Hot on the heels of the new Corvette, Ford introduced its 1955 Thunderbird to great fanfare and thunderous approval when the sporty two-seater premiered at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show. With its appealing shape, distinctive style and a 292-cubic-inch V-8 putting out either 193 or 198 horsepower, depending on transmission pairing, it was a huge success with 16,155 examples sold that first year. Compared to its crosstown rival the Corvette, which only attracted 700 buyers that same year, Ford hit a grand slam right out of the box. It seemed everyone wanted to own a new Thunderbird.
Ford’s brochure for the restyled 1958 Thunderbird zeroed in on the car’s spacious interior saying “…full fine-car room and comfort for four….”
In preparation for its upcoming restyle for the 1958 model year, how could Ford possibly update the car while ensuring its continued sales success? Shocking as it seemed at the time, the Thunderbird was stretched to accommodate five passengers instead of just two. Ford’s sanity was called into question, but clearly its marketing staff knew what they were doing. As shown by the following production figures, overall three-year sales of the new “Squarebird” were nearly 374 percent higher than the combined three-year production run of the ever lovable “Little ‘Bird.” The public loved the restyled Thunderbird and flocked to Ford showrooms throughout the country to get one of their own.
Early Thunderbird sales
For 1959, the saying “Thunderbird is in fact, America’s most wanted, most admired car” was surely true. By year’s end 67,456 examples had been produced, which was more than the 1955-’56-’57 models combined.
Throughout its existence, Thunderbirds have always been blessed with fantastic styling, cutting-edge design, and all-around inviting characteristics that are as distinctive as they come. Yet, as much as I appreciate the Little ‘Birds of 1955-’57, they never really did much for me–that is, until I saw a black ’57 fitted with blackwalls on American Torq Thrust wheels. Talk about transforming a car from a pretty little thing to menacing street fighter; all it took was a simple tire and wheel change. Now that’s the tough expression that I like, and should an early ‘Bird ever find its way into my garage, that’s how it’s going to look, except mine will be refinished in a rich navy blue with an interior covered in red leather, lowered slightly, with a solid lifter cam and dual Smittys’ out back for a little music; it will most probably be the smaller ’55 model. All else will remain the same. Oh, and a Sun tach will be strapped to the steering column.
The jet-aged inspired look of the 1961-’63 “Bullet ‘Birds” remains quite radical to this day. I mean, who in their right mind still doesn’t go “wow” whenever the back end of one of these dramatic machines comes into view? The 1964-’66 models are equally stylish in their own way, especially the Landau versions with their little extra dash of classiness. And unlike many enthusiasts, I sincerely believe that the 1967-’69 Thunderbirds are without question matchless in their styling, as unique as any car ever made. I’ve been wanting to own one ever since I first saw a brand-new gold four-door model parked on the streets in Brooklyn back in 1967, and still hope to someday.
Its rear view was the car’s calling card with a matchless beauty distinctively all its own. The nine vertical hashmarks on the quarterpanel’s rear most area were only on the 1960 models.
But my all-time favorite Thunderbird has always been the Squarebird. For some reason, these cars press my button like few others can, perhaps, because Detroit’s class of ’58 is one of my favorite years in terms of styling. The cars were lower and wider, and the idiosyncratic four-headlamp front ends gave them a distinguished appeal that few other model years can ever hope to achieve. And right in the midst of these restyled gems sat the new four-seat Thunderbird.
That extra seat in the rear is what made the 1958-’60 Thunderbirds far more desirable than the earlier two-seat models. With its individual bucket seats and finely crafted console, it combined the positive attributes of a sports car and luxury car in the same package.
In order to truly appreciate what the 1958-’60 Thunderbirds are all about, you have to stand back and look at them as individual models, and not compare them to the cute early ‘Birds or the sleeker Sixties models. They are their own creation, endowed with inimitable shapes and exclusive design elements not seen on any other car of the era.
While the shape of the Squarebirds may appear to be a little bulky and somewhat awkward from some angles, once you get beyond that and start seeing all the not-so-subtle styling contours as their own objects, you will quickly appreciate the car as a sculptural masterpiece of Fifties Detroit design.
Its small fin wraps around the rear tail lamp pod, then flows into the bumper. The continuity of the line isn’t broken, as the bumper completes the framing of the three-round tail lamps as it curves back under, then it wraps around and becomes the end point for the aforementioned side spear. Simply outstanding!
Any of the three Squarebirds would be a joy to own; however, it’s the 1960 model, with its three-taillamp rear that’s on my top-10 list of must-have American cars. In fact, the very car featured here, which I had the pleasure to drive a few years ago, is the ideal combination of perfect colors—Acapulco Blue Metallic and tan interior. For Squarebird lovers, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Clearly Ford’s advertising for “America’s most individual car” was spot on when they stated: “New Ford Thunderbird seats four—now it’s twice the fun to own one!”
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Richard Lentinello.
To name the most influential American car of the postwar era might be an impossible task, but here’s one blue-ribbon candidate: The 1949 Oldsmobile.
Some automotive pundits like to say the 1949 Oldsmobile 88 was America’s first muscle car, but we think that misses the mark. In 1949, the term “muscle car” didn’t yet exist. No one would have known what you were talking about. The real muscle car era as we know it, and as it came to be understood, begins in 1964.
