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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TheNewt
TheNewt
2 months ago

Seems to be my week to vote in the minority. The first shot of the T-Bird doesn’t make me want to choose it, but the interior had me changing my mind. Until I scrolled down to the Lancer. I agree some things, like the wheels, are out of place, but man, that’s a good looking design.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
2 months ago

Wow, I could look at the interiors for hours esp. the dash on each of these. So damn clean!

I picked the Dodge because it just looks cooler and who really cares if it’s original. The T-bird is nice too but I’d look like a G-Man rolling up in that thing.

And yeah, I’d have to find some Cragars and a proper time period steering wheel.

Last edited 2 months ago by EastbayLoc
Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
2 months ago

Not the most attractive T-Bird generation. Then again, the Lancer is from that time when Virgil Exner was hanging out with Timothy Leary, so it’s no prize pig either.
I chose the Lancer because Mopar sells Hurricane crate motors, and this would be an ideal candidate.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago

I love how chunky and stern-looking the T-bird is. It looks like the kind of car Lurch would drive.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Yep, and she did a piece on “Counting Cars.” I think hers was a ’59.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
2 months ago

Not a big red car guy either, but I like the funkiness of the Dodge.

Also, my mom raised me to disdain any T-Bird but the original: she was a sports car driver all the way.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
2 months ago

I’d take the TBird and paint it red.
Personal Luxury beats Economy any day of the week.

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
2 months ago

A neighbor one street over has a ’59(?) square style Thunderbird in black and looking mint! It looks SO much better in person than in pictures! It’s so small compared to modern cars, yet exudes personality!

I had never heard of the Dodge Lancer from the 1960’s. (That’s why I like these used-car features!) The styling looks fun, but I’m going with the one I know today.

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
2 months ago

The Lancer appears more sporty, but the T-bird has the whole space-age thing going in spades….I mean, just look at the interior alone. One nitpick, both of these cars show me one thing – designers really hadn’t gotten around to making attractive rooflines yet.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
2 months ago

The Exner styling of the Lancer is attractive, but I fear that it’s been messed with entirely too much by previous owners. I really don’t want to have to un-do somebody else’s questionable additions. I’ll take the slightly more expensive all-original T-Bird and give it some love.

Hamish48
Hamish48
2 months ago

The Lancer, minus those awful wheels, because it has the legendarily indestructible Slant Six. You can put your time and money elsewhere – like buying new wheels.

Luxobarge
Luxobarge
2 months ago

The Lancer is fine, even with its non-original equipment, but for me…T-bird, all the way.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
2 months ago

Not many people remember the Lancer. The Valiant was far more common. I learned to drive in Mom’s white 4-door ’61 Lancer. I drove the crap out of it — with snow tires year round. The original upholstery was black, silver and white. It was a tank and the push-button shifting was cool, but when the carpeting got threadbare and rotted, it started burning a lot of oil (add a quart at every gas fill-up) and the hinge pins on the front doors rusted and broke, it was sent to the scrapyard. So here’s a vote for the memories.

Last edited 2 months ago by Alan Christensen
Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
2 months ago

Tough choice today. I went with the Lancer since I prefer its styling over the Thunderbird (the roof line of this generation Thunderbird looks awkward to me; they look much better as convertibles). I would not have made the same choices regarding the custom interior of the Lancer, but at least it is in good condition.

Honestly, though, I think both cars are substantially overpriced. I like old cars so I find both of these interesting, but realistically, both are in only fair condition and neither are particularly sought after. Less popular classics like these are appealing because you can get a cool old car for not a lot of money. These cars would be much more appealing if the sellers were asking closer to $6,000.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
2 months ago

Squarebird is gonna run away with this one. I agree with other posters that the Bulletbird looks way better, but only from the front. The jet/rocketship rear end on this one is gorgeous. And up against this dodgy Dodge, it’s no contest.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago

Family owned both of these shit boxes.
Guess I will take the T Bird. But really don’t care for either one.
60 years later I still can hear my old man raising hell about getting 6mpg.
And thinking “who held a gun to your head and made you buy this pos?”

Good job Mark.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

Beautiful or ugly? You’re going to get stares while driving either. The Lancer screams, ‘Look at me.’ The T-Bird says, ‘Admire me.’ Admiration wins today.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
2 months ago

Not a fan of either, but the T-bird wins on interior, engine, and originality.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

I really wanted to pick the Lancer. The paint makes me a little wary because who knows what’s under it?

The real deciding factor, though, is the T-Bird has AC. Yeah, it doesn’t work and is missing a major component, but it’s MUCH easier to fix an existing system than it is to add one.

CSRoad
CSRoad
2 months ago

The Dodge was the pick for me, it was the last gasp for that style that began with the 1960 Valiant (My first car.), however when I saw the interior, vomit filled my throat. The T-bird is my choice then.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
2 months ago

The Lancer is cooler, and I’ve never seen one before.

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
2 months ago

I like them both, but that weathered and original T-Bird is too cool to pass up. I’d keep the exterior thoroughly waxed and let the car look like something that has been rolling around for over 60 years.

Tbird
Tbird
2 months ago

Can’t disagree – the older I get the more I respect the survivors. This looks like a great runner that will turn heads anywhere but not be so precious and spotless that you will be terrified to take it on the road. Honestly wouldn’t turn away either.

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
2 months ago

Squarebird all the way!

Funny thing: when they came out, I thought the second-gen ‘Birds were hideous. I still do, but now I also dig ’em. This one looks to be in about the right condition: a good driver, albeit one that will guzzle cheap gas.

Once again, the alternative (Lancer) isn’t awful — except for the interior and the wheels, which look to me as if they came from Pep Boys — but the Slantie will run forever. In fact, it will be there long after the rest of the car has transmuted into iron oxide.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago

Thunderbird for me. I’ll take slightly worn out upholstery over what was done to the Dodge any day. If the Thunderbird is wearing original paint, even better. And those things aside, to me it just looks better.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago

I don’t love either of these. The Thunderbird got SOOOOO much better looking the following year. And I’m sorry, that Dodge is fugly. Virgil Exner made so many truly ugly cars, I don’t understand why he’s held in such high regard. He had some hits, but oh so many misses.

I’ll take the Squarebird, but I’ll always know I should have gotten a ’61 or a ’62 instead.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
2 months ago
Reply to  Shop-Teacher

My thoughts exactly!

D-dub
D-dub
2 months ago

I was down for the Lancer until I saw the interior. Oof.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
2 months ago

The Squarebird was popular, but it doesn’t hold a candle stylistically to the ’61. We’ll take the Lancer; I’ve always liked the styling of the two-doors with their giant rear-quarter windows, and a slant-six/Torque-Flite combo seems especially appealing in this context.

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