Color Mystery: 1957 Ford Thunderbird

Like most people, I love a good mystery. Whether it is part of a good book or life itself, there’s nothing more satisfying than unraveling something that has caused others to ponder endlessly. That is one thing I find attractive about this 1957 Ford Thunderbird. The seller believes that a previous owner may have performed a color change, and they’ve been pretty meticulous in the process if this is the case. However, it is the paint shade that has them confused. It is a mystery that deserves solving, but that task may fall to the buyer since the owner recently listed the T-Bird for sale here on eBay. It is located in Gentry, Arkansas, with a BIN of $25,000 and the option to make an offer.

Ford offered Thunderbird buyers in 1957 the choice of two shades of Red. Early cars wore Code V Flame Red, while Code R Torch Red appeared around September of that year. The Tag on this car indicates that it rolled off the line wearing Flame Red with a Colonial White hardtop. The shade the car wears today is neither Flame Red nor Torch Red, and that’s where the mystery begins. Common sense says this car represents a simple color change, which is not uncommon. If this is the case, the person responsible was meticulous because they have repainted every surface in the trunk and around the door frames to match. The exception is the area behind the seat, and it seems to wear a different shade again. The seller has been told that Ford didn’t produce a ’57 Thunderbird wearing this color, and this has been the catalyst for their confusion. The news is positive once we look past the paint and consider the Thunderbird’s overall condition. The hardtop is in good condition and is the rarer porthole-delete version. The back window is currently out, but the seller includes a new seal and trim to help the buyer fix that problem. The panels have only minor marks, but the best news revolves around the subject of rust. The panels look clean, while the underside wears ancient undercoating that has allowed the T-Bird to remain rust-free. The trim is in good condition for a survivor-grade classic, while the glass looks spotless.

This photo from a Ford brochure for the Thunderbird adds further to the car’s color mystery. The seller says it seems to match the shade our feature car wears, but for my money, it doesn’t look the same as the paint in the supplied photos. However, there is a further possibility worth considering. Buyers could order their Thunderbird finished in Code Q Bronze Iridescent, and its appearance varies greatly, depending on the prevailing light. Occam’s razor says that the simplest solution is usually the best, and this car may be nothing more than a Flame Red Thunderbird that received a high-quality color change to Bronze.

Lifting the Thunderbird’s hood reveals its D-Code 312ci V8 that produces 245hp. That power finds its way to the rear wheels via an automatic transmission, with this combination allowing the Ford to cover the ¼ mile in 16.4 seconds. For buyers seeking a turnkey classic, this car might hit the spot. The seller indicates that it runs and drives well, and the transmission shifts smoothly. They recently replaced the brakes as part of a revival process after the car had been in hibernation for years. These stop the T-Bird straight and true, and while they claim this Ford has 85,000 genuine miles on the clock, they don’t mention supporting evidence. However, if it sat for an extended period, the claim could prove plausible.

When we turn our attention to the Thunderbird’s interior, we confront a sea of Flame Red trim as per the Tag. It generally presents well for a survivor, but there are a few shortcomings worth considering. The carpet is badly faded over the transmission tunnel, and the buyer will probably elect to replace this. The padding on the dash is coming unglued along the lower edge, but fixing that should cost the buyer more time than money. The seller indicates that the power seat, radio, and clock are inoperative, but the remaining accessories and gauges work as they should. A trip to an auto electrician could be on the cards, but a switched-on buyer might check things like fuses and ground wires before spending any cash in that area.

Now that you’ve had time to digest all of the information on this 1957 Thunderbird, what do you think? It seems a no-brainer that a previous owner treated this classic to a color change. The mystery surrounds what the new shade is. Is it Red, or is it Bronze? Is it part of the Ford color palette, or does it usually grace the panels of a different brand? Whatever the truth, it is a solid and rust-free classic with no immediate needs. The lack of a soft-top is disappointing, but that wouldn’t prove a problem with the wind whipping through your hair on a sunny day. The final thought revolves around the paint. If you bought the T-Bird and elected to undertake a cosmetic refresh, would you apply the color on the Trim Tag or the one currently gracing the panels? For me, originality is the key. It might take extra time and effort, but Flame Red paint would return to its rightful place on this classic.


  1. Ron Denny Ron Denny Staff

    Good article as usual, Adam. I like a good mystery, too. In addition to the color mystery, I wonder why this ’57 has a ’56 steering wheel?

    Like 2
  2. Melton Mooney

    My ’57, from way back when, had both power seats and the soft top.

    The condition of this car is perfect. You could drive it anywhere and not have to fret over it. Be sooo good with a manual trans.

    What’s the chrome looking gizmo hanging under the dash?

