1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible
Welcome to Camelot!
By the time I became aware of the iconic Ford Thunderbird, it was a just entering its third generation in 1961. The completely new styling was sleek and modern, in my mind, and received the nickname “Bullet Bird”. With an obvious nod to aircraft and missile styling, the Thunderbird oozed the confidence of the Kennedy era. In fact 50 of these Thunderbirds took part in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural procession. It seemed to say to me “this is the bright future we were promised”. Even Elvis picked up a ’61 T-bird!
The Thunderbird was never intended to be a sports car, but was positioned as a “personal luxury” car. The 1961 Thunderbird had lots of standard features that were costly options on other vehicles at that time: power steering and brakes, the much touted bucket seats and the now-essential backup lights. Also introduced in this year was the “Swing Away” steering wheel allowing graceful comings and goings and the glued-to-the-windshield floating rearview mirror. How was that even possible? My glue could barely stick two sheets of paper together.
The standard engine was a 390 cu. in. V-8. The typical 1961 Thunderbird’s 300 horsepower would do 0-60 in about ten and a half seconds and 115 mph pushed to the limit, good enough to serve as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500.
Design-wise, I find the third generation iteration the peak of Thunderbird design. Everything seemed to flow, and in my view, it meant you’ve arrived. Even the interior with its console-divided interior gave a separation to the “pilot” and “navigator” seating. Interestingly, the console was needed because of the fact that the car sat very low. The power train needed to be high enough to prevent it from dragging on the ground. Bucket seats and a centre console solves the problem.
The future was bright!
My view on illustrating the 1961 Thunderbird was to combine the mid-century modern architecture with the obvious grace of the convertible in reference to the upwardly mobile aspirations of the early sixties.
Prints of this painting are available at www.thedrawingroomgallery.com.