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, with the Thunderbird outselling the Corvette some 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 in a year. Executive Robert McNamara called for a four-seater version, thinking the two seats limited 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. In response to the initial success of the T-Bird, a V8 option for the Corvette hit the market in 1955. The new engine sealed the vehicle’s fate, allowing it to become “America’s Sports Car.“
The Thunderbird was a versatile car for Ford, selling in a number of body styles between 1955 and 2005, 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, about 4.4 million Ford Thunderbirds left the factory.