Present History; Hatching the Thunderbird

February 18, 2016

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By Matt Wolfe

February 15, 1954, Ford Motor Company chooses “Thunderbird” as the name for its new personal luxury car.

The original Thunderbird became one of Ford’s most iconic models after its introduction in 1955. Though it was fundamentally Ford’s answer to the Chevrolet Corvette, the Thunderbird was never developed as a sports car. Rather, the Thunderbird became the standard bearer of a new segment; the “personal luxury car”.

1955 Ford Thunderbird, top down.

The first Thunderbird received its own frame and body, but shared components and styling cues with the rest of the Ford line. The Thunderbird was also endowed with a high level of standard equipment, including a V8 engine, four-way powered seats and roll-up windows, luxuries that were optional or unavailable on period Corvettes. Though the Thunderbird could reach speeds of 110 mph, its focus was more poise than performance. This was a car more likely to be parked at the country club than the drag strip.

There are conflicting stories of the origin of the Thunderbird name. One such story involves the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. Around the time the Thunderbird was being developed, Ford Chairman Ernest Breech became a club member. Breech was deeply involved in the creation of the car, and it is believed that he asked the club’s permission to name Ford’s new model after it.

1955 Ford Thunderbird.

The Thunderbird made its debut at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show. Over 3,500 orders were placed the first day the car went on sale and over 16,000 were produced in its first year, handily outselling the Corvette and establishing the Thunderbird’s legacy as a quintessential symbol

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