History of the Ford Thunderbird Full Documentary
Considered a classic at the time of its introduction, the Ford Thunderbird was debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in 1954. The popularity of the sleek two-seater was welcome news for the Ford Motor Company. Ford took a calculated risk with its decision to develop a car that could compete with the Corvette, released by Chevrolet in 1953, and it soon became clear that Ford's research was about to pay off. Information from a marketing study suggested that the target buyer for the Thunderbird was middle aged, well-established in a professional career, and relatively conservative regarding car design. Rather than radically redesign a new sports car, Ford opted for contemporary styling. This decision was not only in line with what Ford had learned from their marketing study, but had the added benefit of keeping production costs for the Little Bird low, as it shared many Ford stock parts with full sized cars in the Ford line. What set the classic T-Bird apart from the Corvette, as well as many of the sports cars entering the American market from Europe, was a design that highlighted personal luxury instead of the austere sports car styling of the era. The Thunderbird sported roll up windows, a steel body and, taking a leap over the six-cylinder Corvette, a 292 cubic inch V8 engine. The V8 engine proved to be a tight squeeze for a car designed with a low cowl height and created a clearance problem between the engine's air cleaner and the hood. Ford's solution, a feature that would continue to be part of the Thunderbird's design for years to come, was to add a hood scoop. The Little Bird was only available as a convertible, either with a collapsible soft top or removable hardtop. Sales for the introductory 1955 Thunderbird were good at 16,155. Ford decided to retain their successful formula for 1956, and the new Thunderbird varied little from its predecessor. Some notable changes included more power under the hood, cooling vents in the fenders, and, addressing a common customer complaint, more cargo space. The Continental kit was Ford's effort to increase trunk space without changing the overall design of the car. Moving the spare tire from the trunk to the rear bumper did allow for more trunk space, but the kit's additional weight, which was distributed well behind the rear axle, caused handling problems. In addition to the handling problems it caused, the Continental kit's location impeded access to the trunk. By 1956, Chevrolet was responding to the T-Bird by equipping the Corvette with a V8 engine and roll up windows. Sales for Thunderbird, at 15,631, were slightly less than the 1955 numbers and Ford implemented some changes for 1957. The Thunderbird received new styling for 1957 that included a front bumper with integrated parking lights, a larger grille, and sweeping tailfins that mirrored the points sported by its larger cousins in the Ford line-up that year. Unable to successfully correct the issues associated with the Continental kit, Ford returned the spare tire to a larger redesigned trunk.
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