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1958-1966 Thunderbirds ?

piCARsopiCARso Posts: 16
Unlike the pricey 55-57's why are the 58's-66's so resonably priced, often under 12 for well kept cars. To my eye they are handsome inside and out. I would like to know from informed collectors what are the strengths and weaknesses(engine, transmission,suspension,brakes,comfort,electronics,conv. tops,etc. of the 58 to 66 years. What year would you reccommend for a reliable driver, styling aside. Appreciate your opinions. Pining in Maine for a bird in the spring.


  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,971
    The '58 and newer 4-seat T-birds were much more popular than the 2-seater when new, but the car lost its original vision when it went bigger. The 1957 T-bird sold about 21,000 units, while the much more expensive, larger '58 model managed to pull off around 37,000, pretty good for a deep recession year. They ran off another ~76,000 units for '59 and something like 92,000 for 1960! Production fluctuated from around 60-90K units yearly from 1961-66.

    The 4-seater was VERY popular when it was new. However, I think collectors just prefer the purity of the '55-57 style. Plus, the '55-57's were all convertibles. While a convertible was offered from 1958-66, it was comparatively rare. They built about 2,000 of them in 1958, and from then on out it rarely sold more than 10,000 units. I'd imagine the convertible models are pretty pricey, although the hardtops are probably reasonable.

    The 1958-60 T-birds were unitized, and I think the next two generations were as well. That makes for an extra-solid body, but it also means that rust can be more serious than with a body-on-frame car. They've also got to be more comfortable than the '55-57 style to drive...those 2-seaters were way too cramped inside to be comfy, I'd imagine.

    I hear that that the 1958-66 models all handle horribly. "Pig-like" is a common description, although I guess some years may be better than others. They're heavy cars, so they're probably rough on brakes and tires. They actually had problems with getting the convertible ready for production in 1958, so that might be a hint that it's troublesome. And considering that with the convertible, the top stows completely out of sight, under the boot, I imagine that adds to the complexity. Most convertibles back then, the top just sort of flopped down, and if you wanted a finished off look, there was a vinyl cover that you could snap into place to hide it. Sometimes it would still stick up, though.

    T-birds tended to come with a lot of power features (windows, locks, etc), and that stuff can get troublesome as it ages. Now it may not be any worse (or better) than GM or Mopar electricals of the time, but it's still 40-50 year old components, and just something else waiting to break.

    Considering the size of the engines and the horsepower, I don't think they're really all that quick. And I imagine they guzzle.

    Still, they're cool looking cars, and if you just want something nice and old to cruise around in, I'm sure they could be a lot of fun. My favorite of the bunch is the '66, either as a hardtop or convertible (but not the landau coupe with the blind rear quarters). I don't think that's the one most people lust after, though!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    The 55-57 Birds competed with Corvettes as two-seat "roadsters". Once they went to a 4 seater, they became a very different automobile, and although T-Bird sold more cars, they stopped being "iconic" and "sporty" and became big luxo-barges. They lost the youth market immediately and the sports car image as well. By 1966, they were heavy, rather ponderous cars and nothing like their original conception IMO. In a sense, Ford abandoned the buyers who loved the cars already and re-created the T-Bird for a new audience.

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  • Thank you for your detailed response, very informative. Just what I had hoped to receive although the adjectives pig-like, big luxo-barges, heavy and ponderous were not music to my ears. Older cars are scarce in Maine, winter salt and the damp dissolving them. All my cars no matter the model succumbed to decay over the years, always a concern at inspection time. At 57 the idea of owning an older car with style and personality appeals to me but I don't want a money pit. Older cars being scarce, most are overpriced here compared with the glut of very reasonably priced cars from Florida and California. I want a driver not a show car, Barrett Jackson puts me to sleep watching overweight old men trying to out testosterone each other, so far removed from the average man. As handsome as many cars in the 40's and early 50's are their heavy formality and subduded colors are a little stodgy and cumbersome for me. Of course there are many exceptions. The years 55 to65 bloomed with color and excess and quality still seemed important. Again painting with a broad brush, later years saw American cars turn to plastic and faux wood grain, economy more important then elegance. I keep waiting for the return of pastel colors since everything comes back. 1959 produced some very stylish models. I just saw a 65 Thunderbird with $16,000 in restoration receipts sell for $6500. on EBAY. Painful to watch as these slip by but the timing isn't right. It is fun to dream. Thanks again for your intelligent feedback.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    Well andre considers the term "luxo-barge" to be a compliment! :P

    I think the point I was trying to make (in my usual obscure way) was that IF you are going to buy a collectible car "to drive" rather than show, then by all means go out and DRIVE one before you buy that particular year and model.

