1955 Ford Thunderbird / See Photos, Specs and Design History

The 1950's Ford Thunderbirds are iconic 50's collector cars. Chevrolet came out a year earlier with their fiberglass Corvette and the Thunderbird was Ford's answer to it. In fact, designing for the Thunderbird came out immediately, only one month, after the Corvette was introduced. The 1955 Ford Thunderbird featured in this article is a beautiful representation of this popular automobile.

1955 ford thunderbird photo

1955 Ford Thunderbird

As a side note, the "Thunderbird" name was drawn from an in-house contest at Ford Motor Company. The winning employee, a Ford stylist, won a suit from Saks Fifth Avenue. The first 1955 Ford Thunderbird was built in September 1954 in Dearborn, Michigan.

Chevrolet introduced it’s Corvette at the 1953 Metrorama. Interestingly enough, Ford was well aware of the popularity of two seat sports cars prior to Chevrolet coming out with the Corvette. All they had to do was look at the British MG and it's success in North America. At the same time the economy was humming along fine and sport cars even as second vehicles were popular.

This popularity was not ignored. Designing for what would be the Ford Thunderbird began during the first years of the 1950's.  As a result, when the Ford designers were given the job of designing the Thunderbird a lot of work had already been completed.

first generation ford t birdFord Thunderbird Comfort and Styling

The 1955 Ford Thunderbird was introduced to the public at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show. This was a sporty two seat roadster that emphasized passenger comfort. Add to that performance and you had an all around sports car that had more creature comforts than the British imports. On top of that the car had a removable hardtop. This new automobile from Ford generated so much excitement that the company sold their first cars in October 1954, about one month ahead of schedule. It's been said that Ford had some 4,000 pre-orders for the 55 Thunderbird.

When you note that the Thunderbird was created to compete against the two-seater Chevy Corvette, you have to also point out the differences between the two cars. First off, the Corvette was had a fiberglass body. The Thunderbird's was all steel. The first Corvette had a straight six engine and the first Thunderbird came with a V-8. Corvette would add a V-8 as an option for the 1955 model.

Another important thing to note was that the Ford Thunderbird was not really built solely as a sports car like the Chevy Corvette. They were competing head to head, but as mentioned above, Ford appeared to put more creature comfort features into their Thunderbird. The two cars were really tow different machines from the exterior body material to the interior appointments. This fact probably led Ford to create a new automobile niche called the "personal luxury car". Really not a bad idea at all when you consider there was a market for a part sport car-part luxury coupe.

Motor Trend, in regards to the new Ford Thunderbird, pretty much summed up Ford managements goal for the automobile..."Ford prefers to call it a 'personal car. The thinking behind this, as brought out in a discussion with W.R. Burnett, chief passenger car engineer for Ford, is that 'although the Thunderbird has the performance and attributes of most sports cars, management also felt that it should have a few more comforts to make it more appealing to a wider segment of the public.'"

The First Generation Ford Thunderbird

The first generation of Ford Thunderbirds were the 1955 through 1957 model years. There were eleven generations in all from 1955 to 2005.

1955 Ford Thunderbird Specifications

The engines on these first generation Thunderbirds were Mercury 292 cubic inch V-8's.

Both three speed automatic and three speed manual transmissions were offered with the 55 T-Bird. The automatic was named the "Ford-O-Matic". The car equipped with the automatic could deliver about 198 HP. With the manual gearbox the horsepower was 193.

1955 ford thunderbird engineBrakes were four wheel drum.

Suspension for the Thunderbird was really no different than other Ford cars. This was Independent front suspension using coil springs and a solid rear axle on leaf springs.

About 16,000 1955 T-Birds were sold. To illustrate how good demand was, Ford had planned on selling only 10,000 units. This far surpassed Chevrolet Corvette sale for that year. This was regardless any price difference. Base price for this Thunderbird was $2,700. If you started adding options that price could balloon another $1,000.

See the following Auto Museum Online articles on the links below...

 Story of the 1959 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner Retractable Hardtop

1986 Excalibur Series V Phaeton

Where to Find Serial Numbers on Classic Cars

1968 Plymouth Barracuda Formula S

55 t bird dashboard

55 T-Bird dash and interior

First Generation Ford Thunderbird Collector Cars

The 1955 Ford Thunderbird is obviously a rare and valuable collector car. The 55 being the first year model may be the most valuable because of milestone status. Many of the models you're likely to see today have  been restored to pristine like new showroom condition and if you wish to bid on one the price tag is not cheap. You can easily pay from $45,000 to $60,000 and even more for these 55 T-Birds. We've seen them at $89,000. Lesser 55 Thunderbirds can be found from $10,000 to $30,000 depending on condition, originality, miles and any degree of restoration.

