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A soft green 1958 Ford Thunderbird posed with a Ford Model T on a low hillside above

The second generation Ford Thunderbird (also called Squarebird]) was produced by Ford for the 1958 to 1960 model years as a successor to the popular 1955–1957 two-seater. (Photos courtesy of Ford Motor archives)

Two major changes were made to attract buyers: two rear seats were added and the level of luxury and features of a full-sized car were incorporated into a mid-size platform


The Ford Thunderbird first hit the market in October 1954 as a two-seater to compete with the two-year-old Chevrolet Corvette, according to

“Unlike the Corvette, Ford marketed the “Baby Bird,” as the first generation of T-Birds has come to be known, as a personal luxury vehicle, not a sports car.

“Focusing on its comfort and convenience proved to be the right route for Ford, as the car found wild success, outselling Corvette nearly 23 to 1 in its first year of production. Between 1955 and 1957, some 50,000 Thunderbirds ended up in driveways around the country.

“The big wigs upstairs at Ford, particularly whiz kid Robert McNamara, thought it could do better. This led to a complete redesign for 1958, resulting in the four-seat Ford Thunderbird, which debuted on this day in 1958.”

Thunderbird Convertible Models

The second-to-fourth-generation Thunderbird convertibles were similar in design to the Lincoln convertible of the time, according to Wikipedia 

The so-called “Squarebirds” used a design from earlier Ford Skyliner hardtop and convertible models.

“While these Thunderbird models had a true convertible soft top, the top was lowered to stow in the trunk area, according to the Wikipedia page. This design reduced available trunk space when the top was down.

Thunderbird Names

Two 1958 Ford Thunderbirds with one car facing forward and another facing rearward

Along with the 1958 Lincolns, the 1958 Thunderbird was the first Ford Motor Company vehicle designed with unibody construction.

The Thunderbird name was not among the thousands proposed, according to Wikipedia. Other nameplates that were rejected include “Apache” (the original name of the P-51 Mustang), “Falcon” (owned by Chrysler at the time), and “Eagle,” “Tropicale,” “Hawaiian,” and “Thunderbolt.”

A Ford stylist who had lived in the Southwest submitted the Thunderbird name. The word “thunderbird” refers to a legendary creature for North American indigenous people. It is considered a supernatural bird of power and strength.

Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., also lays claim to being the inspiration for the car’s name. According to it, Ernest Breech, a Thunderbird Country Club member and then chairman of Ford Motor, was supposedly deeply involved in creating the Thunderbird. Breech, it is claimed, asked the club’s permission to use the name, which was granted.

Thunderbird Legacy

Succeeding generations of Thunderbird became larger until the line was downsized in 1977, in 1980, and in 1983. Sales were good until the 1990s when large two-door coupes became unpopular. Thunderbird production ceased at the end of 1997.

Production of a revived two-seat Thunderbird was launched for the 2002 model year and continued through the 2005 model year.

From its introduction in 1955 to its final phaseout in 2005, Ford produced more than 4.4 million Thunderbirds.