1955 FORD THUNDERBIRD BACKGROUND Chevrolet had just launched the Corvette in 1953, while MGs, Triumphs and Jaguars began to flood in from England into the welcome arms of an eager American market. Ford recognized this as a trend they wanted a part of. But, with some reservations. The ‘bean counters’ at Ford determined that the market for a ‘pure sports car’ was limited, they saw the early Corvettes struggling to make sales, and so decided to define the new 1955 Ford Thunderbird not as a ‘sports car’ per se, but as what they called a “personal car”. But how did it all start? The story goes that Ford general manager Lewis Crusoe was visiting the 1951 Paris Auto Show with Ford designer George Walker, admiring the European flavor for design, and the sports cars they were building at the time. Crusoe turned to Walker and asked “Why can’t we have something like this?” Walker stretched the truth when he said “Oh, but we do”. What he was referring to was a backroom project for a 2-seat sports car following the Corvette and British molds, that was languishing in the design department for lack of support from Ford leadership. Suddenly this sounded like a green light to Walker, who then called back to Dearborn and told them to the project into high gear. With the new mandate, a fundamental change was made away from the crudeness of the Corvette and the British sports cars, with their clunky tops, and leaky side curtains instead of windows. Ford wisely decided to take the new T-Bird upmarket, and bestow it with all the things American buyers were coming to expect in a premium car. And they offered it with a wide range of comfort and convenience options, like power steering and brakes, power windows, even a power seat. It would be years before options like this were available in a Corvette. It must have worked, because in its first year on the market as a new nameplate, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird sold 16,155 units to the Corvette’s 700 in 1955 (and only 300 in its debut year, 1953). So, the lovely Thunderbird was off and running, the start of a brilliant career.
1955 FORD THUNDERBIRD DESIGN & ENGINEERING
The 1955 Ford Thunderbird premiered at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954 as a much different car than was originally conceived. It was less of a ‘sports car’ (a la Corvette) and more of a ‘personal luxury car’. And it was built very much in the traditional American style. It’s 102-inch wheelbase was achieved by shortening the standard Ford passenger car chassis. All the basic suspension and brake components also carried over to the T-Bird. Ford’s brand-new Y-Block V8, it’s first OHV V8 ever, was the standard engine in the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, with a displacement of 292 cubic inches. It was offered with either manual or auto transmissions, had a steel body, a real roll-up windows (unlike the early Corvettes and most British sports cars of the day). It definitely had a sporty attitude, with it’s faux hood scoop and chromed faux louvers on the sides and 150mph speedometer. But it also had an elegant flair to it that made it a hit at the country club.
1955 Ford Thunderbird INTERIOR
1955 Ford Thunderbird SPECIFICATIONS
Bore & Stroke
102.0″ / 2591 mm
175.3″ / 4453 mm
70.3″ / 1786 mm
52.2″ / 1326 mm
56.0″ / 1422 mm
56.0″ / 1422 mm
3150 lbs / 1430 kg
Independent, 2 A-arms w/kingpins, coil springs, tubular shocks