Monday, February 13, 2017

The First Four-Passenger Ford Thunderbirds

Ford's Thunderbird was launched for the 1955 model year as a "personal" car, seating the driver and one passenger.  It was not to be confused with Chevrolet's Corvette, introduced late in 1953 as a sports car, even though it wasn't much of a sports car.  But a few people did regard Thunderbirds as sports cars, though most accepted the idea that what it was, was sporty.  The Wikipedia entry for Thunderbird is here.

If any Ford marketers, product planners, engineers or stylists had dreams of Thunderbirds transitioning to become actual sports cars, as was happening at Chevrolet, those hopes were dashed forever when the package for the 1958 redesign was approved by management.  Next-generation Thunderbirds would remain sporty, but they would carry four people instead of two.  That change was expected to improve sales -- and it did, to a considerable extent.


This is a 1957 Thunderbird, the best looking of the first generation thanks to the canted tail fins that counteracted a slightly pinched appearance at the rear on '55 and '56 models.

Early Thunderbirds were convertibles with optional removable hard tops such as that seen on the '57 Bird in the first photo.  Second-generation Thunderbirds could be had either as convertibles or coupés.  A carryover from 1957 tops is the blanked (or mostly so) zone aft of the doors.  The '58 Thunderbirds featured touches of jet fighter / science fiction spaceship detailing that was common on fifties' Fords and other American brands.

This three-quarter front view is of a convertible with its cloth top raised.  Quad headlights were nearly universal on 1958 American cars, and the Thunderbird's treatment of them is better than most, the hooded fold transitioning to a side character line that eventually touches some jet fighter detailing.  The grille is a simple opening containing what amounts to a mesh, a variation on the '57 grille.  Barrett-Jackson auction photo.

Two rear views.  Canted tail fins are carried over from 1957.  The large, round tail lights are another carryover from first-generation Thunderbirds and various Ford sedans dating back to 1952.  Their housings seem sci-fi spaceship-inspired.

Finally, a convertible with its top down (Barrett-Jackson auction photo).  Thunderbird styling for 1958 is restrained compared to that of many other American brands.  However, I find its overall appearance to be awkward.  That sort of rocket shape on the sides could have been eliminated and replaced by something more tasteful.  A pair of tail lights could have replaced the quads and the housing simplified or otherwise reshaped.  And of course I would never have allowed quad headlights.  I don't mind discrete tail fins where properly shaped, so a small curve at the front as on '57 Thunderbirds would be an improvement over the fade-out origin fins on the '58s.

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