Ford Thunderbird (first generation)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ford Thunderbird
1955 Ford Thunderbird BYT568.jpg
1955 Ford Thunderbird
Manufacturer Ford
Production 1955–1957
Assembly Dearborn, Michigan
Long Beach, California
Mahwah, New Jersey
Hapeville, Georgia
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door convertible
Layout FR layout
Engine 292 cu in (4.8 L) Y-block V8
312 cu in (5.1 L) Y-block V8
Wheelbase 102 in (2,591 mm)
Length 175.3 in (4,453 mm) (1955[1])
185.2 in (4,704 mm) (1956[2]
181.4 in (4,608 mm)(1957[3])
Width 70.3 in (1,786 mm) [4]
Successor Ford Thunderbird (second generation)
Main article: Ford Thunderbird

The first generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a two-seat convertible that was produced by Ford for the 1955 to 1957 model years. The Thunderbird was the first 2-seat Ford since 1938. It was developed in response to the 1953 Motorama display at the New York Auto Show, which showed the Chevrolet Corvette. The Corvette in turn was developed in response to the popularity of European sports cars among Americans.[5]

Ford created a completely new market segment around the Thunderbird, the personal car, forerunner to the personal luxury car.[6][7] While a light weight car with a large V8 engine, the Thunderbird focused more on driver comfort than speed. The Thunderbird was not a direct rival to the European sports cars imported into the United States.

Until the eleventh-generation Ford Thunderbird was unveiled in 2002, this was the only version of the Thunderbird to be produced as a two-seat convertible.


1955 Ford Thunderbird

Ford unveiled the Thunderbird at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954. The first production car came off the line on September 9, 1954, and went on sale on October 22, 1954 as a 1955 model, and sold briskly; 3,500 orders were placed in the first ten days of sale. While only 10,000 were planned, 16,155 were sold in 1955.

As standard, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird included a removable fiberglass top; a fabric convertible top was an option, although commonly specified. The engine was a 292 Y-block V8, which got 18MPG. The car had fender skirts. The exhaust pipes exited through twin bumper guards, which are bolted to the rear bumper.

The car off-the-shelf mechanical components, and used the chassis and suspension design from Ford passenger vehicle. The frame was basically a cut-down version of the standard Ford Body-on-frame design with a 102-inch wheelbase identical to that of the Corvette, and a pre-existing 292-cubic-inch OHV V8. [8]

A total of 53,166 units were produced for the three model years 1955-1957. It was produced with a Fordomatic automatic or manual overdrive transmissions, and featured four-way powered seats and pushbutton interior door handles. Other unique features were a telescoping steering wheel[9] and a tachometer.[1]

Equipped with a V8 engine, the Thunderbird could hit 110-120 mph. It was a smaller two-seat "personal car," compared to many other much larger cars that were on the road in the 1950s. It was designed to be a brisk luxury tourer, and not a sports car.[10]


1956 Ford Thunderbird

For the 1956 model, more trunk space was added, the spare wheel was mounted outside(which helped free up trunk space),[11] the exhausts were moved to the ends of the bumper, and air vents were added behind the front wheels to improve cabin ventilation. To improve rear-quarter visibility with the removable hardtop in place, "porthole" windows were made available as a no-cost option. An optional 312 Y-block V8 was made available for those that wanted more performance. 1956 production was 15,631 units, the lowest of all three 2-seater Thunderbird model years.


1957 Ford Thunderbird

For 1957 the front bumper was reshaped, the grille and tailfins were made larger, and larger tail-lights were fitted. The spare wheel moved back inside the trunk, which had been redesigned to allow it to be mounted vertically. The side "Thunderbird" script moved from the fins to the front fenders. A new option was "Dial-o-Matic" 4-way power seats that, when you turned off the ignition, the seat would move back to allow easier exiting.[12][13] As well as the standard 292 and 312 engines, versions of the 312 were produced in higher states of tune,[3] and even a few McCulloch supercharged versions, rated at 300 and 340 hp (254 kW) respectively. 1957 sales were 21,380, including three extra months of production because the 1958 models were late. The 1957 Thunderbird was the last two-seater Ford sold until the 1982 Ford EXP sport compact car.

Production totals[14][edit]

Year Production
1955 16,155
1956 15,631
1957 21,380
Total 53,166



  1. ^ a b "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1955_Ford_Thunderbird/1955_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  2. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1956_Ford_Thunderbird/1956_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  3. ^ a b "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1957_Ford_Thunderbird/1957_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  4. ^ Flory, Jr., J. "Kelly" (2008). American Cars, 1946-1959 Every Model Every Year. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7864-3229-5. 
  5. ^ Leffingwell, Randy; Newhardt, David (2005). Mustang. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7603-2183-6. Retrieved 2013-01-28. 
  6. ^ Jim Koscs (23 May 2016). "OTHER PERSPECTIVES: WHAT IS A THUNDERBIRD?". Retrieved 20 August 2016. 
  7. ^ "1958 Ford Thunderbird: Personal Luxury 101". Retrieved 20 August 2016. 
  8. ^ "Ford Thunderbird History". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  9. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1955_Ford_Thunderbird/1955_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  10. ^ Mays, James. "1956 Ford Thunderbird". Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "Ford Thunderbird History". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  12. ^ "Directory Index: Ford_Thunderbird/1957_Ford_Thunderbird/1957_Ford_Thunderbird_Brochure". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  13. ^ D.Lang. "1955 to 1957 Thunderbird Options". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  14. ^ Tast, Alan H. and David Newhardt. THUNDERBIRD FIFTY YEARS. Motorbooks. October 15, 2004.


  • Holmes, Mark (2007). Ultimate Convertibles: Roofless Beauty. London: Kandour. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-1-905741-62-5.