Three-On-The-Tree Again! 1961 Ford Sunliner

Two weeks ago, we featured this 1968 Ford  Custom with a tree-on-the tree-manual shift – a common gear-shifting arrangement used up into the seventies. Today, we’re going to back it up seven years and also let some sun shine in at the same time, which you could certainly do with this so-equipped 1961 Ford Sunliner. You could even do it with the top in the up position considering its current condition. But hey, convertible tops can be replaced; one really has to take the entirety of a car’s existence into consideration to pass judgment so let’s do exactly that. Located in Clearlake Park, California, this big convertible is available, here on eBay for a BIN price of $5,900. There is a make an offer option too.

Ford’s top drawer big car in ’61 was the Galaxie and it was available in two and four-door hardtops and sedans. If you wanted a Galaxie two-door hardtop with a less formal roofline, something with a sportier demeanor, that meant going with the Starliner. Full top-down mode on your agenda? Then step up to the Sunliner – Ford’s “other” convertible, the retractable top Skyliner was discontinued at the end of the ’59 model year. As for the Sunliner, it was popular with approximately 44K copies rolling off of Ford assembly lines in ’61. All-in-all, Ford was number one that year with a production total of 1.3 M vehicles, edging out number two, Chevrolet, by 20K units.

Based on registration, it sounds like this car’s been off the road for twenty-five years – it’s kinda rough looking, to say the least. The seller states that the floors are solid though there is some surface rust present. Some of the trim is missing and the front clip is mismatched. There’s a second one that comes with the sale but it doesn’t match either. There’s no obvious body panel rust-through but that’s not the case for the trunk floor. Judging by the rear bumper, I’d say this Sunliner was sportin’ a continental spare at one time. Now, not only is that gone but so are all four of its wheels.

The interior looks like a typical early ’60s domestic auto interior that has sat, exposed to the elements, thanks to the torn roof fabric. Actually, it shows better than I might have initially expected, it’s mostly faded and dirty. The two-tone pattern was probably rather cheerful appearing in its day. Note the instrument panel, there are stick-on labels to help the driver know what’s what.

Under the hood is a 300-gross HP 390 CI V8 engine that’s not stuck – but it doesn’t run either. An interesting surprise is the aforementioned three-speed manual (three-on-the-tree!) transmission complete with overdrive (and a dash label that warns, “do not use over-drive in ice or snow“). Other than the removed air cleaner, the engine is pretty complete looking. I wonder about those chrome-plated valve covers, original or swapped in from another Ford engine?

OK, so this one’s not great but it’s not terrible either and big, V8-powered, full-size domestic convertibles are an enjoyable driving experience in top-down mode. Fixable? Absolutely! Is it worth the effort? That’s usually the question, right?


  1. Boatman Member

    You know vinyl was top-notch back then!

    No power steering or brakes. Must have been a bear to drive.

    Like 7
  2. Will Fox

    The driver’s front fender looks like it could be a `62 Ford unit. Can’t see enough to be sure.

    Like 5
    • Joe Machado

      My first thought on the fender also

      Like 4
  3. Al

    Noticed it has a Thunderturd engine.

    The air conditioner is kind of breezie, if you could drive this.

    Like 2
  4. timothy r herrod

    The exhaust manifold i see makes me think that might be something other than a 300 horse motor

    Like 3
  5. Rw

    Could be 406 cu in

    Like 1
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      The VIN decodes to a 1961 model with a 390 engine. The 406 was introduced in ’62 – unless it was swapped sometime in its past.


      Like 4
  6. Frank

    This car could be a stunner and has a lot going for it. Solid convertible body, manual transmission, 390/406 engine, mostly complete and what is missing will not be impossible to find. Get it running, make it safe with bolt on big brakes, rebuild the suspension/steering, swap a four speed into it and drive it for a while as is to sort it out.

    Like 5
    • MICK George.

      YEP THATS THE GO. THE CAR IS ALL THERE you just have to grab some wheels and of you go on a trailer. this car is an easy fix over time as everything is available in the USA to fix this.Under currant import rules this car would not be allowed into Australia. Asbostes being the main issue plus it has to be driveable and just about in good as condition eg paint.

  7. Rw

    406 had Thunderbird valve covers,it would be worth investigating.

    Like 2
  8. CycloneJeff Cyclonejeff Member

    I believe it could be a HIpo car since 2 item I can see in picture is clutch pedal pad is really thick and shorty cast iron headers. If someone asks see if the hard brake lines run under radiator instead of the cross member under engine. HP is stamp on block and are solid lifters. It has the chrome engine dress up option dealer installed. If so Tri Power came in the trunk and dealer installed it. Probably why the rims are missing they are special rims.

    Like 6
  9. JagManBill

    The front fenders are 62, the rest of the car is a 61. Chrome spears on the side are low on a 61, high on a 62 (see front fender with missing chrome – high). I’ve got a 61. Only engines available in 61 were the 223 “mileage maker” 6 cyl, the 292, the 312 as a COPO option or the 352. Trans were the “Ford-O-Matic or Cruise-O-Matic” 3 speed autos, 3 on the tree or 4 on the floor (no console). That spare tire carrier would be cool…

    Like 2
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      Here’s the 1961 Ford sales brochure, listing the 390 CI engine as a Sunliner option.


      Like 6
      • JagManBill

        Funny is, my owners manual doesn’t reference a 390…

      • Jim ODonnell Staff

        As I mentioned in my reply to Rw, I decoded the VIN (1J55Z161338) and the “Z” code indicates a 390 CI engine.


        Like 3
  10. David

    Please explain the exhaust manifolds….Seems to me that they may tell a story about the engine….

    Like 1
  11. Chuck Simons

    Listing eneded. I was interested. Was going to ask what the difference between 61-62 fenders. I see the grille is different and the trim spears (61 is lower and 62 wraps into the front bright work around the headlight brow into the hood.) are as well.

  12. phil64

    ” This listing has ended” ……

    Like 1
  13. Al

    The headers are from a 406. I had a 390 401 HP 61 Starliner and It didn’t have exhaust manifolds like that but my 62 406 did.

    Like 1
  14. Fast Fred Member

    If I ‘m not mistaken 61-62 FORD And Mercury were interchangeable . I would like the exhaust for my 61 Starliner.

    Like 1
  15. Emel

    You could put a couple props on this land yacht…..and you’re set on most Rivers across America.

  16. Patrick Michael Shanahan

    In 1961 390 cu was a lion. My cousin bought one brand new and it ran strong.

  17. Rw

    My Dad had 406 in a 54 Ford vin means nothing,lot of swapping used to go on.

    Like 1
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      While true enough, it seems logical to assume that if the engine was swapped, the seller would advertise it as a 406, and not a 390, which is clearly what the listing stated. Wouldn’t the 406 be considered a sale enhancer?


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