Of all the hundreds of classic vintage performance cars from throughout motoring history is there any that is more iconic and well loved than the famous Ford Thunderbird?

In production for fifty years from 1955 to 2005 (though there was a break in the late 1990s) the T-Bird has a special place in the heart of every classic car enthusiast and can there be any of us who haven’t dreamed of owning this car and thundering down the highway with the wind in our hair and a girl by our side?

Ford Thunderbird
A 1957 Ford Thunderbird

OK, that image may be straight out of a Beach Boys song but, nevertheless, wouldn’t that be cool?  Of course the Ford Thunderbird went through many incarnations in it’s fifty year life but let’s go right back to the start of the story in 1955.

The T-Bird was in fact evolved from a one off 1953 sports car that Ford developed called the ‘Vega’.  Although the Vega never made it into production many of the concepts from the car reappeared in 1955 with the first production run of the Ford Thunderbird.

The new 2-seater convertible was an instant hit with the American motoring public though bizarrely the vehicle was marketed as a ‘personal car’ rather than as a ‘sports car.’  Semantics aside the T-Bird was, in every way, a pearl amongst the early vintage performance cars.

A pair of Ford Thunderbirds from the late 1950s

In 1955 the Thunderbird was available with a choice of transmissions; either a three speed manual or an automatic with the Fordomatic gearbox.  Whichever transmission was chosen the T-Bird certainly had a sports car performance despite what the marketing men were saying.  Another pointer to this not been anything other a high performance sports car was the almost total lack of luggage space

Able to hit 60mph from a  standing start in just 8.8 seconds and a top speed of over 120mph the T-Bird was very quickly hailed as the best sports car in America.  A position it was to hold for many years.

Vintage Performance Cars Specification – Ford Thunderbird

Costs – 1955 2-seater convertible $3450

Engine – Mercury 8 cylinder vee, 95.25×83.82mm 4785cc, overhead valves operated by pushrods, 4 choke Holley carburetor, automatic choke, vacuum operated booster ventures, developing 198bhp at 4400rpm, 8.5 to 1 compression ratio.

Transmission – Manual 3 speed gearbox with synchromesh on second and top and central control.

Transmission – Fordomatic, single stage, 3 element torque converter with air cooled planetary gears.  Automatic second gear engagement and automatic low gear start on full throttle.  Selector lever on floor in centre of cockpit.

Chassis – Box section side members, x-braced.  Independent front suspension with helical springs and unequal length wishbones.  Bolt on steel disc wheels with 6.70×15″ tubeless tyres.  Riveted on moulded trims.

Equipment – 6 volt lighting and starting.  Speedometer, odometer, tachometer, water temperature and fuel gauges, warning lights for oil pressure and charging rate, clock.  Flasher type direction indicators.  Vacuum with booster screen wipers.  Radio, electric seat adjustment.  Optional extras included; electric window winders, screen washers, steel hardtop.  Engine dress up kit including chrome fan, rear wheel spats, snap on wheel covers to simulate wire wheels.

Dimensions – Wheelbase 8’5″.  Length 14’6″.

Performance – Maximum speed 123mph.  Acceleration; 0-30mph 3.5 seconds, 0-50mph 7 seconds, 0-60 8.8 seconds, 0-80mph 15.9 seconds, 0-100mph 25.8 seconds.

Fuel consumption – 18mpg.

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