Besides, the ’49 Olds played a far more important and fundamental role in the Motor City’s historical timeline: Essentially, it defined the popular postwar automobile. The Olds offered, in one package, a modern, fully automatic transmission and an overhead-valve, high-compression, short stroke V8, two features that in a few short years, all American cars would be expected to share. Indeed, in the American market, any popular-priced vehicle without these these two key elements was practically a niche product.
Formally announced in January of 1949, a few months after the Cadillac OHV V8, its General Motors stablemate, the Oldsmobile Rocket V8 was first offered in the luxury 98 series, then in the mid-priced, A-Body 88 series shortly thereafter (launching the famous “Rocket 88” of song and story). While both the Cadillac and Olds overhead-valve V8s were based on the groundwork of GM’s research division and its illustrious vice president, Charles “Boss” Kettering, the two engines are individual designs and share no common components. The example above, naturally enough, is shown mated to a Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission.
Displacing 303 cubic inches, the Rocket boasted oversquare proportions with a bore of 3.75 inches and a stroke of 3.4375 inches. This advanced short-stoke layout offered dramatically lower piston speeds, reducing friction and wear, while the overhead-valve cylinder heads provided improved breathing and a more compact combustion chamber, enabling a greater compression ratio—the key to increased efficiency.
While the Rocket V8 was initially produced with a compression ratio of 7.25:1, only a quarter-point higher than the venerable Olds L-head six before it, the specs are misleading. The L-head was staggering to the end of its production life, fully optimized, while the V8 was at the base of its development curve, bursting with potential. Originally rated at 135 hp, the first-gen Olds V8 would eventually grow to 394 CID and 345 hp in 1964, using compression ratios as great as 10.5:1.
So great was Kettering’s contribution to the Olds V8 that at one point, the division initially planned to name the engine after him, as shown on the prototype valve cover above. However, the product naming conflicted with GM corporate policy, so the engine plant in Lansing was named in his honor instead, and the name Rocket was adopted for the engine. Kettering gets the credit for recognizing that petroleum industry advances during World War II would make high-octane gasoline available to the public in vast quantities, supporting higher compression ratios and far greater power and efficiency. In one of his test programs, a GM sedan with 12:1 compression ratio delivered 36 miles per gallon at a steady 50 mph, running on 100 octane gasoline—an improvement in fuel economy of nearly double.
As part of its marketing campaign for the Rocket V8, Oldsmobile arranged for an 88 convertible to handle the pace car duties at the Indy 500, with speedway president Wilbur Shaw at the wheel. Note the stylized rocket chrome trim on the front fender. As part of the festivities, on race day the Purdue University Marching Band spelled out the word “OLDS” in formation on the front stretch.
Actually, Oldsmobile continued to offer the old L-head six, now rated at 105 hp, in the bottom-of-the-line 76 series in 1949-50, but it’s difficult to tell if many even noticed. The Olds Rocket reset the bar for American sedans in the low-to-mid priced field, and by 1955 every U.S. manufacturer offered an up-to-date overhead-valve V8 in its lineup.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Courtesy of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, here’s a neat little three-minute history of that proud American institution, the station wagon.
America knows Mo Rocca, the journalist, humorist, and actor. We first got to meet him as a regular correspondent for The Daily Show on Comedy Central and The Tonight Show on NBC, and listeners to National Public Radio are well-acquainted with his dry and playful wit as a panelist on the quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Mo is a familiar face to kids as well, as the host of the The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation sketches on Saturday mornings on CBS.
Here, Mo has teamed up with The Henry Ford’s curator of transportation, Matt Anderson, to present a brilliant little three-minute history of the station wagon, an American institution. Station wagons, or depot hacks as they were once also known, are nearly as old as the auto industry, but they really came into their own after WWII with the explosion of suburbia and the baby boom. In more recent years the once-popular body style has been eclipsed, first by minvans and then the SUV craze. But among car enthusiasts, hope springs eternal for a longroof revival. Please enjoy the video.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.
Join Lucy and Desi as they unveil the sensational new Ford Skyliner with its revolutionary Hideaway Hardtop.
Throughout the ’50s, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were America’s most beloved television couple with their smash hit show, I Love Lucy, visiting the nation’s living rooms every Monday night on CBS. With their production company Desilu Studios, Lucy and Desi virtually invented the situation comedy as we know it today, and from 1951 through 1957 when the original format was retired, the show never dropped from the top of the ratings. So it’s easy to see why the Ford Motor Company recruited Desi and Lucy and I Love Lucy to preview the sensational new Ford Skyliner retractable hardtop. For starters, Ford was guaranteed an enormous and attentive audience for the unveiling.
The messaging in the commercial spot below is fairly simple and straightforward, focusing on the Hideaway Hardtop’s ease of operation. After all, if two lovable scatterbrains like the pair played by Lucy and Desi (and it was indeed all an act by the savvy show biz professionals) could successfully raise and lower the all-steel roof, anyone could.
While the Skyliner was a sensation in the media—and it remains popular in the collector car community even now, 60 years later—the publicity never fully translated into success in the showrooms. The Ford Sunliner, a conventional cloth-top convertible that sold for $300-400 less, continually outsold the Skyliner by two-and-three-to-one margins, and the retractable model was discontinued after 1959. Still, the Skyliner remains one of the Motor City’s most memorable cars of the fabulous ’50s era.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.