- 1957 Thunderbird. Hero Image and all other pictures from Hemmings Motor News. All text, art and errors by: Chris Breeden

Spotting Guide: Ford Thunderbird

Chevrolet got the better of Ford in 1953 with the debut of the Corvette. Ford would answer two years later with a car that would outsell the 'Vette by twice the amount. The Thunderbird was never meant to be a European type sports car, instead it was marketed as a "personal car" and the sporting idea was dropped. Not a bad idea considering it was a body on frame car constructed with off the shelf Ford parts.

Here we will take a look at the most obvious and easy to spot differences in these beautiful classic Fords! We will stay away from hard to notice differences, like horn trim rings and engine cubic inches. We will concentrate on the easy to notice things, to help you tell the differences while out in the wild.


The easiest way to tell you are probably looking at a first year Thunderbird is to notice the rear of the car. In 1955 the spare tire was taking up valuable space in the trunk. All Thunderbirds came with a removable hard top and the convertible soft top was an option that was included on almost everyone sold. What wasn't an option in '55 was the round portholes in the hardtop.


In '56 the spare tire became externally located. The portholes on the hartop were a no cost option. A little more difficult to notice is the addition of a vent on the passenger's side of the car just forward of the door and below the stylized louvers. Other than the spare tire, hardtop portholes and passenger's side vent door there isn't a very easy way of telling the difference between the '55 and the '56. When in doubt, look for a external spare tire.


1957 Ford Thunderbirds are a one year only car. The grill got bigger and the front bumper got a reworking. The front running / turn signal lights became square and were inset on the bumper. Lastly, a set of glorious tail fins were added.

Photo from: Hemmings Motor News

These are some truly iconic 1950's American cars. Ford was able to tap into the look that most Americans liked in European sports cars, but kept what Americans wanted in a car in mind while creating the Thunderbird. That's straight line acceleration. In an America that was building one perfectly straight superhighway after the next, handling took a backseat to raw power and, as it turns out, the Thunderbird had no back seats.

Keep on Cruisin'!

How about those Baby Birds?

Given the choice, would you rather have a Thunderbird or a Corvette?

Let us know in the comments below and don't forget...

Art by: Chris Breeden

Thanks for reading!

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Comments (12)
  • I've always loved these little cars.

    17 days ago
    2 Bumps
  • '55s are the best Thunderbirds ever. The new one was a disgrace.

    19 days ago
    2 Bumps
    • It was rather angular and unattractive!

      19 days ago
      2 Bumps
    • Probably seemed a good idea the time. Retro was 'in'. Was always a fan of the '56 myself- maybe a peacock blue one like feature car in the March '91 Street Machine mag I still have.

      19 days ago
      3 Bumps


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