Last Ford Thunderbird produced

Last Ford Thunderbird produced

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The last Thunderbird, Ford Motor Company’s iconic sports car, emerges from a Ford factory in Wixom, Michigan on July 1, 2005.

Ford began its development of the Thunderbird in the years following World War II, during which American servicemen had the opportunity to observe sleek European sports cars. General Motors built the first American sports car: the Chevrolet Corvette, released in 1953. The undeniably sleek Corvette’s initial engine performance was relatively underwhelming, but it was gaining lots of attention from the press and public, and Ford was motivated to respond, rushing the Thunderbird to the market in 1955. The 1955 Thunderbird was an immediate hit, selling more than 14,000 that year (compared to just 700 Corvettes). The success of the Thunderbird led Chevrolet to continue production of (and improve upon) the Corvette, which soon became a tough competitor in the sports car market.

In addition to the powerful V-8 engine that Ford was known for, the Thunderbird boasted all the conveniences consumers had become accustomed to, including a removable hard convertible top, soundproofing and the accessories standard to most Ford cars. In 1958, to satisfy critics who thought the T-Bird was too small, Ford released a four-seater version with a roomier trunk and bucket seats. The Beach Boys elevated the Thunderbird to pop- culture-icon status in 1964 by including it in the lyrics of their hit single “Fun Fun Fun” (“she’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til her daddy takes the T-Bird away”). By that time, President John F. Kennedy had already included 50 Thunderbirds in his inaugural procession in 1961, and a T-Bird would also feature prominently in the 1973 film “American Graffiti.”

Thunderbird sales slowed during the 1990s, and Ford discontinued the Thunderbird in 1997. In 2002, however, in an attempt to capitalize on car buyers’ nostalgia, the company launched production of a retro T-Bird, a two-seater convertible that took some of its styling from the original classic. The luxury retailer Neiman Marcus offered an early special edition version in their 2000 Christmas catalog, priced at just under $42,000; their stock of 200 sold out in two hours and 15 minutes. Despite brisk early sales and good reviews, sales of the new Thunderbird couldn’t justify continued production, and Ford discontinued it again in mid-2005.

READ MORE: The Cars That Made America

Today In Manufacturing History: The Last Ford Thunderbird

On this day in 2005, Ford's iconic sports car, the Thunderbird, ceased production — 50 years after its introduction.

On this day in 2005, Ford's iconic sports car, the Thunderbird, ceased production — 50 years after its introduction.

General Motors released the first American sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette, in 1953 after men in service during World War II had been observing European sports cars. The attention the Corvette gained from both the media and the public motivated Ford to respond with competition quickly, introducing the Thunderbird in 1955.

The T-Bird was immediately popular, selling more than 14,000 that year in comparison to just 700 rival Corvettes. It continued to gain popularity and recognition in pop culture throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but in the 1990s, sales started to slow down. The T-Bird was discontinued in 1997.

It made a return in 2002, however, as Ford attempted to elicit nostalgia among car buyers. Following a lot of the styling seen in the original model, the company produced a retro Thunderbird — a two-seater convertible.

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus offered a special version in the 2000 Christmas catalog at just under $42,000. The 200 that were available sold out in just two hours and 15 minutes. Although there were rapid early sales and positive reviews on the new Thunderbird, Ford could not justify continuing production due to ongoing sales, and the T-Bird retired once more in 2005.

Ford Thunderbird

The Ford Thunderbird was Ford’s answer to the Chevrolet Corvette. But whereas the Corvette never strayed far from its two seat sports car concept, the Thunderbird would soon add a hardtop coupe version, a back seat, and even two more doors as the do-everything personal car for Ford over the years. But it always provided decent performance along with a dash of style.

1955 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: The Ford Thunderbird debuted in 1955 as Ford’s entry into the two seat sports car created by the Chevrolet Corvette. The Thunderbird was always about style, and the clean styling, creature comforts, and V8 refinement made it a sales success. The Thunderbird was only available as a convertible, but a distinctive removeable hardtop with circular portholes was available and was a popular option.

