My Car Quest

November 26, 2022

Ford’s Stroke of Genius: 1962 Thunderbird Sports Roadster

by Wallace Wyss –

I remember being mildly interested in the Ford Thunderbird around ’61 but the trouble was that it was a four seater and I thought: “Why can’t Ford have a two seater like the Corvette?” Which they did from ’55 to ’57 in the Thunderbird.

But then in ‘58 they made the Thunderbird a four seater so there was no longer any pretension it was a sports car.

Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

But then, lo and behold, in ’62 some genius invented the “Sports Roadster” look whereby you made a four seater into a two seater by means of attaching a fiberglass tonneau cover that covered the rear seat area and had sweeping headrest fairings that made it seem oh-so-aerodynamic.

The car was photographed in ads next to a stone wall on some estate in Bloomfield Hills and looked to me oh-so-classy. It’s hard to believe a few yards of fiberglass could make such a difference.

Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

Apparently the top could still be erected with this tonneau cover in place. Of course if you were at an event and picked up two rear seat passengers it would be a no-go as there was no place to store the fiberglass tonneau cover if you wanted to take extra passengers beyond the front passenger seat.

Now it wasn’t really a sports car, though there was a performance option known as the M-code with tri power (three carburetors in a row, only 120 were built originally according to one car dealer who has one, who also claims that only 40 still exist.

Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

The car had its own Sports Roadster emblems.

The really sporty option was 28-spoke Kelsey Hayes wire wheels with chrome “imitation knock off” spinners.

That body style was the third generation Thunderbird, and rolled out in 1961, as a 1962 model. Supposedly fifty of them were in the Kennedy inaugural parade.

The “tri-power” boasted a special intake manifold feeding Ford 406 heads on top of the Thunderbird 390 V8 block, and bragged about having 340 hp. But apparently not many were ordered because the M-code was phased out in the middle of the 1963 model year. Thunderbird sources say Ford produced 1,427 Sports Roadsters for 1962.

The Thunderbird changed body styles in ’64 for a more squarish flat surfaced design and while the new one was a welcome change into the modern realm, Ford didn’t offer a Sports Roadster tonneau though private suppliers did but it didn’t look the same. The new tonneau cover had extra patches atop them and looked lame. Something was lost forever.

Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

And I think the temporary conversion to two seater idea should have been developed by Detroit more. It makes a car more dual purpose.

So there I am, I like the ’62 tonneau better but the ’64 body more contemporary than the ’62 and ’63. But I give credit to the first gen Sports Roadster designer for a brilliant low cost way to make a four seater more exciting as a temporary two seater.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist. His work can be found displayed in the Downtowne Bookstore, Riverside, CA.





All photos above by Mike Gulett.

Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster advertisement

Ford’s Stroke of Genius: 1962 Thunderbird Sports Roadster
Article Name
Ford’s Stroke of Genius: 1962 Thunderbird Sports Roadster
In 1962 some genius at Ford invented the Thunderbird Sports Roadster look where they made a four seater into a two seater by attaching a fiberglass tonneau cover that covered the rear seat area.


  1. Bob Wachtel says

    I thought the 1958 thru 1960 T-Birds had the same type of fiberglass tonneau panel available. I’m sure that I’ve seen a few of these examples at some car shows. Am I right or am I losing my mind?

    • wallace wyss says

      The ’58 through ’60 had a completely hidden top. Maybe that’s called a tonneau cover, but what I should have said in describing the sports roadster
      was that this is an additional cover with a headrest fairing. Fairings originated with airplanes, you had a fairing to let the wind flow after it went over the pilot’s head. Less drag and more comfortable for the pilot.

    • There is an aftermarket fiberglass tonneau for the 1958-1960 models, made to resemble the one used on the 1962-1963 factory Sport Roadster. There is an aftermarket one made for the 1961-1963 and 1964-1966 car as well. Ford offered a dealer installed tonneau in 1964, but they are extremely rare. So you’re not crazy!

  2. That body style rolled out in 1960 as a 1961 model.

  3. sam carlino says

    Original Kelsey Hayes wheels has 48 spokes. Not 28. The original Tonneau covers for the Sports Roasters were not made of fiberglass. They were made of ABS plastic. If your Tonneau cover is rough and feels of fiberglass underneath it is after market. The otiginals are smooth. Real 48 spoke Kelsey Hayes wheels can’t allow the fender skirts to be ont he roadster. Authentic Roadsters won’t have the holes cut into body to fit the skirts.

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