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Car Tales: Fun Fun Fun, The Ford Thunderbird

‘The Ford Thunderbird: with its scoped fenders and fins the vehicular version of the 1950s’ American Dream. The T-bird: as of course perfectly exemplified in that wonderful 1964 Beach Boys’ tune Fun Fun Fun, one of the group’s many songs that defined the Californian myth:
‘And she’ll have fun fun fun
 Til her daddy takes the T-Bird away
‘But there is also the Bird of Thunder, as a white Ford Thunderbird is from time to time referred to in The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, by Sebastien Japrisot, the legendary French crime novelist.
classic-ford-thunderbird-for-sale (1)

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‘The timeless luxury sports roadster that is the T-bird rivals the eponymous Lady as central character in this classic novel, which was published in 1966, only eleven years after Ford first began producing Thunderbirds: the first edition of these American classics ran from 1955 to 1957.
‘In the book our pair of lead characters, the Lady and the Ford Thunderbird, take off on a perilous picaresque journey from Paris to the Mediterranean south of France: like a road movie, therefore, before such entities had been so termed.
‘In case you are thinking of putting pedal to the metal, here at Beverly Hills Car Club we have a number of such archetypal vehicles, none at a price that should exactly break your bank.
‘For example, our presently most expensive T-Bird, at $32,500, is a timeless 1956 model featured with two tops in Raven Black with a tuxedo interior, a very classy-looking model indeed. This vehicle comes equipped with a manual transmission, V8 engine, continental kit, steel wheels, Ford hub caps, whitewall tires, and spare tire. This is an excellent and original mechanically sound weekend cruiser.
‘And from 1955, the first year of production, we have a Goldenrod Yellow model for only $19,750. This very desirable and iconic American classic has just come out of storage and – as is reflected in its price – is a great restoration candidate. Again with a tuxedo interior, this Thunderbird is equipped with automatic transmission, power windows, steel wheels, Ford hub caps, and whitewall tires.
‘Midway between these two prices, at $26,500, we have a 1957 Ford Thunderbird with two tops, in Colonial White with a tuxedo interior, with a manual transmission, steel wheels, and whitewall tires. Mechanically sound, this car is the epitome of a true American classic.
1957-ford-thunderbird side view
‘And we have several more of these quintessential first iteration T-birds.
‘Though inspired by, and positioned directly against, the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford billed the Thunderbird as a ‘personal luxury car’, putting a greater emphasis on the vehicle’s comfort and convenience features rather than its inherent sportiness. The Thunderbird sold exceptionally well in its first year, outselling the Corvette by more than 23-to-one for 1955 – 16,155 Thunderbirds sold against 700 Corvettes. With the initial Thunderbird considered a success, few changes were made to the car for the 1956 model year: the most notable alteration was a new 12-volt electrical system and a shift of the spare tire to a continental-style rear bumper to make more storage room in the trunk.
‘Behind the naming of the Ford Thunderbird was a weight of mythology: as anyone familiar with the work of the great thinker Carl Jung will understand, mythological archetypes carry great symbolic weight in our psyches. Could being associated with such an organism perhaps have contributed to the car’s great success? For the thunderbird is a legendary creature in certain North American indigenous people’s history and culture, considered a supernatural being of power and strength.
1957-ford-thunderbird interior
‘The Menominee of Northern Wisconsin tell of a great mountain that floats in the western sky on which dwell the thunderbirds. They control the rain and hail and delight in fighting and deeds of greatness.They are messengers of the Great Sun himself.
‘In Algonquian mythology, the thunderbird controls the upper world: it creates not just thunder, with its wing-flapping, but lightning bolts, which it casts at underworld creatures.
‘Meanwhile, Ho-Chunk tradition states that a man who has a vision of a thunderbird during a solitary fast will become a war chief of the people.
‘Is that what was subconsciously inculcated into the minds of Thunderbird drivers? Like the plot of Sebastien Japrisot’s excellent novel, the Ford Thunderbird was first conceived in Paris. Credit for the development of the original Thunderbird is given to Lewis Crusoe, a former GM executive lured out of retirement by Henry Ford II, and George Walker, chief stylist and a Ford vice-president.
1957-ford-thunderbird engine
Crusoe and Walker met in France in October 1951. Walking in the Grand Palais in Paris, Crusoe pointed at a European sports car and asked Walker, ‘Why can’t we have something like that?’
Walker promptly telephoned Ford’s HQ in Dearborn and told designer Frank Hershey about his conversation with Crusoe. Hershey took the idea and began working on the vehicle. On May 18 1953 Crusoe saw a painted clay model, which corresponded closely to the final car; he gave the vehicle the go-ahead in September that year after comparing it with current European trends. After Henry Ford II returned from the Los Angeles Autorama in 1953, he approved the final design concept to compete with the then new Corvette.
Mind you, Sebastien Japrisot’s Parisienne Lady In The Car has a revelation about her T-bird that is on a par with what seems to perpetually lie in the basement in modern Scandinavian TV noir: she looks in its trunk…
‘And her fun fun fun comes to an end!
-Alex Manos, Owner
Classic Ford Thunderbird buyer Alex Manos

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