Home » Cool Early-Sixties Cruisers: 1960 Ford Thunderbird vs 1962 Dodge Lancer

Cool Early-Sixties Cruisers: 1960 Ford Thunderbird vs 1962 Dodge Lancer

Sbsd 2 2 2024
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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.

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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.

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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.

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1960 Ford Thunderbird – $11,750

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

1962 Dodge Lancer GT – $11,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 225 cubic inch overhead valve inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Ridgefield, WA

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Electronika
Electronika
16 days ago

When I was growing up in 1985 our family’s patriarch, my grandfather, decided to buy a “new car” for his 2 daughters. I was only 10 so I don’t know the exact guidelines that were set out, but I do remember my mom looking at the GM “J” bodies (the T-Type sky hawk was the one that stood out to the 10 year old me). She looked at the base model Prelude (That one I remember because when my mom expressed doubt about the 4 cylinder engine the salesman gave my mom a cock and bull story about all the big rigs on the road having 4 cylinder engines). She also drove a couple F bodies but didn’t like them.

In the end, My aunt walked out with a first gen Nissan Pulsar that lasted with her for almost 15 years. My mom, never one to be conventional, somehow ended up with a turquoise 1960 thunderbird. She bought it at an auction in the San Fernando valley and had the infamous “Nick’s T-Bird” re-do the interior and fix some of the small issues. This being 85, it wasn’t ever as buttoned up as it could have been today. It was a really well equipped car, with power windows, locks, A/C and the big engine. Unfortunately, it still had some drivability issues that made a small 25 year old mom with absolutely no technical ability or exposure using it as their only car kind of problematic. Today we can do things like electronic ignition, fuel injection and other retromod touches that could have made this a great daily car for my mom. I know a mustang 2 front end with a wildwood disc brake conversion would have been a godsend (as I have driven one of these stock). We also didn’t have a battery minder and it was a regular occurrence to come out to a dead battery. We had no money and didn’t understand the need.

In the end, my mom handed the keys to her dad after a little over 18 months. His greatest generation and old school ways, led him to be the caretaker for another year or so until he unceremoniously sold it for a loss in the Recycler. My mom drives an Acura now, but she still remembers “Mona” and talks about her days as the style leader.

We live in a pretty amazing age. while collector cars are expensive, we have so many options to keep these cars and tame them in ways that relegated these toys to trailers and garages and now it opens new ways for us to enjoy them

Matt Woods
Matt Woods
20 days ago

I have never been a fan of that generation of TBird. I find the styling confusing. Some seem to love them, so to each his own. I’ll have to take the Dart. It could make a good restomod candidate, or just drive it as-is. Well, with a different steering wheel.

Last edited 20 days ago by Matt Woods
PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
19 days ago
Reply to  Matt Woods

Confusing is a great word to describe that year’s T-Bird styling. The body lines look streamline yet fanciful, and the roofline looks squared off like Frankenstein’s monster’s head.

That said, I’d take it over the Lancer because I like the patina and the Mopar needs new wheels immediately. Even if you’re going to accept modernization, it seems really strange to have such aggressive wheels and tires on a Slant Six with an automatic.

Last edited 19 days ago by PaysOutAllNight
Chronometric
Chronometric
20 days ago

The Dodge and I have history. My parents were driving their Lancer and were broadsided on the passenger side. My mother was holding infant me in a baby basket in her arms. The impact landed me in the back seat covered by the basket. My mother was bruised and cut and the car was totalled. I was unharmed.

So should I embrace the car that protected me and my family or consider it a jinx and stay away?

Last edited 20 days ago by Chronometric
TOSSABL
TOSSABL
20 days ago

For reasons I can’t parse, I really like the weird stying of the Lancer. Would definitely prefer slotted mags, or even just steelies with poverty caps, though

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
20 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Same, that’s a handsome little car. I’ve never seen one before this.

Doug Schaefer
Doug Schaefer
20 days ago

That Tbird is the coupe clone of my convertible, of course it has to be the Squarebird.

Plus the factory AC and the optional leather interior.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
20 days ago

Thunderbird, for that seriously stylish interior design. The Dodge? I do not want to look at that boring-ass interior as I drive.

Myk El
Myk El
21 days ago

Dodge for me, but just barely. One year newer on the T-Bird and I’m changing my vote.

Doug Kretzmann
Doug Kretzmann
21 days ago

my Thunderbird, me and John Hiatt cutting across town, don’t get any better than a Thunderbird,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbbU3nbi7vc

always dreamed of having a Tbird, nearly bought one in 92 but ended up getting a Geo Metro instead sadly.. my damned pragmatism.

this one is practically down the road from me..

