When Chevrolet introduced the Corvette in 1953, Ford was caught flat-footed. There was nothing offered in the Ford lineup to compete with GM's groundbreaking foray into sports car manufacture.

Ford answered the challenge of the Corvette in 1955 with the Thunderbird. Ford had little time to design and develop an entirely new automobile and relied heavily upon existing technology and parts, namely the modified Mercury V-8 power plant, a tactic that would prove vital to the development of the Mustang. True to form, Ford quickly leapt ahead of the competition, selling 16,000 units in the first year of Thunderbird production. Corvette produced only 700 units in 1955.

Some of the major advantages the Thunderbird had over the Corvette included its more powerful engine, lower selling price and possibly most important, the fact that the Thunderbird was a comfortable sports car. Where Corvette was the first American roadster, the Thunderbird was called the first successful American roadster.

Despite the initial success of the Thunderbird, the roadster T-birds were short-lived. Ford management, seeking ever-increasing sales, decided their creation would be more successful if offered to families, and 1958 saw the end of the roadster and the inception of the four-seater “Square Birds.”

Specifications:; 212 horsepower, 292 cubic inch, V-8 engine.

Price new, $2,944.

Accession no. 1993G101

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