When people think about class Thunderbirds, they automatically picture the Baby Birds. Those 55-57 cars were iconic long before George Lucas put Suzanne Somers in a white 1956 and tormented Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti. (Here’s the clip.)
Next comes the early 60s models. The bullet birds (so-called for their round tail lights) and the flair birds (not sure where that name came from… probably because they had plenty) were long and low as well as elegant and luxurious.
What most people tend to forget are the 58-60 Thunderbirds. They’ve even been nicknamed the square birds. That’s not a very fair name. Yes, it was boxier than the 1957 model, but it was hardly square. It was definitely bigger, nearly a foot longer wheelbase and more than 20 inches overall. After all, it now had a back seat making it a personal luxury car for you and three upscale friends.
More importantly, it was hugely successful. In 1958 38,000 Thunderbirds were sold, a big jump over the previous year. That compares to just 9,100 Corvettes for the same year. Production nearly doubled in 59, with Ford selling 67,000. The square bird peaked in 1960 with nearly 93,000 shipped to dealers around the country. It would take 17 years before the Thunderbird name would break that mark.
The square bird was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1958, and went NASCAR racing in 1959. It was the first Ford to use unibody construction. It had 300 horsepower to move it around town. In short, it has lots of great history.
What it doesn’t have is respect today.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the square bird is prettier than either the baby birds or the bullets and flairs that followed. But it’s stylish in a late 50’s kind of way, and deserves more than just an afterthought in the collector car world.