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DEARBORN - On Nov. 2, 1955, the 1956 Thunderbird appeared in dealer showrooms for the first time.
Among the biggest changes for ’56 was the externally-mounted spare tire. Customers liked the look, and nearly 16,000 1956 Thunderbirds were sold.
Below is the Ford press release that the company posted on the new “Bird” on Oct. 24, 1956:
DEARBORN - A new model of the most successful “personal car” in American automotive history – Thunderbird 56 – was introduced today in Detroit.
Functionally restyled and redesigned to include a Continental-type spare tire, Thunderbird 56 has three new powertrain options for performance. The new Thunderbird also has five new safety features embodying the new concept of “packaging the passenger” as a means of limiting injuries in the event of an accident.
The 56 adjustable steering column has a concave safety steering wheel. In addition, safety door latches and a shatter resistant mirror are standard safety equipment. Optional safety equipment includes seat belts and shock-absorbent cushioning for the instrument panel and sun visors.
Ford engineers have increased the luggage space by removing the spare tire from the trunk and placing it inside a “Continental” spare tire carrier. The luggage compartment can accommodate two sets of golf clubs and three suitcases.
Thunderbird 56 has three distinct engine choices. The most powerful is a 312 cu. in. displacement Thunderbird Special Y-8, rated at 225 horsepower, with Fordomatic and a 9.0-1 compression ratio. Secondly, there is a 312 cu. in. engine rated at 215 horsepower with overdrive and a compression ratio of 8.4-1. The third engine is a 292 cu. in., rated at 202 horsepower and an 8.4-1 compression ratio for standard transmission.
The Thunderbird, a separate and distinct car line, is one of the few new cars to be introduced successfully in the industry in recent years.
Prior to its introduction in October 1954, research indicated a market for a vehicle of the Thunderbird type, but sales since then have outdistanced even the most optimistic estimates. In less than a year, more than 16,000 units were sold, marking the Thunderbird a completely successful venture.
A new ventilation system has cowl vents above the floor on each side of the car. Also, new flipper windows on each side of the car help to regulate the flow of fresh air into the car.
The front seat has new springs and thicker foam rubber cushioning for added comfort.
Higher compression ratios provide greater power output. Engine breathing is facilitating by larger passages in the heads and intake manifolds, which will admit more fuel-air mixture when it is needed.
Dual exhaust ports are located in the wraparound areas of a new rear bumper. The bumper’s center section is built around the “Continental” spare tire cover. It incorporates the license plate frame and light.
An alternate hardtop with a port hole in each side is available as an option in place of the regular hardtop. On the soft top, there is a larger rear window equipped with a zipper so it may be rolled down to allow full air passage.
Thunderbird 56 will be available in seven different solid colors, two more than last year – Raven Black, Torch Red, Buckskin Tan, Colonial White, Peacock Blue, Thunderbird Green and Thunderbird Gray. Two-tone combinations are standard. A hardtop color different from the body color provides the owner with the effect of two different cars.
A combination tonneau and convertible storage compartment cover is available as an option. The color matches the interior bolster. A zipper down the middle runs the full length of the cover so that the car may be operated with the passenger side protected by the tonneau cover.
Ride and handling have been improved by new shock absorbers, longer rear springs and an increased steering ratio of 23-1.
The 12 volt electrical system is standard on Thunderbird 56.