While this Red Mist price defies value guides, as long as you buy for love — not money — you won’t go wrong

Chassis number: P6FH202140 - Restored to original color combination - Colonial White with red and white interior - Both hard top and black soft top - 312-ci engine - Automatic transmission - Wide whitewall tires  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible

This car, Lot S69.1, sold for $95,000, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Kansas City Auction on December 3, 2011.

In 1980, I had just earned my driver’s license and was on a family vacation. While on the road, we stopped at a mall in Kansas City, where I bought a copy of THUNDERBIRD! An Illustrated History of the Ford T-Bird by Ray Miller and Glenn Embree. My dad thought I was nuts to drop $30 on a book, let alone a book on T-Birds, a car he never really warmed to (and he has only once NOT gone to the Ford dealer for a new vehicle in his whole life).

Back then, that book was a landmark reference on first-generation T-Birds, and it was written in 1973, when the first generation T-Bird initially caught on in the budding collector car market.

In 1980, $15k would get you a very respectable first-generation T-Bird. That said, $15k would also get you a typical 1980 Lincoln Continental Mark VI brand-new off the showroom floor — and $15k would also get you the three nicest 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victorias on the planet — which was more my dad’s style.

Now, 32 years later, two-seater T-Bird values haven’t changed all that much — although $15k will get you one-quarter of the nicest ’56 Crown Victoria on the planet — or the four nicest 1980 Lincoln Continental Mark VIs. In fact, within the past two years, I’ve seen less-than-proud-but-running ’55 T-Birds sell for as low as $15k.

These cars seem to be stuck in a value time warp, as they did a meteoric rise in value in the mid-1970s and have stagnated since then — for the most part.

I was back in Kansas City on December 3, 2011, and our subject T-Bird was about to cross Mecum’s auction block. I didn’t know that I’d end up profiling the car for SCM, but I did want to write up a 1955–1957 T-Bird for my report on this auction, as there were several crossing the block during the sale.

I looked at our subject car, but it didn’t strike me as any big shakes, and I moved on. It was a very typical 1956 Thunderbird, nice but not stunning — and not overly glitzed-up. No big deal.

I moved on and picked a less-than-spectacular ’57 E-Bird, simply because it seems like everyone has restored these rare, dual 4-barrel-carb cars to be show winners. Another E-Bird was a strong sale at Mecum Kansas City last year at $139,920, and I haven’t seen a driver-grade car cross the block lately. The E-Bird hammered sold for $44,520. Yawn.

Lightning strikes on the block

Then our white ’56 rolled up — I had to double-check it as a ’56 because of the non-porthole hard top — and it took off like a rocket. $50k. $60k. $75k. Wow. Everyone was paying attention. I grabbed a couple of block shots of the car after Mecum announced that the reserve was off. Then it hammered sold for $90,000 ($95k with the juice). What happened?

Let’s break it down. Our example is not equipped with power steering or power brakes — just a Town and Country signal-seeking radio, Ford-O-Matic, both types of tops and wire basket wheel covers. Would that make it worth $90k? Nope. If anything, that package should lower the car’s value.

First-generation T-Bird buyers like their trinkets — the more the merrier — and if they are not authentic, such as the often-seen 1961–63 vintage Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, that’s fine with most.

While our car has both tops, the hard top is the NON-porthole flavor — a no-extra-cost option that carried through into 1957. But would that make it worth $90k? Heck no! When you think ’56 T-Bird, a white porthole top car with Suzanne Somers behind the wheel — right from “American Graffiti” — comes to mind. Besides, the “three-legged dog” contingent that would want a non-porthole car just because it’s an oddity is pretty small — and the supply of cars is pretty large, so it’s a non-issue.

A nice award, but…

The car had won a Vintage Thunderbird Club International Senior award. Would that make it worth $90k? This is the closest reason to say… maybe. VTCI is one of the major T-Bird clubs, and it is well established — even outside of T-Bird circles. So, if you say your Thunderbird has earned a VTCI Senior award, people tend to notice.

The award helps verify the car’s condition. Granted, if it were awarded in 1985, that’s white noise in the background, and the car needs to be inspected to see how far it has unwound. However, if a VTCI Senior Award is dated within the past year or two, it can be a rubber stamp for a top car.

A cursory inspection showed our subject car to be restored and in number 1 condition, but the SCM Pocket Price Guide — and other guides — do not put it at a $90,000 estimated value. The Sports Car Market/American Car Collector guide has a top price of $41,700. The most optimistic value I could find in print anywhere was $63,500.

A specially equipped car done by a big name in the T-Bird world could bring $90k, but our car isn’t that kind of car.

The Red Mist Rule

The most plausible explanation of why our nice car sold for a very nice $95k is that two people really, really wanted it. Nothing else adds up. While the price paid defies established pricing guides, as long as you buy for love — not money —you won’t go wrong. Just don’t think that Red Mist is contagious for your car when it comes time to sell.

By the way, the same Red Mist Rule applies to the copy of THUNDERBIRD! I bought in Kansas City in 1980. I bought the book out of love — not with an eye to making money. Over the years, I’ve certainly got more than $30 worth of use out of the book, and while it has been reprinted several times, it is still worth around $30.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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