Dirty Bird: 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Time marches on, and sometimes it marches right across a classic car leaving plenty of damage in its wake. That is the case with this 1955 Ford Thunderbird, but it is definitely a car that could be restored. Below that tattered exterior is a car with no significant rust issues, which should make it a fairly straightforward restoration candidate. The Thunderbird is located in Santa Fe Springs, California, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. The owner is asking $13,500 for this classic. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Matt R for referring the Thunderbird through to us.

When it was released, the Thunderbird was only available in Thunderbird Blue, Torch Red, or Raven Black. In February of 1955, Snowshoe White was added to the range, while Goldenrod Yellow followed along in March. Of course, there were a few people who desired something a bit different, so a few with custom colors from other areas of the Ford Palette also appeared. This T-Bird began its life finished in Goldenrod Yellow but has had a color change at some point. The body wears its share of dings and dents, the worst of these being in the driver’s door. One of the greatest bugbears with cars from this era was rust, but here, the news is pretty good. The owner states that the only rust in the entire vehicle is in the trunk lid, with the floors, frame, and the rest of the panels said to be solid and clean. All of the external trim is present, but some of this will need restoration. The majority of the glass also looks okay, although it looks like someone has put their fist through the windshield.

Under the hood of the Thunderbird, we find the 292ci Y-Block V8. This would have produced 198hp when it was shiny and new. Even with the 3-speed automatic bolted to the back, as is the case with this car, it could still cover the ¼ mile in 17.2 seconds. That was pretty respectable for a vehicle that Ford emphasized wasn’t a sports car. Its luxury credentials are further enhanced with the fitting of power steering and power brakes, making driving chores pretty easy. It isn’t clear when the engine last ran, but I would be pretty sure that it was quite a while ago. This is especially true given the fact that the car has been in storage for the past 44-years. The owner says that the T-Bird will require a complete restoration, so I think that it would be safe to assume that a full mechanical rebuild will be on the cards.

Looking inside the Thunderbird is not a pleasant experience, especially if you are a fan of these cars. The upholstery would have been finished in Black and Yellow, but now it’s just finished. There is no doubt that a full restoration is required here, and thankfully, interior trim kits are readily available. Not surprisingly, these kits aren’t cheap, but a leather kit in the correct color combination, which includes everything that the new owner could want in the way of upholstery and fitting hardware, will set them back somewhere in the vicinity of $2,000. Not cheap, but the end result would be pretty stunning. The good news here is that the interior is complete, and while the radio is missing from the dash, it does come with the car. The inclusion of a power seat and power windows further reinforces the fact that the Thunderbird was definitely aimed more at the buyer in search of a bit of luxury.

In 1955, Ford had the expectation that they would build around 10,000 Thunderbirds. The reality exceeded their wildest dreams, with 16,155 cars rolling off the production line. The survival rates have been slightly higher than you would normally expect, but there have still been plenty that have succumbed to the dreaded tin worm. This looks like a solid car, but I have to wonder whether it has been priced too high. It will need a full restoration, but it is possible to occasionally find running, roadworthy examples, for around $20,000. Of course, those cars are far from perfect, but they are presentable cars that are ready to be enjoyed immediately. This one is far from being either presentable or roadworthy, which is why I question the price. Having said that, if this car was to be treated to a full, frame-off restoration, it could potentially command a value of $60,000. I suspect that this would be the only sensible path to follow, but even then, the owner would have to be prepared to undertake the more mundane tasks such as disassembly and cleaning for themselves. If they hand the car to experts to do the lot, I suspect that it won’t be financially viable. What do you think?

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Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Member

    That’s a strong ask for this car. Hemmings has a listing for a ’55 up in Wisconsin at $20K, and it’s a nice looking car with a manual. This car strikes me as a $5000 car at best.

    Like 10
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Rex. As an example, 3 weeks ago a friend of mine bought a very decent ‘55 with the 3spd manual (hard to find them!). Good interior, decent chrome, straight body, everything works except the power seat-and he paid just a few thousand more for it. Afterwards he drove it north on CA I-5 at 70mph for 4 hours, nary an issue until he got some bad gas, quickly fixed with an additive.
      IMO this guy is asking WAAY too much money for this project!

      Like 8
  2. Superdessucke

    Dirty dirty dirty bird!

    Like 5
  3. jerry z

    Too bad the car was repainted black. If the original color was present, I’m sure the value would be there.

    Like 2
  4. Paul L Windish

    Looks to be a project that could get one upside down with this ’55 Bird in short order.

    Like 4
    • Superdessucke

      IMO, there are going to be a lot of newbies to this hobby who will be skidding down the expressway on their financial roof with sparks flying in the relatively near future. I don’t know if this car is part of the muscle car trend though. These very early T-Birds seem to have more of a niche following. No clue what they’re worth.

  5. Bob_in_TN Member

    I agree, for me a car like this is more attractive and desirable if it has one of the period-correct iconic colors (and there were several for these T-Birds).

    Obviously sellers want to get as much money as possible, but it is hard for some people to realize just how much time, effort, and money it takes to even get a car back into decent condition. I have occasion to field calls from owners of “barn find” Mustangs, and after some discussion and/or viewing of pictures, they are often disappointed to learn that their cherished old Mustang might be worth only a few thousand dollars (on a good day).

    Like 3
  6. Ray

    I realize everyone thinks they are sitting on a barret and Jackson car but no they are not no matter what you put into a car you never get back it’s a labor of love they are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them

    Like 2
  7. Lance

    According to my price guide this car is worth closer to $8700. My wife and I just bought a 55 last month at an auction for $20,500 and it needs virtually no rust repairs and the previous two owners poured a TON of money into the mechanicals. It needs tires because while the tires are new from the amount of use they have on them they are 9 years old now. The engine runs great and the transmission and rear end were rebuilt plus the entire brake system.

    Like 1
  8. Bill McCoskey

    Lance,
    In 50+ years of working around vintage cars & tires, I can say with confidence those 9 year old tires have plenty of years left in them, provided they don’t have flat spots from sitting in one place for long periods of time.

    Like 3
    • Douglas Lemmo

      At 9 years old the rubber has detrriorated and they should not be used even though they may look good.

      Like 1

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