It all began in 1951 at the Paris Auto Show. Top Ford executives noticed the beauty of other 2-seater personal haulers and thought of making their own. However, Ford didn’t think there was a big enough market for sports cars at the time and hence created it as a personal luxury car. Conceptualization of the idea was assigned to Frank Hershey who came up with a program which culminated with the Thunderbird.
After working for a number of years, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird made its maiden debut in 20th February 1954 at the Detroit Auto Show. The model went on sale later in October as a 1955 model car. Upon release to dealerships, the vehicle was an instant sensation.
In the first 10 days only, Ford received 3,500 orders despite its $2,944 price tag on the base model. This price was even more expensive than Ford’s top-of-the-line Sunliner convertible. Demand was so high such that Ford ended up selling 16,155 units in 1955 alone. In 1958 Ford replaced the 2-seater with a 4-seater version that proved to be even more popular.
Though the vehicle borrowed a lot of design features from other cars that defined the 50’s, the Thunderbird had its own unique aura that has made the vehicle an icon it is today.
This status was achieved without using chrome finishes and tri-color paintworks that were common in American automobiles of the time. Among other features, its headlight eyelids, the wrap-around windshield and hood-scoop were particularly outstanding.
Also, the vehicle’s exhaust pipes which exited through the rear bumper guards and faux jet air intakes on the front bumper guards made the design an outstanding and timeless masterpiece. The vehicle weighed 3,250 lbs and its wheelbase spanned 102 inches.
1955 Ford Thunderbird Interior
As said earlier, the Thunderbird was built more like a luxury car than a sports car. It was equipped with a family like suspension that ensured a softer ride than the sports cars of the 50s.
The vehicle was equipped with a host of luxurious trimmings to bolster its luxurious stature. Among others, the vehicle featured as standard a tachometer, a telescoping steering wheel, power steering, power windows, power brakes, a push button radio and 4-way power adjustable seats.
Unlike most 2-seater models of the time which featured folding tops and snap-in curtains, the Thunderbird came with a fiberglass top which provided more all-weather comfort to the cabin. However, the thunderbird’s most noteworthy feature, the round windows in its hard top was added later in 1956.
All trims of the Thunderbird were powered by a single engine. The drive-train was a 292-cubic inch version of the Y-block ohv, V8. This is the same drive-train which was featured on Mercury models of the time.
The engine was paired with dual exhausts and a Holley 4-barrel carburetor which helped the car make 193 bhp on models mated with a 3-speed manual-transmission system. Models equipped with a Fordomatic automatic system used to produce 198 bhp. There was also an option for overdrive in manual models.
The Thunderbird through the years
Through the years, the Thunderbird has captured the attention of many writers, bloggers, TV shows and promotions not forgetting collectors. The vehicle has also made appearances in special events around the world like the 1984 Olympics, various car shows and museums. Even today, Ford still commissions the car to various events. Different Ford executives and international celebrities like Caroll Shelby, Jay Leno and Barbara Streisand have all basked in its limelight.
Recently in 2004, the iconic status of the vehicle was recognized through a commemorative postage stamp which was unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours. It was included in the “America on the Move” stamp collection. The Thunderbird was not the only one honored though. The 1952 Nash Healey, 1953’s Studebaker Starlight Coupe, 1953 Corvette and 1954 Kaiser Darrin were also honored.