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390 V8 Barn Find: 1961 Ford Thunderbird

After a successful three-year run as a personal luxury car with a back seat, the Ford Thunderbird was redesigned again for 1961. It featured sleeker, less boxy styling than its 1958-60 predecessors and could arguably be considered the best-looking of the T-Birds, except for maybe the original 2-seaters. This 1961 coupe looks to have been inhabiting a barn for quite some time, but there are some rusty floors and a stuck motor to be dealt with. The car is in Morristown, Minnesota and available here on Facebook Marketplace for $2,700.

One of the advertising slogans for the third generation T-Birds was “Unmistakably New, Unmistakably Thunderbird” and that’s not likely an overstatement. One of the most creative options on these cars was the highly touted ‘Swing Away’ steering wheel which provided easier access to the driver’s seat. With the transmission in Park, the steering wheel would slide some 18 inches to the right. Another goodie was its “floating” rearview mirror which was mounted to the windshield glass instead of at the top of the windshield. The ’61 T-Bird quickly gained celebrity status by serving in the inauguration parade for President Kennedy (Ford executive Robert McNamara was Kennedy’s new Secretary of State) and appearing as the pace car for the 1961 Indianapolis 500 (both used T-Bird convertibles). While sales were surprisingly off slightly from the prior year, Ford sold 73,000 Thunderbirds for 1961, with 85% of them being coupes like the seller’s car. The source for background info was Automotive Mile Posts.

This 1961 T-Bird looks to have been dormant for quite some time if the amount of dust, dirt, and grime on it are any indication. We’re told the 390 cubic inch engine is stuck, which was the only engine choice for the Thunderbird in ’61. We don’t know if it’s the 2-barrel carb version at 265 hp or the 4-barrel at 320. The car is said to have 137,000 miles on it, so a rebuild is probably in the cards anyway. It’s a well-equipped Bird, with automatic transmission, cruise control, power steering, and probably not the snappy tilt steering wheel. There is no mention of air conditioning being there.

The body might clean up nicely as it looks pretty straight, to begin with and the only rust the seller mentions is in the floor pans. But we don’t have much in the way of photos to tell us just how much of it may be involved. It’s hard to make a call about the interior because the car was photographed inside the barn and there isn’t much light there. A Concours quality T-Bird from 1961-63 could fetch close to $30,000, with a fixer-upper like this one being closer to $5,000. Being optimistic, I’m thinking this might work out to be a presentable car once cleaned up and gotten going again. What do you think?


  1. Chris Webster

    And Ford couldn’t even throw in a glove box? I was looking one on a film location and was surprised by it’s absence. It looked in similar condition to this one, but as it was the ‘hero’ car it at least ran

    • Raymond E Thomas Member

      Storage was in the console.

    • JimmyinTEXAS

      They all had glove boxes. Very hard/impossible to see in the crappy photos. They are located as most other automobiles, at the passenger’s knees.

      Like 6
    • patrick

      some of the early 390’s were really a 352 cid motor?

      • Chris M.

        No not at all. Just the same FE architecture.

        Like 5
  2. George Mattar

    Beautiful cars. But tons of money to restore. If a convertible it might be worth it. You can buy a driver 61 for $12,000 to $15, 000. A guy locally sold a 65 coupe needing only suspension work and tires a few years ago for $5,000.

    Like 3
  3. Vince H

    Rust and a stuck engine. No thanks

    Like 5
  4. jokacz

    The 390 was a 4 barrel rated at 300 hp. There was a 3 deuce option in 62 rated at 345 hp, but almost no one ordered it and it was cancelled in 63. There never was a 2 barrel in this generation bird.

    Like 9
    • Robert

      I seem to recall that around 1961, there was a 375 hp option on the Ford 390 c.i. engine that normally was rated at 300 hp. was this also offered on the T-Bird?

      Like 1
  5. Bob Roller

    My wife had a T Bird and after we married I got rid of it and gave her the
    Plymouth belvedere I had and I used a Cadillac.The brakes and handling of the T Bird were atrocious.The steering felt like it was not even connected and they were all Like that.A typical 1960’s fubar engineering masterpiece.
    The car I just mentioned was a 1962 Landau.

    Like 1
  6. Steve Douglas

    I had a ’61 for about 6 years in the ’80s. Honey Beige soybean paint and black interior. Yes it had a glove box. Swing away steering wheel. Only 17K miles on it when I bought it, and pretty solid looking. Brakes were awful. Power-wise, an absolute parade float. But it was cool looking, and never had rust while I owned it. It was at my Brit mechanic’s one night when a lady on the highway hit a horse, swerved into the chain link fence around the Brit’s yard, and dragged 150 ft of chain link across my paint job. “The End.” Sold off to Sweden, if I remember right.

    Like 2
  7. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry

    A friend of mine pulled one of these in convertible form out of someone’s back yard for a few dollars, cleaned it up got it running and sold it at first Monday flea market for big bucks.
    God bless America

  8. Maestro1 Member

    No A/C. Medium to large dollar adventure here. Try it at $1000.00. If not, pass.

    Like 3
  9. Macfly

    Personally I think this generation T-bird is one of the most beautiful and undervalued… but I don’t need this one.

    Like 2

    Loved the rear styling the front was ugly in my opinion. Never bought one for that reason. 55 Bird hands down in styling.

  11. HC Member

    Unless you have alot of time and money on hour hands, it better to spend a little more in at least driver condition

  12. Jim Swick

    This is a nice handling car, in fact that might have been mine. Wasn’t ever crazy about the light blue, but it was classy in its day

  13. Christopher Benjamin

    Love my 63 TBird, Landau. No glove box, just the center council.

  14. Jon

    Came across this one in a local fb post … doesn’t seem as bad for the bucks … I’ve always liked TBirds as my dad had a ’60 which was the first car I drove and I had a couple ’55s back in the ’70s when they were more affordable …

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