One-Owner 1956 Ford Thunderbird

The Thunderbird for 1956 was more than a decade ahead of its time with its standard and optional safety features.  As if this baby bird’s lines weren’t beautiful enough to become a sought-after classic, she’s had only one owner since 1956 with documented miles.  But you’d better hurry on this one, its eBay auction here expires tonight and the bidding is stuck at $5,900 after 44 bids (Emphasis: NO RESERVE).

Ford went way beyond the call of duty with a little-remembered “Lifeguard System” that included a deep-dish steering wheel, safety door latches, optional seat belts, padded instrument panel and a redesigned rear view mirror that reduced glass becoming a projectile in a crash scenario. Bing Crosby made some promo films for the ’56 Bird demonstrating these features–they are worth finding online. Unfortunately, Ford soon found out that safety didn’t sell: in 1956, Chevrolet sold 190,000 more cars than Ford. Our subject car is a 3-speed with overdrive manual hardtop (no convertible top)–and is in early restoration.  Seller reports that it runs, rolls and the transmission shifts gears. The Continental kit, placing the spare tire outside the trunk, was standard equipment for 1956 only. Only 10% of T-Birds were ordered without the convertible top.

She’s a true blue barn find, and the VIN number tells us she was born with a 312 c.i., 225 h.p. V-8 engine at the Dearborn plant.  The odometer reads 110,750, and the seller claims that is certified by the NJ title.  She’s a little rough around the edges just now after sitting for some time, please look closely at the floorpan photo. The New Jersey plate on it may explain lower body rust.

The trunk, on the other hand, looks solid in the photos.  If the exterior paint looks odd, the seller intimates that the party hired to get the engine and trans in running condition got a little over-anxious and started stripping paint without any authorization.  The badges have been removed in that process.

No mistaking the beautifully cast “Thunderbird” valve covers in this relatively uncluttered engine room. Cannot confirm matching numbers.  About carmakers in 1956, they were in a conundrum: if brand new cars needed safety equipment, would consumers think those cars are really safe to drive?  Ford’s dalliance into trying to make cars safer for its consumers backfired miserably as a driver of car sales. Safety literally took a back seat until the mid-’60s when the U.S. Congress passed laws to create and enforce safety standards for government cars. Carmakers had learned a painful lesson on pushing safety from Ford. It took a crusade by some guy named Ralph Nader to get legislation passed for all cars made after January 1, 1968, to have minimal safety features that Ford had developed in 1956.

Ford’s two-seat sports car, made in response to Chevy’s Corvette, was a three-year experiment that has left a legacy of undeniably simple, classic lines, a smaller profile in the back end building to the wider front end crescendo. For 1956, Ford added the opening side vents (just ahead of the driver’s door in this photo) to ease engine compartment heat build-up. As Motor Trend’s Jack Keebler put it: the ’55-’57 Thunderbird “will forever be an icon of beauty, youth, success, and the unbridled optimism of post-World War II America”.  Still, time to bid up this roadster from a time when Marilyn Monroe was headlining movies.


  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Lot of rust in this one. Hope the buyer can find enough repair pieces to save it. The ’56 is my favorite of the three but if I bought one I’d park the spare tire setup in the garage until I got ready to sell the car. Just doesn’t look right on such a well designed car.

    Like 5
    • Poppy

      I believe the continental kit was standard for the 1956 T-birds.

      Like 0
  2. IkeyHeyman

    If you’re looking for a project to occupy your time, I guess this fits the bill. But there seems to be plenty of first generation T-birds out there for sale, why mess with something that needs so much?

    Like 7
  3. Greg

    Fastest T-Bird. Speedo goes to 240!!! Do think it is a KPH Speedo

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

      Greg, You are correct, that’s a KPH speedo. It’s likely an export car, and if I’m not mistaken, Ford Export cars were identified as export in the VIN.

      Like 3
      • Mike Tarutis Staff

        Good insight guys–Bill do you know how to scope out the VIN for export?

        BTW–if the speedo is in kph, does that mean the odometer is in kilometers, not miles?

        Like 0
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member


        Yes, the Odometer would be a KPH version as well, that means it registers at a .62 rate when compared to miles. So for every 100,000 showing, that means it’s 62,000 in miles.

