Good morning! We’ve made it to the end of another week. But it’s been a weird week around here, and I just had to daydream a little, so we’re foregoing the usual four-car runoff today in favor of a couple of Jet Age coupes that caught my eye. They’re a little more expensive than our usual fare, but we’re worth it.
Yesterday, we looked at two Mercury vehicles with automatic seat belts, and the comments divided into two camps: those who love the practicality of vans, and those who favor the indulgence of a personal luxury coupe. The coupe lovers won out, and the shiny blue Cougar cruised to an easy win.
And I can’t say I disagree. Of all the vehicular forms that have gone the way of the dodo in recent years, I think I miss personal luxury coupes the most. I do love my big comfy Chrysler, but I can’t help thinking how much cooler it would look with two doors.
Which brings us to today’s contenders. By the early 1960s, American cars had mostly moved away from the tall, boxy designs of a decade earlier in favor of lower, wider profiles. Vestigial tailfins were still around, and designers were still heavy-handed with the chrome, but the future was in sight. We were going to the moon. We’d soon have flying cars that folded up into briefcases. Neither of these cars had anything like that level of technology, of course – but man, did they have style. Let’s check them out.
Engine/drivetrain: 352 cubic inch overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD
Location: outside Gallup, NM
Odometer reading: 51,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives well
Ford’s Thunderbird started out as a two-seat convertible with a removable hard top, intended as a more luxurious competitor to Chevy’s spartan first-generation Corvette. It did all right, but Ford thought it would do better with a back seat – and they were right. Sales took off in the second generation, and the T-Bird remained a four-seater until the 2002 revival model.
A big car needs a big engine. The ’60 Thunderbird’s standard engine was Ford’s 352 cubic inch FE V8, putting out a nice round 300 gross horsepower. This one is backed by a three-speed “Cruise-O-Matic” automatic transmission, which suits the car’s big lazy character. It runs and drives great, according to the seller, and has covered only 51,000 miles over the course of three owners. Its original owner used it to tow a boat; it’s strictly a weekend cruiser these days.
It’s all original, as far as anyone can tell, and in good condition. The driver’s seat upholstery and the headliner could use some work, but everything else looks all right. Everything works inside, except the air conditioner. The compressor was removed at some point; it sounds like it’s included, but if you want AC in this car, you’re probably better off installing a modern system. The windshield wiper motor is also out, and needs rebuilding.
It includes a bunch of extra parts, including rechromed bumpers and trim, though it doesn’t look like it needs them. The paint is original, and not in fantastic condition, but it’s not bad either. And cars this age with their original paint have a certain presence that you can’t manufacture.
Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD
Location: Ridgefield, WA
Odometer reading: 85,000 miles
Operational status: Runs and drives great
1960 was a big year for small cars in America. Ford introduced the Falcon, Chevy brought out the Corvair, and Chrysler threw its hat in the ring with the A-body Valiant, originally a standalone nameplate, but moved over to Plymouth in 1961. Chrysler’s Dodge division, not wanting to be left out, introduced their own version of the Valiant, called the Lancer. In 1963, when the second-generation A-body was introduced, Dodge’s version changed to a different, better-known pointy-themed name: the Dart.
The Valiant and Lancer introduced to the world one of Chrysler’s most legendary engines: the Slant Six. I don’t think this is the original engine, however; in ’62 the engine should be painted orange. Also, it has a PCV valve, which wasn’t required until 1968. Chances are this was a replacement engine from a later car; Slant Sixes weren’t exactly rare, nor valuable. Wherever it came from, it’s coupled to a Torqueflite automatic with push-button operation. It runs and drives well, and has had recent carb work, and all new brakes.
The engine isn’t the only non-original thing in this car. The interior has been redone, and it looks like a “Tijuana”-type deal. It doesn’t look bad – except maybe that steering wheel – but it’s nothing like what Dodge would have put in there originally. But honestly, unless a car is a serious collectible, if it needs work, you might as well make it your own.
Outside, it’s shiny and straight, and almost certainly repainted. I’m not much of a fan of red cars, but I am a fan of Virgil Exner’s designs, and this is a good one. Even the horribly-out-of-place ’80s-style American Racing wheels can’t mess it up too badly, though it’s crying out for slotted mags or Cragars instead.
Sadly, you just can’t style cars like these anymore. They violate every single safety and environmental regulation in the book. They’re also slow, poor-handling, and take forever to stop, at least by modern standards. The future, as it looked in the early 1960s, was a lot cooler than what we ended up with, but we’re a lot cleaner and safer than we were back then. Still, I’m glad that some of these Jet Age flights of fancy survive, so we can see how it was. Which one are you taking off in?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)