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

    Spotting Guide: Ford Thunderbird

    The easiest to spot differences, for 1st generation cars, in each year from '55 to '57.

    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

    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

    Art by: Chris Breeden

    Thanks for reading!

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    Comments (12)

    • I've always loved these little cars.

        1 year ago
    • '55s are the best Thunderbirds ever. The new one was a disgrace.

        1 year ago
      • It was rather angular and unattractive!

          1 year ago
      • 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.

          1 year ago
    • Probably the best looking production Ford ever! Great article Chris, another one to reference!

        1 year ago
      • It's one of my favorite Fords!

          1 year ago
      • One of the best look cars full stop. The design was quite influential and elements of it can be seen even in cars from the likes of Sunbeam and DKW.

          1 year ago
    • Also the tell a '55 form a '56, the latter has vent windows and the exhaust exits though the lower bumper.. Also the very early '55 T-birds (when shown in 1954) were depicted with the huge sweeping side trim as seen on the full-size Fords. Thankfully it seems to have been ditched so the production cars looked all the more better.

        1 year ago
    • Here's something else to think about: When the Mustang came out in '64 Ford had a problem. What were they going to do with the Thunderbird? Well in '67 they made the 'bird a four-door sedan. Today, SUV's and Crossovers are doing the same thing to the Mustang. Ford doesn't know what to do with it. So they are going to give it four-doors! History repeating itself!

        1 year ago
      • The T-bird was aimed much higher in the market than the Mustang and by '64 was very much a "personal luxury" coupe (the Lincoln Continental MkIII being still a few years away). The Mustang was pitched at a much lower level, with the base being a...

        Read more
          1 year ago


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