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Image: 1956 Ford Thunderbird

1957 Ford Thunderbird

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Image: 1957 Ford ThunderbirdIn its third and final year as a two passenger automobile, the Thunderbird underwent a major transformation, both inside as well as outside. In a last attempt to address concerns about a small luggage compartment, without the handling issues the rear-mounted spare tire created, Ford gave the T-bird a mostly new body, with lengthened rear fenders that allowed an additional six inches of space in the trunk, which provided adequate storage space for a sporty, personal car, without creating any other ill side effects.

The styling generally reflected that of other Fords for 1957, with rectangular parking and turn signals mounted in the new larger and stronger front bumper under the headlights, and larger tail lamps in the rear with more prominent angled fins. The fins swept forward and terminated on the front door, sweeping down and receding into the door just in front of the door handle. A new rear bumper featured a raised center section, with dual rectangular exhaust outlets built-in under the tail lamps.

Inside, a new instrument panel also reflected changes to the larger Fords, and no longer had the transparent hood of the previous models. A metal engine-turned applique was fitted to the face of the panel, and most of the instruments were shuffled around a bit. Seat upholstery was updated, as were the door panels, which now featured Thunderbird emblems embossed into the pattern. The front seat springs were revised to provide better support for the spine, and improved lateral support. As a result, Ford noted that driver fatigue on long trips had been reduced.

Changes were made to the frame as a result of the longer rear section. The number four cross member, which had been a channel section on earlier cars, was changed to a box section to provide additional strength. The longer rear section also improved weight distribution, which resulted in better handling than before.

New options for 1957 included the Dial-O-Matic power seat, which included a control mounted on the lower instrument panel, below the radio and ash tray. A ring control, with a pointer could be placed on settings numbered 1-7 to control the forward/backward movement of the seat, and a center knob featured settings marked A-E for up/down adjustment. The driver merely set the controls to the most comfortable seat position, and the seat would automatically return to that position when the key was turned on. For ease of access, the seat automatically moved to its rearmost position automatically when the key was turned off. This was not a terribly popular option for some reason, and was offered in addition to the optional 4-way power seat.

Several new engine options were offered in 1957, including a new Thunderbird Special Supercharged V-8, with a cubic inch displacement of 312, which developed 300 brake horsepower and 340 lbs.-ft. of torque @ 5300 rpm. Fuel was fed through a Holley four barrel carburetor with a McCulloch/Paxton centrifugal supercharger. Another offered dual four barrel carburetors.

A new all-white interior trim color was offered, and for the first time solid interior colors of red and copper also became available. Two new convertible top colors were also available, blue and tan, keyed to both interior and exterior colors. The black, blue, and tan tops were canvas, and the white top was vinyl, which continued to have durability and longevity issues and suffered a short life span. The convertible top mechanism was modified for easier operation.

Ford reworked the top options for 1957, with the standard "glass-fibre hardtop" being included in the base price. Port windows were considered a standard feature this year, with a no charge, optional hardtop without the port windows available by request. Hardtops without the port windows got a new circular badge with a V-shaped Thunderbird emblem set against a black background mounted in the lower front corner of the top, just behind the door glass. The hardtop could be ordered in matching or contrasting paint colors. A revised clamping mechanism was also provided for the hardtop in 1957. For owners wanting both hardtop and soft top, the folding convertible soft top was provided as standard, with the hardtop at extra cost. A bit confusing, but it appears Ford wasn't certain even in the beginning how to equip its new T-bird, when it came to the type of top provided.

From virtually the day the first 1955 Thunderbird hit the streets, Ford was planning a major change for the car. The two passenger capacity limited the T-bird to a select market, one which was getting smaller by the day. Ford's marketing showed that more people would buy a Thunderbird if passenger capacity was increased, as long as its distinctive styling remained intact. It was determined that costs could be cut if the T-bird shared assembly facilities with the new 1958 Lincoln and Continental, which would be built in a new facility in Wixom, Michigan. The new Lincolns would be of unibody construction, and in order to share as much of the cost as possible, the next T-bird would also have to be a unibody vehicle as well.

This would be the beginning of a very long relationship between the Thunderbird and Lincoln, one that would continue through 1976. Being able to distribute design costs over more than one car line allowed Ford to keep prices low and realize more of a return on their investment, and the Thunderbird and Lincoln were well suited toward sharing components during this time.

There are many who believe the first three years of Thunderbird production best represent the nameplate; however, it's likely that had Ford not made changes to the car over the years to keep it the trendsetter it always was, the line would have never made it as far as it did. Some of the most beloved T-birds of all time were built in the years after the two passenger Bird left production.


1955 Thunderbird | 1956 Thunderbird | 1957 Thunderbird