This Saturday, 28 April, car enthusiasts can head to the Cayman Motor Museum on Northwest Point Road and have their picture taken in an American classic – the 1955 Ford Thunderbird. A vehicle that dominated the road, it was produced when gas was 23-cents a gallon, Disneyland opened in California, and the music on the jukebox featured hits from Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and The Platters.
It got its name through a competition that offered a grand prize of $250 – not an unsubstantial amount of money in those days when you consider that the car itself cost $2,945! Alden Gibberson, a stylist at Ford, submitted the word “Thunderbird” and although he never claimed his monetary prize, he settled for a new suit and extra pair of trousers from Saks Fifth Avenue. Sounds like he was a pretty stylish stylist.
The Ford Thunderbird did not take long to go from design to the showroom floor. It was built to create competition for the Chevrolet Corvette, which was revealed in 1953 at the GM Motorama as a prototype. Just like the Corvette, the Thunderbird had only two seats and was a convertible. It was first revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in February 1954 and delivery of the models began on 22 October of that same year.
The museum has a pristine cream example of this iconic vehicle, placed next to a classic diner to put people in the mood for the 50s. Whether you’re a fan of legendary cars, or just long for the good old days, the Cayman Motor Museum is the place to be this Saturday where you can sit in the driver’s seat and be whisked back to a time when Grease was the word.
Cayman Motor Museum is open from 9am to 5pm with special entrance fees for locals and residents. www.caymanmotormuseum.com
1955 Thunderbird facts
The Thunderbird, also known as the T-bird, debuted at the Detroit Car Show in 1954. It featured exterior door handles other cutting-edge amenities that were not standard in American cars of the time period, including roll-up windows and an all-weather roof. Ford fitted the car with a Mercury 292 cubic inch V-8 engine – available in manual transmission with 192 horsepower or automatic transmission with 198 horsepower.
The T-bird was created to attract wealthy Americans. To make it stand out, Ford decorated the car with a considerable amount of chrome for an elegant look. It also came with upholstery that matched the colour of the car. They were available in five different colours – black, blue, white, red and yellow.
One of the car’s bragging rights over the Corvette at the time was its V-8 engine, which was powerful and offered a smooth drive. Chevrolet struggled to fit the V-8 in their cars and eventually cancelled plans of doing so. However, as a heavier car, the T-bird could not compete with the Corvette in maneouvering and speed and primarily focused on luxury and comfort instead.
Ford enjoyed solid sales performance with more than 16,000 units sold in the first year alone. Ford capitalised on its success by updating its look throughout the years to conform to new trends and tastes. The car won widespread industry recognition, including three Motor Trend “Car of the Year” awards.