1961 FORD Thunderbird- Richard Print
Written by Double Dragon
Monday, 26 May 2014 21:33

1961 FORD Thunderbird- Richard


Photography and writing copyright D. S. Brown

62 tbird richard alameda nameplate

Readers may wish to compare Richard's high miles 1961 Thunderbird to the pristine low mileage 1962 owned by Art which is filed just below this article. The effect of mileage and outside storage creates a vivid contrast to a garage stored car with low mileage.

In the Oct, 1967 MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED auto writer Thomas McCahill states that he owned the very first production Thunderbird. Serial number P5FH100005 is the first Thunderbird built on the production line. It was produced in the Dearborn, Michigan factory on Sep 9, 1954 as a 1955 model. When it turned up years later in rough shape its significance was recognized by its new owner, George Watts of Santa Ana, California who restored it.

The Thunderbird name was chosen Feb 15, 1954 and derives from a Southwest Indian legendary bird. A few days later Thunderbird debuted Feb 20th at the Detroit Autoshow. Thunderbird competed with foreign sports cars but with an added touch of luxury, creating the first 'personal car' as Ford dubbed it. Chevrolet had already tried to address the influx of foreign sports cars with an American made sports car called the Corvette which subjected users to rain leaks and a six cylinder engine. Thunderbird started out with a V8, steel body and real glass windows that rolled up.

Thunderbird soared through three model years as a two door personal car using a 102 inch wheelbase and weighing a mere 2,833 pounds. Symbolic of wealth, daring and freedom, the Thunderbird had a lot of personality. Knowing that the four seat Bird was coming, Ford extended the 1957 production right until December 13, 1957 to milk the market for a two seat Tbird.

In 1958 the fans of the original Thunderbird were horrified by the 'Squarebird' as it was dubbed. The Thunderbird became a four seat which carried forth some of the original styling themes as if seen through a distorted lens. 'Squarebirds' outsold the two seat Tbirds, leaving Ford indifferent to the screams of the purists. Time has healed the wound and now the second generation Thunderbirds from 1958-1960 are well regarded. The third generation was embraced right off the bat. It was replete with space themed and jet age themed styling cues and seemed very modern and exciting.

61 for thunderbird richard alameda ca nose

From the pointed nose to the turbine or jet rocket afterburner styled rear tail lights the Thunderbird was stunning. The interior had wrap around lines that joined the doors and dash in one sweeping stroke. A console divided the interior into four separate bucket style seats. The Thunderbird was large and cars this size usually could haul 6 passengers in a pinch using the typical bench seats of the era, but the Thunderbird was about style and prestige not utilitarianism.

Richard is not the first owner of this Thunderbird but he has owned it the longest. Despite always being a California car the sheer time and mileage of ownership has taken its toll on this car. It is always parked outside and has suffered some bad luck. The front nose is a bit dinged up but it certainly could have been a lot worse. Richard was coming down the steeply angled roundabout from a high rise parkade when the brakes suddenly failed.

62 tbird richard alameda logo

Fortunately Richard has a strong background in mechanical engineering and knew about an unusual operating feature of the 1962 Thunderbird. The automatic transmission will function as a brake in this car unlike the majority of fluid coupled torque converter transmissions commonly installed in most domestic cars. Using the braking force of the transmission Richard brought the car to a near stop just before it launched itself off the 3rd story parking lot. The car was still going at a decent clip when it finally came to a halt after stretching out a restraining cable. The cable is all that kept Richard's Thunderbird from flying into outer space like the Thunderbird in THELMA AND LOUISE. The photo above shows the crimp etched in the trim on the nose that serves as a reminder of the near disaster. Had the car not been slowed sufficiently prior to hitting the safety cable it is debatable if the cable would have been able to hold the car back.

62 tbird richard alameda pas f

One sign of the high miles on the Thunderbird is how low the car sits due to the springs settling over the years. Amazingly, the car still has the original hubcaps. The chrome body accent strip running halfway up the doors is completely gone on the driver's side and missing from the passenger rear quarter. What is left of it on the passenger door is wavy. This may have been added later in the car's life since some sources claim that the first use of side trim was in late spring, 1962.

61 for thunderbird richard alameda ca side

Powerful California sun has scorched away some spots of paint on the roof and hood allowing minor surface rust to appear. Some rust also shows its face where the car has been dented.

The driver's right front fender point has been crushed, but the bumper has a mere dimple in it. Because the front driver's fender was mashed up the long accent top chrome piece is gone. This chrome piece is not just a slim item but on the Thunderbird (and Galaxie/ Marauder etc) it folds over to cover both sides of the sheetmetal crease that creates the fender line. The chrome is supposed to stretch the length of the car from nose to tail.

1961 Tderbird- Richard dr side f

The interior is rough. Being outdoors in California sun has caused some cracks to appear in the dashboard and the driver's seat has some splits. Note that despite having the Thunderbird console the automatic transmission is shifted via a column shifter. This picture also demonstrates the 'Swing Away' steering wheel which makes it easier for the driver to enter and exit the car.

1961 Tderbird- Richard int

The car was generally trouble free except for a leaking gas tank which Richard removed himself in the early 1990s. The bottom lower edge of the tank accumulated water from being outside overnight. The car heats up when driven then overnight condensation forms and water sinks to the lowest point of the tank. The other factor is high mileage. The sheer volume of gasoline that has passed through that gas tank is incredible to contemplate. If only a tiny percentage of each tank of gas contained water, once you have pumped through sufficient quantities of gas that water will start to build up. The water eventually caused small pinholes all along the front seam of the gas tank.

The major body damage is all in the rear of the car. Richard was on the highway when he was rear ended by a car which bent the top fin which subsequently lost its chrome leading edge.

61 for thunderbird richard alameda ca pass rear

The rear end is caved in requiring wire to keep the broken trunk lid down. Following the crash Richard began using a $200.00 1970 Chevrolet Impala as his main driver which has held down the wear on the Thunderbird. See the story of Richard and his 1970 Impala further down in these 20 YEARS PLUS stories.

1961 Tderbird- Richard r pass fender

Note that the trailer hitch used to anchor the wire is still intact. It sits low enough that it escaped the impact. This also means that the frame and fuel tank were miraculously unaffected by the massive impact of the rear ender. Incredibly the car still drives quite well and has never been repaired in the decades since the accident occurred.

1961 Tderbird- Richard rear

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:22 )