The 1959 Ford Thunderbird was the car everyone would love to own. And why
not? It was compact, powerful, elegant, distinctive, and was the very last
word when it came to cool cars. Available in two models for the entire
production run, (the 1958 cars weren't introduced until mid-year, and the
Convertibles were delayed even longer due to engineering concerns), both
the Hardtop and Convertible enjoyed strong sales which added up to a total
of 67,456 built for the model year. The Hardtop was the more popular of
the two with 57,195 built, but the Convertible did pretty well at 10,261.
Major chassis changes consisted of replacing the rear coil spring suspension
of 1958 with leaf springs for 1959. This improved ride and handling characteristics,
which were big concerns in 1958. A new, more powerful 430 Thunderbird Special
V-8 was introduced, although most 1959 Thunderbirds were equipped with
the standard 352 V-8. Developing 350 horsepower, the new engine had been
introduced in Lincolns the previous year. One of the more unique features
of this engine was its 3-stage cooling system, which utilized three thermostats
to control engine warm up. The intake manifold and cylinder heads were
on one thermostat, and it was the first one to open; next, the block thermostat
opened; then it was followed by the radiator thermostat.
Styling was likely the most beautiful of any car on the road at the time.
Highly sculptured sides, hood, and deck lid were all perfectly balanced,
giving the car a muscular look that didn't seem too heavy. In contrast
to many cars of the day, the T-bird didn't slather on tons of chrome, it
allowed its carefully orchestrated styling to speak for itself. The grille
received a new horizontal bar theme, as did the plates around the tail
lights in back. A chrome spear was added to the bullets on the doors, and
the Thunderbird script was relocated to this area as well. A new stylized
emblem was placed on the roof sail panels on Hardtops, replacing the round
one used in 1958.
Inside the car, most items were carried over from 1958, except for new
white gauge faces, white knobs on radio and heater controls, window handles,
power window and seat switches, cigarette lighter, headlight and wiper
controls, etc. The steering wheel hub centerpiece remained black, but it
too would be white by 1960.
There were 19 single colors offered, and 46 two tone color schemes, so
there was a color combination for everyone. Inside, Thunderbird interiors
were available in 4 different colors if vinyl seat bolsters with nylon
check fabric inserts were chosen. All vinyl bolsters and inserts were offered
in 6 colors, and genuine leather upholstery could be ordered at additional
cost in 4 colors. 1959 would be the first time genuine leather was an option
from the factory. Cars equipped with leather did not have the two tone
interior effect seen in other cars. Door panels, rear quarter panels, and
seats were all a single color. Convertible tops were offered in 7 diferent
color combinations, with interior top lining and top bows and frame being
color coordinated for the last time in 1959. From this point forward, the
lining and bows would only be available in black.
Other than the leather upholstery and 430 engine, the only new option for
1959 was the Sun-Ray Full Wheel Covers, which could be ordered with or
without a red, white, and blue center applique.
Television advertisements for the 1959 Thunderbird placed the car in locations
where members of high society might be expected to gather, such as country
clubs, thoroughbred horse stables, etc., a clear indication as to who the
typical Thunderbird owner might be. Emphasis was placed on its compact
size, ease of parking, four passenger luxury, performance, and handling
abilities. Print ads featured color photography and were usually two pages
in scope, or in some cases one and a half pages, where the half page with
text was shared with another advertisement. Ads appeared in National Geographic
magazine, as well as others. One of the best is of a Colonial White Convertible
parked on a cliff overlooking a foggy bay at sunrise. The Aqua Leather
interior was clearly visible in this shot, which was taken from above with
the convertible posed with its top down. The lucky couple driving the car
was leaning against it, gazing at the view.
Without question, the 1959 Thunderbird was America's most individual car.
The car everyone would love to own.