When you experience some type of special achievement, like an unforgettable sports moment or an epic song that moves you to the core, you are often inspired to do things yourself. You may not hit the 1988 Kirk Gibson World Series walk-off home run or write ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but you sometimes better yourself in some way.
During the heyday of American auto making, the Detroit Big Three were always inspiring one another. Admittedly, sales may have been a motivating factor in many cases, but there were certain cars that provided some truly authentic creative inspiration. Without question, one of them was the Chevrolet Corvette.The Corvette was introduced for the 1953 model year, and we will certainly look into the history of the Corvette, but in this post we are going to give a nod to a car that was inspired by the Corvette: the early Ford Thunderbird.
Ford’s Thunderbird made its debut for the 1955 model year. The company wanted to react to the introduction of the Corvette into the American consciousness. However, with the Thunderbird, they emphasized the luxury factor first and the performance factor second.
The 1955 Thunderbird was a two-seater, like the Corvette, offered as a convertible or a coupe. The standard engine in the first T-Bird was a 292 cubic inch Mercury V8. A cool touch was the speedometer, which maxed out at 150 miles per hour.
That year sales of the new Thunderbird actually dwarfed those of the Chevy Corvette. There were just 700 Corvettes sold, but Ford was able to move over 16,000 Thunderbirds.
They say don’t fix it if it’s not broke. Given the popularity of the Thunderbird during its first year of production, Ford did not make a lot of changes in the car for the 1956 model year. There were, however, some stylistic alterations to the body, and the power was enhanced. A 215hp, 312 cubic inch V8 was offered as an option in 1956.
The following year was the final year of the first generation of the Thunderbird. There were a few more tweaks to the body, including more pronounced tailfins and rear lights. In 1957 the engine got stronger, with the 312 V8 becoming standard; this time around the 312 produced 245 horses.
Sales got stronger as well. Over 21,000 1957 Ford Thunderbirds left the showrooms.
After three years of production the car was on firm footing, but that was the end of the first generation of the Ford Thunderbird. We will look at future generations of this iconic American classic one by one as time goes on.