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1955-57 Ford Thunderbird
A Changing Market for a Fifties Icon
This market update first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Collector Car Market Review.  (C) Copyright 2015- VMR International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The full profile, first published in 2003, can be found here:  1955-1957 Thunderbird Profile

It can be argued that the 1955-1957 Thunderbirds were the first true modern collector car. By this we mean a vehicle that was designed with the fresh, modern look of the Jet Age and which sparked broad, mass collecting appeal. Chevy's Corvette and Nomad, Chrysler's Letter Cars and few others could be considered contenders, but if we had to pick one it would tbird-modelyear-changes be the "Little Bird".

By the mid-sixties enthusiasts across the country were already collecting and enjoying the original Thunderbird not just as transportation but as a hobby, with clubs, parts networks, newsletters and meets on a scale far larger than had ever been seen. This organization was, in fact, a blueprint for all the postwar collector car clubs to come.

The Thunderbird's reputation, and desirability grew through the years as incomes and leisure time increased for most Americans. Hollywood pitched in by often featuring it in popular movies. Who can forget Suzanne Sommers and her white '57 in American Graffiti?

Along the way values rose, and kept rising. Even the big crash of 1990 affected them far less than most other vehicles. Restoration standards continued to rise, too, with many restored to levels far beyond original production specifications.

Recently, however, even as the market overall has been recovering from the fall of the late 2000's, value trends have not been favorable for the Thunderbird. This phenomenon is not unique, as many other iconic fifties cars are displaying similar market behavior. For all but the most spectacular of examples, there is a decided softness to values, as many older collectors seek to sell to a smaller population of younger enthusiasts. And even the best, most desirable examples do not enjoy the demand they once did.

Market Forecast
In some ways the Thunderbird's success early on is holding back values now. Their popularity kept most of them from the crusher so they have a high survival rate. This, coupled with the fact that many of them have been restored at some point in their life leaves a very large supply. Too many sellers chasing too few buyers means a soft market at best or, more likely, falling values.

Still, there will always be some demand for the iconic Thunderbird, and going forward you'll find it in examples with the best equipment and the best restorations. Many of these come to auction, and they are still selling fairly well and at fair --but not strong--prices. Even for the rest of them, the bottom won't suddenly collapse. But as market demographics shift, we see a stagnant market with slowly eroding values.

 thunderbird-value-over-time tbird-auction-results-2016 
Following a familiar pattern among pre-1960 vehicles, values jumped early, eventually lost momentum and now have eased back about 17% since their peak.  Most sales come in between $30,000 and $50,000, something that hasn't changed since the millennium. 

 tbird-ad Not really a sports car, Ford brilliantly positioned the Thunderbird as a sporty personal car. In it's first year out It outsold the Corvette 23 to 1, for 1956, 4.5 to 1, and for 1957, 3.4 to 1. The comparison became mute for 1958 as the Thunderbird took off in a different direction as a 4-seat personal luxury car.

Full 1955-1957 Thunderbird Profile

Current Values:  1955   1956  1957  or  Main Ford Menu

More Information

Classic Thunderbird Club International
1308 E. 29th Street
Signal Hill, California 90755-1842
(800) 488-2709 •

Vintage Thunderbird Club International
P.O. Box 75308
Wichita, KS 67275

The editors at Collector Car Market Review
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