Production: 16,155.
Engines: 292 V8 193 bhp. 292 V8 212 bhp

1956 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: The big change for 1956 was the addition of a larger V8 option, a 312 cid V8 rated at 215 bhp.

Production: 15,631.
Engines: 292 V8 193 bhp. 292 V8 212 bhp. 312 V8 215 bhp

1957 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: Ford finally got serious about performance with the 1957 Thunderbird, the last year of the first generation and the last two seat Thunderbird. New versions of the 312 Y-block V8 were offered that provided serious performance. The E-code 312 V8 featured two four-barrel carbs and was rated at 270 bhp. The F-code 312 V8 featured a single four-barrel carb force fed by a Paxton-built McCulloch centrifugal supercharger. The F-code engine was rated at 300 bhp, or at 340 bhp with the optional NASCAR “racing kit.” But these performance options would disappear after February 1957 when the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) decided to end Detroit’s horsepower war. In addition to the boost in power, the 1957 Ford Thunderbird received a minor facelift which resulted in what many fans feel is the most stylish Thunderbird of all time.

Production: 21,380.
Engines: 292 V8 193 bhp. 292 V8 212 bhp. 312 V8 215 bhp. 312 V8 270 bhp. 312 V8 300 bhp. 312 V8 340 bhp

1958 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: The 1958 Ford Thunderbird represented the first year of the second generation and the first of the four seat Thunderbird, which marked the end of the two seater (which would not reappear until 2002). The new second generation Thunderbird featured four seats and an available hardtop coupe version along with the convertible. The distinctive styling featured boxy lines and a wide-pillar roof, which earned the second generation Thunderbirds the nickname “Squarebirds,” and would later spread to all Ford models. The new Thunderbirds also featured several innovations including unit construction, low build, and pioneered the buckets and console interior that established the personal luxury (and later muscle car) concept. A retractable hardtop was planned, but was shelved after the Skyliner experience. Engine choices were all new, with the elimination of the high performance 312 V8s but the addition of a larger 352 V8.

Production: 2D Hardtop: 35,758. 2D Convertible: 2,134.
Engines: 352 V8 300 bhp

1959 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: The big news for 1959 was the addition of a Lincoln 430 cid V8 rated at 350 bhp. Sales increased tremendously.

Production: 2D Hardtop: 57,195. 2D Convertible: 10,261.
Engines: 352 V8 300 bhp. 430 V8 350 bhp

1960 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: 1960 was the last year of the second generation Thunderbirds. A special “Golden Edition” hardtop was also available as well as the country’s first postwar sliding steel sunroof (about 2,500 built).

Production: 2D Hardtop: 78,447. 2D “Golden Edition” Hardtop: 2,536. 2D Convertible: 11,860.
Engines: 352 V8 300 bhp. 430 V8 350 bhp.

1961 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: 1961 was the first year of the third generation Thunderbirds which featured all new exterior styling that earned it the nickname “Projectile Birds”. Chassis design was carried over, but was reworked slightly for a smoother ride and better handling. The exterior styling featured a severely pointed front “prow,” modest fins above huge renditions of Ford’s traditional round tail-lights, and softer roof contours on hardtops. The cowl was shared with the Lincoln Continental, and there was soom similarity in the styling of the grille and the quad headlamps receased in oblong housings. The interior design featured a dash which curved at its outboardends to blend in with the door panels, and the first “Swing Away” steering wheel, which would swing to the side when the car was in park and the door was opened to help facilitate entry and exit. The only engine available was the 390 cid V8, rated at 300 bhp.

Production: 2D Hardtop: 62,335. 2D Convertible: 10,516.
Engines: 390 V8 300 bhp.

