Few classic cars from the 20th century can rival the Ford Thunderbird. Originally debuting as 2-seat convertible in 1955, the Ford Thunderbird entertained car enthusiasts for nearly half a century. Introducing eleven different generations to motorists. These various models ranged from the original 2-seat convertible to an unbelievable six passenger vehicle. The car was so powerful, that the model was introduced to NASCAR in the late 1950’s.
Not a Sports Car
Originally created by Lewis Crusoe, George Walker, and Frank Hershey, the Ford Thunderbird was not originally marketed as a sports car, but rather a car for personal luxury. A completely novel idea at the time. Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of its early inception was the actual naming of the car. Suggestions ranging from Whizzer to El Tigre were given. But eventually the name “Thunderbird” was suggested by stylist Alden Giberson.
The Thunderbird was an instant success, selling 3,500 cars in the first 10 days of its inception. Shocking Ford as it had originally only planned to produce 10,000 Thunderbirds in the first year of production. Most importantly, at least for the time, the Ford Thunderbird far outperformed its 1955 Corvette rival. Eventually selling over 16,000 units to Corvette’s 700. Further adding to the surprise of its instant success was that the original Thunderbird was very expensive for the time, starting at $2,695 or about $26,000 in today’s money.
Ironically, the original 1955 Ford Thunderbird was not a convertible in its base model, rather offering the convertible option as a $70 add on feature. The original Thunderbird model was very large for a sports car. Perhaps one of the reasons that Ford didn’t originally market the Thunderbird as a sports car. Its large steel body and V-8 engine gave it a rather large and somewhat bulky build, weighing around 3.000 pounds and measuring about 14.5 feet long. The V-8 engine of the original Ford Thunderbird engine, bettering the V-6 engine of its 1955 Corvette counterpart, possessed a stunning near 200 horsepower capability. The Ford Thunderbird would go on to develop many more models with varying degrees of success. But no one can deny the impact on American culture that the Thunderbird had.
Other than the sheer joy that the Thunderbird has given its drivers over the last half century, the impact of the Thunderbird can be seen by the fact that it is portrayed in Hollywood and utilized by NASCAR. We all remember the Ford Thunderbird driven by Emilio Largo in the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball. Largo is seen driving the fourth generation “Flair Bird” throughout the movie. Another movie featuring the Thunderbird include American Graffiti, the movie that the TV Show Happy Days spun off from. NASCAR drivers Bill Elliot, Davey Allison, and Alan Kulwicki also used the Thunderbird design throughout their careers, enjoying much success.
All in all, the Ford Thunderbird is a great car with a great history. From its inception in the 1950’s, it produced many memorable models for half a century. The Ford Thunderbird was enjoyed by both many motorists, portrayed in movies and television, and used in NASCAR. Few cars have a such an impact an American culture.
Image: Brian Snelson