4:10:1 (optional; standard synchromesh)
6.70 x 15 4-ply BSW
Wheels: 5 inch
Original Brand: Firestone
Whitewall Width: 2 11/16" (optional)
Front: 11 inch hydraulic drum
Rear: 11 inch hydraulic drum
Total Swept Area: 175 sq. in.
Front Tread: 56 inches
Rear Tread: 56 inches
Length: 175.3 inches
Width: 70.3 inches
Height: 50.2 inches
Ground Clearance: 5.9 inches
Height to Top of Door: 34.2 inches
Height to Top of Hard Top: 52.2 inches
Front Leg Room: 45.4 inches
Front Shoulder Room: 53.3 inches
Front Hip Room: 58.8 inches
Front Headroom: 32.2 inches (Hardtop)
The 1955 Ford Thunderbird was the world's first "personal" car. Not a sports car, not a luxury car, not a compact car, not a family car, but a personal car. One that could be tailored to the individual needs and desires of its owner.
In appearance, it was sporty, but it also was luxurious with its pleated vinyl upholstery and upscale interior appointments.
The Thunderbird created a whole new class of automobiles, and no matter what the current trend, the T-bird was there, a step ahead, setting those trends.
6-Volt electrical system
Ford crest and crossed flag emblems
Flat, 2-spoke steering wheel
No front fender vents
No sun visors on production units
Sewn-in rear window on convertible top (also early 1956 production)
Squared-off trim on lower front corner of hard top (revised in April 1955)
Chrome "doughnut" exhaust ring (early production)
Wedge-shaped heater knobs
No vent windows
The Data Plate for the 1955 Thunderbird (shown below, click for larger version in new window or tab) is located in the engine compartment on the cowl just to the right of and below the hood latch mechanism on the passenger's side of the car. The plate is aluminum and has black printing on it with raised digits. It is riveted in place. Additionally, the serial number is stamped on the right front chassis rail, which can be observed with the hood raised.
Above: Click Data Plate image to see larger version in new window or tab.
THIS IS THE CAR THAT CREATED A NEW CLASS IN THE AUTOMOTIVE WORLD:
1955 FORD THUNDERBIRD
Above: 1955 Ford Thunderbird in Thunderbird Blue. Note the matching bolsters on the seats with white inserts. With the wide whitewall tires and black convertible top, it's a stunning mid-fifties color combination.
Ah, the mid-fifties. Mid-century. A great time in America's history. The war was over and people were putting it behind them, looking forward to the 1960's, a decade of hope. 1955 was a time of sleek, modern, contemporary houses and furnishings. People were shedding the stuffy, busy decor of the past and embracing sleekness, more minimalist designs.
Cars were getting bigger and more advanced. They were more comfortable, easier to drive, required less maintenance, and were more dependable. And in the midst of all this, one car stood apart from all others. It could immediately be identified as a Ford, but it was unlike any other Ford ever made. It was a personal car, sporty in appearance but with most of the luxuries people had come to expect in fine automobiles.
The Thunderbird was named after the mythical bird known as a good luck omen to the American Indians. Displayed with outstretched wings, the Thunderbird is seen frequently in Southwestern Indian art, and is believed to have the power to bring thunder, lightening, and rain to the parched desert in the Southwest by flapping its wings. The Thunderbird was said to be invisible to man, except in flashes of lightening as it soared through the skies with lightening bolts tucked under its wings.
The closest thing to the Thunderbird in 1955 was the Chevrolet Corvette, which was taking steps to improve its car, perhaps because it knew Ford's T-bird would be a worthy competitor. A new small block V-8 engine debuted in the Corvette this year, rated at 195 horsepower. Most Corvette's produced had the V-8, but the six cylinder engine was still standard and seven cars were thus equipped. A 12-volt electrical system was provided on the V-8 cars and the old 6-volt system came on six cylinder cars. New paint colors dressed up the Corvette, and 700 were sold in 1955. Of course, this was a poor showing considering the Thunderbird sold over 16,000 cars that year, and it's likely that the introduction of the T-bird saved the Corvette from extinction. Chevrolet did not want to concede failure in the two seater market to Ford, so it poured money and resources into the Corvette to make it more competitive. Had the little Bird not come along when it did, it's possible Chevrolet might have cut its losses and abandoned the Corvette.
Ford's marketing department determined that there was a market for a two passenger personal car, and that Ford could expect to sell around 10,000 of them per year. Plus, the new sporty car would draw more people into dealer showrooms and some of them would buy another Ford model, so there were additional benefits to having such a car in the line, even if they weren't actually selling in big numbers. First year production exceeded the forecasts, but there were those within Ford who wanted to see a profit from the Thunderbird, and even as the very first little Birds were hitting the streets, changes were underway to totally change the car.
Surveys were done to find out what people really wanted and needed, and in the responses, lots of people indicated they would purchase a new Thunderbird if it retained its unique styling and more compact size, while providing room for four people and enough luggage space to accommodate things like golf clubs, and luggage for four people taking a trip by car. The new larger Thunderbird would debut in 1958, which meant the original two passenger personal car would be built for just three years.
The first generation T-birds were considered instant classics, and became cultural icons used in movies, advertising, and on television. Resale values remained higher than normal as people were anxious to purchase used Thunderbirds. Many changes were made during the three year run, including a major restyling for 1957. About the only comfort or luxury feature not offered on the T-birds of this era was factory-installed air conditioning. It was available on other Ford models, but not on the T-bird until 1958.
These are dependable cars, they are fun to drive but take some getting used to. The brakes were adequate for their time, and are acceptable to today's needs as well, but drivers need to understand they will not perform as well as the brakes on newer vehicles, and caution must be taken to make sure they aren't used in a manner that could overheat them.
We don't recommend driving one in the rain, as the vacuum-operated wipers are close to worthless when accelerating, and all of these cars leak around the top, both convertible and hard top. Many have had after market air conditioners installed, and they are prone to overheating in hot weather while idling with the air conditioner in operation. Additional cooling fans and updated radiators can help, but due to design restrictions it's still an issue for most.
On automatics, you have to place the transmission in neutral to crank the engine, and like most older cars these will idle at a higher rpm until the engine warms up. You do have to know the proper starting procedures to set the choke when cold and how to start a hot engine, and follow them or you'll likely experience starting problems.
Also, consider the availability of storage for the hard top, if equipped, and know that raising and lowering the fabric convertible top is best done with two people, at least until one is experienced at the process.
Above: 1955 Ford Thunderbird in Thunderbird Blue with matching Turquoise interior. It's easy to see why the new T-bird was so popular, its compact proportions, sporty looks, and luxurious amenities and comforts really made it stand out from all other cars.