Model year 1959 brought a slow market recovery, accompanied by renewed public interest in performance and sportiness. The Chrysler 300 was still around, as was Studebaker's Hawk (albeit somewhat toned down now), and Chevy and Pontiac were both pushing horsepower. So was Ford, having introduced its first "big-block" V-8s the previous season in 332 and 352 cubic-inch versions.
A handsome example of the 19621/2 XL convertible.
But the car that really had buyers turned on was Ford's new four-seat Thunderbird. Another 1958 development, it offered appealing "personal luxury" in a compact, crisply styled package.
Of special interest was its close-coupled cockpit with European-style individual front seats separated by a center control console. Buyers loved this new "Squarebird," and Ford couldn't build them fast enough.
Up to this point, Detroit's sporty-car action had been mid-priced or higher, but all that was about to change. The Big Three introduced their first-ever compacts for 1960.
Ford's simple, conventional Falcon was the runaway sales winner, but Chevrolet uncovered a whole new market for low-priced sport by adding bucket seats and floorshift to its languishing rear-engine Corvair at mid-model year. Called Monza 900, it was an instant hit, with nearly 12,000 deliveries in its abbreviated debut season. The next year, bolstered by a sedan running mate to the original coupe, Monza sold nearly 144,000 copies.
Competitors were quick to take note -- and to copy. Oldsmobile issued a full-size buckets-and-console convertible for 1961 called Starfire, and Chevy imitated itself at mid-season with the Super Sport option for its big Impala convertible and hardtop coupe. Though the SS option didn't include bucket seats initially, it did set the stage for the addition of a sporty interior for 1962.
Meanwhile, the industry seemed to forget all about its self-imposed performance "ban" of just a few years before and was again engaged in a horsepower race.
Appearing at about the same time as the Super Sport option, but not tied to it, was a new Chevy V-8 enlarged from 348 to 409 cubic inches, delivering tremendous go for very little money. Pontiac went up from 389 to 421 cid for 1962, and the MoPars -- Plymouth and Dodge -- were right in there at up to 413. Obviously, the industry had also forgotten its unwritten 1950s rule about engine size being a function of car size and price.
Size was a huge factor for the success of cars in the early 1960s. On the next page read about how Ford used this to position the XL in a crowded and competitive market.
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