1961 Thunderbird - How you do it.

So yesterday's Rambler was a bit of an awkward mess (nobly debated by Dan). Today we get a screenfull of pretty. The 1961 Thunderbird. Click through the pictures and save for your very own.
See, Rambler? It's not so hard. Less is more. Clean, simple, uninterrupted lines. Small ornaments. Matching curves. The Thunderbird is made from mostly straight lines with wide angles, when a line needs to change direction. There aren't really any "unique" shapes on the car. Any shape you can find is repeated somewhere else. You could grab almost any of the angles on this car, and if you superimposed and rotated, it would line up pretty well with any other angle. The front wheel arch is nicely echoed in the nose of the car, right above the bumper.

It's how good design is done. You establish a small group of shapes, and use just those shapes to create your design through theme and variation. Your average mouth-breathing car buyer doesn't know this stuff, but they can spot it when it's done right. The Thunderbird looks graceful and the Rambler looks like it was designed over a lunch hour.

In '61, the car industry was still obsessed with The Jet Age, so this car still has some silly little tail fins, but they are just little ones, and while they'd look positively stupid on a modern car, here they don't offend because they're so small and the car is so huge.
The Thunderbird was a higher market car than the Rambler, but does a well-styled car need to be more expensive? I don't think that better ideas cost more money. You either have an idea or you don't. Industrial design is more complicated than that (what with the time constraints and an endless conga line of interfering douchebags), but I just think the Thunderbird looks like it was designed by one person, not by a table full of visually illiterate executives.

I may have to go find myself a little die cast model of this car to stare at it for all eternity.


Craig said...

If I remember correctly, James Powers styled that car. The "bullet-Birds" are sooooo much better looking than the "square-Birds" from 1958 to 1960.

I've never been a big Ford fan, but the cars from that period, almost across the board, are fantastic. I always thought the '55 to '57 Thunderbirds were too gimmicky, and the '61 to '66 really evoked the "bird" motif.

I love how the round taillights look like jet exhausts. So cool.

You're right about comparing the T-Bird and the Rambler. Nobody buying an Ambassador was cross-shopping it against the T-Bird.

But look at the styling of the '61 Falcon, which was similarly compact: http://www.lovefords.org/61ford/falcon/images/1961_ford_falcon_wagon_tudor_001.jpg

Such a great looking little car, that shares a smaller version of that cool taillight detail with the T-bird, so you can still feel like you're in the jet age, even if you're a cheapskate.

Phil Are Go! said...

Hey, sounds like you know a lot of car-lore, Craig. Good to know. Mostly my car knowledge ends at design and styling. All my history comes from Wikipedia, The Most Accurate Thing In The Galaxy.

Talking of tail lights. I can't stand the current trend towards melty teardrop headlights that wrap around the side of the car. At the going rate, it'll only be a year or two before the headlights and tail lights meet at the B pillar and become one.

Thanks, Craig!

Craig said...

I used to edit this magazine:


That whole period with Ford was really cool. Elwood Engel was the design chief when those killer Lincoln Continentals were designed, and that clean styling filtered down through Lincoln, Mercury and Ford. It really was revolutionary, after all that crap jukebox styling that pervaded the mid-to-late '50s.

Look at the difference between a '61 Continental:


and a '61 Cadillac:


Which do you prefer, sir, Grace Kelley or Peg Bundy?

Phil Are Go! said...

Fucky damn! Nice resume! I always thought the Bricklin SV-1 was far prettier than anyone gave it credit for, like the Lancia Stratos. Love the wedges.

I can't believe those two cars are from the same year. Continental, please.

Craig said...

The old joke on the Bricklin was that it looked like it was eating an 8-track tape.

It was a pretty cool idea, doomed to failure mostly because that old flim-flammer Malcolm Bricklin was involved.

Amazing that Subaru got as far as it has, considering he was pitching them as go-karts when they first appeared here.

Dan said...

Agreed, these 'Birds are quite elegant from a design standpoint. The only thing that sticks in my craw about them is the roofline. There's been at least one or two custom Thunderbirds of this era built with the Starliner roof (http://www.rodandcustommagazine.com/featuredvehicles/135_0502_1962_ford_thunderbird/index.html), which in my mind infinitely improves the looks of the bullet-bird.

Phil Are Go! said...

Yep. I definitely see the 8 track joke, but I'm okay with that. It's no less silly than the standard "chrome moustache" that nobody makes fun of.

Also, I like that the Bricklin came in great colors like lime green and bright orange. They probably made a beige one, but that color never gets photographed.

I forgot about Bricklin's ties to Subaru. Those are impressive cars. Pity they're so ugly, and the bricklin was so pretty.

Phil Are Go! said...

Wow, i'd never seen the starliner version of the TB. While I like the wide C pillar on the stock car, the starliner roofline transforms the look of the whole car. The back of the starliner roof repeats the curve of the car's nose really nicely.

Thanks for contributing, Dan!

Craig said...

The earliest Subarus were 360cc air-cooled, kei class cars that barely functioned as automobiles here.

Bricklin SV-1s (Safety Vehicle One) were all painted in bright colors to give them better visibility on the road.

As cool and revolutionary as they were outside, they were powered by a larger version of the AMC V-8 powering that Rambler Ambassador you hate.

Phil Are Go! said...

Hmm. Nothing revolutionary about a V8. I remember James Bond did a famous chase scene in a red AMC Javelin, I think, in Live and Let Die, I think. Pretty car. People only remember AMC for their ugly ducklings.

Dan said...

Pardon, pardon, AMC nerd coming through, pardon...

Craig, the SV-1 used AMC's 360 V-8, an engine that was two generations after the 327 V-8 that was in the 1961 Rambler Phil despises.

As for the Bond AMC, it was a 1974 Hornet hatchback used in The Man With the Golden Gun:


Phil Are Go! said...

Wow! You guys bring some mighty car geekdom to the table. I love the AMC Javelin and Hornet. I have both of them in Johnny Lightning form. I once saw a restored Javelin (or was it a Hornet?) driving around the Chicago suburbs a few years ago. here in the rust belt, that's a pretty rare thing.

Phil Are Go! said...

... and you cannot challenge that the AMC in the Bond film was RED, clever trousers!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah, nice car - but it's the ad that rocks. Great use of color. Of course there's no logic for the scene -- did they really need to drive the car to the pool, were those lanterns so heavy? But I think the lanterns work gorgeously in the picture. And it's no coincidence that the man is forming a T for Thunderbird - as well as suggesting the wingspan of the logo. And yes, the car looks stunning. - n.m.

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