By Bob Kennon
Auto Quest Investment Cars, Inc.
The automotive world changed on February 20,
1954 at the Detroit Auto Show, when Ford unveiled the
Thunderbird. The "sports car with luxury" was an
automotive concept whose time had come.
In 1954 there was a changing market. There was a growing
market segment of youthful, moneyed professionals who had
tired of the "family sedan" concept. General Motors
had already successfully tapped this group with its Corvette
and Ford responded in kind.
From the beginning, Ford incorporated luxury into the
Thunderbird. It has such features as an automatic
transmission, power windows, power brakes, power seats,
heater, and fancy radios. The car was designed in a
relatively short period of time, mostly using existing
components. For example, the engine came from Mercury.
Although the car was introduced to the public in early
1954, regular production did not begin until September 9,
1954. The Thunderbirds were built on the same production line
as the regular passenger cars. By the end of 1954, 3,546
Thunderbirds had been built although they were designated
1955 year models.
During the months between the first public showing of the
car until the production and shipment of the car, the press
and advanced publicity raised the demand to a fever pitch.
Ford had only planned to produce 10,000 units the first year,
but by year end of 1955, Ford had built 16,000 units. This
unprecedented demand led to dealers being swamped with
orders, pricing at over list price and many complaints of
non-delivery. Recognizing this demand, production was
steadily increased as quickly as possible until by the end if
the three-year production run, over 50,000 Thunderbird had
Ford out-sold its competition, the Corvette, by a large
margin. The Thunderbird had features not found on the
Corvette, including roll-up or power windows, and the V-8
engine. The all-steel Thunderbird body was better accepted
than the fiberglass Corvette.
Even with the luxury refinements on the Thunderbird, the
performance was very similar to the more unsophisticated
sports cars of the time, including the primary competitor
Corvette. ROAD AND TRACK reported in March of 1995, a 0-60
mph time of 9.5 seconds for the Thunderbird and 11.6 seconds
for the Corvette. MOTOR TREND reported in June 1956 the
average gas mileage of the Thunderbird was 12.7 miles per
gallon while the Corvette was 12.8.
Today, the popularity of these "small birds" continues, with both the enthusiast and the investor. The cars have steadily increase in value over the year and most likely will continue to be a very good and enjoyable investment. Prices range from the low twenties to over $40,000 fro a fully restored "E"-bird with dual carburetors. Cars are being offered at lesser prices, but be careful. Many of these have rust problems, non-matching numbers, and sometimes are cobbled from parts of several cars. For the long term, buy the best example you can find or afford. Hopefully, if you invest in a Thunderbird, the American Indian's good luck omen symbolizing power, swiftness and prosperity will look over you as it did them.