What if the Ford Thunderbird had remained a Corvette competitor?

Ford’s first-generation Thunderbird was a, sporty, V-8-powered convertible that offered up all the style of Chevrolet’s Corvette roadster. The 1957 Thunderbird even offered a factory-supercharged 312 Y-block V-8 that was good for more than 300 horsepower, making it a threat on the dragstrip as well as any stoplight in America. Then, in 1958, the Thunderbird grew to a new, unibody midsize platform and added two rear seats, leaving the two-seat convertible market until the final four-year run of the marque, from 2002–05, and forever morphing into more of a personal luxury or grand touring coupe than a sports car.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/05/17/ford-thunderbird-remained-corvette-competitor

This is a great story with some cool sketches but it simply does not go far enough. What would be the current Thunderbird’s response to the current C7 and new C8 mid-engine Corvette?

Hmmm…the “current Thumderboird” was a Jaguar, no? So, one of you folks extrapolate the “new Jag” against your C7 and C8. Sadly, the GT-40 is out of the equation. Maybe…just maybe there is a Fiat/Alpha/Ferrari VIPER to compete with C-7 and C-8. Ford has lost their way in road racing in this class of motorsports. Their marketing folks have not viewed the NASCAR stands in the last 4-5 years.

I am all in for a new VIPER!!

We love our 445 cid Flairbird (64-66). Great lines & design all around. Would be great to see a slimmed down & sporty modern version with Mustang like performance. Until then, we’ll just keep our classic clean & cruising.


@james4 - I have to hand it to ya, that is gorgeous. I’ve never been a big T-bird guy, but the color and wheels combination there is just perfect.

Sorry, but the '58 hardtop rendition looks more present day resto-mod than a representation of “back in the day”.

The Thunderbird was never a “sports car” like the Corvette. It was more of a “personal car” for doctors, lawyers, girls, etc.

True, it was marketed as a high-performance personal car, but advertising noted its powerful dual-quad 312 engine and Motor Trend called it a sports car in their December 1954 issue, “And although Ford is the first one to deny it (Ford calls it a “personal car”) they have a sports car in the Thunderbird, and it’s a good one.” Contemporary automotive magazines also pitted Corvette vs. Thunderbird in head-to-head comparisons.

The only thing the '55-'57 T-bird had that the Vette didn’t was a bench seat. That would have come in handy when I got a ticket in San Francisco for 3 people in the '62 vette. It was one of those cheap shots by a M/C cop because there were three teens in a nice car who were behaving but Noooo000000. Can’t have that.

So the only thing cool about the bird was the seat and the valve covers and I guess I would give the portholes a kudo. Otherwise, you might as well have driven dads Ranchwagon.

These discussions always remind me of a SNL running skit, “What if Napoleon had a B-52 bomber?”
So here, what if Ford renames it’s current Ford GT: Thunderbird?
Now one can debate Corvette and Ford “Thunderbird”. As far as a technical product the 2019 Thunderbird wins.
Oh, and as I remember the Corvette was barely more than a kit car when the Thunderbird left the 2 passenger market. It was not a sports car by modern standards.

My cousin was a jock (star football player). His dad, in a quest for star attitude bought him a used '55.
It would haul the freight! One Sat. in December we were going duck hunting. I told my cousin we could take the family car as his would drag on the rutted dirt roads. He replied that he would see me Sat. morning. Sat. came around and he showed us—in a '60 Falcon wagon, painted baby poop brown!!!
I asked him about the 'Bird and his classic reply was-----“they gave me a great deal on this…” I never let him forget that line!

I had read that Ford simply did not sell enough of the 2 seaters to continue its production. Also, all of the major auto makers planned to build larger cars starting in 1958. The T-bird was simply eliminated and a large sporty type car with a big block engine was given its name. I wonder if Ford had continued the real T-bird, would have it been able to modify the 2 seater to offer the 332/352 engine in it? Since Chevy had decided to use the same big block for both cars and trucks that barely fit into its large cars and which was 625 LBS or more, it never offered it in the Corvette. If Ford had put its big block in its 2 seater, would Chevy have felt the need to squeeze its W engine into the Corvette? If so, how would that have changed its styling? Or would Chevy had designed a different big block for its cars instead of using the W block for them? Maybe we need someone to also envision what the Vette would looked like if Ford made its 2 seater with a big block in it? If only and what if…

Keep in mind that product planning at Ford wasn’t well thought out at this time. McNamara wanted the company to basically make one car and didn’t really understand the fuss about all kinds of different models. He pushed to have all Ford products go to unibody construction and this probably didn’t help the T-Bird as it was. He didn’t understand the idea of a “Halo” car in the way that GM and to some degree Chrysler did. This was also during the formation of the MEL, Continental, and Ford Divisions. The best book I have read about Ford during this time period is Disaster in Dearborn by Thomas E. Bonsall. It really explains quite a bit. Also, it notes that the Ford family eventually figured out a way to get rid of McNamara by offering to pay off Jack Kennedy’s campaign debts! If the argument was that the car wasn’t selling enough, it is the Corvette that would have been endangered. The two seat T-Bird sold very well by comparison.