1962 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: 1962 saw the return of the two seat Thunderbird — sort of. Actually, drawing upon aftermarket units, Ford introduced the Sports Roadster package which featured a fiberglass tonneau cover, designed by Bud Kaufman, that covered the rear seat and transformed the four seat Thunderbird into a two seat roadster. The tonneau cover featured twin headrests and were raised so as to flow back to the rear, thus avoiding a too-flat appearance. The convertible top could still operate even with the tonneau cover in place, which was good because the top was difficult to install and remove. The Sports Roadster package also included a dash-mounted grab bar for the passenger and four dazzling Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels. The rear fender skirts were deleted to allow clearance for their knock-off centers. Although a stylish idea (usually attributed to Lee Iacocca), its high price, and cumbersome installation limited its sales. For performance fans, Ford offered a special “M-code” 390 cid FE V8 rated at 340 bhp. It featured three Holley two-barrel carbs and an aluminum manifold which kept the carbs level and at the same height. Only 145 Thunderbirds were built with the M code option, including 120 Sports Roadsters.

Production: 2D Hardtop: 62,335. 2D Convertible: 10,516. 2D Covertible Sports Roadster: 1,427.
Engines: 390 V8 300 bhp. 390 V8 M-code 340 bhp

1963 Ford Thunderbird

Comments: The Thunderbird was carried over for 1963, with the Sports Roadster and M-code 390 engine still available. A new option was a new Landau hardtop with simulated top irons on its rear roof panels which would set a Thunderbird styling gimmick that would continue for years Only 55 M-code Thunderbirds were sold in 1963, including 37 Sports Roadsters.

Production: 2D Hardtop: 42,806. 2D Convertible: 5,913. 2D Covertible Sports Roadster: 455.
Engines: 390 V8 300 bhp. 390 V8 M-code 340 bhp

Vehicle Production Records

The production records in our collection give production details for individual vehicles. They can be used as proof of a vehicle’s authenticity and also as a source of information to trace the history of a vehicle to learn exactly when and where that vehicle was produced, what the original color and trim were, and more. Production records are arranged by vehicle number.

Which models have production information available?

In the summer of 1970, a museum fire destroyed many Ford Motor Company production records. The table below indicates which records still exist.

If you do not see the make, model, serial number, or year your vehicle was made in the list below, we do not have production information for your vehicle.

We do not have production information for Ford Mustangs.

Please keep in mind that not all of the runs listed below are complete.


Model Years Covered

ID or SERIAL no.

H 86200 to H 136254
H 136255 to H 182129


Ledger #0 Leland Ownership

Ledgers #1-10 (repeats Leland and continues on with Ford)

Some parts change notes, 1928 show motor numbers

circa model H1 to H136254

Model L 66001 to 72041
And K, KA, KB

Shipping Dates Model L
Shipping Dates Model KA

Shipping Dates Model KB
Shipping Dates Model K

What production information will I find?

The information that is found in the production records varies depending on the type and time period of the vehicle. However, records may include the serial and model type/number, assembly date, color and trim information, ship date and accessories.

Details on the shipment of a vehicle to a branch or dealer are sometimes noted on a record.

We typically do not have information on the original or subsequent owners of the vehicles.

How are the production records stored?

The Model T records are stored on microfilm.

The other production records can be found on the original cards, order sheets, or ledgers.

How can I order production card information?

Complete and return the Production Record Order Form along with payment, $35.00 per vehicle.

Provide your serial number, make, model and body type (for Lincolns), and contact information.

Note how you would like the material delivered.

Payment may be made either by check payable to “The Henry Ford” or by credit card.

Benson Ford Research Center
The Henry Ford
20900 Oakwood Blvd
Dearborn, MI 48121-1970
Phone: 313-982-6020
Fax: 313-982-6244
Email: [email protected]

How will I receive the production information?

You will receive either a photocopy or scan of the original card or information transcribed from the original ledgers onto prepared forms.

For Model T records, which are available only on microfilm, you will receive the best possible copies made from the microfilm printer as well as a transcribed version of the card.

