In 1955, Ford responded to the Chevy Corvette with the introduction of the Thunderbird. Ford knew that its more luxurious two-seater V8 was going to attract a wider audience than Corvette’s spartan racing/performance-oriented approach to the market. The Thunderbird design incorporated Ford features found on other models to creat Ford cars as well. The universal appeal of the Thunderbird’s styling made it an instant success and the 1955 model out-sold the more expensive Corvette by 24 to 1.
Engine, chassis, and styling improvements were made to the 1955 model and culminated in 1957 with the car that most collectors recognize as the pinnacle model Thunderbird.
The ’57 Thunderbird featured a moderatley restyled body with a widened grille accentuated by a more understated front bumper, while the rear was treated to small fins complementary to the overall appearance of the car. Mechanically, the F-Series 312 ci engine was strenthened by a four-barrel carburetor and a McCulloch VR57 Supercharger, while special heads helped reduce engine compression.
The Thunderbird pictured is a splendid example of a rare and classic F-Series. Approximately 15 years ago, the car was treated to a frame-off restoration that included a complete bare-metal re-spray of the very rare and original (for the F-Series) baby blue. The engine compartment and Ford red engine block are immaculate and features a duplication of the Ford finald “okay” ink stamp numbered 259 applied prior to its factory departure. The meticulous care taken with this F-Bird is seen throughout the car.
The F-Bird, one of only 194 ever produced, is equipped with many factory options, including the Town & Country signal-seeking radio that automatically adjusts in volume proportionally to the speed of the engine. The car would make an outstanding addition to any collection.
|Vehicle:||1957 Ford Thunderbird F-Series|
|Number Produced:||194 with|
|Original List Price:||$3,900|
|Tune Up Cost:||Approx. $250|
|Distributor Caps:||Approx. $35|
|Chassis Number Location:||Serial plate on cowl|
|Engine Number Location:||Plate attached to left front body pillar below upper hinge opening|
|Club Info:||Vintage Thunderbird Club Intl., 1251 Reece Rd., Goddard, KS, 67052|
|Alternatives:||1957 FI Corvette, Chrysler 300-C|
The featured Thunderbird sold for $74,000 at the Christie’s auction in Pebble Beach on August 29, 1999. Among Thunderbird collectors (of which there are plenty), the word is if you’re going to own a two-seater ‘Bird the ’57 is the preferred year. And if you pockets are sufficiently deep, the F-Bird is the 1957 model to own. There’s also an E-Bird option for ’57 consisting of a factory dual-carb setup, but the F is still the Bird-lover’s Holy Grail.
Nearly an unknown option in 1957, the McCulloch supercharger coupled with a wilder camshaft made the 312 Thunderbird the performance equal of Chevy’s fuel-injected Corvette without the complications of this early F1 system – many of which provided more trouble than pleasure to the Corvette owners who ordered them. It brought the Thunderbird up several pegs from a respectably quick boulevard cruiser to a serious stoplight race contender and drag strip menace.
A number of years ago, I road-tested an absolutely correct F-Bird (like the car under discussion, a fanatically well-restored automobile) and was pleasantly surprised to find that the car handled better than I had anticipated. Understeer was definitely there and steering effort was high, but the car felt quite controllable on all surfaces we encountered. Understand, no Thunderbird was ever meant to be a sports car in the sense of a Jaguar or Alfa or Austin-Healey. They’re sporty rather than sports cars, so don’t expect table-flat cornering; you won’t lose your fillings over potholes, either.
This car presented well at the auction and could be the star of many local or regional shows, with the gloom just beginning to fade off the splendid older restoration it carries. The ’63 T-Bird bolt0on wire wheels, while incorrect, added to the very attractive appearance of the car. The scarce optional Town & Country radio also helped the price along and the fact that it had two tops (oddly, the convertible top was an option of the ’57 ‘Birds) didn’t hurt, either. The scarce and correct color looked just right on this car and the entire package offered the collector a rare avis indeed.
It was bought a bit below marked and well below the cost of a ground-up restoration, if you were ever fortunate enough to discover an F-Bird not already in the hands of a dedicated enthusiast. – Dave Brownell