For the Thunderbird in 1957 the grill is larger, the spare tire is back in the trunk mounted vertically now, the tail fins are more pronounced, and the portholes are now a standard feature as they do offer better visibility for the driver. The hard tops roof is made of fiberglass, there are also many new paint choices offered this year. A new option are the four way adjustable “Dial-o-Matic” power seats designed to automatically move back when you turn off the ignition to make it easier to exit the vehicle. The options include telescoping steering wheel, push button interior door handles, and a tachometer are all choices to be made. The standard power is the original 292 which will take the car up to 120 mph (193.12 km/h). Offered optionally in ‘57 is a new 312 cu in (5.1 L) Y-block engine which develops 215 hp (160 kW) when bolted to the three speed standard transmission with manual overdrive. However the engine will put out an additional 10 hp to give 225 hp (168 kW) if you mate it with the Ford-O-Matic two speed automatic version. Additional power options for the 312 cu in (5.1 L) include two four barrel Holly carburetors offering a power boost to 300 hp (223.8 kW) but with the McCulloch or Paxton supercharger the engine will develop up to 340 hp (254 kW). All this is on the table if you want it on your new Thunderbird in ‘57.
Ford Thunderbird first generation sold a total of 53,166 units in the three years it was produced. The ’57 is produced for an extra three months because the ’58 versions are late due to engineering details that need attention.
Thunderbird second generation is after a bigger market share and Ford executives, in particular, Robert McNamara, decide the 1958 version will seat four as this will give the car more appeal to a larger segment of the buying public. The unibody construction is chosen to offer the largest seating capacity in the smallest compartment on the shortest possible frame. This new “T”bird is completely designed by the styling department before any engineers are even consulted. The car is a full nine inches (230mm) lower than any other vehicles of the time and the body carries a major part of the stress that is normally taken by the frame (monocoque construction) the balance of the engineering methods used are more conventional. The tunnel for the drive chain assembly intrudes into the passenger compartment which is partially disguised by the addition of a large full console which extends to between the twin bucket seats holding ashtrays, electrical switches with other minor controls.
The ’58 power is the FE series 352 cu in (5.8 L) engine rated at 250 hp (190 kW) at 4,400 rpm and develops 352 lb-ft (477 N-m) of torque at 2800 rpm. The transmissions available are basically the three speed manual with overdrive or the Cruis-O-Matic as an option. Independent front suspension with coil springs and the rear is a live axle suspended by coils with drum brakes all around. Many fans are unhappy the two seat version but sales figures confirm they are on the right track, as well, this is the car of the year in ’58 according to Motor Trend. Due to late production there are very few convertible models leave the assembly line this year.
The namesake of the Ford Thunderbird is a mythical creature known to many native North American tribes. First introduced to the public in 1955, this automobile was a a two-seat sports car, but unlike the Corvette. Ford marketed it as a personal luxury sports car, creating a new and different market segment for the discerning public. Over the years and for 11 generations, the Thunderbird got larger with rear seating added and then larger still before it returned to its roots as a two-seat luxury sports car. As of 2005, when the last unit rolled out, there were 4.4 million Thunderbirds with a multitude of variations.
© Peeler37 | Dreamstime.com 1955 Ford Thunderbird
Before the 1955 Thunderbird was finally a reality, Henry Ford II worked with designers on many variations with prototypes produced. The underpowered Vega was the last before they arrived at the T’bird prototype. The company wanted European looks, but the features and appointments had to be original American ones. The names considered were Apache, Falcon, Eagle, Tropicale, Hawaiian, Thunderbolt, and P-51 Mustang. The name “Thunderbird” wasn't even on the list; the choice was a last minute one in 1953. It was given a go for production with 1955 set as the model year for it to be in showrooms. This was a knee-jerk response to Chevy Corvette landing on the market in 1953, and the plan had to be put into high gear. It took one year from idea until the final prototype, unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in February ’54.
© Jiawangkun | Dreamstime.com 1956 Ford Thunderbird
Some of the body styling is similar to all mid-1950’s Ford products such as beauty rings on the round, single headlight configuration and the same small tail fins, but the T’bird is on 102-inch wheelbase; for a sleek look, a nonfunctional hood scoop, fender skirts, and exhaust pipes that exit through two guards bolted to the rear bumper are added features. The porthole windows were a no-cost option, if you liked them. The engine is a 292-cubic-inch (4.8L) V8 design borrowed from the Mercury division, and the speedometer shows 150 mph (240 km/h) insinuating it had more power but mechanically was no further advanced than any other vehicle Ford had on the market.
© Steirus | Dreamstime.com 1956 Ford Thunderbird
The car was a big success, and Ford thumbed its nose at Chevrolet and the Corvette because the Thunderbird outsold it by 23 to 1 with 16,155 units sold in 1955. Not wanting to hurt a good thing, the ’56 version was very similar, but there was an added option of the Continental kit, the spare tire mounted in a flashy case sitting on the rear bumper giving a lot more storage area in the trunk. Another added optional choice was the removable porthole, hard-top roof. The roof was a popular choice, but the added weight created some steering problems with this version.
The convertible version looked great, very sleek and streamlined with the soft top folding down into the trunk without a trace, beautiful! The hinged trunk lid raised and lowered hydraulically, operating in conjunction with the roof, when activated from one switch on the dash; this is an awesome feat of engineering. The system uses a maze of electrical solenoids and hydraulic cylinders that all had to work together for the top to raise and lower properly. The hydraulic system was trouble-free for the most part, but the electric wires and the solenoids in particular were subject to failure at any time without warning. Another problem with this system is the roof often had leaks so water rained into the luxury passenger compartment.