What other information is available?

Although we do not have production records for the Ford Model A or V8, we do have engine ledgers that show when an engine number was produced. The ledgers do not include information on when the engine was put together with the vehicle.

We also have a database with shipping dates for early Ford models (1904-1910), which includes the model number and information on where the vehicle was sold.

Where can I go for more information?

Ford Model T engine production dates are available on the website of the Model T Ford Club of America’s and also in the book Model T Ford: The Car That Changed the World by Bruce McCalley (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, c1994).

Ford Model A engine production dates (month and year) are available in the book The Ford Model "A": "As Henry Built It": A Color, Upholstery and Production Facts Book by George DeAngelis (South Lyon, Mich.: Motor Cities Pub. Co., 1991.).

Ford V8 and Model B engine production dates through 1938 (month and year) are available in the book The Early Ford V-8 as Henry Built It: A Production Facts Book 1932-38 by Edward P. Francis (South Lyon, Mich.: Motor Cities Pub. Co., c1982.).

The following books from the Car & Parts Magazine Matching Numbers Series can help you decode VIN numbers:

8 That Winning Name!

George Walker and Louis D. Crusoe, reportedly a millionaire enticed by Ford to join the company, were the masterminds behind the Thunderbird, inspired by a trip to the Grand Palais car show.

A $250 suit was on offer for the best name for their car design. A young stylist named Alden “Gib’’ Giberson suggested "Thunderbird." Gib was a legend of Ford, not just for naming the Thunderbird, but for his work on car design and becoming an inductee into the Thunderbird Hall of Fame, along with other legends like NASCAR superstar Bill Elliott. Gib's inspiration for the name came from Native American symbolism.

The Last Ford Thunderbird (10th generation) Built on September 4th

On September 4th, 1997, the final 10th generation Thunderbird was to roll off the assembly line at the Ford plant in Lorain, Ohio. The Thunderbird has enjoyed a rich history, from its 1955 model onwards.

Launched as a two-seater, it was rivalled only by the Chevy Corvette, released two years earlier. The Thunderbird&rsquos classic features included a 292 cu. in. V8 engine cranking out 202 hp. This Ford could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 10 seconds, with a maximum speed of 180 km/h.

Ford had already pre-sold 4,000 models before its plant pumped out the first Thunderbirds on October 22, 1954. The basic model was sold for $2,750, but you could add on a canvas top for the tidy sum of $70.

The &lsquoT-Bird&rsquo was wildly popular for decades. However, the oil crisis was the downfall of this classic car and others like it, which came to be viewed by consumers as over indulgent and costly oil guzzlers.

Ford decided to end production on September 4th, 1997. However, from 2002 to 2005, Ford re-launched the T-Bird, though only 1,500 models were produced, for its 50th anniversary.

1956 Ford Thunderbird Production Numbers/Specifications

Conventional Transmission:
Displacement: 312 CID
Bore and Stroke: 3.80 x 3.44 in.
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Brake Horsepower: 260 @ 4600 rpm
Torque: 344 lbs.-ft. @ 2600 rpm
Carburetor: Two Holley 4000 4V
(Dealer installation, not factory)

Overdrive Transmission:
Displacement: 312 CID
Bore and Stroke: 3.80 x 3.44 in.
Compression Ratio: 8.4:1
Brake Horsepower: 215 @ 4600 rpm
Torque: 317 lbs.-ft. @ 2600 rpm
Carburetor: Holley 4000 four barrel

Ford-O-Matic Transmission:
Displacement: 312 CID
Bore and Stroke: 3.80 x 3.44 in.
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Brake Horsepower: 225 @ 4600 rpm
Torque: 324 lbs.-ft. @ 2600 rpm
Carburetor: Holley 4000 four barrel


Standard: 3-speed Synchromesh with helical gears
Ratios: 2.32:1 (first) 1.48:1 (second) 1:1 (third) 2.82:1 (reverse)

