Ford Thunderbird 1 Generation P-Code

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Thunderbird 1 Generation P-Code





The first generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a two-seat convertible produced by Ford Motor Company for the 1955 to 1957 model years. The first 2-seat Ford since 1938, the Thunderbird was developed at nearly the same time as the Chevrolet Corvette. Rather than becoming a rival to the European sports cars imported into the United States, Ford created a new completely new market segment around the Thunderbird, the personal luxury car. While a performance car in its own right, the Thunderbird focused more on comfort than speed.


Ford unveiled the Thunderbird at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954. The first production car came off the line on September 9, 1954, and went on sale on October 22, 1954 as a 1955 model, and sold briskly; 3,500 orders were placed in the first ten days of sale. While only 10,000 were planned, 16,155 were sold in 1955.

As standard, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird included a removable fiberglass top; a fabric convertible top was an option, although commonly specified. The engine was a 292 Y-block V8, which got 18MPG. The car had fender skirts. The exhaust pipes exited through twin bumper guards, which are bolted to the rear bumper.

Created to act as a retort to the Chevrolet Corvette, it was also the first mass-produced edition of all the Ford Thunderbird models. A total of 53,166 units were produced for the three model years 1955-1957. It was produced with a Fordomatic automatic or manual overdrive transmissions, and featured four-way powered seats and pushbutton interior door handles. Other unique features were a telescoping steering wheel and a tachometer.

Equipped with a V8 engine, the Thunderbird could hit 110-120 mph. It was a smaller two-seat "personal luxury car", compared to many other much larger cars that were on the road in the 1950s. It was designed to be a brisk luxury tourer, and not a sports car.


For the 1956 model, more trunk space was added, the spare wheel was mounted outside(which helped free up trunk space), the exhausts were moved to the ends of the bumper, and air vents were added behind the front wheels to improve cabin ventilation. To improve rear-quarter visibility with the removable hardtop in place, "porthole" windows were made available as a no-cost option. An optional 312 Y-block V8 was made available for those that wanted more performance. 1956 production was 15,631 units, the lowest of all three 2-seater Thunderbird model years.


For 1957 the front bumper was reshaped, the grille and tailfins were made larger, and larger tail-lights were fitted. The spare wheel moved back inside the trunk, which had been redesigned to allow it to be mounted vertically. The side "Thunderbird" script moved from the fins to the front fenders. A new option was "Dial-o-Matic" 4-way power seats that, when you turned off the ignition, the seat would move back to allow easier exiting. As well as the standard 292 and 312 engines, versions of the 312 were produced in higher states of tune, and even a few McCulloch supercharged versions, rated at 300 and 340 hp (254 kW) respectively. 1957 sales were 21,380, including three extra months of production because the 1958 models were late. The 1957 Thunderbird was the last two-seater Ford sold until the 1982 Ford EXP sport compact car.

McNamara proposed an initial production run of one hundred vehicles to meet NASCAR homologation requirements, and targeted the week-long Daytona Beach Speed Trials scheduled to begin on February 3, 1957 for their competition debut. Thus was born the Ford Motor Company Supercharger Program, which mandated the production of sixty-five Ford Custom Two-Door Sedans, twenty Ford Convertibles and fifteen Thunderbirds, the latter group all hand-built at the Dearborn Assembly Plant. All fifteen Thunderbirds were built on January 25, 1957, incorporating the specified 312 CI single carburetor engine, McCulloch VR57 Phase 1 supercharger, a heavy duty three-speed manual transmission, seat belts and a fiberglass hard top. The formula proved itself at Daytona, where one of the Phase 1 Thunderbirds set a new record for American sports cars with a speed of 138.755 mph, a 6 mph improvement over the previous year’s record set by Corvette.

The Daytona success prompted Ford management to approve a milder version of the racing ‘Birds for regular production, which began in June 1957; only one hundred ninety four units were built, making them exceedingly rare today. These became known as “F-Birds” for the letter in the serial number denoting a supercharged engine. It is important to note that although identified within Ford as the “Phase 1 Supercharger Thunderbirds, the supercharged racing version’s use of the single-carb engine resulted in its lasting popular identification as the “D/F Bird.”

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