A Most Unlikely Racer: Original 1960 Ford Thunderbird

The Goodwood Revival is one of the biggest bucket list events in the collector car world.  It is a combination of racing, a huge concours, and an overwhelming deep dive into automotive history.  Five years ago, a video from the event went viral.  In it, a former Holman-Moody built 1959 Ford Thunderbird absolutely laid waste to all the sedans in its race before being flagged for an exhaust issue.  From the moment I saw that video, my opinion of “Squarebirds” has changed immensely.  If you are looking for a cool Thunderbird with the surprising ability to hustle, then check out this 1960 Ford Thunderbird coupe for sale on craigslist in Vanderwagen, Arizona.  While this original is likely too nice to turn into a race car, would this $21,500 black beauty be the perfect car to slide sideways through life in?  Thanks to T.J. for the tip!

To many, the 1958-1960 “Squarebird” Thunderbirds were a totally disappointing follow up to the original two seat Thunderbirds.  It was if Ford’s marketing department traded the gorgeous soul of the car for sales glory.  The new four seat car was a showroom success, but the styling was anything but sporty.   That didn’t stop racers.  Holman-Moody built a handful of race cars based upon the four seat Thunderbird.  Other racers also used the cars for both the Grand National and convertible series.  The most immortal of these racing ‘Birds was likely the Thunderbird driven by Johnny Beauchamp in the famous photo finish of the 1959 Daytona 500.  Coincidentally, this is believed to be the same car restored and driven at Goodwood.

So, despite the weight of the cars and aerodynamics that would make a cinderblock look positively swoopy, these cars made formidable racers.  With a curb weight of 3,950 lbs. and an optional 350 hp engine, you could argue that it had plenty of performance in an era where cars didn’t always have seatbelts and single pot master cylinders linked to four-wheel drum brakes were a thing.  Move the clock forward decades, and you see that a Squarebird can still be a potent weapon on the racetrack in the hands of a skilled driver.  If you have 23 minutes, this video gives you an in-car view of the Goodwood Car in action with just such a driver.  After watching the video and listening to the sweet, sweet sound of that V-8 on the hunt for lesser cars, I do believe I would find a way to make the steering a bit tighter.

The 1960 Thunderbird seen here in the ad is obviously not a candidate for a race car conversion.  It is mostly original and looks to be presentable in its current condition.  There is some expected wear in the driver’s seat, some paint work here and there, and the usual nicks and scratches.  The remarkable thing is that it has just 51,000 miles on it and is only on its third owner.  The other curious fact about the car is that it is equipped with an original Ford Motor Company trailer hitch.  It seems that the first owner was an avid boater and felt that this was a good choice for a tow vehicle.

The car also came with a number of options such as power steering, power brakes, power windows, power driver’s seat, and a radio.  All of these are, in fact, still working.  The seller tells us that the car has enjoyed just Sunday drives and trips to car shows under his ownership.  The driver’s seat will need some repair though, as the seat has split and the leather in this high wear area is showing its age.  The fire engine red color of the leather kind of makes this honest wear even more obvious.

Under the hood is Ford’s 352 cubic inch V-8, and it is backed by a three speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission pushing power to a rear end with a 3.10:1 rear gear ratio.  This is likely going to be a very highway friendly combination and would allow you to click off the miles in style in those pillowy leather seats.  The car is said to drive well, and it has just a small bit of surface rust.  The fender skirts not seen in the photographs are in the seller’s possession, and will come with the car upon sale.

As I typed up this story, I had the YouTube video on in the background.  It just astounds me how fast such a behemoth of a racecar like this could lap the rather tight circuit at Goodwood.  It just goes to show that the conventional wisdom that American cars of this era had poor handling and lacked finesse.  Perhaps the average American car fell into that category.  However, properly prepared race versions were a threat both then and now.  While the feature car is not a race car by any means, it definitely has good bones and could make an excellent car to enjoy.

Have you seen the video?  What are your thoughts on a Squarebird as a race car and as a collector car?  Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

    Exemplarily well-written piece on “what could be” vs “what it is”, Jeff. Were we in a position to by a nice ‘Bird like this in consideration of converting it into a replica of that incredible Holman-Moody sleeper your research would likely spur one on to do so.
    Yes, it’s only “original” once, but sometimes the alternative is a better idea…

    Like 7
  2. Todd J. Member

    I’ve always liked the style of these, but I’ve never driven one. I would imagine they would tend to wallow in a turn somewhat, like steering a boat.

