・Desirable 1957 model ・Restored in 2009 before import into UK in 2011 ・Rare manual gearbox ・53000 miles from new
Cars and popular culture don't often mix well but the Ford Thunderbird is a very early example of a vehicle that transcends the boundary. An American icon through and through, it won't take long to think of a film or a song that features the T-Bird heavily.
Conceived of by Ford as a response to the Chevrolet Corvette – itself a car made to head off the Europeans – the original Thunderbird was the first two-seat car the brand had made in nearly 20 years. It'd also be the last for another 25 years.
The first-generation T-Bird only lasted for three years, from 1955 to 1957, but each model year was slightly different. For 1956, Ford mounted the spare tyre on the exterior of the car at the rear, to free up boot space, but the 1957 car – such as the one you see here - was heavily redesigned, with a longer rear end (allowing the tyre back inside the boot) and more ornate bumpers which, at the rear, included the exhaust outlets.
1957 was also the most popular year for the first-generation car, selling 21,380 of the 53,166 built in total.
We actually don't know much about this car for the first 50-or-so years of its life, as is fairly common with vehicles imported from the USA. The Thunderbird arrived in the UK in 2011, first registered on April Fool's Day that year.
However, the first owner was no fool; according to a previous auction listing and the classic car dealership in St. Louis, Missouri, that supplied it, the T-Bird had been subject to a total nut and bolt restoration in 2009.
It has been through two previous owners in the UK, changing hands in early 2014 and then again later in the year when the current owner bought it at auction. The car has scarcely covered any miles during its time in the UK, with under 1,000 recorded between its first MOT in 2011 and the present day. For much of that time it has been in storage as part of a collection which is currently being trimmed down – the owner has other vehicles for sale through Car & Classic Auctions too.
Paper trails for imported cars are notoriously short, and that's the case here. There's nothing specific to this car in terms of official documentation until it reached our shores in 2011.
Thereafter you'll find MOTs running up to a test in April 2012; the first owner sold it shortly after this test expired and it seems to have been garaged since, and of course it's now exempt thanks to the law change in 2018. There is also, of course, the V5C and the V112G that certifies it as an historic vehicle.
The document folder does contain some of the car's UK history, including the 2014 auction where the current owner bought the Thunderbird. There's also plenty of relevant memorabilia, including an original brochure and Thunderbird guide books.
Despite the car coming in at 4.6 metres long – as big as a modern people carrier – it only has two seats, so there is surprisingly little in the cabin. What's there though is absolutely classic 1950s Americana, and it is beyond beautiful.
The seats are two-tone red and white pleated vinyl and, given the small amount of use since 2011, unsurprisingly in great condition. That American diner colour scheme carries on around the rest of the vehicle, with red vinyl on the door cards and dash upper, and white down in the footwells and the lower parts of the door card (with the Thunderbird logo), and again it's unmarked as far as we can see.
You'll also find red carpets, again in great condition all round and protected by red rubber floor mats bearing the Thunderbird logo and lettering. Hiding in the footwells are two manually operated “fender vents”, which open slots on the outside of the car to let fresh air through.
Elsewhere, the cabin leans heavily on brushed aluminium (or “aluminum”, given its origins), which makes up the bulk of the dashboard and continues round onto the door cards. If it's not aluminium, it's chrome, with all the dials and controls set into chrome-ringed housings, all in great condition.
There's a huge boot in the back too, with the spare wheel mounted vertically in a specific slot in the boot floor.
As you can see from the images, the Thunderbird's plastic rear screen has cracked. This is really quite common – essentially due to the roof being folded without unzipping the screen – and replacements are not hard to come by. Other than this, the roof material is in generally excellent condition, with a small wear mark on the offside rear. Of course the roof actually detaches completely from the car, for the ultimate in summer motoring.
The rest of the car is finished in Flame Red, and for the most part it looks in excellent condition too. Although it has been stored under cover and indoors, the restoration did come over a decade ago, and there is the occasional small chip or blemish, most notably on the top edge of the passenger door. There are some signs of wear around where the roof sits when in place too, but you won't find anything that you can spot until you get very close indeed, with no major marks, scuffs, or scratches, and no bubbling.
All four wheels are in great condition, with gleaming chrome centre caps and turbine-style hubcaps, as are the classic white-wall tyres. The rear wheels also have a little extra protection by way of a set of spats.
The underside of the car is something of a treat, and it certainly doesn't look like it's either 64 years old or has 53,000 miles on it. If it wasn't for the presence of leaf springs, you might think it was a much newer vehicle.
This Thunderbird sports the larger of the two engines available, which is a 312ci – that's 5.1 litres – Y-Block V8. There were three options available at the time, and this is the regular model without the quad Holley carbs or supercharger. That's still good for some 245hp though.
It fires up without any bother, settling into a wonderful V8 idle, and has no bother revving up. Unusually, it's paired to a manual gearbox, and there's no trouble engaging the forward or reverse gears as far as we can tell.
In fact the car exhibits no signs of any mechanical malaise, with no untoward noises from suspension or brakes – just the great sound of a V8.
To say that the Thunderbird is an icon is to understate things. Ford produced eleven generations of the T-Bird, with ten of them in an unbroken 40-year run. This though is the original, and the most sought-after version of the original at that – and this big, red, V8 convertible would be an ideal car to enjoy the coming summer months.
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