Like blue blazers or Eames lounge chairs, some things never go out of style. The 1957 Ford Thunderbird is another item worthy of the "timeless" designation. While it was meant to compete with the Corvette, it not only outsold Chevrolet's offering 24:1, it went on to be widely considered one of the most significant American auto designs of its era. This particular '57 is a great example of the exact car buyers originally fell in love with. Dressed in bright red and powered by a 312ci/245hp V8 with a three-speed manual transmission, the car is great to look at and even better to cruise in thanks to a restoration that didn't overstep its bounds like so many do. If you're looking for a Thunderbird that looks, sounds, and feels authentic, this Ford is for you!
We'll get started by decoding the data plate:
D: 312ci V8
7: 1957 model year
F: Assembled in Dearborn, MI
382XXX: Consecutive unit number
Body: 40 - Thunderbird
Color: V – Flame Red
Trim: XH – Pleated Flame vinyl
Date: 16W – Scheduled for assembly on September 16
Trans: 2 – 3-speed manual w/ overdrive
Axle: 3 – 3.70:1 axle ratio
Restorative efforts took place in 2005 when the whole car was torn down and freshened throughout. Despite the work, the car feels authentic throughout and even shows some natural patina in places. One area that shows virtually no signs of aging is the exterior. Few colors highlight the European-inspired Thunderbird lines better than Flame Red and this example has been lucky enough to sport that hue for its entire life. The latest coat shows well, casting crisp and accurate reflections from nearly any angle. While the car's unibody construction is great for eliminating fender or quarter-panel seams, the long straight panels can make bodywork a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, all efforts here were successful with laser-straight lines and excellent panel fitment across the board.
Step in for a closer look to find all the details firmly in place and ready for show. At the front, a stainless egg-crate grille rides between clean headlights, a delicate header emblem and a sculpted bumper that bends around peaked fenders. Between those fenders, a classy hood scoop leads the eye to a wraparound windshield that's reflected by optional dual chrome mirrors, cleared by satin-finished wipers, and framed by thick chrome trim. When the weather stops being agreeable, a black cloth convertible top comes to the rescue while contrasting against the body color for a striking look. There is no hardtop with this one, but you certainly won't miss it during cruising weather. Below, sculpted door handles and stainless-trimmed fender skirts perfectly complement chrome fender louvers, small Ford emblems and glowing "Thunderbird" scripts that sit to the front of fender vents. The '57 had arguably the most memorable rear view of all the Thunderbirds with finned quarters capped by pointed taillights while exhaust routes through rectangular bumper cutouts. Below the trunk lock, a final Thunderbird emblem completes the exterior.
Tilt the lightweight hood forward to find one of Ford's overhead valve 312ci V8s. Over 16,000 Thunderbird buyers opted for this configuration and for good reason: With a single Holley carburetor, the setup was factory rated at 245hp and 332lb-ft of torque – just 25hp less than their more expensive dual quad kin. This mill starts out with a correct 1957-exclusive ECZ-6015-C block dressed in a coat of Ford Red which could be more accurately called "orange". Factory heads topped with finned valve covers frame a factory intake while a chrome air cleaner assembly tops the Holley. At the front of the engine, an OEM-style radiator works in harmony with an engine-driven fan while the accessory drive turns vintage pieces like the Ford-branded generator. Spark comes courtesy of a Motorcraft distributor that sequences fire between a reproduction battery, a Ford voltage regulator, a Ford coil and new plug wires. Spent exhaust gases are swept out through cast iron exhaust manifolds that flow through a true dual exhaust system with factory replacement mufflers. Details like the correct reproduction hoses, "See Clear" windshield washer bag, and replicated inspection marks throughout offer this bay an authentic presentation that you'll be proud to show off.
Underneath, this classy roadster presents well without venturing into trailer queen territory. Solid floor pans are topped with a layer of undercoating while, in the middle, a Borg Warner T85 3-speed manual transmission offers full authority over the Y-block. A lot of buyers preferred their "personal vehicle" to shift itself, so it's refreshing to see a three-pedal example. Power is transferred to the ground through a tried-and-true Ford 9-inch rear end while, around the drivetrain, the suspension stays true to Ford design with a double A-arm front and leaf spring rear with fresh shocks all around. When the luxury life leads you to twisty roads, manual steering and heavy duty drum brakes are both in place to keep the driving experience lively. Despite the lack of power assist, this Thunderbird is still a surprisingly nimble machine. At the corners, chrome wire wheels wrapped in 205/75R14 wide white walls complete the classic look.
Dramatic styling was king in the 1950s and it certainly didn't stop on the outside. Between the doors of this Ford, a bright red vinyl interior offers seating for two with plenty of period-correct charm. Nicely aged door sill plates clamp the corners of clean red carpet, protected by rubber Thunderbird-branded mats. In the center, a chrome shifter extends through the floor, free of any type of console. Seating is provided by a bright red bench seat which shows virtually zero wear. At either side, matching door panels are dressed with attractive brushed aluminum pieces as well bright window cranks and door pulls. The dash appears to be original but shows well overall with plenty of 1950s charm. The factory gauges monitor fuel, revs, speed, temperature, and time from within an engine-turned aluminum bezel that looks great amidst the red paint. Chrome pull knobs control accessories like lights and wipers while the Town and Country radio provides all the entertainment needed. In front of the driver, a bright red steering wheel extends forward, offering control over the front wheels. Lift the decklid to find solid pans beneath a correct floor mat and full size spare.
It doesn't matter whether you're a Ford guy, Mopar guy, or Chevy guy, this impressive Thunderbird is one of those timeless designs that transcends barriers, offering near universal appeal. The car's great looks, great performance, and great color combo all add up to an exceptional classic that can be driven and enjoyed every day of the summer. Indulge as is, or tinker with it to make it sharper, either way you'll have a high value cruiser that has unmatched curb appeal and the muscle to back up its good looks.