The Birth of the Ford Thunderbird

- in Cars

The Ford Thunderbird came about after two men, Louis D. Crusoe and George Walker, and their love for automobiles, had a vision.

First generation 1955 Ford Thunderbird
rusoe was a millionaire and was asked to come out of retirement by Henry Ford II.  He was a successful businessman with a knack for the automobile market. Crusoe was the Vice President and Ford general manager, so it was his job to bring excitement and prestige to the Ford name. Walker was later a Vice President and chief stylist.

First generation 1955 Ford Thunderbird rear end
In October of 1951, the two men were walking along the aisles of the Grand Palais in Paris when Crusoe pointed out one of the sportier cars on display and asked Walker why they couldn’t have something like that. Walker quickly replied that they did have a job like that in the works. Walker, who may have been fibbing at the time, got on the phone and called his aides back in Dearborn. By the time the two men arrived back in the states, plans for a sportier car where in the works.

In the next few months, there was talk about a “true Ford sports car” and many different designs were made. Design objectives were: a weight of 2,525 pounds, an Interceptor V-8 engine, a balanced weight distribution, acceleration better than the competition and a top speed of more than 100 miles per hour.

1955 Ford Thunderbird engine
While a clay model was being developed, other decisions were being made on specifics of the car.

Finally on May 18, 1953 – 17 days after his deadline – Crusoe saw a complete, painted clay model for the first time. This model closely corresponded to the shape of the final first Thunderbird.

1955 Ford Thunderbird front left
In the summer of 1953, the car was far enough along that a decision was made to start building it. Crusoe made this decision in September when he was in Paris viewing other sports cars against their clay models in Dearborn. Production wouldn’t begin until fall of 1954, making the car a 1955 model. Ford was very excited to tell the world about their new model in the making, but they still had no name.

There were around 5,000 names considered including; Hep Cat, Beaver, Detroiter, Runabout, Arcturus, Savile, El Tigre and Coronado. Crusoe, not being very impressed with any of these names, offered $250 to anyone who could come up with a better name. A young Ford stylist by the name of Alden “Gib” Giberson, submitted the name “Thunderbird” which would quickly win over the likes of everyone.

1955 Ford Thunderbird interior
When the name was settled and last-minute appearance changes were made, the Ford Thunderbird was ready to go to market. It’s first public appearance was on February 20th, 1954 at Detroit’s first post-war auto show.

The first Thunderbird went on sale October 22nd 1954 and would begin a legend for future Thunderbirds.

1955 Ford Thunderbird rear left

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