Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” becomes the first rock and roll single to reach Number One on the charts, Disneyland opens in California, “Gunsmoke” debuts on CBS, the Brooklyn Dodgers defeat the Yankees to win the World Series, Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus, and the Ford Motor Company launches the Thunderbird.
It was 1955 and Ford’s plans to compete with Chevrolet’s Corvette, introduced two years earlier, was an instant hit, outselling the Vette with 3,500 orders placed in the first 10 days of sales. Ford planned a total of 10,000 of the sporty two-seaters but wound up selling 16,155 of them before the year ended.
Estimates are that less than half of them remain today, fewer still in original condition, and Dawn Stacy has one of them.
While asking her to describe her experience with the classic T-Bird during our interview in the Kennedale High School parking lot, an excited passerby pulled up with her youngster, delightedly looked it over, asked a bunch of questions, and had her picture taken with it.
“That happens all the time,” Dawn explains. “People are always taking notice when we have it out and about. The very first car show we took it to, it won first place even before we had done any work to it.
“We acquired it about 10 years ago, and my husband called it a “10-footer” – the paint had crazed, but you didn’t see that until you got up close. It drove great so we decided not to do anything for a while, and then all we did a few years later was have it repainted, and we redid the seats.
“Friends have asked us about adding air conditioning, switching the electronics from six to 12 volts – stuff like that. I said ‘no’ because I wanted it in as close to original condition as it should be.”
I wanted to know about her preference for a Thunderbird. Her instant response: “My dad. He loved old cars, especially the Thunderbird, but he never got to own one, but I acquired my interest in cars from him.
“He had three girls. I was the tomboy, I was the one who played ball and the one who liked cars. When Howard and I were dating, we would see them, and I said I wanted one someday. Sure enough, we’ve got it now.
“We looked at a couple of others before we found this one in such good shape. My deal was I wanted to drive it instead of just sitting around, and this one drove great. I’m a huge fan of convertibles, and the canvas top of ours is hardly ever up.
“It also came with a removable fiberglass hard top as standard equipment, but it’s heavy and hard to see around, so it stays off.”
A first occurred when I asked about any mechanical problems. Dawn and Howard described how the original key once got stuck in the ignition, and they couldn’t get the car stopped from running. A whole new key assembly had to be acquired, making it one of the few parts to be replaced.
The Thunderbird came with fender skirts and Ford’s 292 Y-block V8 engine paired with Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission. As a departure from Corvette’s designation as a sports car, the T-Bird was designed to be a luxury tourer capable of speeds of 100 to 115 mph.
Spanning 11 generations, and appearing in a variety of configurations, Thunderbird production ended in 2005. However, a few months ago Ford filed for the name “Thunderbird” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, signaling a modern comeback for the iconic model.
Whatever the future may hold, Dawn has one of the first, and Thunderbird enthusiasts everywhere mark its 1955 beginning as the time in automotive history when a classic was born – and it’s still living well 65 years later.