    Depending on your tastes and needs, a '65 Bird may please or may discourage you during a prolonged test drive.

    Me, myself, I, Shiftright--I have a high tolerance for the limitations of old cars on the road at freeway speeds----however, putting a '65 Bird into a turn at speed can be a very scary business. Perhaps the problem is MINE, in that I do not drive cars like this in the stately manner for which they were built.

    You will notice in period ads for the 60s Birds, that, unlike Corvettes, these cars are depicted cruising past golf courses with the driver waving at some squeaky clean rich people, or are parked in front of an opera house with the gentleman in his tux lightly grasping the hand of the be-jeweled wife or GF in her flowing strapless evening gown.

    This is a far cry from Corvette ads:

    Corvette AD 1966

    As opposed to:

    T-Bird AD

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,971
    You will notice in period ads for the 60s Birds, that, unlike Corvettes, these cars are depicted cruising past golf courses with the driver waving at some squeaky clean rich people, or are parked in front of an opera house with the gentleman in his tux lightly grasping the hand of the be-jeweled wife or GF in her flowing strapless evening gown.

    It also seems that back in that era, you'd see a lot of T-birds of that vintage in movies and tv shows. They were always driven by rich playboys. You knew a guy was hip, swinging, loaded, and a little bit dangerous, if he was driving one of those babies! I remember an episode of "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" where Robert Redford was playing a spoiled rich boy who offed someone and then ran away with the hot housekeeper, in a '61-63 era T-bird!

    As for the handling, I imagine one problem is that while the '58-66 T-birds are actually small-ish cars, they're very heavy, and they're designed for a comfy, big-car ride. So if you've never driven one, the size might be deceiving, making you think it should be a more nimble car than it really is.

    Also, some of the car's faults, while noticeable at the time, might not seem so bad today. If you're used to newer cars and the way they handle and perform, then I imagine most cars from that era are going to feel awful. So while a '63 Grand Prix or Riviera might have been a great handling car for the time, compared to a '63 T-bird, put the typical modern-car driver behind the wheel and he's not going to notice the difference. They're all going to feel numb, floaty, and wallowy.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    True enough. There were a few actual good handling American cars (Corvettes, Hudson Hornets come to mind) but generally these cars were not built to "throw around".

    My recollection was that the T-Bird simply did not idle, run or shift as well as a GM car. It's pretty hard to beat a Chevy small block or big block and a TH transmission. Everything slips, slops, dips and squashes in a T-Bird. There's not a clean, sharp, steady, firm molecule in the car's operation IMO. It's like driving a giant bean bag.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,067
    But the others summed things up pretty well.

    I'm pretty familair with these cars and although I like the way they look they can be real dogs to drive and maintain.

    My favorite of that era would be a 1965. I just love the style and looks of these.

    The 352/390 engines were very good but they couldn't begain to compare with GM's offerings at the time. The Cruisomatic transmissions weren't bad either.

    Like Andre said they handle like PIGS. They plow through turns like a cruise ship. Workmanship was mediocre at best. They had constant electrical problems and they would go through front end parts and tires like mad. Thankfully, they went to disc brakes in 1965. The earlier models woulf fry brake linings like no other car could.

    As a comparision, a 1965 Buick Riviera was so much better of a car!

    Even so, I wouldn't mind having a '65 Bird in my garage.

    I just think there are better choices.

