the view through the windshield
1957 Ford Thunderbird - Fun For Two

Depending which story you hear, the two-seat Thunderbird was inspired either by the Jaguar XK120 and other European sports cars being imported in ever-increasing numbers or by the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette offered by rival General Motors. Probably it was a bit of both.

In any case, styling VP George Walker ordered designer Frank Hershey and his team to come up with a two-seater with styling easily recognizable as a Ford. Work commenced in early 1953. A prototype '55 Thunderbird was unveiled to the public at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954.

The Thunderbird entered production for the 1955 model year as a sporty two-seat convertible. Unlike the Chevrolet Corvette, it was not marketed as a sports car but rather a high-performance boulevard cruiser. It didn't have bucket seats, just a single bench seat. It was priced at about $500 less than a Corvette and offered conveniences such as roll-up windows and a removable factory hardtop. For the 1955 model year, the Thunderbird outsold the Corvette by more than 23-to-1 with 16,155 Thunderbirds sold against 700 Corvettes. The standard Thunderbird engine was a V8.

Minor changes were made for 1956, including '56 Ford taillights and moving the spare tire to a continental-style rear bumper and an optional - but popular - porthole side window on the removable hardtop.

The spare was moved back to the trunk in 1957 when the trunk was restyled and enlarged. Among the few other changes were new paint colors, the addition of circular porthole windows as standard in the fiberglass roof to improve rearward visibility and a 312 Y-block V8 making 215 horsepower as standard. Optional, more powerful engines were available, including V8 were available including one with two four-barrel Holley carburetors and another with a Paxton supercharger delivering 300 horsepower.

1957 T-Birds featured canted fins and taillights similar to '57 Ford models. The 1957 Thunderbird rode on the same 102-inch wheelbase as the '55 and '56 models but was a little longer. The '57 Bird weighed 3,145 pounds and carried a base price of $3408. Sales of the Thunderbird rose to a record-breaking 21,380 units for 1957.

Many car buffs, including myself, think that the '57 model is the best-looking of the two seat Thunderbirds.

The 1957 T-Bird has been modeled by many manufacturers in many scales. I have two nice 1:43 examples manufactured by ERTL in China. The white over blue example was made in 1989 as part of ERTL's Vintage Vehicles series; the all-white ERTL model was issued in 1990 as part of ERTL's Classic Vehicles series.

For the 1958 model year, Ford dropped the little two-seater in favor of a larger four-seater Ford Thunderbird. While automotive purists bemoaned the demise of the cute little two-seater T-Bird, the larger four-seat model quadrupled sales by 1960. It defined the emerging market for the mid-priced personal luxury coupe and it was a success for almost 40 years. It also gave Ford increased market share in the medium-priced field. But that's another story for another time.


The early Thunderbirds have achieved iconic status and the little two-seaters are much prized by car collectors today. (8/29/14)

Remember When: 1957
auto blogIn 1957, the U.S. established the Eisenhower Doctrine and extended the Truman Doctrine to protect the Middle East.

In the Arctic, the Distant Early Warning System began operation. Three USAF B-52s completed the first nonstop jet circuit of the world in just over 45 hours.

New U.S. products included Sta-Puf fabric softener, pink plastic flamingo lawn ornaments and electric can openers.

'57 American cars were longer, lower and wider. Every Big Three offering was either all-new or extensively restyled but Chrysler's second-generation Forward Look was the most dramatic and outrageous with soaring fins on all models. Chrysler Corp. offered torsion-bar suspension throughout its model lines; Chevy and Pontiac had fuel-injection on their hottest engines and Oldsmobile offered a three-carb J-2 performance option.

The '57 Ford Skyliner became the first U.S. production automobile featuring a metal retractable hardtop. The 1957 Mercury was all new with styling inspired by the 1956 XM Turnpike Cruiser dream car.

The top-of-the-line '57 model was given the Turnpike Cruiser name and featured a wrap-over windshield and reverse-slant, retracting rear window.

'West Side Story' and 'The Music Man' debuted on Broadway. New words included 'baby-sitter', 'scuba' and 'moonlighting'.

Top 1957 record hits included 'All Shook Up', 'Teddy Bear', 'Too Much' and 'Jailhouse Rock' by Elvis Presley, 'You Send Me' - Sam Cooke, 'Chances Are' by Johnny Mathis, 'Whole Lotta Shakin' by Jerry Lee Lewis, 'Bye-Bye Love', 'Wake Up, Little Suzie' by the Everly Brothers and 'Honeycomb' by Jimmie Rodgers. 'Wake Up, Little Suzie' was banned in Boston as too suggestive. In '57, many radio stations throughout the U.S. switched to a Top 40 format.

The postwar American baby boom crested with a one-year record of 4,308,000 1957 births. For the first time, margarine outsold butter. Wham-O introduced the Pluto Platter - soon to be rechristened as the Frisbee. The new $55,000 IBM 610 - described as "the size of a spinet piano" - could solve a six-hour calculator computation in a mere 20 minutes.

Memorable 1957 movies included 'Peyton Place', 'Jailhouse Rock', '12 Angry Men', 'A Face In The Crowd', 'Funny Face' and 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'. A poll found that 50% of American teenagers went to the movies at least once every week.

New '57 television shows included 'Have Gun, Will Travel', 'Leave It To Beaver', 'Perry Mason' and 'The Price Is Right'. A long-time Philadelphia favorite, 'American Bandstand', went national in August.

Kermit the Frog made his television debut on Steve Allen's 'Tonight Show'.

Significant new books debuted in 1957, including James Agee's 'A Death in the Family', Vance Packard's 'The Hidden Persuaders' and Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road'.

Deaths included Humphrey Bogart, Oliver Hardy, Louis B. Mayer, Jimmy Dorsey, Christian Dior, Joe McCarthy, Bugsy Moran and Elliot Ness.

In California, Don Bowden became the first American to break the four-minute mile. And, the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, beating the NY Yankees 4-3.

Read more about 1957 America here.

More AutoSketch car drawings can be found here.
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The facts presented on this website are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.

If I have slandered any people or corporations, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.

Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.