The Ford Thunderbird (colloquially called the T-Bird) is a personal luxury car produced by Ford from model years 1955 until 1997 and 2002 until 2005 across 11 distinct generations. Introduced as a two-seat convertible, the Thunderbird was produced in a variety of body configurations. These included a four-seat hardtop coupe, four-seat convertible, five-seat convertible and hardtop, four-door pillared hardtop sedan, six-passenger hardtop coupe, and five-passenger pillared coupe, with the final generation designed again as a two-seat convertible.
The first generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a two-seat convertible produced by Ford for the 1955 to 1957 model year, the first 2-seat Ford since 1938. It was developed in response to the 1953 Motorama display at the New York Auto Show, which showed the Chevrolet Corvette. The Corvette in turn was developed in response to the popularity of European sports cars among Americans.
Dubbed a “a personal car of distinction” by Ford, this appellation was also used by the motoring press at the time.
The car built upon the heritage of the bespoke roadsters of the 1930s, yet was constructed largely of existing components, marking the first step toward the evolution of the personal luxury car as a mass market segment in the United States.
While light weight for its era and fitted with a standard V8 engine, the Thunderbird focused more on driver comfort than speed, and was not a direct rival to either the Corvette or European sports cars. The Thunderbird proved more suited to the American market than the Corvette, with sales of 16,155, versus 674 Corvettes in 1955.
This remained the only two-seat convertible Thunderbird until the eleventh-generation was unveiled in 2002. The design of this generation of the Ford Thunderbird was the direct inspiration for the Auto Union 1000 Sp sports coupe.