The Ford Thunderbird was introduced as a two seat model in 1955 to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette, which hit the market just two years earlier. However, the Baby Bird, as the first generation of T-Birds have come to be known, was marketed not as a sports car, but as a personal luxury vehicle. Focusing on its comfort and convenience proved to be the right route for Ford, as the car was wildly successful, outselling Corvette nearly 7 to 1 in its first year of production. Between 1955 and 1957 some 50,000 Thunderbirds ended up in consumer driveways. The big wigs upstairs at Ford, particularly whiz kid Robert McNamara, thought it could do better, leading to a complete redesign for 1958. What came next was the four-seat Ford Thunderbird, which debuted on this day in 1958.
The suits were right. Following the redesign, the new Thunderbirds flew off of dealer lots in record numbers. In 1958 a total of 37,892 of them were sold, about 16,000 more than in 1957. The next year, 1959, saw 67,456 T-Birds fly to new homes, and in 1960 that number soared to 92,843, totaling just shy of 200,000 units in just three years.
The Ford Thunderbird would remain a staple of Ford’s lineup, in one form or another, until 1997, and again, as a retro model, from 2002 until 2005. An icon among enthusiasts, there are plenty of styles of Thunderbirds to choose from if you’re looking for a new collector car. Over the years the Ford Thunderbird bounced between two and four doors, but never lost sight of its luxurious origins.
Cover: 1958 Ford Thunderbird by Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA – CC BY 2.0