    Hey, on Ebay there is a 1960 with factory air (rare) with only 23,000 miles! a San Diego car too!
  • parmparm Posts: 724
    My 2 cents. About 6-7 years ago, I was "ga-ga" over 1964-65 T-Bird's. Then, I sat in one. OMG! Probably THE most uncomfortable seats I've ever experienced (I was about 42 at the time). That instantly cured me. Consequently, I don't think I could ever own one. Love the styling, but if you're serious about owning one of these, I'll repeat what someone else already said and that is to actually go drive one. Maybe your back will conform to the clamshell seat better than mine. Just make sure you'd be comfortable behind the wheel.
  • My initial question. I so appreciate your comments. Not much good news. I must say I did enjoy your descriptive remarks (ie: piglike, drives like a beanbag etc.). I thought I might hear from some staunch supporters in defense of the negative observations. How many astronauts in the 60's were seduced by the Thunderbird advertising, the name, the interior styling. It is indeed sad to hear about the cars shortcomings. Visually, the inside looks like a posh booth in an Italian restaurant from the 40's. How can something that looks so sculpted and elegant be so bad? The proof is in the use and I will certainly defer to the experience of those who know these cars. How those astronauts must have felt duped when they realized how poorly these cars performed. I guess when you are breaking the speed of sound in your jet you can poke around in a sporty looking car in your spare time. Let me hear from those astronauts out there. Just an aside, when I was 10 I came across a pink Bullet Bird in a neighbors driveway. Boy, it caught my attention. I am not saying I liked it but it is my first memory of an automobile. Clearly its look made an impression on me. The next car that turned my head was a 64' Mustang. It was spring and it passed by like in slow motion, maroon in color with a foreground of yellow and red tulips and bright green grass. I looked at the Riviera and it was ok but didn't overwhelm me. I liked the triangular console but the inside didn't have the style of the Thunderbird. I won't jump into anything without a test drive and open eyes. Thanks again for your insights. Lots of snow here !
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    Well the 58-66 Birds were MEANT to be a visual madhouse and they definitely succeeded in projecting a "surface" of technology, futurism and that kind of "realtor-elegance" that people in brocaded, gold-scripted, vinyl-topped, carriage-hinged Cadillacs have come to love.

    Gore Vidal once called the astronauts "Rotarians in Outer Space" so I'm not so sure they would be the best judges of actual high-performance machinery that rolls on rubber tires. "The Right Stuff" shows some of them in new Corvettes and that seems to exonerate at least a few of them.

    I'd surmise that if Mr. Glenn's jet fighter handled like a '58 T-Bird he would have punched out over the desert.

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  • lokkilokki Posts: 1,200
    Remember that most Astronauts were test pilots. They were used to be on the every edge of control.... and hell - they LIKED it.

    They probably enjoyed the fact that nobody else was stupid brave enough to drive an old T Bird fast.

    (Seriously, though, I thought they were all Corvette guys, and even had some kind of unofficial deal to get them very cheaply).
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    The astronauts didn't get them for free---they paid $1!


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  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 11,108
    just to feed your tbird dreams a bit, i found this today:
    tbird art

    tbirds for sale
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  • Mr. Shiftright,
    An idle curiosity. Perhaps I need to think earlier, substance and quality, let the facileness of the Thunderbird go. If you get this in time check out these two Packards on ebay: 1952 two door 110329744715, and 1950 four door 320327347702. What do you think , your thoughts just from the descriptions and pictures, purely hypothetically. Strengths and weaknesses of the engines? Just for fun, I won't buy one, just grist for the mill in the future.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838

    Well they look like decent enough old relics, but being 4-door cars, there is no investment value, and they both seem like bottom of the line models. If they were 2-doors with AC and in nicer colors that might be of more interest to me. The '52 is a 4-door you know!

    Both look quite solid I'd say the '50 is worth more.

    These are big ponderous beasts with nice, torquey flathead 8 engines. You'd build up your arm muscles, that's for sure. No power steering looks like.

    At least with the old T-Birds you are likely to get a more modern engine, power steering and if you're lucky, AC. On the negative side, the T-Bird is like driving a block of ice with a steering wheel. The old Packards should handle a lot better.

