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Ford Thunderbird (1955 - 1963)

Last updated 18 January 2014

 
4
Cool American
Fetches all the money

Introduction

Think of the Ford Thunderbird as Uncle Henry’s answer to the Chevrolet Corvette and you’ll not be a million miles away. However the new car was also introduced to slow the tide of British sportscars led by the Jaguar XK120 into the USA. Introduced in 1955, the car had style, refinement and V8 power – and that was enough to make it an irresistible proposition for most buyers. Available only in open-topped form, the Thunderbird also came with the option of distinctive removable hardtop with circular porthole windows. The new car was underpinned with conventional parts from the Mainline and Fairlane models.

In 1956, a larger V8 option with 5113cc and 225bhp was offered, indicating that Ford performance seriously. However, next year was when the fun began with the introduction of the Y-block V8 powered models – the E-code 312 V8 was rated at a cool 270bhp. The F-code 312 V8 added a supercharger to produce 300bhp, and 340bhp with the optional NASCAR ‘racing kit’. The following year saw what, for enthusiasts, will always be the classic Thunderbird introduced.

The new generation Thunderbird came next and had four seats, and a hardtop coupe, as well as the convertible body style – and became known as the ‘Squarebird’. Engine choices widened – all new 5768cc V8 and 7046cc V8 options were introduced – all of which helped sales. A special ‘Golden Edition’ hard top was unveiled in 1960 and featured America's first post-war sliding steel sunroof.

Third generation Thunderbirds arrived in 1961 and sported a brave new look, which earned the nickname ‘Projectile Birds’ thanks to the quad headlighted arrow-front and modest fins above huge round taillights. One innovation was the ‘Swing Away’ steering wheel, which would pivot to the side when the car was parked – it never took off.

The two-seat Thunderbird made a return the following year. A Sports Roadster package, which featured a glass fibre tone cover, designed by Bud Kaufman, covered the rear seat and effectively transformed the four-seat Thunderbird into a roadster. The tone cover even featured twin headrests, which flowed back to the rear, but the convertible top could still operate even with the cover in place. The package also included a dash-mounted grab bar for the passenger, and wire wheels.

Ford catered to the enthusiasts by offering a special ‘M-code’ 6391cc FE V8 rated at 340bhp. It featured three Holley two-barrel carburettors and an aluminium manifold, which kept the carburettors level and at the same height. Only 145 Thunderbirds were built with the ‘M-code’ option, including 120 Sports Roadsters.

The Thunderbird stayed in production for the 1963 model year, with the Sports Roadster and M-code 390 engine still available. A new option was a Landau hardtop with simulated hood irons on its rear roof panels, which was featured on the Thunderbird range for many years after as gradually; the car became more conventional, less sporting and lost its iconic status. It would return in later years.

 

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