Ford’s answer to the Corvette, the Thunderbird, began rolling off assembly lines on this day in 1954 for the 1955 model year. The Thunderbird, while aligned to compete with Chevrolet’s sports car, was positioned as a personal luxury vehicle. Ford emphasized its new car’s comfort and convenience, letting shoppers discover its sportiness during the test drive. It worked. The Thunderbird outsold Covette more than 20 to 1 in 1955.
Though the two-seater found continued success through 1957, engineers and designers at Ford thought they could sell far more than 23,000 of the cars. Executive Robert McNamara called for a four seater, thinking the two seats would limit the car’s salability. Again, Ford hit it out of the park. While the two-seat Thunderbird sold around 60,000 units between 1955 and 1957, approximately 200,000 four seaters sold in the next three years. Chevrolet, on the other hand, stuck to their guns and responded to the initial success of the T-Bird by offering a V8 option for the Corvette in 1955, sealing the vehicle’s fate to become “America’s Sports Car.“
The Thunderbird was a versatile car for Ford, selling in a number of body styles between 1955 and 1997, such as a four door post car, a five passenger convertible, and again as a two seat retro convertible from 2002 to 2005. Through all its iterations some 4.4 million Ford Thunderbirds were produced.
Cover photo by: Nminow – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2193161