The late 1950s marked the beginning of a new era for Thunderbird. The 1959 Ford Thunderbird did well in sales, unlike the 1955-57 two-seat Thunderbirds, which were originally designed as Ford's answer to the Corvette. While handily outselling the Corvette, the famed "Little Bird" failed to make money for Ford.

1959 ford thunderbird
The 1959 Ford Thunderbird convertible was also known as the "Square Bird."
See more pictures of classic convertibles.

Determined to make the next-generation Thunderbird profitable, Ford aimed for the broadest audience possible. By 1959 the addition of two rear seats, longer and dramatically lowered bodywork, and a hardtop model paid off. Ford sold more than 76,000 "Square Birds" that year, 19,000 of which were convertibles -- nearly as many convertibles as the Little Bird's best year.

But the convertible Square Bird almost never was. Because of the limited funding available for the 1958 Thunderbird redesign, a decision was made early in the process to eliminate the convertible body from the line. Design work had begun on a hardtop with power-retractable roof panels as an alternative to a true convertible. Engineering issues halted development of the retractable roof, and the convertible was resurrected.

1959 ford thunderbird
The 1959 Ford Thunderbird's 300-horsepower V-8 performed
sluggishly for its time.

Though low and sleek, base Thunderbirds were not stellar performers, even by the standards of the day. Early tests with the standard 300-horsepower, 312-cubic-inch V-8-equipped Square Bird resulted in 0-60 mph times of 13.5 seconds. But by 1959 an optional 350-horsepower, 430-cubic-inch V-8 would propel the T-Bird to 60 in a livelier 9.9 seconds.

1959 ford thunderbird
The 1959 Ford Thunderbird convertible is a real prize find for collectors today.

Though Thunderbird began life as a convertible, by 1958 the roofless T-Birds would account for less than a quarter of production. Later generations would see a continuing decline in convertible T-Birds until the coupe took over completely for 1967. Today however, it is the convertible Square Birds that are prized by collectors.

For more classic convertibles of the 1950s, see:

1950 Oldsmobile 88

1955 Cadillac Series 62

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner

1951 Chrysler New Yorker

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

1957 Lincoln Premiere

1951 Lincoln Cosmopolitan

1955 Mercury Montclair

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88

1951 Rambler Custom Landau

1956 Ford Thunderbird

1958 Continental Mark III

1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta

1956 Lincoln Premiere

1958 Edsel Citation

1954 Hudson Hornet Brougham

1956 Packard Caribbean

1959 Cadillac Series 62

1954 Packard Caribbean

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

1959 Dodge Custom Royal

1955 Buick Century

1957 Chrysler New Yorker

1959 Pontiac Bonneville

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