By the mid Fifties, Ford had lost its traditional hold on the affordable car market. Sales had shrunk after World War II and customers were flocking to Chevrolet thanks to the exciting new Corvette. There was nothing within the Blue Oval’s aging lineup that could compete with the sportscar, until 1955 when a new model came along that put it back on the map. In fact, it wouldn’t just revitalise the carmaker, it would launch a segment that would dominate the American landscape and personify an entire decade. It was the Thunderbird.
When Enzo Ferrari gave him a 212 Barchetta in 1952, Henry Ford II fell head over heels for European sportscars. The grandson of Henry then went about creating his own and tasked designer George Walker to come up with a two-door car that could compete with the Vette, but Ford had an advantage; the Chevy was far from perfect what with an underpowered inline-six saddled to a two-speed automatic and learned from the mistakes of its rival by blessing the Thunderbird with what buyers wanted — notably a V8 (the companies new 4.8-litre Y-Block was shoved under the bonnet) and an optional manual gearbox. The two-seater with a removable fiberglass hardtop also offered more room than the Corvette and rode on its own unique chassis. It made its debut a year after the Vette to rave reviews and although it wasn’t a full-on sportscar either (it was too plush to want to aggressively throw around), Ford billed it as a “personal luxury car” which was adept at thrilling grease monkeys and well-to-do buyers alike. It was a fun car to drive which didn’t sacrifice comfort and the American public loved it.
Only 10,000 units were planned for ‘55 but 10 days after its debut, Ford had over 4,000 orders for it. By the year was out, more than 16,000 were built. Today, the iconic T-Bird in concours condition costs around Dh250,000.