Optional Overdrive: Planetary overdrive with planetary gears
Ratio: 0.70:1
Cut-In Speed: 27 mph
Cut-Out Speed: 21 mph

Optional Automatic: Ford-O-Matic torque converter with planetary gears
Ratios: 1.48:1 (drive) 2.44:1 (low) 2.0:1 (reverse)


6.70 x 15 4-ply BSW Tubeless
Wheels: 5 inch
Wheel studs: 5.5 inch
Wheel stud circle: 4.5 inch diameter


102 inches
Front Tread: 56 inches
Rear Tread: 56 inches

Original Tire Brand: Firestone
Optional Whitewall Width: 2-11/16"


Both of these items were introduced for practical reasons, the port windows to improve vision out of the car and the rear spare tire carrier to increase luggage space in the trunk.

1956 changes:

  • 12-Volt electrical system
  • New Thunderbird emblem design on exterior
  • Deep dish, 3-spoke safety design steering wheel
  • First year for front fender vents
  • Zippered rear window on convertible top (except early 1956 production)
  • Port windows on hard top
  • Exhaust outlets in rear bumper ends
  • Round heater knobs
  • Rear spare tire carrier
  • Vented gas cap
  • Ford Lifeguard Design safety features
  • Wing windows on front door
  • Ridge under headlamp door



Above: 1956 Ford Thunderbird in Raven Black with a Colonial White hard top. Notice the exhaust outlets in the side of the rear bumper, and the profile view of the rear spare tire carrier. The optional full wheel covers, white sidewall tires, two tone paint, and rear fender shields really give the car a dressed up appearance.

After a very successful debut year, Ford anticipated selling 20,000 Thunderbirds in 1956. Over 16,000 '55 T-birds had been sold, far more than the 10,000 marketing expected. This would not be the case in 1956, however, and there were several reasons for that, including a late introduction date due to problems with the rear spare tire carriers in production. 1955 was a very good year for the auto industry, and an excellent year to introduce a new model. There were some initial criticisms of the new T-bird, specifically lack of luggage space in the trunk, a warm passenger compartment, and blind spots with the convertible top or hard top installed. It's likely that these issues cost Ford a few sales. And for 1956, the Thunderbird's main competitor, the Chevrolet Corvette, got its act together and made big improvements, introducing a new V-8 engine and creature comforts such as roll-up windows instead of the plastic side curtains. Some feel that the introduction of the T-bird actually saved the Corvette, because Chevrolet put additional time and money into the car to make it more competitive. Without the added competition, the Corvette might have been discontinued, but Chevy didn't want to admit defeat to Ford at that time, so it made the Corvette a better car than it had been.

1956 represented the introduction of two iconic Thunderbird styling features: the port window and the rear spare tire carrier. Both were the result of complaints from 1955 Thunderbird owners and potential owners, who needed more storage space in the trunk and wanted better rear vision when driving. Both are now historic classic styling touches in motordom.

Advertising for 1956 continued to use the Thunderbird as a tie in to the regular Ford line, noting how all Fords had Thunderbird styling and performance. The little T-bird was without question the star of the Ford line up at the time, an honor it would carry for many years to come. Exterior paint and interior trim colors were expanded for 1956, which allowed more variety in color combinations, and presented customers with the opportunity to better customize the car to suit their needs. The hard top could be ordered in a contrasting color for 1956, and customers could choose whether they wanted the port hole windows or not, Ford didn't charge extra for them if they were specified. Most customers loved the new windows and orders for hard tops with them far exceeded those without the new windows. The T-bird was stylish, sporty, luxurious, colorful, and offered enough options so the purchaser could get pretty much exactly what they wanted.

While the 1955 and 1956 models look very similar, in truth many changes were made during 1955 production and even more changes were made before the '56 models went into production, as well as during production of the '56 cars. Among these changes were new weather seals, in an attempt to stop leaks around the convertible top or hard top, but nothing really seemed to work.

