The Thunderbird was redesigned for 1961
with sleeker styling that gave the car a distinctively bullet-like
appearance. A new engine, the 390 cu in (6.4 L) FE V8, was the
standard and only engine initially offered in the Thunderbird. The
V8 produced 300 horsepower (220 kW) and was mated to a 3-speed
automatic transmission. The new Thunderbird was immediately well
received with 73,051 sold for 1961.
The car was 1961's Indianapolis 500 pace car and was featured
prominently in US President John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade, who
appointed Ford executive Robert McNamara as Secretary of Defense. It
also benefitted from product placement, notably on the popular
television series 77 Sunset Strip.