Jim Smart
July 20, 2011

Ford's luxurious Thunderbird has always been compared to Chevrolet's sporty two-seat Corvette. However, Thunderbird was never considered a sports car, not even in its stunning and sexy two-seat configuration in the very beginning. Thunderbird was always in a cool class by itself, well away from Corvette, which, ironically was also in a class by itself as the hottest American sports car. T-bird has never been about roaring around a racetrack or blasting down the quarter-mile like Corvette, but instead gently rolling up in front of an opera house or hotel lobby and stepping out in style.

Though the masses have loved and envied the darling of Dearborn ever since its introduction in the fall of 1954, Thunderbird really came alive in 1958 when Ford bumped its total seating capacity to four with a huge wraparound rear seat. This turn of events came at the prompting of the late Ford executive and U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who felt Thunderbird as a two-seater was very limited in sales potential. Sales picked up for 1958, as did Thunderbird's raw exposure because more and more buyers had this gem in their driveway--and a whole lot of us watched with envy.

Jerry Martinez of southern Arizona has an appreciation for classic Thunderbirds. That he found this one waiting for him 1,500 miles away can be considered a matter of chance, because it could have so easily never happened at all. His brother found a '70 Plymouth Duster on eBay far away in Boise, Idaho, and was planning a trip north to get it. Ironically, Jerry has cousins in Boise, which made it a trip for both business and pleasure.

Jerry and his brother hooked up the trailer and headed for Idaho. When they arrived in Boise, both were exhausted and needed a good night's sleep. Both slept like winners, ready to go pick up that Duster in the morning. The next morning, they headed out to pick it up, which wound up being a terrible disappointment. A quick decision was made not to buy the car and to cut losses, "So there we were with an empty trailer," Jerry comments. When they had dinner with one of his cousins, she told them about an old car she had parked in the back yard--a '60 Thunderbird hardtop.

When Jerry saw the car, he immediately became entranced and plunked down $3,000 making this a road trip with a hidden blessing. He and his brother hauled the T-bird home to Arizona. Much to Jerry's amazement, the car was in pretty good condition for a vehicle that had been sitting around for 21 years. So much of the car was salvageable, including hard-to-find items like the dashpad and instrumentation.

"I worked on the car nights and weekends for two years," Jerry tells us, "purchasing most of my FE engine parts from Don's Hot Rod Shop in Tucson."

Jerry wanted a new '60 Thunderbird to evolve from this project, which involved stripping the car down to the bare shell for bodywork and paint performed by Complete Auto, also in Tucson. That's PPG Monte Carlo Red urethane color sanded and hand-rubbed to a rich luster. Jerry's Thunderbird was a full-scale restoration with the added benefit of restomod and those nice nuances he wanted in a personal luxury car.

"The power windows, glass, and related components were very hard to repair and restore," Jerry reflects, "so much in the way of power accessories on this car." And this is what made Thunderbird more luxury and less sport at a time when people continued to pit T-bird against Corvette. Jerry's goal was to keep his restoration in the original spirit of the name, along with improvements that would make it great fun to drive and enjoy.

Before you is this 'Bird's original FE Series big-block, the 352, which evolved from the 332 introduced in 1958. In those days, the 352 was impressive stuff with its 4.00-inch bore and 3.50-inch stroke working to achieve roughly 250 hp in base 2V form--in the Thunderbird, 300 hp. Certainly modest by today's standards, but leading edge in 1960 with Autolite 4100 carburetion and dual exhausts.

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Because Jerry wanted more power from his 352, he enlisted help from Don's Hot Rod Shop in Tucson, Arizona. Don's Hot Rod Shop is a good, old-fashioned speed shop with online access plus walk-in service just like us old folks remember from a bygone era. Walk in and behold an array of cool high-performance parts up and down the walls and aisles. Jerry found knowledgeable people who were able to help him with his 352 FE project. The end result has been powerful big-block smoothness along with plenty of low-end torque.

To get what he wanted from the 352, Jerry opted for FE basics in the heads and block with a stock bottom end sporting flat-top cast pistons, forged steel FE rods, and a nodular iron crank. Jerry warmed up the smooth running FE with a hot Isky hydraulic camshaft offering an acceptable idle, along with crisp out-of-the-hole torque, which is what you want from a civilized big-block V-8 on the street. Jerry ordered an Edelbrock Performer RPM dual-plane manifold and 600-cfm carburetor to round out his power package. Ignition is fired by a stock Autolite distributor and MSD Ignition wires. Those are stock Ford exhaust manifolds dressed in Eastwood's High Temp paint to keep aesthetics to tow along with cad plated bolts and lock washers.

Behind Jerry's 352 isn't a C6 like most of us would expect. Instead, it's the old tried and proven cast-iron MX Ford-O-Matic that offers unequalled smoothness and quiet like we remember from old automatics. In back, a time-proven Ford 9-inch rearend with 3.10:1 cogs. On the ground are factory original four-wheel drum brakes peeking at us through classic Cragar SS 15x8-inch five-spoke mags wrapped in reliable BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires.

Inside, you can't miss the job P&A Upholstery did on this red and white vinyl interior. We may sound biased, however, there wasn't a factory interior conceived at the time that could compete with a Thunderbird interior. Reason being, Ford had some of the best styling help on the planet in those days, including the late Damon Woods who brought us the Mustang's Pony clad Interior DÚcor Group in the '65 Mustang. As with Mustang years later, there was tremendous value for the dollar in Thunderbird.

Call this '60 Thunderbird something Jerry Martinez never expected from a place where he never imagined he'd find the car of his dreams. What's more, the opportunity to build that car. And when we asked Jerry if he'd ever consider selling his T-bird, we got an emphatic, "No! It's my son's inheritance. I'd never find another one."

The Details

Jerry Martinez' '60 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop

Engine

  • 352ci FE series v-8
  • 4.00-Inch bore
  • 3.50-Inch stroke
  • Stock iron heads
  • Isky hydraulic camshaft
  • Cast flattop pistons
  • Stock forged steel connecting rods
  • Cast-iron crankshaft
  • Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold
  • Edelbrock 600-cfm carburetor
  • Autolite ignition system
  • Cobra Le Mans cast-aluminum finned valve covers

Transmission

  • Stock MX Ford-O-Matic
  • Stock torque converter

Rearend

  • Ford 9-inch
  • 3.10 gears

Exhaust

  • Stock dual exhaust system

Suspension

  • Front: Stock
  • Rear: Stock

Brakes

  • Front: Stock power drum
  • Rear: Stock power drum

Wheels

  • Front: Cragar SS, 15x8
  • Rear: Cragar SS, 15x8

Tires

  • Front: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P275/60R15
  • Rear: BFGoodrich Radial T/A, P275/60R15

Interior

  • Stock red and white vinyl performed by P&A Auto Upholstery

Exterior

  • New PPG Monte Carlo Red urethane paint

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