Think the Pacific surf thundering in, and the Coast Highway glinting silver, snaking past the sun splashed canyons. The Thunderbird — the ‘T-Bird’ of legend — was born to the infectious upbeat of Jan & Dean and the Beach Boys, synonymous with youth and fun and the fulfilled promise of a comfortable post World War II America. In fact it was devised as the first ‘personal luxury’ car to be available at a mass market price.
It only looked like a sports car, its two-seater bodywork slung low, but with a longer, heavier body, just enough tailfin and features borrowed from bigger family cars to give it its characteristic, solid sleekness. No mere sports car of the era could match the T-Bird’s standard fittings (power steering, brakes, windows; radio; heater; choice of transmission; and five possible colours) at the price.
The original Thunderbird was thought to be a little soft and loose to drive; but it was the perfect ride for America’s growing Interstate Highway system, and when its V8 was on song, its performance easily matched the beautiful styling, at speeds well over 100 mph (160 km/h). More than 50 years later, riding a T-Bird still feels just as thrilling: the interior is a microcosm of the 1950s USA, once described as ‘like a contemporary juice-box, stylized and brash’.
Since the day it was first shown (on which orders for 4000 were placed!) the Thunderbird legend has grown steadily. Its evolution has gone full circle from two-seater to four-seater, luxury and Continental luxury, two-door sport coupe and back to `retro’ two-seater, in just thirteen generations spanning every automotive development. But no technology can recreate the spirit in which the 1955 Thunderbird was conceived, received and driven. The gods still smile at the thought.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1955 (until 2005)
4.8 I (292 cid) Y-block (OHNO VS
Top speed of 110 mph (177 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 9.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Only an accident of good taste prevented the car from being named the ‘Hep Cat’ or the ‘Beaver’ – serious suggestions before ‘Thunderbird’ saved the day.