1956 Ford Thunderbird

Sold For $34,100

RM | SOTHEBY'S - ARIZONA 2017 - Offered from a Private Collection

Chassis No.
  • Offered from a private collection
  • Classic two-seat Thunderbird
  • 292/202 Y-Block engine with three-speed manual
  • High-quality restoration
202 bhp, 292 cu. in. OHV V-8 engine, three-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 102 in.

As the story is told, Ford vice president Lewis Crusoe and chief stylist George Walker were walking down a street in Paris in 1951 when Crusoe pointed to a sports car at the curb. “Why can’t we have something like that?” Crusoe asked Walker. Walker got on the phone to Dearborn and set designer Frank Hershey to work on a two-seat roadster built around Ford mechanicals. A clay model was completed by May 1953, and Crusoe gave the go-ahead for production in September. Shown to the public in 1954, it drew public acclaim and in the introductory 1955 model year, Ford sold 16,155 units.

The Thunderbird was given a few subtle changes for 1956, its second season. The spare tire, which had significantly reduced luggage space, was relocated from the trunk to a “continental” mounting on the rear bumper. Wind wings were added to the trailing edge of the windshield, cowl vents were added to the front fenders, and the hardtop gained porthole windows in the rear quarters. The rear bumper was redesigned to simplify the exhaust outlets, moving them to the outer corners. Manual transmission cars had a 202-horsepower Thunderbird version of the 292 Y-Block V-8; overdrive cars used a 215-brake horsepower Thunderbird Special 312, which was rated at 225 brake horsepower with Ford-O-Matic Drive.

This Thunderbird features power steering, power brakes, and power windows, as well as the standard continental kit and fender skirts, while the removable hardtop has the distinctive porthole windows. The car is equipped with a pushbutton radio with fender-mounted antenna, dashboard clock, tachometer, and fresh-air heater. Painted in Ford’s Fiesta Red, the interior is trimmed in red and white vinyl. The odometer shows fewer than 600 miles, which are believed to have been recorded since restoration. The overall condition is excellent with outstanding contours, good panel fit, and beautiful paint and brightwork. Likewise, the engine compartment is correctly detailed without being overdone.

The two-seat Thunderbirds lasted just three years, selling from 15,000 to 21,000 units annually. While this handily outpaced Chevrolet’s Corvette, it was not a huge success for the company. For 1958, a larger, four-seat T-Bird was introduced. With more passenger and luggage space, it attracted a different customer demographic, and sales soared. Sales, however, isn’t everything. The two-seaters had flair and panache that was lacking in their successors. This helps explain why the Thunderbirds of ’55, ’56, and ’57 have forever captured the hearts of collectors. This Fiesta Red T-Bird will likely do the same.

Lot Number

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