet only included directional, sun visors, and oil filter as standard equipment. The list of equipment for most cars was two to three long lines. In contrast, the T-Bird 1962 was equipped with almost all car accessories fitted quite well today (one difference may be the air conditioning, which is more common today). The T-Bird was also appreciated as extremely quiet, in a time when ordinary cars were noisy. About 45 pounds of sound-absorbing materials were placed in the car, including the isolation of aluminum, felt or fiberglass putty were applied to the roof cavity of the rough, board, instrument panel, passenger floors and floor trunk, roof panels, trunk, and panels of the compacts.

There were some additional revisions to the 1962 Thunderbird. A manual emergency brake, slight changes in trim, and adjustments in the indicators of the board were some of them. Below the car, a zinc-based coating was applied as protection against oxidation. Also applied three coats of primer or primer. On top of this, two coats of enamel “Never Wax.” Aluminum muffler also been upgraded with stainless steel sections in some critical parts in the exhaust system, such as resonators.

The T-Bird engine were made improvements in the intake system. Only in the carburetor were made 15 improvements plus the addition of a fuel filter that worked for 30,000 miles. The oil filter life also extended to intervals of 4,000 or 6,000 miles by removing a valve. At this point, most cars used antifreeze that required change almost every year. Thunderbird buyers were given a permanent anti-freeze protection to -35 degrees and had to be changed every two years or 30,000 miles. Taimen had better brakes. It said a larger master cylinder would increase the efficiency of braking with less pedal pressure. For durability and strength will be new materials used in mechanical brake. However, the T-Bird was three years of having disc brakes, something that fans of the brand thought very necessary.

Outside, 18 colors were available for simple Hardtop. Twelve of these colors were unique to the Thunderbird. A color, Blue Diamond, was added during the model year. Including Blue Diamond, there were 21 combinations of two tones. Nineteen interior options were available in four models of the Thunderbird in seven basic colors. The seats came in full on vinyl seven options, five options in vinyl and cloth, and seven full leather options.

1962 Thunderbird seats were low and soft. The heater controls and a glove compartment were incorporated in to the center console between the seats. The steering wheel moved 10 inches to facilitate entry and exit of the car, but it only works when the transmission selector was in Parking. Car and Driver (August 1962) mentioned “wide opening doors and generously sized interior” in both models. However, the magazine said that when setting back the front seats reduce the space for rear passengers’ knees and even then, the front seats do not fit enough to handle with arms outstretched.

A quick look at the 1962 body codes shows that the four models had only two different model numbers. This means that the differences between cars of similar body was in the ornaments of the chassis, rather than the body structure. There was only a minor difference of importance in the shape of the windshield or the roof line, Ford had used a different code to distinguish the cars. Both bodies had the same form of “projectile” front end and design of dual jet pipe at the back in 1961. The hardtop roof was again the trend of formal style. The convertible had a deck in the rear seat folded up and hidden mechanism “accordion” that Tom McCahill joked in May 1962 Mechanix Illustrated magazine.

“The first time I went down the roof, I thought the car was about to eat itself,” Tom McCahill said. “The roof of the rear seats opens, the panels are unfolded, the roof is straightened up, all accompanied by a noise similar to a missile launch. The spectacle of this operation is sufficient to cause thrombosis of a playboy 3rd Avenue slightly intoxicated. The total operation are seen as fellow woodcutters Buck Rogers of Abraham Lincoln and the end result, though the roof is successfully hidden, leaving less space in the trunk in a Volkswagen. ”

The convertible was the basis for the Sports Roadster. A large lid “tonneau” fiberglass made it a two-seater car. The convertible roof has to be hidden in order to install the cover and the cover can be installed or removed in less than three minutes. A Tom McCahill liked the idea of a conversion to two places and said “This vibrating glass fixture saw the T-Bird as an Easter hat parade.” Going back to 1955 (the system of baldness that Tom McCahill was used to define dates, “when he was three more in my bald hair.”) The writer had created a record of the T-Bird in speed on the track at Daytona. He liked the two places. But Uncle Tom was at the question of what to do with the cover to be away from home. “I could work in a slightly larger problem that is in the Congo,” he threatened, referring to a political issue at the time.

