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by Jay Traugott
The Ford Thunderbird wasn't always the size of a boat, as it was originally built as a competitor to the Corvette.
We hope you've been enjoying our feature Corvette Evolution series this past week, so we figured it was only appropriate to present the other famous American sports car of that era: the Ford Thunderbird. Clearly, the T-Bird did not evolve in the same way as the Corvette did, but it still went on to create a huge fan base throughout the decades even as it grew bigger and more boat-like. However, it first started off as a direct competitor to the Corvette when it was unveiled at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show.
Like the Corvette, it was a two-seater and Ford proudly marketed it as a 'personal luxury car' as they wanted to emphasize the car's comforts and conveniences over performance. And it was an immediate hit, outselling the Corvette by more than 23-to-one in 1955. All told, 16,155 Thunderbirds were sold compared to only 700 Corvettes. The first generation car was powered by a standard 4.8-liter V8 that could allow it to reach a top speed of almost 120 mph. There was also a standard removable fiberglass top with those distinctive round side windows; a fabric top was also an option.
The second generation was launched in 1958 and this was when things really began to, shall we say, expand. Senior Ford management felt that sales would be more limited by leaving the car as a two-seater, hence the decision to add a rear seat. This not only dramatically increased its size, but also its weight. Ford designers also made the tailfins more prominent and added more chrome along with a rear seat tonneau cover. They also gave it a more powerful V8, now increasing its size to 5.8-liters with 300hp. 1961 saw the introduction of the third generation with sleeker styling and a more bullet-like appearance. It came with a new engine, a 6.4-liter V8 also with 300hp.
Throughout the 1960s, the Thunderbird continued to grow in size with each new generation and was soon forced to go more upmarket with the introduction of the Mustang, another four-seater coupe/convertible. In fact, by 1967 Ford even dropped the convertible and replaced it with a four-door model, but it had suicide doors instead of conventional rear doors. As the years passed by, the Thunderbird continued to be designed and built as a large personal luxury cruiser and throughout the 1970s and 80s it still sold decently well, but the market for this class of car was quickly dissipating.
It was discontinued in 1997 only to return in 2002 as a retro styled tribute to the first generation. It ended production in 2005 after disappointing sales. Since then, Ford has focused solely on developing the Mustang. This 1962 Thunderbird Roadster is currently up for sale on eBay Motors. According to the owner, it went through a frame-on restoration in 2004 which included a rebuilt transmission, new paint, convertible top, upholstery, dual exhaust system, carpeting, and re-chromed bumpers. It also has a number of factory options like power steering, brakes, windows, and seats.
It still even has the original AM radio and clock, both of which are still working. Powered by a 390 cu in V8 with 300hp, it has 82,221 miles on the odometer, which isn't bad at all for a 50 year old car. As of this writing, it has a current bid of just over $10,000, but the reserve hasn't been yet. For anyone looking to own a classic Thunderbird in solid shape with its original paperwork, this is an absolutely gorgeous example that will likely get picked up quickly. Photos courtesy of stevespony.