Above: Skeleton view of the 1956 Ford Thunderbird.


The Data Plate for the 1956 Thunderbird (shown below) is located in the engine compartment on the cowl just to the right of and below the hood latch mechanism on the passenger's side of the car. The plate is aluminum and has black printing on it with raised digits. It is riveted in place. Additionally, the serial number is stamped on the right front chassis rail, which can be observed with the hood raised.

2 NASCAR Winner

The Ford Thunderbird made its first entry into NASCAR racing in the 1959 season. Equipped with efficient aerodynamics and the new CID 430 V8 engine, the Thunderbird led drivers Curtis Turner, Johnny Beauchamp, "Tiger" Tom Pistone, and Cotton Owens to several wins.

For the rest of the 69's, the T-Bird made only sporadic appearances, without achieving any further victories. Beginning in 1977, Thunderbird-bodied race cars replaced the Torino as Ford's primary body style in NASCAR, starting a trend of coupe-like body styles.

ཱུ Production Numbers by color

Has anyone ever seen how many of each color was produced for each year? I always thought the majority of Tbirds were black (no idea why). Now that I look at the pictures of gatherings, I see very few black Tbirds.


Well-Known Member

Has anyone ever seen how many of each color was produced for each year? I always thought the majority of Tbirds were black (no idea why). Now that I look at the pictures of gatherings, I see very few black Tbirds.

There are no factory records of the number of cars produced by color, just the total production of 16,155 for 1955. Originally the T-Bird was only available in Thunderbird Blue (T), Torch Red (R) and Raven Black (A). In mid-year of production two more colors were added: Snowshoe White (E) and Goldenrod Yellow (V). The earliest known date for the Snowshoe White Thunderbird was February 1955 and the earliest known date for the Goldenrod Yellow Thunderbird was April 1955.

Dave Tulowitzky is the keeper of the 1955 to 1957 Thunderbird Registry and is also a CTCI member. Dave collects statistics of known cars by people sending him data plate information. Since you are a CTCI member, you can get Dave’s email from the Online Membership Roster. If Dave does not monitor this site, you should send him an email and see if he has a more definitive idea of the total numbers of each color based on what has been submitted to him.

Thunderbird in Cinema

The Ford Thunderbird has become one of the pioneers of America’s personal luxury car market. The “Littlebird” appeared in movies, television shows, and even on a U.S. postage stamp.

In 1973, a new comedy film, American Grafitti, appeared in movie theaters. The film was directed and co-written by George Lucas and featured a 1956 Thunderbird driven by co-star Suzanne Somers.

1956 Ford Thunderbird in the movie, American Graffiti. Source: YouTube American Graffiti movie cast

The Thunderbird used in the movie was originally purchased by Clay Daily and his wife in 1964 on a used car lot in San Bernardino, CA. The car had been painted red and showed 55,000 miles on the odometer. The Dailys painted the car back to the original color white after moving to Petaluma, CA.

In 1972, when Clay’s wife had parked the car in downtown Petaluma, she found a note on the windshield asking if she would allow the car to be used in a new movie. She thought the note was a joke but called the number anyway.

To her surprise, it was Lucas Films that wanted to use the car! She and her husband agreed and the T-Bird appeared in the movie with all the night shots done in downtown Petaluma so the couple could be there to watch the movie being made.

When Chevrolet brought its first two-seat Corvette to the New York Auto Show in 1953, no one could imagine that it would inspire Ford to punch back and deliver one of the most important nameplates in automotive history: the “Littlebird” that soared – the immortal Ford Thunderbird.


Good story, I have purchased a 55 T Bird and currently restoring for my wife. It’s been a lot of work but will be well worth it when I’m finished. She will be so happy to drive it.

Have a sweet 1957 Babybird E-Code for sale 46,000 miles garaged for 20 years. Email for details!

Watch the video: 1961 Ford Thunderbird Convertible


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