Thunderbird 1959 – 1961
Cosmetic body changes for the 1959 Thunderbird but for the first time the passenger compartment can be done in leather. This year Ford targets female buyers in the advertising campaigns. Showing beautiful women arriving at the country club in their new Thunderbird and it must have been a good idea because the sales doubled. The front suspension is the same but the rear is revised and the Hotchkiss drive with parallel leaf springs is the replacement. There is a new power available with the “code-3” option the MEL-series 430 cu in (7.0 L) V8 engine with 350 hp (261.1 kW) but very few cars are equipped with it. This is the largest engine sold by any American manufacturer in 1959.
The 1960 model year is the last of the generation and there are just minor trim changes with record sales figures again achieved. A very rare option in 1960 is the “Golde Edition” sunroof with 2,530 models produced-Golde is the name of the German manufacturer.
The Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corporation put in a special order in 1960 for two Thunderbird’s to be made of stainless steel. In order to make these cars the Ford Co. had to use heavy gauge type 302 stainless to duplicate the mild steels weight, as a result all the 1960 body molds would be destroyed in the process. All the trim pieces are also made of stainless but a Type 430 is used. These two cars are still in existence and both were fully restored in the 1980’s and one of them can be seen in the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The third generation “T”bird is the pace car for the Indy 500 in 1961.. The then President John F. Kennedy is chauffeured through the Indy parade in a brand new convertible. Under the hood is only engine offered this year; to power the Thunderbird; the new FE-series 390 cu in (6.4 L) V8. This is the first and only year this engine is available for the Thunderbird. There are two versions of the 390 for the Thunderbird; the “R” code is slightly detuned to run on regular gas-it is equipped with a Holly four barrel and puts out 275 hp but this one is for export only and the special premium gas “Z” code version is for the domestic market, mounted with the same four Barrel Holly carburetor it will develop 300 hp. Both of these engine variations are factory equipped with duel exhaust pipes.