1955-57 Ford Thunderbird1955-57 Ford Thunderbird
The Ford Thunderbird, named for a Southwestern Indian god of rain and prosperity, was a hit from the outset. Ford dealers received more than 4,000 orders on October 22, 1954, the first official sales day. Designed to resemble-and cast a halo over-Ford's passenger cars, early Birds shared wheel covers, taillights, engines, transmissions and many common interior pieces. The resulting 2-seater was clean, sharply profiled and very appealing. A host of affordable accessories meant 16,155 nicely loaded '55 T-Birds were sold, often for over $4,000. Chevy's planners had really missed the mark with the more Spartan and much slower six-cylinder Corvette. For 1955, they lowered the Corvette's base price and added an optional V-8.
Initially, Thunderbirds flew off the same production line as conventional Fords. Planned as a "boulevard" or personal sporty car, the T-Bird's front coils and leaf spring/live axle rear suspension is best described as plush. Drum brakes were adequate for a car that was never billed as a hot performer. A functional air scoop fed the 4-bbl carburetor on a bored-out, 292-cid V-8. It developed 193-bhp in cars equipped with a 3-speed stick. Overdrive was a $110 option. Fordomatic-equipped Birds had higher compression and 5-bhp more. In the rush to production, a few problems ensued.
'55 Birds suffered from excessive cockpit heat and automatic transmission overheating. Both maladies were corrected on the '56s, and complaints of wind buffeting were answered with tiny wind wings. '56s had slightly softer suspension, and a continental kit that increased trunk space (and length). Bigger, more powerful engines, 12-volt electrics, a revised dashboard, a deep-dish "safety" steering wheel and portholes in the hardtop for better visibility were some of many improvements. Winding up three years of snappy 2-seaters, the significantly restyled '57 Thunderbird was more powerful, with ratings from 190-bhp to 300-bhp, including an optional (and rare) Paxton supercharged V-8.
Classicists prefer the simpler, first-year '55s. Thunderbird suppliers and spares abound. Watch carefully for rust. Avoid high mileage buzzards that soak up restoration budgets. Five decades on, there's still something smartly stylish about an original 'bird, so much so that Ford has brought it back in 2001.
CPI (Cars of Particular Interest), www.cpivalueguide.com
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