I never thought to compare the sales numbers. Perhaps Ford pushed the few sales story about the T-bird to justify the end to it. If the book that you read is correct, then perhaps we can blame Ford for McNamara becoming Sec of Def and mis-micromanaging our involvement in the Vietnam conflict. If someone else was the Sec of Defense, things would have been perhaps much different. If so, maybe we wouldn’t have spent so much money there to begin the decline of our economic status. Anyway this does not respond to my questions about what Chevy would have done if Ford had not ended the production of the TBird.So that question remains.

The T-bird was never a really a Corvette competitor. The only thing the early and last models had in common with a 'vette was they were two seaters. The T-bird was more a personal luxury car than a sports car from the start, and grew in that direction. The last one was more a sports car than most previous models, but still not in line with the handling and such of a 'vette. Saying they were competitors just because they each had two seats is ludicrous – apples to oranges per target buyers. The t-bird never had the handling capabilities of their contemporary 'vette counterparts. I like both for what they are, it’s just not fair to directly compare them. A T-bird will always be the more comfortable and docile ride and drive, the 'vette more sporting… and less comfortable.

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this only serves to illustrate Ford have not had an original idea since the ‘57 lineup;

everything Ford have done since are a): stretched versions of previous models, b): hotrodded versions of antiquated and obsolescent-engineered European sports cars—AC Cobra, for one, c): rebodied previous designs (Mustang is little more than a Fairlane) or purloined European designs—i. e., the GT40 was simply a rebodied Lola T-70 hastily drawn up by Eric Broadley when Ford, angered by Enzo backing out in the last hour from selling them Ferrari, waved a lot of money under Eric’s nose to create something quickly to win Le Mans and the world prototype title from the Italians;

the so-called “new” GT40 is merely another copy of the old one Broadley was commissioned to create in 1963;

no way in the world could Ford have ever created a competitor to the Corvette, which started out so poorly simply because it lacked factory support the T-bird had so much of;

the Corvette was an original in-house design that has remained pretty much economically cutting edge for most of its lifetime since the mid-year models—save the abominable split-windows of 1963–and skipping the insurance company and EPA-strangled late C3 models;

Ford still offer absolutely nothing to compete with the Corvette, a problem every other domestic and foreign manufacturer continue to share, unless you wish to pay 3-4 times the price for variations on over/under-engineered antiquated themes (hello, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini) that like helicopters require three hours of very expensive maintenance for every hour in service and get gas mileage that sometimes surpasses that of your average M1 battle tank;

wait a minute, didn’t Ford build some M1s?

alas, no, just dogs…

Ummm, you guys DO know some of this has been done already, right? For instance:

Then too, this can happen:

and this one almost looks shortened:

And last, this works on Gen 1 Mustangs, too:

@vettevet1975 - A couple items to note from your reply.

-Ford didn’t build the Cobra, Shelby did. Not their idea or execution.
-The first generation Mustang was based on the Falcon, not the Fairlane
-The '05-06 Ford GT was an homage to the vintage GT40, but to call it a copy is a bit of an understatement. That is a highly-analog supercar.

I see you are a Corvette fan, and it might be true that Ford does not currently offer a direct competitor to the Corvette. This article reads like a fun thought experiment of what could have been, it is not talking down your beloved 'Vette.

Another thing that should be fact checked.

The M1 is built by General Dynamics, a Chrysler founded company, not Ford. However Ford did produce some M4 Shermans….

Wasn’t the LT5 a Lotus design assembled by MerCrusier? Guess Chevy didn’t do everything in house…

i said Ford HOTRODDED the AC Ace with what was basically a truck motor;

last time i checked Carroll Shelby was not an automobile manufacturer;

in fact, he pitched his AC hotrod proposal to GM first, but Duntov took one look at the 1930s technology ladder chassis and GM laughed him out the door;

saying the Mustang was based on the Falcon and not the Fairlane does nothing to disprove my statement that Ford primarily copies and recycles old antiquated designs;

and you completely glossed over the truth about Ford waving money at Eric Broadley to produce a variation of his Lola T-70;

Ford’s success in racing was a direct result of Chevy refusing to race officially;

in the few instances Chevy did compete, however clandestinely—Chapparal, Can Am, SCCA, Indy, IMSA, Challenge Cup, (surprise, the DFV Ford was a British design by Keith Duckworth and company PURCHASED by Ford like the GT40 was from Eric Broadley at Lola—starting to see a pattern yet?) Chevy wiped the floor with Ford and everyone else until they were banned for the sake of competition, allowing Porsche to destroy Can Am in their stead;

don’t go to law school or run for office—you’re not too good at twisting facts;