Back in 1955 Ford invented the Thunderbird as a “personal car.”

It was the automobile you rewarded yourself with for being successful in life.

T-Birds were powerful, cool and real head-turners. 

Parked in your driveway, it told the neighbours you had enough money to indulge yourself. 

The 1961 T-Bird did not deviate from that core proposition. 

To ensure the most elegant of designs, Ford’s top executives decided to run two Thunderbird design programs in parallel for 1961.

One proposal was shaped by a small team led by Elwood Engel.

The other was penned by the dedicated Thunderbird design studio led by Bill Boyer.

The Engel proposal had a formal theme, with razor sharp fender lines and squared off lines.

Boyer’s team developed a more rounded shape than the Engel’s and it looked like a NASA rocket side on. 

Big round tail lights substituted for rocket exhausts. 

The door handles were incorporated into the fender topping chrome trim that stretched from the front to the back. 

The Boyer design was chosen as the T-Bird.

The reason given to Engel by Ford’s top executives for being unsuccessful was that it was “too stylish and formal to be a Thunderbird.”

Once in the market, Thunderbird devotees quickly labelled the Boyer design the “Bullet Bird”.

The convertible was especially sleek. 

The top folded down into a compartment and was hidden from view. 

The result was a smooth flowing surface. 

And do not underestimate the impact and allure of the T-Bird’s interior. 

It was crafted with as much purpose as the exterior and was totally driver centric. 

Front bucket seats, the epitome of cool in those days, were separated by a centre console that swept down from the dashboard. 

The steering column swung away to the right when the door was opened to allow easier entry and exit. 

President John F. Kennedy bought a 1961 convertible and had 50 in his inauguration day parade.

In 1961, the T-Bird was the car to be seen in. 

David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au

 

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Burrell

David Burrell is founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.
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