This is a 1956 Ford Thunderbird that was stored up in California for many years before being acquired by the current eBay seller. It’s now being offered for sale with the chassis, body, and engine all present and accounted for.

It appears that this car may have been subjected to a stalled restoration, as the chassis has been restored, a number of body panels have been stripped back to bare metal, and the listing notes that the engine may have been rebuilt. It is still missing a few parts, like the transmission and interior, but it does look like a good starting point for a restoration.

Fast Facts – The First-Generation Ford Thunderbird

  • The first-generation Ford Thunderbird, produced from 1955 to 1957, is a high-water mark of 1950s American “Jet Age” styling. Unlike the Chevrolet Corvette, the Thunderbird was designed as a personal luxury car rather than a sports car. It featured a steel body, a 102-inch wheelbase, a removable fiberglass hard top or an optional soft top, and was powered by a Ford Y-block Interceptor V8 engine.
  • The Ford Thunderbird’s introduction was influenced by the popularity of European sports cars in the USA and was part of Ford’s strategy to offer an appealing alternative using many existing parts to control costs and speed up production. It set the stage for the later development of the Ford Mustang and the Thunderbird later transitioned, in 1958, into a luxury four-seater.
  • Each model year between 1955 and 1957 introduced specific changes to improve the Thunderbird. The 1956 model relocated the spare tire from the trunk to the exterior under a cover to address space issues and included optional side portholes in the hardtop. The 1957 model further increased trunk space, moved the spare tire back inside, introduced a redesigned front grille, and offered “Dial-o-Matic” 4-way power seats, along with a supercharged engine option.
  • This 1956 Ford Thunderbird, currently for sale, was part of a stalled restoration in California where it was stored for many years. The chassis of the car has been restored, and various body panels have been stripped back to bare metal. Now located in Columbia Station, Ohio, it is available for a Buy It Now price of $9,500 USD on eBay.

The Ford Thunderbird

The first generation Ford Thunderbird is undeniably one of the purest examples of 1950s American “Jet Age” styling that ever made it into production. The car was given the green light shortly after the Chevrolet Corvette debuted in 1953, but it wasn’t intended as a direct competitor to the Corvette, instead it was developed as a personal luxury car.

Ford Thunderbird Vintage Ad

Image DescriptionThe first generation Ford Thunderbird was marketed as a personal luxury car, though it did cross-over somewhat into the sports car sphere. Later Thunderbirds would be far larger, more luxurious, and offer four full seats. Image courtesy of Ford.

The impetus to put the Thunderbird into production came well before the arrival of the Corvette, European sports cars like the Jaguar XK120 were selling like hotcakes in the United States, and major local manufacturers had nothing in production to compete.

Much as with the Mustang that would arrive a decade later, the Thunderbird was built using as many pre-existing Ford parts as possible to reduce development costs and accelerate time to production.

The car used a shortened version of the then-current Ford chassis, chopped down to a 102 inch wheelbase to match the Corvette, and power was provided by the also-new 292 cubic inch (4.8 liter) Ford Y-block Interceptor V8 sourced from Ford’s Mercury division.

Unlike the fiberglass-bodied Corvette, the Thunderbird had a steel body. It was initially offered solely as a convertible and came with a removable fiberglass top, or an optional folding soft top, with two seats, minimal trunk space, and a top speed well over 100 mph.

The first generation Thunderbird remained in production for three model years, 1955, 1956, and 1957, with discrete differences between each year that allow them to be distinguished from one another at 20 paces if you know what to look for.

The first year 1955 model was the original, though owners did take issue with the limited trunk space and the poor rear-ward visibility when the hard top was in place. As a result the spare tire was removed from the trunk for the 1956 model and fitted under a cover on the rear of the vehicle, side portholes were also available in the hardtop.

Ford Thunderbird Project Car 2

Image DescriptionThis 1956 Thunderbird has the chassis, body, and engine all accounted for, but plenty of parts will still need to be sourced by the new owner for the restoration.

In 1957 the length of the trunk was increased and the spare was moved back inside in a new vertical orientation. The front grill was also redesigned, some minor external trim changes occurred, “Dial-o-Matic” 4-way power seats became an option, and a supercharged version of the 312 cubic inch V8 became available.

For the 1958 model year an all new second generation Thunderbird debuted, now with four seats and far more luxury amenities, fully delivering on the earlier Ford claim that the Thunderbird wasn’t so much as sports car as a “personal luxury car.”

The Garage Find 1956 Thunderbird Shown Here

The car you see here is a 1956 Ford Thunderbird that seems to have been subjected to a partial restoration in California before the project stalled and it spent many years in storage. The chassis is said to have been restored 20+ years ago and the seller notes that the engine may have been rebuilt previously.

Ford Thunderbird Project Car 3

Image DescriptionThe seller notes that the engine may have been previously rebuilt, but it would probably be best for the new owner to budget for a rebuilt just to be on the safe side.

The seller also mentions that they think this car was originally fitted with a manual transmission, though this is now missing and would need to be replaced. The engine, chassis, and body are all accounted for however.

The car is now being offered for sale out of Columbia Station, Ohio with a Buy It Now price of $9,500 USD. It would likely make a good project car for someone seeking a first generation Thunderbird, and the car comes with a clear Ohio title in the dealer’s name. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

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Images courtesy of eBay Motors

Published by Ben Branch -