Unearthed: 1956 Ford Thunderbird

Classic Cars / Comments

There was a time when the Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette were considered to be rivals.

Looking back at some of the all-time best American automotive classics introduced in the 1950s, many will immediately mention the Ford Thunderbird. In that post World War II era, American automakers weren't afraid to take risks in styling, going all-out with the chrome and eccentric tail fins. Yes, it truly was a golden era. And while many of those cars were later discontinued, the T-Bird managed to survive until 1997. After a five year hiatus, it returned in 2002 with a love it or hate it retro design.

Ford ultimately ended production of that generation in 2005. But still, almost everyone will argue that the T-Bird looked best in the 50s and 60s. Ford first began work on it in 1953 as a response to the all-new Chevrolet Corvette. The suits put a huge emphasis on the car's development as they saw the Corvette as a serious threat to a market segment they wanted a large chunk of. All told, Ford managed to have the Thunderbird go from an idea to a prototype in about a year. It had its public debut at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show. Like the Corvette, the new Thunderbird was a two-seater as either a coupe or convertible.

Production began later that year and it premiered as an early 1955 model. Its styling was similar to other Ford models of the time, with its circular headlamps and tail lamps, and low-key tailfins. It was powered by a 4.8-liter Y-block V8. Unlike the Corvette, however, Ford marketed the Thunderbird as a "personal luxury car," as they wanted to emphasize its comfort and upgraded features. This was in contrast to the Corvette, where the emphasis was more on performance. This featured 1956 Thunderbird was fully restored by the current owner's grandfather. It took him more than three years to gather up all of the necessary parts to complete the project.

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Fortunately, he was able to return it to original condition. With only 40,000 miles on the odometer, it still has the original tires that it had when it was first bought. It differs from the '55 model in only that Ford moved the spare tire from the trunk to a continental-style rear bumper because they wanted to create additional storage space. However, the extra weight at the rear caused some steering issues and Ford subsequently moved the spare back to the trunk for '57. And now, this Thunderbird now enjoys a life of attending car shows and grabbing attention everywhere it goes. Photos courtesy of armyman1911

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