2003 Ford Thunderbird Vs. 1955 Thunderbird

The Ford Thunderbird first came out in 1955 and was essentially meant to be competition to the Chevy Corvette the first American automobile that attempted to take some of the sales away from European sports car makers.

2003 Ford Thunderbird

2003 Ford Thunderbird

The Chevy Corvette had to start with only an inline six cylinder engine but the power would grow shortly. A Corvette prototype in 1955 achieved 150 MPH at Daytona with a V-8 engine. Many people have said that there was a good chance that the Ford Thunderbird would never had been developed and produced if Chevy hadn't come out with their novel Corvette.

One big difference between the first Ford Thunderbird's and the Chevrolet Corvettes, aside from the Corvettes having a fiber glass body, was the engine. Thunderbird's first hit the road with V-8 engines where the Corvettes first came out with the inline six cylinder engine. The first frames for the two cars were essentially the same with a 102.0 inch wheelbase. The 1955 Thunderbird's V-8 engine was taken from their Mercury model.

2003, Eleventh Generation Ford Thunderbird

2003, Eleventh Generation Ford Thunderbird

An interesting note is that, unlike the Corvette, the Ford Thunderbird was not produced from 1998 to 2001. The model was out of production for four years. Why did the Ford Motor Company discontinue the Thunderbird model during it's tenth generation just to bring it back four years later?

Below are some interesting production figures during the Ford Thunderbird's First three years of production...

1955   16,155 units

1956   15,631 units

1957   21,380 units

Below are Chevrolet Corvette figures for the same three year period...

1955    700 units

1956  3,467 units

1957  6,339 units

1968 Chevy Corvette

1968 Chevy Corvette1957   6,339 units

The First Discontinuance of the Ford Thunderbird

The main reason for discontinuing the Ford Thunderbird in 1997, a generation ten model, was just as you might have expected...slow sales. Why else would a major automaker discontinue a brand that had been around for decades.? In fact, Ford Thunderbird sales were pretty slow during the entire 1990's right through 1997. This was not a one or two year sales slump. To try to save money, Ford Motor mad very few changes to the 1997 model which was struggling as it was.

There was  a lot said at the time that the Ford Thunderbird was a car from the past. It was old. But so was the Chevrolet Corvette. The Chevy Corvette had been introduced even prior to the Thunderbird in 1953 not long after it was a big hit as a concept car at the New York Auto Show. The Thunderbird was Ford's answer to the Corvette but there was always a big difference between the two. The Thunderbird certainly had more creature comforts and quickly went into four passenger production. The Chevy Corvette always stayed true to the two passenger bucket seat design and it's fiberglass construction was a unique draw.

First Generation Ford Thunderbird

First Generation Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Thunderbirds of the 1970's

Take a particular look at the Ford Thunderbird design changes that began in the 1970's. Compare these to the models of the mid 1960's and those all the way back to 1953. The Thunderbird models starting in the 1970's took on an image of a larger car. Nothing similar to what first came out during the late 1950's. The original sportiness gave way to a larger car with less sharp lines.

In some ways the Mustang, the Pony Car, took the place of the Thunderbird, at least as it tried to compete against the Chevy Corvette. The Ford Mustang, while not a fiberglass car like the Corvette, had a sporty flair and might have satisfied the taste for someone who desired a Corvette but couldn't or didn't want to pay the Corvette price. As it turned out, the Ford Mustang was one of Ford's most popular cars ever and continued so.

The 2003 Ford Thunderbird - Generation Eleven

The generation eleven Ford Thunderbirds, such as the 2003 Ford Thunderbird shown in this article, was a truly redesigned vehicle. Compare it to the 1978 Thunderbird model shown in the photo below and you can see how Thunderbird designs changed so much over the tears. The cars began to look like normal sedans, almost full sized at that.

These eleventh generation cars like the 2003 model shown came out after four years of no Thunderbird production whatsoever. Most were built with a 280-hp, 3.9-liter V-8 engine with a five speed automatic transmission.

1978 Ford Thunderbird, public domain photo

1978 Ford Thunderbird, public domain photo

The eleventh generation Thunderbird was almost an exercise in going back to the drawing boards. Ford essentially returned to the original 1950's formula for the Thunderbird. The eleventh generation cars had a two-seat coupe/convertible layout very much like the first-generation. It was almost as if Ford Motor discovered that they had gotten too far away from the car's original concept that sold so well.

Below are links to additional AutoMuseumOnline photo article you'll find interesting...

1962 Chevrolet Corvette

First Generation Ford Thunderbirds

1970 Corvette Stingray

2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera

2003 Ford Thunderbird sports car styling

2003 Ford Thunderbird sports car styling

Ford Thunderbirds Disappear Again

The eleventh generation Thunderbirds which began being produced in 2002 after a four year lapse was discontinued again after 2005. This was also the year that marked the car's 50th anniversary.