    Like 1
  3. Jim in FL

    A friend of mine used one of these as his daily driver at our engineering firm in the late 90s. Lots of power but terrible handling. Probably 5 turns lock to lock. Also, no seatbelts. His was a manual, green with white top and ac. Looks like there are seatbelts in this one.

    Looks great in black. I could see this with some keystone klassics or even better torq-thrusts. Reality, though, at the price point would make sense to preserve the value.

    Like 4
  4. Tim

    “Used to be some hoofer, poor thing. Takes a terrible toll on the joints.”

  5. Karayne

    I had a 1966 390 I’d upgraded a bunch. It was a tank but would do 140 mph easily. Stiffer sway bars and good wheels and tires do wonders for them.

    Like 1
  6. mike

    Great race till black flag exhaust issue.Making an exact replica of the HM car would be a major project but nice when done.

    Like 3
  7. HadTwo

    The Square-Birds had Unibody “step down” construction. The ’58’s
    had coil springs all around…..bad choice. However the ’59’s and 60’s
    had leaf springs at the rear. The reason they handled so well was the low center of gravity! They weren’t prone to roll-over like a traditional frame.
    A V-8 with a real 300 h.p. was a lot of horses for 1959-60!
    352 V-8 300 h.p., with a low center of gravity. Wow! The video event link
    shows it.

    Like 4
    • Will Fox

      But if this had the Lincoln 430 V8, with 350 healthy horses, it would be even better! Very few left the factory with that option.

      Like 1
      • Fitz

        Just think if there was a 428 under the hood…

      • Rufus

        In the mid 80’s I ran a collectible and special interest car operation in DFW. I got to deal with some pretty cool cars and people. Met a guy, who was an opera singer, played second to a fairly famous Italian tenor, and liked old cars. He and his wife were big supporters of an orphanage, and he and his “boys” did several restorations. High quality amateur work, and he brought me a ’60 that ticked off all the boxes, 460 – Lincoln transmission – factory air – power everything – and my favorite,,, Sun Roof. It was a very low number unit, done reasonably well, and he hired me to take it to auction. Back then, there were few events that brought out the big bux, but Fort Worth was hosting (I seem to remember it was) Barrett Jackson, and the car was a hit. When the auctioneer found out he was using the money to fund the next couple of projects for the “boys” it became a big deal.
        Now I’m old, and there have been so many notable cars in my life, I don’t remember a lot of the details, other than the car was an absolute beast, with a very soft ride. Windows down, sunroof open, 80 miles an hour across the old Toll Road, and then top dollar at the auction.
        GLWTS!

        Like 7
  8. gippy

    When I was a high school kid cruising 6th Ave in Tacoma ,Wa. there was an “old guy” (probably in his 50’s) who had a black and white 58 T Bird and he cruised right along with us- he had a truly unique driving style where he literally hugged the steering wheel.

    Like 4
    • Grandpa

      “…he had a truly unique driving style where he literally hugged the steering wheel.” I’m guessing especially when he was rounding curves.

  9. Davey Boy

    My mom had a 59 convertible. Laying across the trunk holding onto the back seat with my twin brother at 50 mph being a 14 years old was a blast and being maroon with black interior was real nice. Had a 390 and had plenty of power. Those were the days. Sure do miss that one.

    Like 4
  10. Todd Zuercher

    Vanderwagen is in NM, not Arizona.

    Like 1
  11. Paterson Guy

    Dad brought a maroon one home for Mom; I loved it; Mom not at all. Back it went. One of life’s disappointments. Got a Chrysler Newport instead.

    Like 1
  12. art

    Fairly well preserved Bird. Since it has Factory A/C, why would someone yank off the compressor if only 51K miles are on the car? Hopefully the owner has it otherwise, it would be very difficult to source an original and the aftermarket units look terrible on a period car like this.

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Art, Yes, i appears the A/C compressor is missing, but the brackets are there, and the hoses have not been cut, so hopefully all it needs is the compressor and some expensive R-12.

      As for the compressor being hard to find, nope, it’s the same unit used on all FoMoCo air conditioned cars well into the late 1960s, possibly longer.

      Like 1
    • HC Member

      I got a York compressor for my 65 Mercury that’s set up for 134 with not much problem and replaced its original 40lb clutch with a lighter one from 4 seasons. Sounds like this seller has all the brackets and probably the comp stabilizer bars. Classic auto Air out of Texas can help you with most everything. They also rebuilt my dryer.

