Breezing along the Italian countryside in a well-mannered convertible is a day dream many of us have had. While you might envision that drive from the cockpit of an Alfa Romeo or a Maserati, how about a Ford instead? This 1957 Thunderbird was originally exported to Italy where it lived the majority of its life before returning stateside and eventually being revitalized by the T-bird specialists at Hill’s Automotive in Racine, Ohio. The car is one of just 1,363 1957 Thunderbirds originally equipped with the E-code 312ci V8 which remains in place today, backed by a 3-speed automatic, and plenty of great options like power, steering, power brakes, an AM radio, and power windows. If you’re looking for limited-run Ford iron in an iconic package, this Thunderbird is an absolute homerun.
The Thunderbird was Ford’s response to the comparatively crude Corvette and, when introduced in 1955, it outsold the Chevrolet 24 to 1. Behind that success was the car’s versatile mix of American substance and European aesthetics. While the styling is certainly a highpoint, the unibody construction, which lacks fender or quarter-panel seams, can make for a challenging restoration. Looking down the side of the car, the sheet metal is respectably straight and the car shows with an overall sense of authenticity. According to the data plate, the car left Dearborn wearing a coat of Raven Black paint and Raven Black is exactly what you’ll find today. The paint work has a great luster and highlights the car’s sharp lines well.
Step in for a closer look to find all the details firmly in place and ready for show. At the front, a stainless egg-crate grille rides between clean headlights, a delicate header emblem and a sculpted bumper that bends around peaked fenders. Between those fenders, a classy hood scoop leads the eye to a wraparound windshield that’s reflected by optional dual chrome mirrors, cleared by satin-finished wipers, and framed by thick chrome trim. When the weather stops being agreeable, a black cloth convertible top comes to the rescue while continuing the body color for a cohesive look. There is no hardtop with this one, but you certainly won’t miss it during cruising weather. Below, sculpted door handles and stainless-trimmed fender skirts perfectly complement chrome fender louvers, small Ford emblems and glowing “Thunderbird” scripts that sit to the front of fender vents. The ’57 had arguably the most memorable rear view of all the Thunderbirds. The finned quarters are capped by pointed taillights while exhaust is routed through rectangular bumper cutouts. Below the trunk lock, a final Thunderbird emblem completes the exterior.
Ford introduced the 312ci Y-block V8 in 1956 and, by the following year, offered three variants of that engine. This T-bird is powered by the desirable E-code version rated at 270hp from the factory. The block is dressed in Ford Red (read: orange) and wears a correct ECZ-6015-C casting number on its side. The block is topped by factory heads and an intake that supports dual Holley four-barrels underneath a chrome air cleaner assembly. The dressed-up look continues with finned valve covers and new hardware throughout. At the front of the engine, an OEM-style radiator works in harmony with an engine-driven fan while the accessory drive turns vintage pieces like the power steering pump and Ford-branded generator. Spark comes courtesy of a black-capped distributor that sequences fire between a reproduction battery, a Ford voltage regulator, a Ford coil and new plug wires. Spent exhaust gases are swept out through cast iron exhaust manifolds that flow through a true dual exhaust system with factory replacement mufflers. Details like the correct reproduction hoses, “See Clear” windshield washer bag, and replicated inspection marks throughout offer this bay an authentic presentation that you’ll be proud to show off.
Underneath, this classy roadster continues to mix new and old tastefully. Solid floor pans are topped with a layer of undercoating while, in the middle, a correct 3-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission takes care of shifting. While the 3-speed manual was standard, the car was touted as a “personal luxury” vehicle so the vast majority of buyers opted for the easier-to-drive automatic. Power is transferred to the ground through a Ford 9-inch rear end filled with standard issue 3.10 gears for comfortable highway cruising. Around the drivetrain, the suspension stays true to Ford design with a double A-arm front and leaf spring rear. The front end has been meticulously cleaned, painted, and reassembled while, from the firewall back, the car looks to be largely original (though still respectably clean). When the luxury life leads you to twisty roads, factory power steering and power-assisted drum brakes are both in place to maximize driver input. Combined with the front sway bar, this Ford is a surprisingly nimble machine. At the corners, body-matched steel wheels are topped by chrome wheel covers and wrapped in 205/75R13 wide white walls to complete the classic look.
Dramatic styling was king in the 1950s and it certainly didn’t stop on the outside. Between the doors of this Ford, a bright red vinyl interior offers seating for two with plenty of bonus features. Nicely aged door sill plates clamp the corners of clean red carpet, protected by rubber Thunderbird-branded mats. In the center, a chrome shifter extends through the floor, free of any type of console. Seating is provided by a bright red power bench seat equipped with new seat belts and bright buckles. At either side, matching door panels are dressed with attractive brushed aluminum pieces as well as switches for the power windows. The dash appears to be original but shows well overall with plenty of 1950s charm. The factory gauges monitor fuel, revs, speed, temperature, and time from within an engine-turned aluminum bezel that looks great amidst the red paint. Chrome pull knobs control accessories like lights and wipers while the Town and Country radio provides all the entertainment needed. In front of the driver, a telescopic steering wheel extends forward, offering control over the front wheels. Lift the decklid to find solid pans beneath a correct floor mat and full size spare.
This impressive Ford comes with plenty of paperwork to back it up. For starters, there’s the aforementioned original invoice which breaks down all of its factory options. Then there’s an owners history, registrations, and a vintage license plate to trace its past. Finally, there are restoration receipts which show the car’s transition into the Thunderbird it is today.
With its Italian history, desirable E-code 312, and an impressive list of factory options, this Thunderbird is a unique piece ready to be enjoyed immediately. If you’ve been in the market for a great Early Bird to enjoy on warm weekends, get in touch with us ASAP and put a little luxury in your garage!