First-generation Thunderbird still turns heads

by Larry D'Argis . Jun 15 2018
Jim and Diane Drummond are driving their second 1956 Ford Thunderbird. The first one is still undergoing a full restoration. (Larry D'Argis photos / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jim and Diane Drummond are driving their second 1956 Ford Thunderbird. The first one is still undergoing a full restoration. (Larry D'Argis photos / Winnipeg Free Press)

For 1955, the Ford Motor Company introduced the new Thunderbird. The small roadster was marketed as a high-spirited personal car, with a new 292-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-8 engine and a host of power-assist options never before seen on a sporty two-seater.

The first Thunderbird was low to the ground and sleeker in appearance than any other car in the Ford lineup.

Sales of the first-generation Thunderbird were good. Ford produced 16,155 in 1955, followed in ’56 with 15,631 units and capped off the three-year run with 21,380 units in 1957.

For 1956, the Thunderbird featured several improvements in design over the debut model. The added front flow-through fender vents eliminated the excessive heat from the passenger compartment and the blind spot in the optional hardtop was cured with the addition of two small porthole windows. To increase luggage capacity and allow enough room for golf clubs to be transported to the country club, the spare tire was relocated from the trunk to a new continental rear-tire storage recess in the extended rear bumper.

Under the hood, the 1956 Thunderbird also boasted a new P-Code optional, 312-cubic-inch Thunderbird Special V-8. Equipped with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust, it produced 225 horsepower at 4,600 r.p.m. — more than enough to propel the roadster down the highway in style.

The two-seat Thunderbirds from the ’50s are solid collector cars with great appreciation potential. Their chic styling, sporty feel and available power options make them a standout in post-war car design.

Recognized as a Milestone Car by the Milestone Car Society, they make the A-list with enthusiasts and collectors alike.

For Jim and Diane Drummond of Winnipeg, the 1956 Thunderbird has always played a big part in their lives. When Jim purchased his Raven Black 1956 Thunderbird in August 1970, it was only natural the Thunderbird would be their wedding car and take them on their honeymoon in June of 1974.

In the late 1980s, the wear and tear began to show on the car, so Jim began amassing parts and dismantling it for a full restoration.

Progress was slow and the years turned into decades with the restoration project stalling at times.

It wasn’t until Diane had a bit of a health scare and started to look at her bucket list that the wheels started turning again.

“I wanted to ride in a Thunderbird again, and with ours in pieces, we began to look for another car,” Diane says.

Having been long-standing members of the Manitoba Thunderbird Club, the Classic Thunderbird Club International and the Manitoba Classic & Antique Auto Club, they quickly found a prime example for sale in June 2017.

The 1956 Thunderbird they discovered, and ultimately bought, is finished in Peacock Blue with a Colonial White hardtop and white convertible top. It had only one repaint and regular maintenance had been done. It was a survivor car with just 64,500 miles on the odometer.

Inside, the upholstery is finished in blue and white vinyl.

Powered by the 225-horsepower, 312-cubic-inch V-8, it’s backed by the three-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission.

Other options include the engine dress-up kit consisting of finned aluminum valve covers and chrome oil filter breather and air cleaner, Swift-Sure power brakes, rear fender shields, back-up lamps, full wheel covers, tonneau cover, heater/defroster, AM radio, wide white sidewall tires and padded sun visors.

Since purchasing the car, the Drummonds have enjoyed getting out to several of the local shows and cruise nights. Jim has also been tracking down previous owners of the car to establish its provenance.

“I’m going to try and get their input and stories about the car,” Jim says. The car was originally delivered to the Tucson, Ariz., area in June 1956 and has had several owners in both Canada and the United States.

The Drummonds intend to continue driving and enjoying this Thunderbird, and will also press on with the restoration of their black ’56 model.

Today just happens to mark the couple’s 44th wedding anniversary — and you can bet there will be a celebratory cruise in their vintage T-Bird.

57ford@mymts.net

Under the hood is a 225-horsepower, 312-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

Under the hood is a 225-horsepower, 312-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

The ’56 T-bird’s interior is finished in blue and white vinyl and has an optional AM radio.

The ’56 T-bird’s interior is finished in blue and white vinyl and has an optional AM radio.