I can remember almost exactly when I first noticed my first two-seater “Baby-bird.” I was about six years old, and a neighbor owned three. At that time, they were just mildly interesting decade old cars.

Still, even to my six-year-old eyes they seemed something very special. As I got a bit older I would see Baby Birds from time to time, and I always paid attention. Oh, and then in late summer 1973 just after my 11th birthday American Graffiti premiered.

Hot-rods, teenage angst, intrigue, adventure, a cast full of future stars, and of course Suzanne Somers in the white two-seater Thunderbird. Oh, and who can forget Wolfman Jack as the world’s greatest movie DJ. Somers never said a word in the entire movie, and I don’t think a single male ever noticed. She is forever, “the blonde young lady in a Thunderbird.”

Wolfman said, “Hey, I got a dedication here that’s for a friend of the ol’ Wolfman. And he wants me to play the next song for a blonde young lady in a Thunderbird. A white T-bird, you understand? Now my friend’s name is Curt and he wants to talk to you out there, baby. So you meet him at Burger City, or you can phone Diamond 3132. Now he’s a friend of mine, you hear, and little girl, you better call him, or the Wolfman gonna get ya.”

I’ve had a couple of real life Baby-birds on the edge of my world. In high-school one of the hot chicks periodically drove a baby-Bird’s to campus. I’d admire both her and the car like our personal Suzanne Somers. Right out of high-school a friend of a friend had a ’57 E-Bird with the big cam, two four-barrel Holley’s, and a three-speed manual with overdrive. Oh baby would it go. Kenneth would pull out and light ’em up!

Not long ago we put out the call for additional test-drive Tuesday candidates, our old buddy Rob Markman was one of the first to reply. Would I be interested in road-testing his award-winning ’55 T-Bird? Ever heard that saying about bears and woods 😉

At the prearranged time Reagan and I arrived at the exclusive private club house that houses the Markman car as well as many other tantalizing treats

When we arrived, Rob explained that the car sat more than it was driven, so we should be prepared for the foibles associated with a finicky carburetor. Yep, she was a bit cranky while cranking but soon sprang to life and ran just fine like the spry ‘ol gal she it.

The T-Bird was introduced in 1955 which was a watershed year for Ford/Lincoln/Mercury. The Ford and Mercury lines were all new with almost nothing in common with the hoary ’54 models. The two biggest stories for Fomoco in ’55 were the Continental Mark II, and the two-seater Thunderbird billed in Ford ad’s as a “Personal car of distinction.” They both continued into ’57 with the Continental and T-Bird being a completely different kind of cars in ’58.

The Baby-Bird’s short 175” wheelbase, and height of a smidge over 50” gave it quite the dashing profile unlike anything else coming out of Detroit. Yes the Corvette had been around for a couple of years, but the intended clientele was very different. Corvette buyers tended to be floppy-cap, bugs-in-the-teeth sportscar types, whereas Thunderbird buyers were expected to be of the more genteel country club set.

First year sales of 16,155 were more than respectable for such a specialty two-seater. 1956 declined slightly to a still respectable 15,631, and 1957 rose to 21,380. But Ford wanted more, much more. The marketing people rightfully pointed out the limited appeal of a two-seater and that a similarly equipped four-seater would likely be a sales hit. Well that theory was proven by sales of the newly-introduced four-seater ‘58 “square-bird” production of 37,892 in a recession year when sales of virtually every other nameplate declined. Over its lifespan from 1955 until 2005 there have been eleven generations of Thunderbirds.

But what of our Colonial White test car? Well long-time readers will know that it’s unlikely that the words “svelte” and Greg will be used in the same sentene. Even though the T-Bird is a two-seater I fit right under the big dished steering wheel. Reward visibility with the hardtop installed is a bit limited due to the seating position and cramped quarters.

The black and white vinyl covered seats were very comfortable judged by the standards of the era, but not great compared to a modern car. The day of our test drive it was 100 degrees in Houston and I stuck to the seats like a fly to a trap. The view out the front is pure iconic Americana, and after the ’57 Chevy, Baby-Birds are among the most recognized cars of all times.
As predicted by owner Rob Markman, our test car’s Y-block V8 needed to clear its throat a bit before jumping to life. Like all Ford’s of the era, starting is done in neutral with the ignition switch being to the left of the column. Acceleration is brisk owing to the 193hp and 280 lb/ft of torque and the T-birds relatively svelte (for the era) 2,900 lb curb weight.

Exterior Features

  • Colonial White Paint
  • Removable Hardtop
  • Fender Skirts
  • Continental Kit

Interior Features

  • Black/White Vinyl upholstery
  • See-Through Speedometer
  • Tachometer

Technology and Safety Features

  • Seat Belts
  • Power Steering
  • Vacuum assisted brakes
  • Town & Country signal-seeking radio

Engine Features

  • 292ci (5.1L) 193hp “Y-Block” V8 3.75” bore by 3.30” stroke
  • 4-barrel carburetor
  • Dual Exhaust

Miles Per Gallon

1957 Road-Test (MPG)

2017 Owner Markman reports approximately (MPG)

Price as Tested

1955 base price (US $)

2017 condition (US $)

Comparison to Similar Models

1956 Corvette

By 1956 the Corvette was in its fourth year of production, with 1956 featuring updated styling, better colors, and the availability of the already legendary small-block Chevy V8 “mouse motor,” in a miniscule 265ci with options of 210-240hp.  For the enthusiast the V8, coupled to the now standard three-speed manual transmission and a litany of updates and refinements finally demonstrated the ‘Vette’s performance potential. 0-60 times of 7.5 seconds and 15.9 second quarter mile times obliterated the T-Bird by a full second. The ‘Vette sold a miniscule 3,467 units vs the T-Birds 15,631. The cross-town rivals would take vastly different paths in future years with the T-Birds production figures absolutely smoking those of the ‘Vette. Gen 2 ‘Vettes are considered icons with today’s values for a #2 car in the low $60,000’s.

1954(5) Nash-Healey

Oh, the beautiful and mostly forgotten two-seater Nash-Healey. 1954 marked the final year of production of the Nash-Healey introduced in ’51, with some being sold and delivered in 1955. In 1952 the two-seater got a styling update from Carrozzeria Pininfarina in Turin, Italy who also produced the bodies. They can accurately be described as coachbuilt cars. In my mind N/H’s are one of the loveliest cars of the 1950’s. The only available engine was the hoary Nash 6-cylinder of 125hp, updated with an aluminum head and dual carburetors. Only 507 of these beauties were produced in four years with 1955 being limited to the even rarer Lemans Coupe. In the early 1950’s Nash was an unhealthy business with limited resources that could ill afford such a low-production halo vehicle. The 1954 merger with Hudson to create American Motors resulted in a 1955 line of cars that were derisively called “Hash” at the time. Nash-Healers are exceedingly rare today with ’52-3 open models #2 condition commanding prices in the low $90,000, and the ultra-rare Lemans coupe brining considerably less at about $64,000.