Production numbers for the eleventh generation Thunderbirds, and the last to be built, at least as of this writing, show a steady decline from 2002 to 2005. Some of this decline could be attributed to the SUV craze which took off.

2002  31,350 units

2003   14,675 units

2004   12,752 units

2005     9,295 units

1955 Ford Thunderbird

1955 Ford Thunderbird

The basis of the first Ford Thunderbird was that it offered both style and sophistication that used to be available only from expensive imports like Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. Ford attempted,and was successful at, offering this kind of car in the 1950's at a reasonable price tag of a Ford.

Ford Motor Company essentially returned to the original basis for the Thunderbird when they came out with the eleventh generation 2002 model. As of this writing there appears to be no plans to reintroduce the model. It has been however said that there always is the possibility that the nameplate could come out again. Only time will tell. The last new car prices for the Ford Thunderbird were in the range of $38,000 to $43,000 depending on the options and exact model.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)




1927 American LaFrance Fire Truck

One of the oldest fire equipment maker in the U.S. was the American LaFrance Fire Engine Company founded in 1903 in Elmira New York. Interestingly enough, this company also built roadster automobiles starting in 1907 until 1914. The story here is that American LaFrance built only twenty-two automobiles. The company's very first motorized fire truck was manufactured in 1907.

1927 American laFrance Fire Truck at San Antonio Fire Museum

1927 American laFrance Fire Truck at San Antonio Fire Museum

The 1927 American LaFrance Fire Engine Pumper truck shown in this article is just one of the decades of fire trucks they manufactured. There are a large number of old fire trucks from American LaFrance on display throughout the country.

Two interesting side notes are that American LaFrance built some steam powered fire engines during the first decade of the 1900's and unveiled their first six cylinder internal combustion engine in 1911.

The 1927 American LaFrance Fire Pumper Truck

The 1927 American LaFrance pumper featured here is among the most popular series that the company produced. The truck came with a six cylinder engine delivering 130 horsepower. The truck was also equipped with a 750 gallons per minute pump. The truck also had dual chain drives and weighed in the neighborhood of 12,000 lbs.

This 1927 American LaFrance Type 75 Fire Truck would have sold new in that year for about $6,000.

1927 American laFrance

1927 American laFrance

American La France Grows With Acquisitions

The very beginnings of American LaFrance go all the way back to 1832 when hand operated and horse drawn fire fighting equipment was manufactured. This type of fire equipment building in the early 1800's typically was performed at blacksmith shops. Prior to Truckson LaFrance and partners forming their company, LaFrance Manufacturing Company in 1873, there were several earlier companies that would go on to eventually form the American LaFrance that we know as the twentieth century fire truck builder. This was the company that would go on to build a variety of fire truck equipment such as ladder trucks, airport crash truck equipment, chemical engines and snorkel trucks. By the mid 1920's American LaFrance had produced over 4,000 fire trucks.

American LaFrance chain drive

American LaFrance chain drive

In 1927 American LaFrance purchased the well known fire equipment manufacturer, the Foamite-Childs Co. With this acquisition, the company got a new corporate name called American LaFrance and Foamite Co.

While the American automakers were required to halt civilian car production during World War Two and begin building military vehicles, American LaFrance continued building their fire trucks for towns and cities across the nation and shipped many overseas per government contracts.

Over these many years American LaFrance built a solid reputation as being America's number one builder of emergency equipment.

1927 American LaFrance six cylinder engine

1927 American LaFrance six cylinder engine

The company Freightliner acquired American LaFrance in 1995 and then ten years later the company was transferred to a New York investment company. Three years later American LaFrance filed for bankruptcy and then several months after that they emerged from bankruptcy. Today the company builds a large variety of heavy truck equipment. Fire truck cabs, refuse trucks and general rescue and utility trucks are manufactured from their Summerville, SC factory.

See our AutoMuseumOnline article on the 1951 Mack LS 85 Fire Pumper Truck.

Also, see our article on a Restored 1914 Ford Model T Depot Hack

If you happen to be in Michigan or plan traveling there, the Great Lakes International Antique Fire Apparatus Association's Annual Antique Fire Engine Muster in Frankenmuth Michigan is a fun event to attend. Here you will find just about everything and everything pertaining to vintage fire engines and fire equipment. The event usually is planned for July. Frankenmuth Michigan is a tourist destination and is known world wide for their shops and chicken dinners. The town claims to have the world's largest Christmas shop as well.  It's estimated that three million visitors a year travel there. Frankenmuth is located about 75 miles north of Detroit and about 14 miles southeast of Saginaw Michigan.

