First generation 1957
Assembly Dearborn, Michigan
Body style(s) 2-door convertible
Engine(s) 292 cu in (4.8 L) Y-block V8
312 cu in (5.1 L) Y-block V8
The car was shown at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954. The first production car came off the line on September 9, 1954, and went on sale on October 22, 1954 as a 1955 model, and sold briskly; 3,500 orders were placed in the first ten days of sale. Ford had only projected building 10,000; eventual 1955 sales were 16,155.
As standard, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird included a removable fiberglass top; a fabric convertible top was an option, although commonly specified. The engine was a 292 Y-block V8. The car had fender skirts. The exhaust pipes exited through twin bumper guards, which are bolted to the rear bumper.
Created to act as a retort to the Chevrolet Corvette, it was also the first mass produced edition of all the Ford Thunderbird models. Exactly 53,166 models were produced. It was produced with a Fordomatic or Overdrive transmissions, and featured four-way powered seats and pushbutton interior door handles.
Equipped with a V8 engine, the Thunderbird could hit 110-120 mph. It was a smaller two-seat “personal luxury car“, compared to the wallowing barges that roamed all the roads in the 1950s. It was designed to be a brisk luxury tourer, and not a sports car.
For the 1956 model, more trunk space was added, the spare wheel was mounted outside, the exhausts were moved to the ends of the bumper, and air vents were added behind the front wheels to improve cabin ventilation. To improve rear-quarter visibility with the removable hardtop in place, “porthole” windows were made available as a no-cost option. An optional 312 Y-block V8 was made available for those that wanted more performance. 1956 sales were 15,631, the lowest of all three 2-seater Thunderbird model years.
For 1957, a more radical restyle was performed. The front bumper was reshaped, the grille and tailfins were made larger, and larger tail-lights were fitted. The spare wheel moved inside the trunk again, which had been redesigned to allow it to be mounted vertically. The side “Thunderbird” script moved from the fins to the front fenders. As well as the standard 292 and 312 engines, versions of the 312 were produced in higher states of tune, and even a few McCulloch supercharged versions, rated at 300 and 340 hp (254 kW) respectively. 1957 sales were 21,380, including three extra months of production because the 1958 models were late. The 1957 Thunderbird would be the last two-seater Ford ever built and sold to the public until the 1982 Ford EXP sport compact car.