1956 Ford Thunderbird: The Mid-Model Of The Two-Seat T-Bird Era

When the Ford Thunderbird was first introduced it was a two-seat personal car.  I almost wrote “sports car”, but I think that would have been a slight embellishment of the car’s actual capability.  The original two-seat Thunderbird was built between 1955 and 1957.  After that Ford enlarged the Thunderbird into a four-place car, except for a brief two-seat revival in the early 2000s.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (2)

1956 Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Thunderbird came about when Ford first learned that General Motors was going to introduce the Corvette.  Ford wanted to have its own two-seat “sports” car, so the result was the Thunderbird which was labelled as a 1955 model.  The Ford Thunderbird had a certain “Ford” look to it, while its rival, the first Corvettes of 1953 and 1954, looked nothing like anything that General Motors made.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (1)

In 1956 Ford Added Vents Just In Front Of The Doors

With the 1955 Ford Thunderbirds there were complaints that the cockpit floor area was too hot.  As a result, in 1956 Ford added vents in front of the doors to help improve interior air flow and thereby reduce the interior heat.  These vents are one of the design features to help distinguish the model years in the 1955-1957 era of the two-seat Thunderbirds.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (7)

In 1956, Ford Moved the Spare Tire To The Rear Bumper

Another change made in the 1956 Ford Thunderbird was that the spare tire was moved outside the trunk onto the rear bumper.  This style of spare tire placement was commonly known as the “Continental” style, after the Lincoln Continental cars.  By the way, a number of aftermarket suppliers offered “Continental Kits” for a variety of car designs in the 1950s, as the style was quite popular.  For the 1956 Ford Thunderbird, it was the way it came.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (8)

In 1956 Ford Added A Port Hole To The Hardtop

The port hole on the hardtop is one of the iconic design features of the two-seat Ford Thunderbird era.  This first appeared in the 1956 model year.

One important design change in 1956 was not visible – the electrics were changed from a 6 volt supply to a 12-volt supply.  This change was made across the entire Ford line-up that year.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (3)

This T-Bird Has The 225 Horsepower 312 Cubic Inch V8 Engine

When the Thunderbird was introduced in 1955 the only available engine was a 292 cubic inch V8 engine.  When coupled with the standard three-speed manual transmission it had 193 horsepower and 198 horsepower when matched to the Ford-O-Matic transmission.  In 1956, Ford added the optional 312 cubic inch V8 engine to the Thunderbird.  The 312 cubic inch V8 had 215 horsepower with the three-speed manual transmission and 225 horsepower with the Ford-O-Matic transmission.  Later in the 1956 model year, Ford added a dual four-barrel carburetted 312 cubic inch V8 that produced 260 horsepower.  The 1956 Thunderbird shown in this post has the 225 horsepower 312 cubic inch V8 engine.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (5)

This Ford Thunderbird Has A Tilt Steering Wheel

The interior of the 1956 Ford Thunderbird is rather simple.  The color of this car’s interior perfectly matches the exterior painting.  As far as the seating goes, rather than bucket seats, the 1956 Thunderbird has a bench seat with a modestly styled floor shifter.

Ford Thunderbird 1956 (6)

Note The Floor-Mounted Ford-O-Matic Shifter

While I like the design of the two-seat Thunderbirds from 1955 to 1957, the bean-counters at Ford were not enthralled with the design.  It was thought that the Thunderbird would be greater success as a four-seat car.  Actual car sales proved that the bean-counters were correct.  For the three years (1955 to 1957) that the Ford Thunderbird was sold as a two-seat car, Ford sold about 53,000 Thunderbirds.  After adding a back seat in 1958 Ford sold about 37,000 Thunderbirds in that year alone and a further 67,000 in 1959.  As a result from a sales perspective the two-seat Thunderbirds were far behind the later four-seat models.

Despite the sales success of the larger Thunderbirds, I still prefer the two-seat versions.

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2 Responses to 1956 Ford Thunderbird: The Mid-Model Of The Two-Seat T-Bird Era

  1. Rob says:

    My Mom had one of these in baby blue (the color on the one pictured seems not pale enough). The 1956 with the spare on back. She was at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in the 50’s, but had to sell the car because the soft top kept getting slashed on the street (I think she said the hard top was an optional upgrade, but I could be wrong. She sold it used for $2,500- which seems like alot to me for back then. She kicked herself when they were selling in the six figures.

    • Hi Rob,
      Your Mom is a member of a very large club of people who kick themselves for having sold a good car in the past. The Thunderbird would have been a great car to have held on to, but people have to make decisions based on the circumstances at the time.
      Steve McKelvie

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