Reference material for this article included the Ford Motor Company Archives, Motor Trend Magazine, and the 1955 Ford Thunderbird Handbook.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Auto Museum Online)


1972 Jaguar E-Type (XKE) V-12 / Photos and Specifications

The 1972 Jaguar E Type Series III, manufactured by Jaguar Cars Ltd reminds one of the continuation of the sexy sports cars of the 1960's. One difference however is that the cars were hindered by the new emission standards and added safety equipment , including safety bumpers. The new powerful engine did quite a lot to make up for these mandated changes.

jaguar xke v-12

1972 jaguar XKE V-12

The Jaguar E-Types

The first E-Type Jaguar (XKE) came out for the 1961 model year. These new models replaced the XK-150's although they did share many of the styling and technical characteristics. Jaguar promoted the new E-Type car as the "Ultimate Cat" and stressed it's reduced engine noise and smoothness of the ride.

The Series I models were produced from 1961-1968. The second Series E-Types were built from 1968 - 1971. The Series III models were produced from 1971-75. All of these series Jaguars were very good looking sports cars with excellent performance. some might call them stunning. Over the span from 1961 to 1975 total Jaguar E-Type production was about 70,000 vehicles.

1972 jaguar xkeSeries III XKE's

The 1972 Jaguar E-Type (XKE)  featured in this article was built with a V-12 engine that used plenty of gas but delivered great power. To accommodate the larger engine the wheelbase was expanded. The Jaguar V-12 engine first came out in 1971. The Series III was a much-revised model, larger hood bulge, longer wheelbase and wider tires, that was introduced in June 1971 with production running through  August 1973 for the Coupe model and to June 1974 for the Roadster.

Jaguar's V-12 Engine

The 1972 Jaguar 5.3 liter V-12 engine delivered 244 horsepower. This replaced the Inline Sixes.  The 0-60 MPH rating was 7.5 seconds. Looking back, it was a very popular engine during the 60's and 70's.

Several modifications had to be made for the car to accommodate the new V-12 engine. This included widening of the engine subframes along with a wider track. Also needed was a larger fuel tank and more powerful disc brakes. The engine itself weighed 680 lbs.

1972 Jaguar Type-E V-12 Specifications

As mentioned above, the automobile was built with a 5.3 liter V-12 engine. The engine had Quad 1.75-inch Stromberg carburetors.

Transmission was a four speed manual. It's noted that beginning in 1966, the 2+2 coupe models offered an automatic transmission.

Suspension was four wheel independent.

Brakes were four wheel servo assisted disc.

Dimensions for the 1972 Jaguar V-12 include a 104.7 inch wheelbase, an overall outside length of 184.4 inches, a width of 67.0 inches and a weight of 3,380 lbs.

The Jaguar XKE body was partially unitized...each panel functions both for appearance and support. E-Type construction utilized a multi-tube front end bolted to a steel bodyshell.

jaguar xke dashboard

72 Jaguar XKE dashboard

See the Auto Museum Online articles on the links below...

1957 Jaguar XK-140 and MC Performance Package

A Rare 1958 Jaguar XK-150 Roadster

Locations of Serial Numbers on Classic and Vintage Cars

Performance Parts & Accessories


Jaguar E-Type III Collector Cars

The first thing to recognize is that the right hand drives Jaguar E-Types are much rarer than the left hand drives. The reason was simply that about 85% of the cars were exported. There is no question that these E-Type Jaguars have great lines and are head turners. These sports cars are obviously popular with collectors and most models come with a strong price tag.

jaguar e type v-12The Jaguar XKE Series III sports cars are known for their great styling and an all business cockpit plus excellent acceleration. Downsides might include a reputation of mechanical unreliability, expensive to repair plus gas guzzling. If one can afford some of the prices asked for these fine sports cars and drives it sparingly, fuel efficiency really shouldn't be a factor.

As of this writing we see a 1972 Jaguar XKE Convertible Roadster V12 automatic, Series 3 with 58,000 miles and stated excellent condition with an asking price of $59,000. Also, a restored 1973 Jaguar XKE two door Roadster Convertible with a four speed manual transmission, 56,000 miles, with an asking price of $80,000. Another is a 1974 XKE Convertible V-12 with a four speed manual transmission and an asking price of $88,000.

Excellent reference material for the Jaguar E-Type sports cars includes...Jaguar E-Type: The Definitive History 2nd Revised edition Edition by author Philip Porter. Also, Jaguar E-Type: The Complete Story by author Jonathan Wood and Jaguar E-Type: The Essential Buyer's Guide by Peter Crespin.

