Classic Cars A to Z

Ford Thunderbird History 1958

Article by Mark Trotta

The Ford Thunderbird was now a four-seater, measuring eleven inches longer and weighing nearly 1,000 pounds more than the original two-seater it replaced. Distinctive styling featured quad headlights, a large chrome grille, and prominent tail fins.

1958 Ford Thunderbird convertible

Because of their boxy appearance, 2nd-generation Thunderbirds (1958-1960) are often referred to as 'Squarebirds'.

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Unit Construction

The majority of today's modern cars are based on a unibody structure, but in 1958 it was new technology. The unit construction process allowed the second-generation T-birds to sit long and low.

To accommodate the back seat, wheelbase was stretched to 113-inches. Overall length was 205.3 inches and curb weight came in at 3,897 pounds. The 2nd gen Thunderbird had just 5.8 inches of ground clearance

Standing at a mere 52.5 inches in height, the 1958 Thunderbird was nearly nine inches shorter than the average American sedan of the day.

1958 Ford Thunderbird

Pictured: George W. Walker, Ford’s Vice President of Design.

Engine and Transmission

Powering the T-bird was Ford's new FE block, a 352ci V8 producing 300 horsepower. Engine compression ratio was 10.2:1, which helped produce 300 horsepower. Dual exhaust was standard.

Base transmission was a column-shifted three-speed manual with optional overdrive. A three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic was optional.

Chassis and Suspension

Up front, the Thunderbird rode on independent A-arms, ball joints, and coil springs. For the first-year squarebird, coil springs were used in the rear, which caused considerable wheel hop with hard acceleration. In 1959, the system was re-engineered to incorporate parallel leaf springs.

classic television cars, 1958 Ford Thunderbird

Classic TV cars, Perry Mason series.

Steering and Brakes

A recirculating ball and nut power steering system was standard. Wheels were steel wearing tubeless tires measuring 8.00" x 14". The braking system consisted of four-wheel drums with power assist.

Interior

Conceived as a personal luxury car with distinctive style, the interior featured bucket seats in front with a full-length center console running into two rear buckets. Not only did the center console conceal the driveshaft tunnel, it also housed ashtrays and concealed switches and wiring.

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Wixom Assembly Plant

The new T-birds were built at Ford’s Wixom Assembly Plant in Michigan, which stayed in operation for 50 years (1957-2007). During that time span, over six million vehicles were produced, including Ford Thunderbirds, Lincoln cars, the Ford GT40 of the 1960's and the Ford GT of the 2000's.

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Convertible

With limited funding available, the convertible body was to be discontinued. In its place, a power-retractable hardtop, like Ford's Skyliner, was slated for the Thunderbird. However, engineering issues with the retractable roof prompted the decision to reinstate the convertible. What Ford engineers came up with instead was a rear-hinged trunk lid that raised and lowered with hydraulic cylinders.

1958 Ford Thunderbird ad

The soft-top was also hydraulically operated, and when lowered, hid completely in the trunk. With the top down and the trunk lid closed, the appearance was clean and required no top boot.

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Sales Figures and Accolades

Despite three less months of production than the '57 models, 1958 T-bird sales reached 37,892 units. The 1957 model year had a sales total of just 21,380 units.

As the convertible did not go on sale until June of 1958, just 2,134 examples were built, compared to 35,758 hardtops.

The reader should note that 1958 was a recession year for the U.S. The Thunderbird was just one of two cars to show a sales increase that year (the other being Rambler).

history of classic cars

The 1958 Ford Thunderbird was named Motor Trend's 'Car of the Year'.

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Edsel vs Thunderbird

A few curious notes on the 1958 Edsel and 1958 Thunderbird.

Both cars were introduced for the same model year, produced by the same company, and shared drivetrain components. Edsels were made available to the public on September 4, 1957, with the 4-seat Bird available February 13, 1958. The Edsel was gone in three years. Thunderbirds remained in production for 30+ years.

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