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1955 T-Bird vs. 1955 Corvette


1957Birdman
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There has been a lot written over the years about the "fact" that the original T-Bird wasn't a sports car and that it was a performance slouch compared to the Chevrolet Corvette of the day. While there is some truth to the narrative in 1956 and 1957, it wasn't the case in 1955. If you read articles from the magazines of the day you would find that the '55 T-Bird was quite a strong performer. It also one-upped the Covertte in a number of ways, including having a V8 engine from the start, a 3 speed automatic (against the Corvette's 2 speed PowerGlide), a 3 speed stick available for the complete model run (the Corvette only had a 3 speed stick at the end of the model run), and a 3 speed stick shift with overdive (none for Corvette). Of course there were also creature comforts such as roll-up windows that would come to Corvette in the following year.

At SpeedWeeks 1955 it was no contest. The under $4,000 price class acceleration run was won by a T-Bird owned by Tom McCahill, the automotive writer for Mechanix Illustrated.

In the end the sales race for 1955 was also no contest. While Chevrolet sold 700 '55 Corvettes, Ford sold over 16,000 T-Birds. In the end the T-Bird did GM a favor, it caused them to get serious about a car they really wanted to drop from their lineup. The '56 Corvette was a much better car as a result.

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On that note, I'll bet 2 out of 3 people asked which they would prefer, would take the Vette. I'm guessing that would be more due to styling then performance. The 56 T Bird was a more attractive car in my opinion, then the 55 T Bird.

Thank you for the comparison. The facts are interesting....

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Styling is a beauty is in the eye of the beholder proposition, but I think the popularity of all 3 years is a testament to timeless quality of their styling. The number of times that early T-Birds are spotted in advertisments is quite high for a 50+ year old car. I also can't think of many Ford guys that would take an early Corvette over an early T-Bird. I am just thankful that so many survived over the years. It makes it easier to get a good car at a reasonable price.

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While writers have often written that the Corvette was more of a genuine sports car, I guess that also translates to mean a car with no power steering or power brakes that drove rather truck-like.:) In it's worst year the T-bird outsold the Corvette about 5 to 1 and I think that is reflected in it's offering more comforts and conveniences. Todd

PS--I certainly like 1950s Corvette styling though!

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The early T-Birds were exactly what Ford advertised, a sporty personal car or words to that effect. The early 2 speed slush six Corvettes left a lot to be desired. Once the Corvettte got its act together with the V-8 it was a different story. I once had the agonizing misfortune to attend an SCCA race in 1958 in which both Vettes and T-Birds were entered. We took bets on how many laps before the T-Birds went out - it wasn't many before they disappeared due to overheating and brake problems. T-Birds were nice to drive but they were in no way any sort of a sports car. Having driven both when they were new, the V-8 Vettes had all the power but but were poor handling and suffered from brakes that were not designed for a car that fast.

Both makes represent an interesting period in the post-war marketplace and the effort of major US automakers to go after a segment of the market that had been taken over by the Europeans. Great that there are so many collectors of both early Vettes and early T-Birds.

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As I pointed out in my original posting, most of the car magazines of the day considered the '55 T-Bird to be a sports car, even if Ford called it a "personal car". This included the likes of Tom McCahill and the writers at Road & Track. They did make a distinction that the T-Bird was more of a touring type sports car and was not intended to be an all out performance machine like a Ferrari. Of course it also cost thousands less. The '55 Corvette was a transition car to the '56 and later models that were performance oriented. It certainly didn't have the success at SpeedWeeks that the T-Bird had. Tom McCahill said that after he tuned his T-Bird for Daytona it would do 0-60 in 6.9 seconds. That is not too shabby performance, even today. So, even though we may not consider it a sports car today, that certainly wasn't the case in 1955.

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