Roll out of the 1958 Unibodies

Two Luxury Cars of 1958

A 1958 Ford Thunderbird caught my eye at our local car show here in Jupiter, Fl.  It was  pale blue, and it’s owner, Ken, was very happy , as most classic car owners are, to share his insights about the curvy bird. Since I have a bird of my own, I share in a mutual pride as one owner to another. As I first approached his car to snap a few pics and he joked, “It gets a full 8 miles to the gallon. The EPA is after me.” I chuckled and responded “I completely understand.” He also told me something I know very well.   This car has a very large steering wheel, as does mine, and it’s very challenging to get in and out of the car with ease. You have to do this very ungraceful maneuver to get in, and you just hope no one watches as you do. What called me to your car, I explained, are the curves I see on the door and trunk.  The hood is very familiar to me as mine is a 1957. He then invites me to the back of the car, to show me something most people don’t know, he said.  It’s a stamp from the Lincoln Motor company, on the left hand side of the trunk interior.  His Thunderbird was manufactured in a Lincoln assembly plant.  He showed me a book in which a Thunderbird is pictured in the assembly line and just behind it is a Lincoln. His car was like one of those lucky pennies you find that have a rare error mark. This inspired me to do a little research and sure enough I found the picture he referenced at the show.


Pinterest photo of Thunderbird and Lincoln Assembly line

I learned that Ford Motor Company had big wins with these luxury cars.  The 1958 Thunderbird my new friend  showed me appears to be a  Wixom Thunderbird. Wixom was the name of the assembly plant in Michigan, where both Lincolns and Thunderbirds were assembled in the same line that year.  The sales were very strong and they took some bold concept moves. First off Ford made the decision to go from a two seat to a four seat vehicle. Some frowned upon the change, but Ford did just the opposite, smiling all the way to the bank. Its sales did better than the prior years only confirming the vision of the Ford Motor Company .  Among the changes these cars would go from body on frame construction to a “unibody” construction,  enhanced with more dramatic fins reflective of the era.  The Thunderbird took on another unique move in that it was designed from the outside in. The designers usually had to accommodate engineers when new cars were introduced in the market. With this move the engineers had to accommodate the designers. This lead to all kinds of engineering challenges. Among them the brake size had to be adjusted to allow the wheels to turn properly. Being almost 4,000 pounds of machinery, you would think the brakes would be a priority.  But the suspension and the brakes flawed the otherwise “perfect package.”   Although  unibodies were strong and well received, rusting became an issue and was very expensive to repair. (And still is!) Ford Motor Company was even more ambitious with the design of the 1958 Lincoln Mark III, than the Thunderbird. It is known as the largest unibody ever made at 229 inches long. But unlike the monetary win of the Thunderbird, some articles indicate Lincoln lost millions in the course of developing this massive body style structure 1960.

For Thunderbird Lovers, I say the 1958  “Square Bird”has some very cool lines and I was happy to learn a little more of these beloved All American Cars of the 50s. Look at the ads below and you can see how the cars were marketed as a luxury vehicles.

(Advertising found on Bing search engine)


Pictures of the “Square Bird”from Abacoa Car Show in Jupiter, Fl. Come join us next month, on June 4. Check in for Classics start s at 3pm for a $5.00 fee.