A 1959 Ford Thunderbird Special 430 Convertible is one of those rare 1950’s cars that bring with them the provenance of the postwar period. Born out of Ford Motor Company’s desire to dominate NASCAR in the late 1950’s, the “square bodied” second generation Thunderbird was once considered a performance sports car.
The 1959 Ford Thunderbird Special 430 Convertible comes from Ford Motor Company’s early success in NASCAR. When Ford Motor Company decided to put a 430 ci Lincoln engine in their popular “Square Bird” they had their eyes on NASCAR competition. So for a brief moment in history there was Thunder on the Speedway. Though the experiement lasted only one year, the second generation ’59 Thunderbird won six NASCAR Championship races that year with Ford’s Fairlanes contributing eight more wins.
This week Orlando Classic Cars in Orlando, Florida posted an ad for a 1959 Ford Thunderbird Convertible with the 430 Lincoln engine that earned it some fame in NASCAR circles. (See their initial photos and information on this car at their website here.) It was known as the “Thunderbird Special V8” although the engine was adopted from the Lincoln 430 ci motor. The Ford ads back in the day said the ’59 Thunderbird was “the car everyone would love to own.”
Orlando Classic Cars tells us this one is a California car with just 76k miles. It comes with the J code option which designated the original 430 Lincoln engine. It has the automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power top, optional leather upholstery and Kelsey-Hayes chrome wire wheels with radial wide whitewall tires. They tell us it is “a beautiful vintage Thunderbird that has had one repaint in its original color and still retains a stunning original interior.”
There were only 1,168 430 J Code big block Thunderbirds produced that year. They are more desirable among collectors even than the classic first generation Ford Thunderbirds built from 1955 through 1957. J Code 430 Lincoln engines were rated at 350 horsepower. The automatic transmission was the 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic, the only transmission Ford Motor Company allowed to be mated to the 430 motor.
You will note that a push button opened the rear deck, and, disappearing into the rear trunk was a power convertible top. Ford stamped the VIN on the Ford data plate and chassis. Factory stampings help to prove originality today.
Interesting Facts about the 1959 Thunderbirds …
By 1958, the first generation two-seater Thunderbirds were replaced with the “Square Bird” body style. The car was a little bigger and had a full back seat. The new “Square Bird” was selected as Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year.
In 1959, the convertible version of the Ford Thunderbird featured a power-operated soft top that disappeared into the trunk area, with no boot to mar the ultra-sleek top-down profile. Promoted in 1959 as the “car everyone would love to own,” Ford sold 67,000 Thunderbirds. It was based on the “Square Bird” body. It was the first year in which Ford would offer leather seats as an option. The Thunderbird was Ford’s most expensive model in 1959, with a base price of $3,696 for the hardtop coupe and $3,979 for the convertible.
Although Ford sports car enthusiasts bemoaned the loss of the two-seater sports car styling, the “Square Birds” actually sold far more units and have been considered more popular. American car buyers warmed up to the mid-sized Thunderbird power options such as Ford’s Master-Guide Power Steering and Swift-Sure Power Brakes. Power and comfort were much in demand.
This rare luxury performance classic is appreciating in value. While they have yet to hit collectors’ radar in a big way, the 1959 Ford Thunderbird 430 Convertible has great investment potential at an exceptionally affordable price.