THUNDERBIRD ERA - 1958 - 1960
The second generation Ford Thunderbird was produced by Ford for the 1958 to 1960 model years as a successor to the popular 1955-1957 two-seater. In response to Ford-conducted surveys two major changes were made to attract potential buyers: two rear seats were added and the level of luxury and features of a full-sized car were incorporated into a mid-size platform.
As a result, sales soared and the new model dramatically expanded the personal luxury car market, winning the Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1958. Over 200,000 units were produced in its three-year model run, quadruple that of the two-seater in its three-year span. Along with the 1958 Lincolns, the 1958 Thunderbird was the first Ford Motor Company vehicle designed with unibody construction.
Although the 1955-1957 Ford Thunderbird had proved successful (in comparison to the Chevrolet Corvette), Ford executives-particularly Robert McNamara-still felt its overall sales volume had room to improve. Market research suggested sales of the Thunderbird were limited by its two-seat configuration, making it unsuitable for families. As a response, Ford executives decided to add a rear seat to the Thunderbird.
The new Thunderbird had a distinct new styling theme. The design was driven entirely by the styling department and approved before the engineering was considered. The design was one of two proposals, styled primarily by Joe Oros, who later worked on the 1964 Ford Mustang. However, the losing proposal, styled by Elwood Engel, would gain its own place in Ford Motor Company history: after minor revisions, it would become the 1961 Lincoln Continental.
The four-seat Thunderbird was designed with unibody construction, eschewing a separate chassis. The intent was to allow the maximum interior space in a relatively small exterior package. The 1958 Thunderbird was only 52.5 inches tall, nearly 9 inches shorter than an average American sedan; the Thunderbird had only 5.8 inches of ground clearance. Ford incorporated the higher drivetrain tunnel that was required in a lower car into a center console dividing both front and rear seats which featured ashtrays, switches, and minor controls.
The remainder of the engineering was conventional, with Ford's new 300-hp 352 cu in (5.8 L) FE-series V8 coupled to a three-speed manual transmission, with overdrive or Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmission optional. Front suspension was independent, with coil springs and unequal-length A-arms. The rear was initially a live axle suspended by trailing arms and coil springs, which were intended to be interchangeable with optional air springs that were canceled before production. This was changed to a more conventional leaf spring suspension in the 1959 model year. Drum brakes were used at all four wheels.