The Ford Thunderbird, an American classic, is a car manufactured in the United States by Ford Motor Company. It was created only twenty months after Chevrolet’s Corvette as a comeback car and entered design for the 1955 model year as a two-s eater resembling a sports car, which went on sale on October 22, 1954 (Wilson 116).
As the Thunderbird was a better performer and cost four hundred and ninety six dollars less, no wonder it sold better. In fact, the sales figure for the first model was nearly four times that of the Corvette (Georg ano 122).
Through the development of the Ford Thunderbird it has evolved drastically in style and performance over its long history. Although none of this would have happened without the formation of the idea to create what is known as the Ford Thunderbird.
There are two stylists credited with the creation of the Thunderbird: Lewis D. Crusoe and George Walker, who later became a chief stylist and a Ford vice-president. They took a trip to Paris, and while they were there they saw a sports car that got their attention. From that moment on, they knew they had to come up with something just like it. They went to work as soon as permission was given from headquarters. Their goal was to have a lightweight sports car with a V-8 engine that accelerated to speeds above 100 mph.
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They achieved this goal successfully, but they did not meet their projected weight for the car. Crusoe started a clay model of the car and finally gained the acceptance on it in May of 1953 (Wilson 116).
Once the model was complete there came about the difficulty in deciding on a name. The designers were completely lost when it came to names but suggestions came pouring in by the thousands. Finally, the designers narrowed it down to just one name “Whizzer,” but Crusoe was just not satisfied with it.
He devised a reward, a two hundred and fifty dollar suit, for anyone who could come up with a better name. It was not long before they received a submission from a designer named Alden Giber son. The name he came up with was “Thunderbird.” Crusoe approved it and the name was no longer negotiable. His idea for that name surprisingly did not come from the Native American symbol for “Thunder-bird,” but from a very prominent subdivision in Rancho Mirage, California. Now that they had a model and name they were ready to begin production.
The first prototype was displayed at the first Detroit Auto Show after WWII on Feb. 20, 1954 as a 1955 model. The customers showed their desire for the Thunderbird almost immediately. After the first ten days of being on sale, Ford got 3, 500 orders for the Thunderbird. For the first two years of production, 1955-1957, the Thunderbird was for all practical purposes unchanged. In 1956 Ford added a porthole detachable hardtop and an optional V-8 engine delivering about twenty-two more horsepower than the base engine.
They also placed the spare tire outside of the trunk with a matching cover over it (History 1).
In 1958, the Thunderbird went through a major redesign. From 1958 through 1960, the Thunderbird became a bigger and more box shaped personal luxury car. It was still a two-door car, but now seated four people and it also now had a wide-pillar roof. All of this was to re-market the Thunderbirds as a more prestigious car instead of a youthful sports car (Wilson 116).
In 1961, the bigger box-framed Thunderbirds became more stream lined. The whole outer shell was redesigned to have a softer roof line and a more aerodynamic look to it. Also, the 1961 model introduced a bigger more powerful base V-8 engine. This bigger more aerodynamic Thunderbird continued throughout the early 1960 s only changing slightly in 1964 when they lengthened the Thunderbird and took away the traditional round taillights (Wilson 117).
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The biggest change came in 1967. In 1967, Ford completely changed the Thunderbird, building it on another new chassis and making it available in a four-door model with real “suicide” doors.
This new Thunderbird went basically unchanged until 1972 (History 2).
In 1972 the Thunderbird became available only as a two-door hardtop. Along with this change they redesigned the front grill and added more luxurious features to the Thunderbird. This style continued without much change until 1980 (History 3).
In 1980, the Thunderbird was built on a uni-body frame.
This lightened the car by about 1, 000 pounds and shortened it by almost two feet. This style only lasted until 1983 when the Thunderbird took on the most modern aerodynamic look it had ever seen. This sleek uni-body frame stayed with the car and only received a few changes over the years. In 1984, the aerodynamic Thunderbird received flush mounted headlights and a new grill.
In 1989, the Thunderbird’s chassis was widened and the wheelbase was made longer and it now had independent rear suspension. This look continued with the Thunderbird throughout the nineties until its discontinuation in 1997 (History 4 & 5).
For the 2002 model year, the Thunderbird was brought back to life. This time they took elements from the 1955-1957’s and 1961-1962 Thunderbirds and modernized them.
This created a stylish sleek and yet “retro” version of this wonderful personal luxury car that people have related to for almost 50 years.