  13. dr fine

    When the four-seater square birds came out, Lee Iaccoca was inundated with people wanting him to bring back the two-seater. He wondered why the heck they didn’t buy them when they were available. Early t-birds didn’t sell in high numbers. He realized this was a new, younger generation and what they really wanted was a low priced, sporty “coupe” with a backseat for children, or occasionally, a friend. He went with his hunch, and his success was phenomenal.

    Like 4
  14. Heck Dodson Member

    I’ve come like these 58-60 square birds, although they have similar lines to a cinderblock. When I was 16 I bought a 66 Thunderbird Landau with a 428 ac and power everything. I had engine rebuilt and repainted it but ran out of funds to rebuild its drum brakes. Wish I knew then what I do now and had the brakes rebuilt in rear and put disc’s in the front. Good find

    Like 1
  15. scottymac

    Rufus,
    Not doubting your description, but do you think it might have been a 462? That was an evolution of the 430 which were factory optional in this run of ‘Birds. The 460 was introduced in 1968 and was a completely different engine family.

    Back in the day, NASCAR had a convertible race division; back then, a convertible was many working men’s dreams, so drew a decent crowd. H-M built their ‘Birds as zipper tops, remove the tops for convertible races, bolt them back on for Grand National races.

    Like 2
  16. Rufue

    @scottymac,,, I have no doubt that I’ve gotten some of the details blurred. It’s been a long time, and bunches of other memorable cars, boats and motorcycles in between. Using the “Standard Catalog of American Cars”, which was at the time the best research tool available, we determined that it was an extremely low number produced to that spec. It was literally all boxes checked at the dealer. Rare old car that passed through my hands, one of many over the years, I’ve been very fortunate.

  17. Pat D

    I had a 60 T-bird 40 years ago. It was white with the turquoise interior. Nice car that I kept for a couple years. I’ve wondered what happened to it…many years now.

  18. Rufus

    @scottymac,,, I have no doubt that I’ve gotten some of the details blurred. It’s been a long time, and bunches of other memorable cars, boats and motorcycles in between. Using the “Standard Catalog of American Cars”, which was at the time the best research tool available, we determined that it was an extremely low number produced to that spec. It was literally all boxes checked at the dealer. Rare old car that passed through my hands, one of many over the years, I’ve been very fortunate.

    Like 1
  19. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Years ago I looked at a 58, in good condition. Unfortunately while I was deciding if I could afford it or not, it was sold. I thought it was a good handling car and had enough oomph to wake up a sleeping passenger.

  20. Rallye Member

    I knew these birds raced NASCAR but never heard of one road racing. Did I ever tell you I love vintage sedan road racing? Part way through the Goodwood video, I remembered the Galaxie racing in the 60s (anybody got one that needs a driver?). At the end of the video was a link to 427 Galaxie at Goodwood going faster than the bird did. There was one video of the rally stage (RALLYE!) and some of the Goodwoood road racing.

  21. Stephen Brown

    I had a 1960 while stationed at Camp Pendleton in 1969. It was equipped with a 351 highway patrol interceptor engine with road gears. One of my buds had a GTO Judge, and another had a Chevelle SS. Both of theirs would top out at 110 while my Thunderbird would bury the speedo at 145. It was quieter, smoother, and more comfortable for 4 of us than either of theirs. I loved it and even today it was the fastest car I’ve ever owned, and I’ve had a few.

  22. Larry Ashcraft

    532 1960 Thunderbirds were built with 352s, manual transmissions, Lincoln suspensions, manual steering and power brakes. I had one! Bought it about 1969 for $300 and drove it for a couple of years. For a 2 ton car, it handled very well, and had a ton of power. I actually competed in an autocross with it, and while I didn’t win, I did very well. Also lost about 1/4″ of rubber off my tires. A crazy 19 year old with a low, fast car and a lead foot! Those were the days!

    Like 1
  23. OldCarGuy

    Back in the day, I was one of the “new, younger generation”, and what we wanted was a low priced car with a backseat, but not for children, or friends. The rest I will leave to your imaginations, and your memories.

    Like 1
  24. Robt

    Yes Jeff. A Holman-Moody prepped square bird would be a hot ticket. I’d think you could strip a lot of weight out of one getting rid of all the luxo crap and sound deadening material.
    With the motor in good tune, decent suspension, including steering, and front disc brakes… ? What wouldn’t be to like?
    I’m in.

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