    • Mikefromthehammer

      If you are referring to the handle shaped object to the left of the steering wheel I believe it is the parking brake. If you are referring to the object seen through the right side of the steering wheel it looks to me like an aftermarket (tach?) gauge.

    • Larry

      The “gizmo” under the dash to the right of the steering wheel is the memory control for the power seat.

      Like 1
  3. Cadmanls Member

    If it had a 3 speed with OD I would seriously consider this car and I am in Fl. But then again I would have to have a soft top as summer rains come on quick. Would definitely be a great driver as is

  4. Shuttle Guy

    I definitely like the two-tone combo in the brochure. Current condition not so much. (To dull?) Mr. Seller pic’s of the top would be helpful.

  5. DRV

    I have a friend that painted caskets and he painted his ’56 Tbird a casket color very similar to this.

    Like 3
  6. Gord

    Regardless what it was originally the engine compartment should be body color. So it has definitely had changes in it’s paint work.

    Like 1
    • Jerry Bramlett

      In the photo of the Ford factory data plate, I can see some red color around the edges. Perhaps the plate was sloppily masked off during an engine compartment “black-out” by a past owner.

  7. chuck

    Strange that these are considered iconic 50’s cars, but their values haven’t risen compared to, say a 55-57 Chevy. I had a 56 T Bird nearly 40 years ago. One like this would have been worth around $20k at that time. Supply and demand I guess.

    Like 1
    • Joe Bru

      Chuck: not strange, not supply/demand, it’s all about middle income/lower income folks who’s family/relative had a Tri-five chevy; with 5 million of them produced & average family over 2 people, that’s over 10 million people with fond memories! Baby Bird production about 50k. The Chevy’s reliable & simple mechanics then & now help. Also I used to be surprised that a 57 corvette is worth now so much more than a 57 t-bird, but I never took the time to think about why, even though I’ve owned both. I did think this through recently & the difference in handling is one big reason, also the power to weight ratio is unfavorable with most little bird’s & the bird’s resemblance to the Ford sedans probably the biggest reason where the 57 corvette’s european sports car looks go a long way…

      Like 1
  8. RichardinMaine

    No mystery; that color is Desert Rose; the lowest production color. An uncle had one complete with porthole top he bought in that color new. From the time before I had a license, I always told him I wanted to buy it.
    One summer in the late 70’s, he calls me to let me know he was ready to sell. Go for a look-see; it’s tired. Paint’s done, interior aged, running but engine compartment a mess. With the wisdom of 27 years, I declined the purchase, stating “There’s no way this would ever be worth $5000.”
    If I’d bought it, I’d also in my wisdom have changed the color.
    Have seen one in a museum. Thought to myself, “Okay Lovell, are you laughing at me?”

    Like 5
  9. BONE

    I dont understand the whole “mystery” part about this car. It is 65 years old – A lot of old cars have been repainted , some in the right color, others close, some completely off the wall . There is a 57 Tbird that cruises near my house and its painted a med blue with heavy metal flake (think old 1970s motorcycle helmet) .Its not original, but it is what it is. Any other changes like the steering wheel could have been done 60 years ago for all we know.

    Like 2
  10. Pete W.

    Growing up in the 60’s, a friend’s father was into classic cars long before they became popular. He had two barns on the property, containing about a dozen cars of various ages and descriptions. Among them were two 57 T-Birds, both original cars, unmolested since new. One was black with black and white interior. The second was this exact color, with the same interior color as this one. We got to drive them on occasion, in a vain attempt to attract members of the fairer sex. To our chagrin, we found it required a lot more than a flashy car to accomplish that mission.

    Like 1
  11. Jerry Bramlett

    I think this car is absolutely beautiful. It’s priced right, and the seller has an honest reputation, too.

    The only thing wrong with this deal is me… I’m just too ancient to be running around buying more old cars. But I can still daydream about that car after a good polish and new wide whites with me driving. Yowzah, I’d be a real cool hepcat!

    Like 2
  12. SteveL

    I’m for originality and all but I absolutely love this color with the chrome, interior, and top! It reeks of the ’50s and sets this T-bird apart from most others you see. If it needed paint I’d try to match this color as close as possible, spruce up the engine bay, trunk, and interior. Then add some nice wide whites and satellite radio (for crusin’) and drive the wheels off it and enjoy it every day I owned it!

  13. Jerry Bramlett

    Repair parts for old Thunderbirds are sobering: new radiator $600 – $1,000, complete stock power steering kit $3,600, reproduction seat cover $300 – $400!

    To get this car delivered to me with taxes paid and fixed up like I want would add about $10,000 to the cost. Yowzah again!

  14. V8roller

    But to look on the bright side, at least one can get repair parts.
    Wish they’d made these cars in right-hand steer. Or if they did, I never saw one for sale,

    Love DRV’s comment about the casket paint… this one is a bit… dull.

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