Early Bird: 1955 Ford Thunderbird

Many think the Ford Thunderbird was conceived to directly compete as a sportscar against the Chevrolet Corvette. However, it really was one of the first personal luxury cars on the market, albeit a two-seater. The T-Bird was named after the mythical bird known for good luck by the American Indians. With its outstretched wings, the thunderbird was thought to have the power to bring thunder, lightning, and rain by flapping its wings. This Thunderbird is certainly no myth and was acquired from a private collection by the seller. We don’t know if the seller was planning to restore it and changed his mind or if it was purchased to flip. Regardless, it’s a beautiful car even in its current deteriorated state, and can be found in Dade City, Florida where a no reserve auction here on eBay has the bidding up to $4,845 after 21 tries.

According to Automotive Mileposts, the 1955 Ford Thunderbird was “the car that created a new class in the automotive world.” They were impressive to look at and could sometimes be a little quirky to drive (by today’s standards). The comparison of the T-Bird to the Corvette, right or wrong, has gone on for 65 years, perhaps because Ford had greater sales success. Ford sold 16,155 T-Birds for 1955, which was many times over the mere 700 Corvettes that Chevy managed. The two-seat ‘Bird would see three years of production, with the ’57 being the most popular. Ford believed there was a greater market for cars like this which would seat four people, so the Thunderbird added a back seat and it stayed that way through 1997. The two-seater made a brief comeback in 2002-05, but sales didn’t live up to expectations.

The seller tells us he found this 1955 Ford Thunderbird as part of a collection where it had been for many years. We’re told this is an early production car (early bird, get it?) because the interior trim package was limited to early-on ‘Birds. There are a ton of pictures provided, so the seller’s is doing his best to be square with potential buyers. The more pics you look at, the more rust you’ll find. It has helped ruin what once was a Thunderbird Blue paint job (better thought of as turquoise). In addition, there is pitting and scratches to be found most anywhere. The ‘Bird has the removable hardtop (remember Suzanne Somers in American Graffiti?) but its headliner is all but falling apart. These tops were also noted for leaking.

When new, this had to be a real beauty with a matching turquoise and white interior to set off similar external colors. The interior will need a complete rework, from the seats and door panels to the dashboard. This was an especially nice ‘Bird when new as it was equipped with optional power windows and seat with no indication how any of that works now. 76,000 or so miles appear on the odometer.

We assume the engine under the hood is the original 292 cubic inch V-8, which was good for just under 200 hp. The transmission is a manual shift, so we also assume a 3-speed. We’re told the car has not run in many years and the seller has had no luck in turning over the motor. But for purposes of getting it moved to your domicile, the car rolls and steers easily when pushed.

If you follow Hagerty for collector car pricing, this would be a $75,000 T-Bird if in showroom condition. But it will take a lot of money and sweat-equity to just get it to fair condition, which is $20,000. So that may explain why bidding on the car has been in $50 and $100 increments hoping for a bargain when the auction ends.

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  1. IkeyHeyman Member

    Kudos to the seller for attaching 177 photos. Now, for some of you posers out there, this is how you sell a vehicle!

    Like 13
    • piston poney

      they have a lot of other “toys”. lol

      Like 1
  2. Gaspumpchas

    Right you are Ikey, now that you have seen the pics you will know that this is one dirty bird. Rotten so bad that someone cut out the inner rockers and just replaced the innner rocker and eliminated the gussets that I’m sure were were rotten also. Part of the frame over the rear is suspect, plus all the rest, surprisingly, the quarters look solid. One plus- as Russ says- this is one of the first, if not the first t-bird. IIRC, the serial number always started with 1. The rest of the sequence denoted total cars built, not just T-birds. I used to belong to the tbird club, and the early 70’s there was a big debate of who had the first bird. This does have the stainless donut around the tailpipe that was on the early 55’s only. Some other useless notes: horn ring broken, wrong carb, and incorrect gas cap. If the distinction of this bird being one of the earliest tickles your fancy, snap it up. Good luck and stay safe!

    Like 5
    • Ross Murphie

      Hey GPC
      You sound like you know a bit about early T-Birds. I am located Down Under. I currently own an early 55 with a serial number 00009.Do you know much about the numbering system?

