April 1, 2005

Ford finally dropped all hint of prewar styling and engineering in 1955 with a brand-new finned body style loaded with chrome, plus a new sports car called Thunderbird.

Journalists of the era called the T-bird the Darling of Dearborn. The Thunderbird was a sport/luxury two-seat sports car, quite different from standard Ford passenger cars of the era. There's no question the T-bird is the most collectible Ford of the '50s. In fact, a USA Today poll revealed the highly styled '57 two-seater is the most popular collector car of all time. The '55 is no less attractive, however. The six-volt electrical system used prior to 1956 is not as desirable, which tends to affect value. Amos Minter, who has owned virtually every collectible Ford of the '50s, asserts that in passenger cars, the next most popular Ford of the Fabulous Fifties is "by far the '56 Ford convertible."

In the next breath, Minter says, "After that would be the '56 Ford Victoria two-door hardtop. It is more popular than the Crown Victoria. Naturally, the Crown Victoria [603 built] with the glass top is definitely the rarest Ford car of the '50s."

Mercury also got a complete restyle for 1955. Lincoln waited until 1956. The '55 and '56 Mercury Montclairs are very popular with collectors. The Sun Valley is Mercury's version of the Crown Victoria with the glass top roof. Just 1,787 Sun Valleys were built in 1955. Apparently, the glass roof allowed sunlight to heat the cab. When these cars were new, this feature wasn't very popular. Today, people love the novelty of a glass top.

Ford finally cut loose with chrome and fins in its longer, lower, wider '57 model, which actually outsold the Chevrolet that year. The Custom and Custom 300 series were built on the shorter 116-inch wheelbase. These low-buck models, once overlooked for the flashier Fairlane and Fairlane 500s on the 118-inch long wheelbase, are hot. The Custom two-door models are short-bodied cars and thus extremely popular with the restomod movement today.

Well known are the '57 F-code Thunderbirds with supercharged 312 Y-block V-8s. Exactly 211 were built. More obscure are the passenger car F-code Fords, that, when mated to Ford's supercharged Y-block V-8, created the quintessential street NASCAR stocker. Although supercharged 312s have been located in a broad range of passenger cars, including one station wagon, several Skyliners, and a half-dozen Fairlane 500s, only three or four of the two- door sedan Customs, which fits the formula of a stock car racer, have been authenticated. They are extremely rare.

The two most popular passenger cars of 1957 were the Sunliner, Ford's convertible that year, and the Skyliner, which had more than a transparent roof. The segmented steel roof actually folded into the trunk. The retractable roof gave the Skyliner its nickname-retractable.

Ford got quite creative with a combination pickup truck/car in its '57-'59 Ranchero carline. The Ranchero went over to the Falcon chassis in 1960. These cars are extremely popular today with car builders.

Ford styling, which stayed pretty much the same for years, veered from the norm in 1958 and 1959. Ford was in a sales race with Chevrolet to be Number One. Ford countered the all-new '58 Chevrolet with twinset headlights flanking a blazing new grille. Even the taillights were quad-style. Collectors seem to favor the '57 style over the '58, though both are very popular. The '59, however, is not as popular, with its more conservative body lines and heavier chrome grille.

Meanwhile, the '57 Lincoln Premiere is the most collectible of the '56-'57 Lincolns, probably because they are "way over the top" with abundant chrome and huge fins.