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The now-famous 1955 Ford Thunderbird’s origins came from the 1953 Ford Vega concept (not to be confused with the GM product of the 1970s). Ford’s Vega was a one-off, but generated some interest, which moved it from concept to reality as Ford’s stylish two-seater offering for the budding sporty two-seater market.
While the Corvette struggled in its inaugural year, the Thunderbird soared. Much of that had to do with how the car was marketed. It was a sporty “personal car,” rather than an out-and-out “sports car,” as the Corvette was positioned. The body-on-frame chassis used existing Ford parts, and had a wheelbase that spanned 102 inches – identical to that of the Corvette.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbird was a more dignified, personal luxury cruiser. It had roll-up windows and standard V-8 power, both things that were not available on the first Corvettes. Other features included a removable fiberglass top, a fabric convertible top, and fender skirts for the rear wheels.
There was one engine for the first 1955 T-Birds, and it was the 292 cid Y-Block V-8 fitted with a single four-barrel carburetor. With the standard 3-speed manual transmission, this engine made 193 horsepower, and with the optional Ford-o-Matic transmission, it made 198 horses. The exhaust pipes for the Thunderbird were integrated into the rear fascia and above the rear bumper, giving it an unmistakable Jet-Age look.
In just the first five days of being on sale, over 3,500 orders were placed for the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, indicating hot demand. Ford had planned to build 10,000 in its first year, but ended up selling 16,155 in its first year of production.