      Like 1
      • Gaspumpchas

        Hi Ross-
        I do believe that the numbering started with 100 but may be wrong, would be like P5FH1xxxxx. whats your whole serial? maybe YOU have the first Bird! Have you tried to decode your data plate? Do you know where your bird was built? Does it have the stainless donuts inside the rear bumper? I’d really like to find this out. My email is ecoair9798@aol.com. Send me yours and we can solve the mystery!

  3. bobhess bobhess Member

    My favorite T-Bird. No spare tire kits, no larger than necessary body/chassis, good engines and transmissions. Don’t normally use the color for anything but have always thought this color combination looked great on the ’55s. This could be a good one for drive while you restore.

    Like 3
    • fran

      They already know the 1st bird. It is famous

  4. Andy

    One of the things I love about this site is the extensive knowledge that the writers, members, and viewers have. I look at a car like this and think, “yeah that’s a strong possibility” and then after seeing the comments realize that I only missed about 300 obvious and subtle flaws. When it’s time for me to take the plunge on another car, I’ll show it here first to get the really skinny. Thanks!

    Like 8
  5. Mcl23aren Mcl23aren Member

    This is one of the first T-Birds built.

    Like 2
  6. Fran

    Yes, the seller is honest about depicting what the car is. Sad though. I had a Golden Rod Yellow 55 in Broward/Dade county in the late 70’s, it was from NY where it was put away every year, thus it was nice. While in S Fla. it was exposed to exactly what this car was exposed to, and when my car got back to NY, it was looking almost like that. SAD SAD SAD. Salt air will hurt cars like this, whereas NY winters will not as long as the car is INSIDE and NOT driven in the winter. Flashbacks were brought back to me as I looked at all those pictures. At that point, if you are doing anything less than a “Professional” restoration, you will not ever have nice car. NEVER again.

    Like 1
  7. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry Member

    Oh man! This is a dream car for a certain lady I know. Ofcourse she wants one in perfect driving condition. Too bad I’ve got less than $100 bucks left in my bank account ( or at least one of my accounts) heh, heh, heh or I would place a bid on this car. Just imagine getting this car for the cheep and then starting the process of getting it back to driveable condition. I would start with rebuilding both engine trans and clutch, u-joints and rear end. Then to wheel bearings and brakes. Pressure test the radiator and heater core for leaks, then service or replace as needed. After that move on to electrical circuits and wiring. Next new tires and finally off to the body shop for repairs and paint with all new rubber body seals.
    Last and perhaps most important is registration, title and insurance, then enjoy driving after having spent upwards of $20,000.00 over purchase price. I better start digging up all my buried coffee cans.
    God bless America

    Like 2
    • fran

      Well said! but you must know cheap repair guy. Professional restoration shop that “actually” can do the job, probably would be more like 100K.

  8. Joe Haska

    My first impression was yes then, after 177 pictures, it,\ was Hell No!

  9. Peter drake

    The top is incorrect. Portholes came in 1956. The 3-speed without overdrive is not desirable. There were no options in 1955. They came fully loaded with power everything. The only option was 1 or 2 tops. Not a great car. I owned a 1956 with overdrive for 20 years.

    Like 1
  10. ccrvtt

    The top is not original to the car. The porthole top was introduced in 1957 to provide added visibility.

    • fran

      Actually 56 was the intro of the porthole.

      Like 4
      • ccrvtt

        I stand corrected.

  11. HC

    At least the guy was honest as he can be posting all the photos he did. It is a dirty bird and will need literally everything. Especially a good welder and body guy. So do you want to spend upwards of $30-75K on rebuilding it or buy one that’s already been done? Thats the question.

  12. B.J.

    These T-Birds always give me the impression they were built from all of the left over parts from the Ford sedans on the shelves of the same era, which when you study them they definitely are and purely to compete with the Corvette when it was first released. A bit of a Ford rush job at the time rather than an all new model.

  13. Stan Marks

    Bid is up to $7100. There’s a lot of possibility here. This could turn into a real money maker. Of course it will take some Benjamins to get it there. Ive seen a lot worse. IMHO

  14. crlsful

    Ya know what? For 10K I’d like to kick this motor a buncha times (bet I could free it up) and drive it almost as is. Broken door cards’n all. Stand over it w/a pressure washer, a big toilet brush’n some dish detergent…I bet it would liven up our party right away…

    That’s what it sold for. Learned (many yrs late) my dad liked these. Wish I picked one up for him. Woulda loved to see his face as I delivered…

    Some tune up prts, tires, ck tranny, fuel and ign, may B carb rebuild…

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