For mote information about this organization and planned events in the future see website www.gliafaa.org

1927 American LaFrance Fire Truck on display at the San Antonio Texas Fire Museum

1927 American LaFrance Fire Truck on display at the San Antonio Texas Fire Museum

There are a few very good books available on the American LaFrance Fire Trucks. These include American LaFrance 500/600 Series by author Walter M P McCall, 100 Years of American LaFrance also by Walter McCall and American LaFrance 700 Series 1945-1952: Photo Archive, Vol. 2 by Lawrence Phillips.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)


1986 Rolls Royce Corniche Convertible

It all started with an engineer named Frederick Henry Royce, and Charles Stewart Rolls also an engineer. In Rolls case he was also an automobile dealer. As they say, the rest is history and the car brand is one of the most recognizable in the world.

1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II

1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II

The Rolls Royce automobiles might be some of the top collector's car's you'll come across. This is not only because of the high prices asked and received for classic and vintage Rolls on car auction sites but also because of the superior workmanship put into the cars. Where else could you possibly find the distinctive Rolls Royce grille? Everything about the Rolls Royce automobiles meant power, wealth and superior craftsmanship. In short, it stood for status. Probably still does. A 2013 Rolls-Royce Phanton Drophead Coupe V-12 with an eight speed automatic transmission has a sticker price of $475,000.

The Spirit of Ecstasy

What other automobile has such a distinctive hood ornament as the "Spirit of Ecstasy"? This is the hood ornament that is synonymous with Rolls Royce. In the U.S. the ornament is often referred to as the "Flying Lady". The ornaments began appearing on top of Rolls radiators after 1910 as an option (almost every car had it) and in the early 1920's it became standard equipment.

Rolls-Royce grille and "Spirit of Ecstasy" ornament

Rolls-Royce grille and "Spirit of Ecstasy" ornament

Rolls Royce and BMW

The 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche Convertible features in this article is one of those cars. Rolls Royce Limited, which began operations in 1904 and also then known as the C.S. Rolls & Company, was absorbed by BMW in 1999 and now goes by the name of Rolls Royce Motor Company. The effect of this meant that the older Rolls vehicles, the ones manufactured prior to the BMW takeover, have risen in value. The feeling is, right or wrong but probably right, is that the older Rolls Royce automobiles were more skillfully built. While Rolls Royce cars are still being built and sold, the era of the company, at the time the 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche was manufactured, is now part of history.

Rolls Royce and Bentley

Bentley Motors Limited, started in 1919, was acquired by Rolls Royce in 1931. This acquisition no doubt was a result of the consolidation taking place due to the onset of the worldwide Great Depression. because of this merger many of the vehicles going forward, especially after the end of World War Two, had both Rolls Royce and Bentley characteristics.

1986 Rolls-Royce

1986 Rolls-Royce

Bentley eventually was acquired by the German Volkswagen Group in 1998, one year prior to Rolls being taken over by BMW.

The 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche

The Rolls Corniche began production in 1971 and continued until 1995. The Corniche replaced the popular Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. The two door version of the Silver Shadow became the Corniche. From 1992 forward the Corniche model was built only as a convertible.

The Rolls Royce Corniche II was sold in the American market beginning with the 1986 model. The Rolls Corniche II was and is a very impressive looking automobile. In fact, what older Rolls Royce cars were not?

1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II Specifications

The power plant for the 1986 Rolls Corniche was a standard 6.8 litre Rolls Royce V-8 engine with 16 valves, two per cylinder. The engine used aluminum alloy cylinder heads and delivered 256 horsepower. As a side note, the first Rolls Royce engine was a four cylinder delivering 20 horsepower.

Transmission was a three speed automatic.

Suspension was independent with front and rear coil springs.

1986 Rolls Corniche Convertible

1986 Rolls Corniche Convertible

The 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche II had a wheelbase of 120.5 inches, a length of 204.6 inches, a width of 72.3 inches and a height of 58.5 inches. The car's weight was about 5,200 lbs.

Below are links to our photo articles on the 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom One and the luxurious 1933 Duesenberg Model J...

1927 Rolls Royce Phantom One

1933 Duesenberg Model J


Classic Rolls Royce Auction Prices

In short, you'll find classic Rolls Royce automobiles at a variety of prices, all high. As of this writing asking prices for the 1986 Rolls Royce Corniche  II range from about $60,000 to $90,000. Another 1986 Corniche is listed for just under $60,000. Both of these vehicles are listed at under 45,000 miles on the odometer. Mileage and overall condition inside and out will obviously influence the auction asking price. A 1984 Corniche I has been listed at $45,000 and a 1985 model at just under $40,000.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 AutoMuseumOnline)