        And no, I don’t know off hand how to decipher Ford Codes, would have to do research.

        Like 0
  4. DON

    Loads & loads of “patina” on this one, just what the doctor ordered………lol

    Like 0
  5. Jon

    Had two – Raven Black factory 3-speed and silver Auto with hard-top … parts very costly – horn ring was $700 in 1977 … sold both and bought a new Corvette … but I loved the cars and hated getting rid of them …

    Like 0
  6. Carnut

    These poor baby birds are just headed on a downward spiral.. it’s a perfect storm .. American public is aging out.. and after decades of Mcdonalds they no longer fit in these baby t birds..cause if your over 200lbs it’s gonna be a squeeze.. over 300lbs and no way your gonna fit…I am over 55yrs old and still fit into my 30 waist pants.. but I can’t say the same for more guys I see at car functions..

    Like 5
    • ACZ

      They all came with telescopic steering columns.

      Like 2
    • Mike Tarutis Staff

      Had a ’57 in CA and would lose the 15 pounds if I had a place to store this one–up to about $6,300 last I looked.

      Loved the T-bird, but actually got more heads turned in a ’57 Ranchero.

      Thirty inch waist? Huh. . .never thought I’d see that in a car blog, but I guess we can all have “waist” envy for a while.

      Like 2
    • ron corso

      Mate if you weigh in at over 200 lbs it’s you that’s on the downward spiral. The car will still be going strong long after you’ve become food for worms!!!

      Like 3
      • Turbo

        Thank you, Doctor Corso. You should hang out with Carnut. She has a 30 inch waist.

        Like 1
    • Phlathead Phil

      I got you by ten years and still got a 32.5” waist.

      Not every car guy has a beer gut. It all comes down to nutrition.

      BTW, Beer & Fries are Vegan.

      Like 3
      • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member


        “BTW, Beer & Fries are Vegan.”

        I like how you think!

        Like 1
  7. Dave Mathers

    Probably best to just leave it as a Rat Rod because a restoration will be mid five figures for sure.

    Like 1
  8. Jetfire88

    Hints that its a heater delete car. Factory block-off plate where heater core goes, but the heater control head is missing so its hard to verify. Maybe was headed to a warm climate, but then why no soft-top.

    Like 0
  9. ACZ

    I thought the non-porthole hardtop was ’55 only.

    Like 1
    • tiger66

      ’55 was no porthole. ’56 and ’57 you could get the hardtop with or without the porthole though I think you had to order it without the porthole to get it that way.

      Like 1
  10. Maestro1 Member

    I like the ’57 best of all the two seaters. It’s a project car obviously, if you want to spend the time on the thing and the bucks. I would opt for the best one I could afford.

    Like 1
  11. Dusty Rider

    I think that those vent doors were for passenger compartment ventilation.

    Like 1
  12. Jim

    One owner isn’t much of a selling point….especially when that one owner let the car rot.

    Like 5
    • Steve P

      I agree, why let it rot away, don’t get it. Probably had offers on it over the years but wouldn’t sell, now look at it. Shame

      Like 4
    • Robert Eddins

      Why do so many let their cars rot and expect big money?
      They,re daffy ducks that,s why.

      Like 3
  13. GARY

    Bought one in the 80s……had it for about an hour till i realized the VIN didnt match the title……i did get my money back though once i got the police involved……i dont know what happened to car after that

    Like 2
  14. Danny from oz

    Another flipper with a sob story when you read the full description on ebay.

    Like 2
  15. Gord

    I’ve owned a number of these starting in the early 70’s and still have a 55. What saved many from the crusher was the body on frame construction. Lots were rusted badly in the inner fenders, rockers, body mounts and floors but the frame always held them together and made look better than they were. Never buy one without a thorough inspection of the underneath.

    Like 1
    • Jon

      Hard to find one that doesn’t have “door drop” … they had no fender liners and tire spray would go directly to the door hinges …

      Like 1
  16. benjy58

    rusty junk, I’d buy something else.

    Like 1
  17. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Ended:Nov 09, 2020 , 8:57PM
    Winning bid:
    US $7,300.00
    [ 55 bids ]

    Like 0
  18. Mike Tarutis Staff

    Good luck buyer. . .obviously a Big Wallet guy or gal

    Like 0

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