By any measure, the 1955 Thunderbird is an automotive icon. While it incorporates a few features that defined cars of its era – the wrap-around windshield, headlight eyelids, exhaust pipes exiting through rear bumper guards, hood scoop, and faux jet intake front bumper guards – the design is timeless. The Thunderbird design is so good that it achieved iconic status without resorting to the tri-color paint schemes and garish splashes of chrome sometimes seen in contemporary mid-century American automobiles.
The idea for the Thunderbird took root when Ford executives noticed European examples of the small two-seater personal car at the 1951 Paris Auto Show. When news of the upcoming Corvette leaked out, the Thunderbird was on its way. Ford didn’t think the potential market for sports cars was big enough, so they created the Thunderbird as a personal luxury car.
The Thunderbird debuted at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954 and went on sale on October 22, 1954 as a 1955 model. Ford realized they had a winner on their hands when they received 3,500 orders in the first ten days, despite the fact that the car’s base price of $2,944 was more than the cost of Ford’s full-size, top-of-the-line Sunliner convertible. Demand continued to be strong throughout the year and Ford sold a total of 16,155 Thunderbirds in 1955.
A 292 cubic inch V8 was the only engine available; it could be coupled to a three-speed manual transmission, a manual transmission with overdrive, or a three-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission. A removable fiberglass hard top was standard, but an optional fabric convertible top could be ordered. Standard features included a pushbutton radio, a tachometer, and a telescoping steering wheel, and options such as power steering, power brakes, power windows, and a four-way power adjustable seat were offered. A noteworthy design feature that many people associate with the Thunderbird – the round “porthole” windows in the hard top – didn’t appear until the 1956 model year.
In recognition of its iconic stature, a 1955 Thunderbird commemorative postage stamp was unveiled at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours as part of the “America on the Move” stamp collection. Other cars so honored were the 1954 Kaiser Darrin, 1953 Corvette, 1952 Nash Healey, and the 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe.
Photo by Pat Durkin
Road Tests and Classic Cars: http://www.danjedlicka.com/classic_cars/55_57_thunderbird.html
Automotive Intelligence News: http://www.autointell.com/News-2005/August-2005/A-2005-4/A-24-05-p5.htm