The British magazine Motor Sport, said that the tonneau cover was “made of thin fiberglass” and questioned if this could cause annoying noise. However, the tonneau cover was very well designed. The section of the headrest was shaped like a horseshoe to adjust on the chair seat Thunderbird. A secure early release was holding the transmission tunnel between the seats. The tonneau slipped below the top of the rear seats to be attached to the rear. You could add or retract the convertible roof tonneau cover in place. With the lid on in the back seat was a hole, this allowed to keep small items from sliding below the deck, cushioned by the back seat. Access to this “hiding” was achieved simply by folding the front seat forward.

The Sport Roadster for some, resembled a toy car racing spoiler with two figurines in the front seat. Tim Howley, author of Collectible Automobile, said he gave the impression of a large aircraft with the pilot and copilot sitting in the front. Car Life magazine compared the large area between the seatback and the rear of the car with the cover the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The equipment also included Sport Roadster Kelsey-Hayes wheels ray-top nut, a fastener for the front passenger, special badges to the front of the compact front below the letters Thunderbird, and wrote off the tail of the compact rear. Tom McCahill said, “The Roadster is the only Thunderbird wheels with spokes and simulated as a nut cup.”

However, Car Fax 1962 lists it as a regular T-Bird plus a cost of $262.90 for distributors and additional suggested price list of $372.30 dollars. The Tim Ford Howley expert agreed that this was the case. It is possible that other T-Bird wheels have been sold with lightning and simulated nut cup. The tail of the compact was removed from the Sport Roadster due to problems space with simulated nut cup, but the restorers have found a way to put them. The compacts also open allowing greater ventilation for the brakes and the car make it look more sporty. The rays wheels do not work well with tubeless tires.

The new model “forgotten” was the Landau or Landau Hardtop. It was produced with a cover in black or white vinyl roof. The cover was designed to look like a leather cover. To reinforce this impression the ceiling was decorated in a more classical. “The Landau has, as might be expected,” Landau Ornaments “vertically and attractive sides of the roof panels,” reported The Motor Sport. “It’s a very nice combination with genuine leather upholstery optional . The number of built Landaus was not recorded separately, but the model Hardtop pushed sales at more than 7,000 units.

The performance of the T-Bird Road remained largely unchanged since 1961. The standard engine of 390 cubic inch V8 with 300hp gave the Thunderbird enough speed for a typical buyer of the T-Bird, though not a Muscle Car McCahill reported an average of 9.7 seconds to take the car from zero to 60mph in Sport Roadster weight of 4.530 pounds. According to Motor Trend (September 1962), in a Sport Roadter of 4.842 pounds of weight in the same test they showed a 11.2 seconds time. Car and Drive Management 11.3 seconds in a convertible than 4,400 pounds. It is possible that the aerodynamic properties of the tonneau cover has made faster Roadter Sport of McCahill, although the proximity of the two results suggests greater accuracy. The great engine of T-Bird ran smoothly and quietly tore most of the time. Car and Driver said, “is nearly undetectable.” The Convertible Car and Driver recorded a top speed of 110mph, while McCahill said his Sport Roadster arrived at six miles more than that. (Probably the old Tom is not calibrated the meter). Motor Trend said “an honest 107mph in our Weston electric speedometer.” An optional engine was available in 1962. His production was limited, “tell me that under pressure and with the help of a member of Congress, it is possible to order the T-Bird with a more powerful engine” joked Tom McCahill. This engine was a version of 390 with three Holley two progressive carburetor throats, a compression ratio of 10.5:1 and an aluminum air filter distinctive. Known as the power plant Code-M was capable of generating 340hp and 430 lb-ft of torque at 3200 rpm. Car Fax showed that the engine had a cost to distributors of $ $ 171 and $ 242 added to the selling price.

Although hard to believe was true, so it only took 120 Sport Roadster M. Code A M Roadster could reach 0-60 mph in about 8.5 seconds and reach a top speed of 125 mph. Although the T-Bird was a sports car fast, it was not a Muscle Car fast. The management was slow and vague and inadequate to conduct themselves in corners. Professional management techniques were necessary for driving gear corners closed due to slow response and leadership position. “These are shortcomings that most owners never meet,” said Car and Driver. Motor Trend rated the car as fast, but printed a photo caption in criticizing the chassis. There were problems in the mechanics of the braking system. The brakes work very well under normal conditions, but the mechanisms were warming rapidly and lose their braking when driving at high speed. It was necessary to wait a long time to cool the brakes to work right again.