(Article and photos copyright 2015 Auto Museum Online)

The Powerful 1965 Sunbeam Tiger MK-I Sports Car

The 1965 Sunbeam Tiger MK-I is a classic and it's rare. Only 7,083 were built from 1964 to 1967. The Sunbeam Tiger I came with a 260 cubic inch Ford V-8 and a four speed manual transmission. The Sunbeam Tiger produced by the Rootes Group, a UK automaker founded in 1913 by Sir William Rootes, was small and powerful and was probably one of the better sports car values during the 1960's. The 1964 Sunbeam Tiger had a base price of about $3,500.

sunbeam tiger

1965 Sunbeam Tiger MK-1

An interesting side note was that the Rootes Group also built several other automobiles including the Talbot, Hillman, Humber, and Singer.

The Carroll Shelby Touch

The case with Sunbeam was that they had a popular sports car in the Alpine which was introduced in 1959  but it wasn't a powerful sports car. The company was well aware of the work of Carroll Shelby with the small AC Cobra and the Ford V-8. Shelby's 1962 Cobra was really the inspiration for the Sunbeam Tiger which itself was essentially a powerful Sunbeam Alpine. Shelby developed a sports car in America that some at the Rootes Group wanted as well.

There were two prototypes constructed using Sunbeam Alpine shells. One was built by Carroll Shelby and the other by Ken Miles. Shelby's car, after a drive by Rootes Group executives around Los Angeles, was shipped to England.  Lord Rootes after taking a test drive himself made the almost instant decision to proceed with production which was a bit out of character for him. Shelby's prototype unlike that of Miles used a four speed manual transmission.

sunbeam tiger mk 1

Rear view of the Tiger MK-1

Carroll Shelby's hand in designing the Sunbeam Tiger is not nearly as well known as is his work with the AC Cobra and the Ford Mustang.

The biggest challenge of how to fit a large and powerful engine into a small British car body. The Sunbeam Tiger ended up being a sports car with twice the power of a Sunbeam Alpine with only about twenty-percent more weight. That's a huge distinction between the two somewhat similar yet far different Sunbeam models.

It was reported that Carroll Shelby desired to produce the U.S. version of the Tiger himself but his close ties with Ford kept all production in Britain.

The Sunbeam Tiger II

The Sunbeam Tiger II came out in 1967 and it held a larger Ford 289 cubic inch V-8 delivering 20  horsepower. The Sunbeam Tiger II also had some design changes which included unique headlight trim, an egg-crate grille, and lower body striping.

The company was having difficulty about the time that the Tiger II came out and the smaller Rootes Group was ultimately purchased by Chrysler. The Tiger II was the last Sunbeam Tiger model built since Chrysler was not going to promote an automobile with a Ford engine and the Chrysler engine was just too big for the Tiger body.

1965 Sunbeam Tiger II Specifications

As mentioned above, the Sunbeam Tiger I was produced with a 260 cubic inch Ford V-8 engine. That engine delivered 164 horsepower. The more powerful Sunbeam Tiger II which was introduced in 1967 had the Ford 289 cubic inch V-8 putting out 200 horsepower. The Tiger MK-1 was rated with a top speed of 118 MPH.

Transmissions on all Sunbeam Tiger's was a four speed manual.

Brakes were front wheel disc and rear wheel drum.

The Sunbeam Tiger MK-1 dimensions included a wheelbase of 86.0 inches, a length of 156.0 inches, a width of 60.5 inches and a height of 51.5 inches. Curb weight was about 2,565 lbs.

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A good book available regarding the automobiles produced by the Rootes Group is...Cars of the Rootes Group/ Hillman, Humber, Singer, Sunbeam, Sunbeam Talbot (Marques & Models) by author Graham Robson.

The Sunbeam Tiger Collector Car

sunbeam tiger carroll shelby

Another view of the 65 Sunbeam Tiger

As mentioned above, the Sunbeam Tiger, both the MK-1 and MK-2, did not have the publicity that the AC Cobra and Ford Mustang had in regards to their Carroll Shelby connection. Carroll Shelby was the master of fitting a powerful V-8 engine into a small British car body.

Because of this a case can be made that the Sunbeam Tiger might be one of the best 1960's sports car collector values.

As of this writing, asking prices for original restored Sunbeam Tigers in mint condition start in the high $20,000 range into the museum quality $70,000 plus area. High priced models should have a certificate of authenticity from the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association. Prices vary greatly due to originality and overall condition. The later Mark II Tigers that were made near the end of production are even rarer. One restored original model was advertised for $150,000.

1965 sunbeam tiger interior photo

View of the interior and dashboard on the 65 Sunbeam Tiger

A few of the Sunbeam associations and clubs include the one mentioned above, the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Association which dates back to 1969, the California Association of Sunbeam Tiger Owners, the Pacific Tiger Club from Washington State and the Sunbeam Tiger Owners Club in the U.K. Associations and clubs such as these usually offer forums and technical tips for Tiger owners.


(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)