Ford Thunderbird

1957 Ford Thunderbird

Claim to fame:
-Was the first American “personal luxury car”, a two-seat roadster with luxury features.
-Outsold the Chevy Corvette 23-to-1 in its first year. Advantage: Ford.
-First car with a fully padded dash, making it much harder to knock-out a henchman forcing you to drive at gunpoint.

The Ford Thunderbird was a quickly developed car introduced at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show as a direct response to the Chevrolet Corvette that bowed the year before. While a competitor to the Corvette, Ford wisely marketed the Thunderbird as a “personal luxury car,” putting more focus on its styling, comfort and convenience features. So enthusiastic the response, it handily outsold the Corvette and quickly became a classic design icon for Ford. The Thunderbird’s aura was long lived as it birthed eleven distinct generations from 1955 to 2005. Over the years, automotive trends and customer demand saw it go from 2-seat roadster to luxury sedan, sports sedan and retro-chic roadster. Throughout it’s fifty years of production, it managed to bring something interesting and unique and distinctly “Thunderbird” to the American marketplace.

The 1957 model Thunderbird continued it’s on-again/off-again relationship with a “continental” style bumper mounted spare tire. This time, off and tucked neatly in the newly expanded trunk. A slight exterior redesign included reshaped a front bumper, a larger front grille, higher tail fins and larger taillights to maintain de rigueur styling for the period. Maybe best of all was the dual exhaust ports that were routed through the corners of the rear bumper, making it instantly distinctive from the ‘55 and ‘56 models.

The classic, circular porthole windows became standard on the fiberglass roof, added permanently to try and increase rear visibility. Along with these changes, new colors were added and included a beautiful pink “Dusk Rose” and a classic baby blue called “Starmist Blue”.

Mechanically, the 1957 T-bird saw the 312 cu in V8 become the standard mill and output 215 horsepower to the rear wheels. A couple of high performance versions featuring either dual four-barrel carbs (good for 270 hp) and a supercharged version (making 300 hp) helped push the T-bird that much closer to the top of its 150mph speedometer. Performance was strong for the time with 0-to-60mph runs taking a quick seven seconds. Not bad for a personal luxury car made for comfort, rather than outright speed. All these changes, and a three month extended production run due the lateness of the 1958 model, helped launch the ‘ole ‘Bird to a record sales volume of over 21,000 units produced.

Select images of this car are included from RM Auctions in March of 2009 at the The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida, in August 2009 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California and in January of 2012 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.

Source: Alexander Augustine, Mecum Auctions, RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel; David Newhardt

Gallery: Ford Thunderbird