No Reserve: 1956 Ford Thunderbird

One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1973 classic “American Graffiti.” It was one of those movies where Hollywood names weren’t the only stars. Some pretty impressive cars also took a starring role, and amongst those was a white 1956 Thunderbird driven by the ultimate mystery woman, Suzanne Somers. We only get some tantalizing glimpses of the T-Bird, but it is enough to whet our appetite. If you would love to relive those glory days, our feature car could allow that to happen. The owner claims to have sunk a cool $40,000 into the restoration to this point, and it seems that this money might have been plowed into the “big ticket” items. It needs a dedicated buyer willing to complete the process so that this classic can prowl our streets once again. Located in Mobile, Alabama, you will find this Ford listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding has reached $12,100 in what is a No Reserve auction.

The seller has listed the Thunderbird on behalf of a friend, but he is slightly light on detail. However, there are a few points that are worth noting. He claims that the Colonial White paint is original, and I can’t see any evidence of repainting work. It has undoubtedly seen better days, and a cosmetic refresh will feature high on this car’s to-do list. The panels are pretty straight, but the big news with this classic is its lack of rust. The seller supplies some underside shots, and while there is some surface corrosion visible, there’s no evidence of penetrating rust. That’s good news because that could be a problem with many cars from this era, and the T-Bird was not immune. While some of the plated trim pieces look good, others will require restoration. However, the tinted glass and factory hardtop would seem to need nothing.

The listing is pretty short on details, but this T-Bird is equipped with a 312ci V8 and a 3-speed automatic transmission. That V8 should be capable of pumping out 225hp, which is enough to send the car through the ¼ mile in a respectable 16.5 seconds. It isn’t clear whether the vehicle is numbers-matching or whether part of the $40,000 represents any mechanical refurbishing. The engine looks clean enough to suggest that it is possible, but if this is the case, one aspect surprises me. It appears that the owner was aiming for a high-end restoration, and if he pulled the engine for a rebuild, I find it odd that he didn’t take that opportunity to refresh the paint in the engine bay. Removing the engine again would not be a significant undertaking, and I believe it would be worth the effort to achieve a pristine presentation.

One area where we know that the owner has splashed the cash is on the interior. It appears that the car originally featured Code XF Green and White upholstery, but the owner decided to perform a complete retrim in Code XB Fiesta and White. The result is pretty stunning, and there isn’t much that this interior needs if it is to present in as-new condition. I noticed some bubbling under the chrome on some plated items, so it would be worth the cost and effort to send those pieces to the platers for a refurb. The carpet doesn’t fit that well in a couple of spots, but some simple tweaking and pulling should sort that. The same appears to be true of the seat upholstery, especially on the driver’s side. Otherwise, this interior seems to need nothing.

Taken at face value, this 1956 Thunderbird shows plenty of promise as a project build. The thought of recreating one of the star cars from an American cult movie is an attractive one, and I would be willing to bet that a few readers will have the same thought. If this classic has a single weakness, it is the lack of factual information that the seller supplies in his listing. We need to hope that he is willing to answer questions because a few important ones are worth asking. Many of these revolve around the vehicle’s mechanical state and what work, if any, has been performed in this area. If the feedback from the seller is positive, that could make this a project build worthy of a closer look.


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  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Really good looking cars. It’s a shame they stuck that continental kit on the back of it for the ’56 model year..

    Like 7

      Really affected what little handling the ’55 had …

  2. Joe Bru

    new interior & some engine work doesn’t add up to 40K

    Like 9
    • Gerard Frederick

      My thoughts exactly. There is no way anyone has spent 40 big ones on this Thunder Chicken, meaning someone is being less than truthful, which is a giant red flag.

      Like 2
  3. fran

    Nice car! Price is not there, though. Anybody watches bidding on Thunderbirds, they see they never make reserve and they bring under 20K lots of times, Stuck in RE-list_VILLE

    Like 5
    • bobH Member

      Agreed with fran… I’ve been following prices on 55-56’s for quite awhile. Might be an ok deal at 12. There are frequently projects available for half that, perhaps not quite as good as this one. Key, for me at least, is rust status. If rust is not an issue, then I’d consider it. Continental kit has to go. And, thank goodness, the 312 is still with it. If it got the other engine that was mentioned, I’d have no interest.

  4. Arthell64 Member

    These cars were popular with WW2 generation not so much with the baby boomers.

    Like 1
  5. Tort Member

    I never could understand why the continental kit wasn’t an option instead of standard equipment in 56. 12K seems more than fair but the claim of 40k invested in restoration I would have to see the receipts to believe.

    Like 2
  6. Camaro guy

    That’s a 2 speed Ford O Matíc they didn’t have a 3sp. auto in 56

    • Bob C.

      Camaro guy, the 2 speed Fordomatic didn’t come out until 1959. The early Fordomatics were 3 speeds, but they started out in second gear and went to third, unless you manually shifted to low or floored it from a dead stop.

      • Frank of Eden

        WOW BOB C… I took it for granted that they started building the Fordomatics with only 2 speeds. You are teaching me something here. Thanks for posting. Shows that I can learn something every day if I pay attention … Thanks. Frank

  7. John Oliveri

    40k into what, certainly wasn’t paint or tires, he’s keeping this car

  8. Troy s

    Always thought the 292 Y block were in these until ’57, when the 312 came out. I won’t pretend to know anything here and maybe the 312 was already available in ’56. Suzanne Somers was a lot more interesting than the white T bird but it fit the gorgeous blonds character. She was simply….stunning.
    The black ’55 rat powered Chevy in AG made such an impression on me at the young age of eight or nine, more than any other ‘rod in that movie. Still one of my favorites. Sorry.

  9. Frank of Eden

    I have always loved the 55 through 57 T-Birds, but was never able to own one when I was younger. Closest I got was a ’59. But that was a totally different car.

    I also do not see 40 grand investment in that vehicle, maybe he is counting an expensive climate controlled garage rent for five years of ownership.

    I do love to see “original” or replaced exactly like original, listed on any car that I am interested in. Including paint, and interior colors. Yes, red and white would appeal to “new buyers” more than green and white, but doing that type of interior change for “resale” purposes is questionable at best. It would be a high cost for the wrong reasons. That must be where most of the money was put… interior change labor. It’s not easy to change the entire interior color… repainting all the metal and the intricate dash would be the most difficult part. I have done it and it was a real job… never do that again.

    I noticed that the radio is an after market unit that was shoved into the hole in the dash. Again NOT original, and it looks like a hack job. If you must have a modern radio to listen to your tunes… put it in a place that can’t be seen, in the glove box or under the seat, etc. “After market” ruins the dash of most “collectable” cars. There are many folks around the country who will rebuild an old AM radio that came in the car, to actually work and can add various tuners for FM & satellite can be included so the dash could stay Original!

  10. Gary Rhodes

    $40k? Someone got the schlong with no lube. It needs a total restoration, you would be better off buying a already restored one.

    Like 1
  11. Gary Rhodes

    $40k? More like $4k twenty years ago. There is no way the interior is fresh, nor the motor nor the paint. IF it is rust free that is the only thing it has going for it. It needs a total restoration, you would be better off buying a already restored one or building a pro touring.

  12. richard prestridge

    is the paint original or is it repainted the original color ?

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