    I'd choose the '50 for a number of reasons, such as manual transmission and the bathtub styling----but I suspect the paint job isn't very good on the car if you looked closely at it.

    so I guess what I'm saying is neither car gets me very excited---they are just "old cars" and nothing special. They don't have the body style, the options, the colors, etc. that might have made them collectibles IMO.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 22,971
    I kinda like that 1952 Packard. I think it's handsome and clean, and by 1952 standards, pretty modern looking.

    I never liked the style of those "pregnant" Packards, but that 1950 at least looks like it's in nice shape.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    The '52 might "look" modern, but really, American cars did not become truly "modern", IMO, until 1955. Before that, most of them hid the vestiges of pre World War II engineering and styling. They had "modern bits" but they weren't totally modern until the famous '55 Chevy--with it's boxy look, completely flat sides, lightweight small-block, high-revving V8, and a "tight skin" stretched over the skeleton.

    The 55-57 Birds have this modernity, whereas the '58-60 seems to regress in my eyes to an earlier and more cluttered look.

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  • What does one do? I wave my ignorance of old cars like a banner with every word I write. Can't tell the difference between a 2-door and a 4-door although you must admit that back door was well hidden on the 52' Packard with it's out of the way handle and tight fitting seams. I feel like "Rocky" in the movie when the gym owner (you) beseeches him with the plea, " I've got so much knowledge and I want to give it to you". I am out of my element and I must not be the only one who would benefit from your wise council when it comes to selecting an older car. My wife and I discovered a small auto museum, the Owls Head Transportation Museum, up the coast and very much enjoyed seeing the vast assortment of automobiles people would bring on various theme weekends(i.e. fabulous cars of the 50's and 60's). My biggest revelation was that average people owned these cars and they were often very modestly priced. It seems to me it would be a pleasant pastime in my later years to sit on warm summers night in my plastic, webbed, folding chair next to my vintage car during classics night at the local mall. Lacking any perspective myself may I ask you to recommend 10 post 1955 family cars (not sport cars, muscle cars or anything too exotic) that would make solid drivers, could be obtained in decent shape for under 20 and still match your standard, if not for agility,at least for conspicuous beauty and sound mechanicals. Just off the top of your head( I respect your time) to give us uninformed some idea of what in your experience is a direction to pursue.
    Thanks Joe and Happy New Year !
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 11,108
    since you started with tbirds, i thought of you when i saw this.
    not flashy, but way below your 20k threshhold.
    plain 61 bird

    ok ok, it's a '66, but under 20k

    heck, just go to hemmings and browse!
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  • texasestexases Posts: 7,254
    There are so many...what if you give us a list of cars you might like - that's the most important thing, after all! You'll have unlimited choices these days for $20k, since you're not looking for a numbers matching classic, just a fun '55-'70 car. Do any brands appeal? 2 or 4 doors? Anything you can tell us?
  • parmparm Posts: 724
    Well, I'd say you should start by deciding if you want a hardtop or a convertible. A hardtop will cost significantly less and will allow you to get a much nicer car for the money. As an example, a spectacular hardtop would be about the same price as a convertible "with needs". Plus, the on-going maintenance on a hardtop is much less. Finally, on post-less (B-pillar) hardtops, the open air area is so big with all the windows down that you will hardly miss not having a top that goes down.

