We spotted this 1961 Ford Thunderbird convertible in the Summit Racing Retail Store near Akron, Ohio.

Here’s a good look at the quartet of horizontal flutes on the Thunderbird’s rear flanks and the unique taillight design that immediately tell us this is a 1961 model. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Patrick Miller)

1961 marked the first year of the T-Bird’s third generation that spanned from 1961-63.

So yeah, even though the Thunderbird nameplate itself was less than ten years old, it was already in its third generation—one the earned the nickname “Bullet Bird” thanks to its long pointed “beak” up front.

We know it’s a 1961, thanks to the horizontal side trim pieces on the rear flank, the shape of the taillights, and the horizontal grille treatment up front. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Patrick Miller)

When it debuted in 1961, the third-gen. Thunderbird was not only tapped as the Pace Car for the 1961 Indianapolis 500, it was also used in the inauguration parade for President John F. Kennedy.

Note how the fender and bumper meet to form a point up front—a styling trait that earned these third-gen. cars the “Bullet Bird” nickname. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Patrick Miller)

Since the one we spotted is a 1961 edition, under the hood likely resides Ford’s then-new 390ci FE big block engine good for around 300 horsepower. The 390 was the only available engine from 1961-63, though starting in ’62 you could opt for a 390 equipped with a trio of Holley two-barrel carburetors that made closer to 340 hp.

A three-speed automatic was the only transmission you could get.

The redesigned 1961 Thunderbird’s interior featured a handful of clever innovations—including a swingout steering wheel that lets you get into and out of the car more easily. True to its luxury car roots, third-gen. T-Birds could also be equipped with power windows, power seats, and air conditioning. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Patrick Miller)

For 1961, Thunderbirds were offered in both a convertible and hardtop, but in 1962 a “Sport Roadster” package was offered that used a hard tonneau cover to conceal the rear seats of the convertible, mimicking the look of a two-seater—though it wasn’t a hot seller at the time.

The 1961 Thunderbird was also the first car to have its rear-view mirror attached to the windshield—a feature that’s pretty much standard on cars nowadays. (Image/OnAllCylinders – Patrick Miller)

By 1963, the third-gen. Thunderbird reached its Swan Song, as Ford prepared to make room in the lineup for the upcoming sport coupe, the Mustang. As a result, the Thunderbird would soon find itself upsized again and, as the 1960s ended, equipped with an extra set of doors.

(Image/OnAllCylinders – Patrick Miller)

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Author: Paul Sakalas

Paul is the editor of OnAllCylinders. When he's not writing, you'll probably find him fixing oil leaks in a Jeep CJ-5 or roof leaks in 1972 Corvette ragtop. Thanks to a penchant for vintage Honda motorcycles, he spends the rest of his time fiddling with carburetors and cleaning chain lube off his left pant leg.