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This Little Thunderbird Went to Market

  • A prototype Ford Thunderbird convertible photographed on August of 1954.

They might have been beaten out of the gate in the personal two-seat convertible category by GM by a couple of years, but in it’s first year alone Ford sold three and half times as many Thunderbirds as Chevrolet did in the first three years of Corvette production combined. Indeed, Corvette sales were so slow in 1955 (only 700 units) despite Duntov’s master stroke of installing Chevrolet’s new small block V-8 into it, that upper management came very close to axing the entire program.

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  • L to R: A model posing with the stylish T-Bird interior – Studio photo of the final version equipped with the removable hardtop – Baker Motor Co. displaying some of the rest of  the Ford offerings in 1955.

No doubt there were many factors that contributed to this smashing sales success, not the least of which were such amenities as roll up windows, which the Corvette didn’t get until 1956, a telescopic steering column and a long list of power assists that were unavailable in the GM car. And while purists decried the fact that this was not a true sports car (a claim that Ford never made), these creature comforts combined with the punch of a 292 cubic inch V-8 developing almost 200 horsepower proved to be the right combination for American car buyers. This little birdie came to define the postwar personal luxury car market. You can read a brief history of the development of the Thunderbird on the Hemming’s Daily. Our photos today courtesy of The Henry Ford.

Just above is a very interesting promotional film showing the television coverage that the new 1955 Thunderbird garnered when the Ford Motor Company put thirty two of the attractive two-seaters out on a promotional tour in the fall of 1954.

Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.
Photo courtesy of The Henry Ford.

3 responses to “This Little Thunderbird Went to Market

  1. I have heard the assertion many times, in regard to the early T-Birds not being “sports cars,” and that Ford never claimed to be. It seems like every time they are discussed, that tidbit is included.

    That has always puzzled me. I would certainly classify them as sports cars, by most definitions of the type. They were open-top 2-seaters with reasonably good handling (for the time), and although I never had the chance to drive one, I would assume they were a blast to drive! They were certainly not utilitarian, but were purpose-built for fun.

    Why were these not considered “sports cars?” Because of the V-8? Because they had roll-up windows? The distinction is asserted so consistently, I must be missing something, and I hope someone will give me some enlightenment.

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