Two titans defined the newfound freedom of the 1950s: the Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird. But, while America’s original sports cars represented largely the same values, they were two very different offerings. Chevrolet wanted to achieve the feel of Europe’s raw track cars while Ford positioned their Thunderbird as a refined boulevard king. Now, sixty years later, first generation Corvettes are cool, but first generation Thunderbirds are more endearing. If you’re looking for a hot 50s-era classic that’s valuable, fun to drive and has the ability to turn Main Street into a parade route, RK Motors Charlotte is your kind of place. And if you want to be the star of that parade, this first year Thunderbird, with its 312 cubic inch V8 and modern, 5-speed transmission, is your kind of classic!
Professionally restored by Prestige Thunderbird of Santa Fe Springs, California, this T-bird’s lust-inducing body reflects a picturesque coat of correct Raven Black two-stage. From its glossy shine to its chip-free rocker panels, that paint’s deep finish is nice enough to be the star at any local cruise night, and certainly nicer than the car’s original, factory-applied pigment. Naturally, a star of that caliber requires top notch panel fit, as the folks who bolted this Ford together spent ample time making sure its bullet-like body maintained excellent cohesion. And today, this roadster is a stunning tribute to one of the coolest designs to ever fly out of Dearborn, Michigan.
The Thunderbird was Ford''s refined response to Chevrolet’s crude Corvette. And when introduced in 1955, it outsold Chevy’s newly minted halo by almost 24 to 1. Part of the reason for that big success was the car’s versatile mix of American substance and European aesthetics. At the front of this ‘bird, a stainless egg-crate grille rides between clean headlights, chrome-trimmed parking lamps, an intricate header emblem and a bulleted bumper that bends around peaked fenders. Between those fenders, a classy hood scoop leads the eye to a wraparound windshield that’s reflected by correct chrome mirrors, cleared by small stainless wipers and framed by thick chrome trim. At the top of that trim, a Raven Black hardtop latches down over a White soft top as a part of Ford’s innovative dual-roof system. Below those roofs, sculpted door handles and stainless-trimmed fender skirts perfectly complement chrome fender louvers, small “V8” emblems and glowing “Thunderbird” scripts. And at the back of those scripts, an intricate trunk emblem rides between chrome-trimmed, jet-inspired tail lights and a second wraparound bumper.
Tilt this Ford’s lightweight hood and you’ll find a 312 cubic inch Thunderbird V8 that’s been fully rebuilt and dressed to impress. Introduced in 1956, this stout little Y-block remained an option in blue oval staples well into the mid-70s. At the top of the bright orange mill, a functional hood scoop funnels wind into a mirrored and decaled air cleaner that’s perched on a big Holley carburetor. Atomized octane passes through a coated intake manifold to correct, cast iron heads that are topped by polished and Thunderbird-branded valve covers. At the front of those valve covers, a modern alternator and retrofitted AC compressor spin in unison as a re-cored radiator keeps the block cool via pliable FoMoCo hoses. Spark comes courtesy of a hot Mallory distributor, which sequences fire between a fresh battery, FoMoCo voltage regulator, FoMoCo coil and High Temperature Static Suppression cables. From its glossy fenders and filtered fuel bowl to its chrome oil filler and neat “See Clear” washer bag, this roadster’s bay presents a clean, highly detailed appearance. And best of all, the spry engine fires instantly and sounds surprisingly beefy breathing through ceramic coated headers and modern Bassani mufflers.
At the bottom of this Thunderbird, a fully sorted undercarriage houses freshly restored floors that are bolted to a roster of proven components. Nice enough to show but still fully drivable, this is the perfect compromise for enthusiasts who like to display their car and still enjoy the occasional top-down weekend. Behind the aforementioned Y-block, a stalwart 5-speed spins power to what appears to be a traditional Ford 9-inch. The car’s suspension remains in its original configuration, with control arms up front and leafs out back. Turns come courtesy of retrofitted power steering. Braking is quick and adequate thanks to power-assisted discs and drums. All of the chassis’ parts feature a weather-free appearance, reinforcing the idea that it’s been a very long time since this ‘bird’s seen daily-driver duty. And on the outside of those parts, familiar wire wheels spin 205/75R15 Coker Classic whitewalls around red-trimmed center caps.
Raven Black paint is legendary for its characteristically upscale feel. And when paired with this Thunderbird’s bright white roof and subtle leather interior, it creates the perfect culmination of class and sophistication. Thanks to the car’s high quality restoration, its pleated bench seat is livable for years to come. There’s tight carpet that, thanks to thick, color-keyed mats, features a fluffy black tint. Front and center, a translucent speedometer and small cassette player look great inside a stainless-trimmed and Thunderbird-branded dash. In the middle of the floor, a modern Mustang shifter feels both firm and precise. In front of the driver, a polished steering wheel spins a half-wrapped rim around a mirrored steering column. At the sides of the passengers, scuff-free door panels center perfectly placed armrests below pristine, engine-turned trim. And behind the soft top, a fully restored trunk hangs a Custom Autosound CD changer between an old school jack and full-size spare tire.
The sale of this impressive Ford includes a pile of restoration photos, a restoration summary, a Bill Of Sale, a Prestige Thunderbird parts catalog and a stack of maintenance receipts.
If there’s one phrase that describes this awesome classic, it’s “luxury sport”. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but it’s true. There’s a reason these cars have built a legacy of cruising, seeing, being seen and looking fantastic. Just imagine sitting down in this ‘bird’s comfy leather seats, firing up its throaty V8 and chasing the sun down your favorite two-lane black top -- it doesn’t get much better than that!