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
20 days ago
Reply to  Doug Kretzmann

always dreamed of having a Tbird, nearly bought one in 92 but ended up getting a Geo Metro

That’s the weirdest cross shopping ever

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
21 days ago

T-Bird I guess. More original stuff on it, cool design.

I do like the Lancer’s looks, and love the idea of a “forgotten” old car. But as it is now, it is not original enough or modified enough to be special. It is like stuck in the middle. Maybe if it was cheaper, I’d choose it and drop a V8 in there and start resto-modding it. It looks like it wants a V8.

Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
21 days ago

I chose the Dodge, but I would be happy with either. I personally think that Dodge would look amazing with wire wheels.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
21 days ago

I do love a Slant Six, but, classy personal luxury coupe vs an economy car from one of Chrysler’s worst eras for styling is kind of a no brainer

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
21 days ago

It’s a shame the gopping front end and the horrible angle on the roof kill what might be the greatest American ass of all time (aside from Chris Evans, of course).

Gimme the over styled Dodge, I suppose.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
21 days ago

I love both of these but an original VS someone else’s style and $2,000 cheaper? Thunderbird especially convertible.

Mike B
Mike B
21 days ago

T-Bird. I’ve always thought that generation of T-Bird was weird looking, but in a good way. I like all the straight angles and lines, and the front end looks downright angry. The black over red combo seals the deal. It’ll be slow and thirsty AF, but at least the correct number of cylinders will make the proper noises.

That Lancer reminds me of one of those hobbled together classics in Cuba, even though I know this is too new to actually be one.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
21 days ago

I’ll take the Lancer over the Thunderbird. Were the Thunderbird a first or a third generation car, it would have received my vote without thinking. I’m not sure what it is, but the second generation cars have never been attractive in my eyes. The Lancer is certainly over-styled, though not as severely as it’s ultra-quirky Valiant sibling, but it has a charm all it’s own that somehow makes it endearing.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
21 days ago

Whoever took the photos of that TBird either smeared vaseline on the lens, a terrible camera, or is using a filter. I don’t trust the ad whatsoever, they’re hiding something.

Dodge for transparency.

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
21 days ago

Push button automatic all the way!

Stephen Reed
Stephen Reed
21 days ago

I… Really don’t like the design of that Thunderbird, and Slant Sixes have my heart. Little red Dodge it is!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
21 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Reed

Hated the slant 6 in my 74 Plymouth Valiant. From the top of its leaking carburetor, to its unable to cure stall on left hand turns, to the bottom of its rusty falling out exhaust system.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
21 days ago

Thunderbird for me. A slushbox from that era needs a V8.. though I’m sure the fuel economy is dreadful. But it’s not like either of these would be daily drivers. Plus the Thunderbird has more style… especially the interior.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
21 days ago

Some generations of T-Birds were just flat out ugly. There I said it.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
21 days ago

https://youtu.be/f2XRkkCVNRk?si=lYOiQU2p2aY4EdPz

“Big Blue Plymouth” by Talking Heads.

Tina Weymouth (bass) had a Plymouth Valiant that TH used as a tour vehicle. They ran all over the place with it, and it could be spotted in downtown Manhattan in the mid seventies.

I don’t remember the color (some of those nights presented visual challenges), but I’m assuming that the song title is connected to the car. ‘could be wrong.

Anyway I’ve always found the Valiant/Lancer design to be pretty ballsy and in that sense, fresh. Even now, or maybe especially now. I’d drive this with pride, even with those wheels.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
21 days ago
Reply to  XLEJim700

64 Valiant, handful of valium, couple of beers’ll see me right.

AlterId
AlterId
21 days ago

I always liked the four-seater Thunderbirds, maybe because even by high school I couldn’t imagine affording a two-seater. I’d rank the Bullet Bird and the uh… Landau Bird (?) of ’64-’66 above this one on appearance, and I’ve also gotten fascinated with the ’67-’70 four-door Landauier Bird and its two-door siblings of late. (I was kind of impressed when I rode in the backseat of a ’71-’76 model as a kid because the window slid back into the C-pillar instead of down, but I’d see if I could find a Mark IV instead.) But reasonable mileage and New Mexico residency (and the seats remain red enough to certify that it wasn’t out in the desert sun) give me confidence, whereas the fact that someone killed the Dodge’s original Slant-6 lead me to suspect that not all of the past 62 years have been gentle ones.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
21 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

The ’64-66 is the Flair Bird. My folks had a ’65 for many years; it was briefly in my possession after they both had passed:

https://live.staticflickr.com/4602/25005385657_3d043eb953_c.jpg

The ’67-71 is the Glamour Bird, although I do like “Laundauier Bird.”

Kerry Kluczynski
Kerry Kluczynski
21 days ago

The choice is obvious

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