    Just something to think about . . . . . .
  • piCARsopiCARso Posts: 16
    I still like the Thunderbird look inside and out. The up side is they are plentiful and cheap.Aside from seat comfort(which has been brought into question) the bucket seats look handsome and seem to me ahead of their time compared to other models in the same time period with front and back seats. I like the look of the dash and the layout of the instruments. The downside is rideability and electrical issues as has been stated which is a concern.
    The 66' Charger is "BIG", I like it and the price. It is less refined then the 68' which is my favorite year. I prefer the 3 tail lights to the later bar. My boss bought a 69' on ebay, southern car, for $17,000. Two years and $20,000 later the car is still in pieces, needs a complete interior, was riddled with rust and the rear bumper was held on with epoxy. He is wealthy and can afford it but who needs the aggravation. I shiver to think of this happening to me. I need everything done and ready to roll. Thanks for your reply.
  • texasestexases Posts: 7,254
    How about this:
  • piCARsopiCARso Posts: 16
    O.K. Now you are exposing my Achilles heel. My wife aside, I can see myself in a 50's chopped flat black Mercury, an imperfect classic on the surface but mechanically sound. You know what I am talking about, I came across a 56' Crown Victoria on the side of the road last year and while I was looking at it the owner drove up. The for sale sign was crossed out several times and it was priced at $6,000. It had bucket seats and 4 on the floor with a skull shifter. At the time it looked a little scary but now I think what the heck, I wouldn't have to worry about some kid slamming the door of the families SUV into the side at the local food mart. On the other hand I can see myself in a 59' Olds 88, dentist owned, with the wrap around back window. I think the 58 or 59 Impala has the same design. The 59 Ford Fairlane appeals to me. Many 59 automobiles appeal to me. Of course a convertible would be preferred but there is the maintenance. I am open minded, but shackled with a modest budget. Who wouldn't want to own a Corvette but the early ones are out of reach. I worry about drum brakes, oil bathes, 6 volt systems and cars without power steering and brakes. I will profit from your experiences.
  • In defence of the 2nd. Generation (58- 60) FORD THUNDERBIRD & recognizing Manufacture"s of the Day, One only has to do is ------------Exit Stage Left;;;;;; Literally----turn left----NASCAR if you will. Test Bed of Handling ,Brakes,Tires,Performance,Endurance,And Real Stock Cars.The date 2/22/59 Inaugral Daytona 500 Speedway,500 miles,Average speed 135.521 m.p.h.The First Photo Finish,Johnny Beauchamp (car#73),driving a 1959 FORD THUNDERBIRD,And Lee Petty (car#42),driving a 1959 New Oldsmobile. Reference Book, Title: Speed,Guts,& Glory................ 100 unforgetable moments in NASCAR History. Pages 10 & 11 . by the NEW YORK TIMES Bestselling Author; Joe Garner OR D.V.D. Stock Cars Grow Up : 1959-1962 by Steve Waid
  • parmparm Posts: 724
    How much is the asking price? Is this car listed on the internet somewhere? Thanks.
  • texasestexases Posts: 7,254
    Nope, not for sale, sorry - I googled it up, apparently it won a class at an Arizona Cougar Club show. Sounds like Picarso is more interested in '50s cars, anyway.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 53,838
    Let's keep this topic on the 58-60 Birds, okay, so we don't drift off too much.

    We have a nice long list of other topics to discuss the idea of choosing a classic car to buy, or we can start up a new topic for this very project!

    As for NASCAR and T-Birds, keep in mind that you can make ANY car go fast and handle if you have the skill and the money.

    What you saw on a NASCAR track had very little relation to what you drove away from a Ford dealership.

    I mean, they even raced Ford Falcons in the Monte Carlo rally and they raced Crosleys at Lemans!!!

    You got time, you got money, you got skill-----? Miracles can and do occur!

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  • piCARsopiCARso Posts: 16
    I like it, very sharp. I have registered at the Hemmings site, thanks for the suggestion. Ebay has provided me with many hours of entertainment with intoxicatingly detailed pictures and descriptions of the cars and their owners feedback rating. A low "Buy Me Now" feature is always tantalizing, knowing the touch of a button can make a dream come true or your worst nightmare.It is fascinating that so many people buy cars unseen and undriven, brave and probably foolish.
    It tickles me when I read about Southwest cars that have never been rained on, ever! Living in the Northeast I could almost say the opposite, my car has seldom seen a dry day. In Maine, going anywhere without a functioning top or working wipers would ensure a wet interior and impaired vision. As fantasy can blur with reality, one day I am James Bond driving an Aston Martin (dating myself from early Bond), the next I am Casper Milktoast in a Rambler. On the plus , non-Bond side, so many cars from the 50's and 60's have style that even the most modest, 50 years later, in good shape, still turns heads. I realize no one can know my personal tastes but it is very helpful knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the major auto makers during these years. I don't mind generalizations. You could tell me the transmission was weak on a particular model and that information might help me later. Thank you again for your input.
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 11,108
    i'm sure mr shifty can tell you how to go about getting an inspection for any car you are interested, so you don't end up with something that was misrepresented.
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