Jim Smart
January 1, 2008

Step By Step

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Mufp_0801_bird_02z 1957_ford_thunderbird DrivingMufp_0801_bird_03z 1957_ford_thunderbird Rear_view
This is the original Starmist Blue finish and convertible top. In 50 years, this top has never been down.
Mufp_0801_bird_08z 1957_ford_thunderbird Interior
The interior is also factory original except for a Custom Autosound system and period-correct seatbelts for safety.
Mufp_0801_bird_05z 1957_ford_thunderbird Engine
Ford's 312ci Y-Block V-8 reached its zenith with optional supercharging for 1957, good for 300 hp. The optional Daytona version netted 312 hp--1 hp per cubic inch.
Mufp_0801_bird_07z 1957_ford_thunderbird Original_fuel_filterMufp_0801_bird_15z 1957_ford_thunderbird HeadlightMufp_0801_bird_04z 1957_ford_thunderbird Exhaust
Bumper/Taillight Detail
When we said "off-the-shelf" parts, we weren't kidding. These are '57 Ford taillights. Ford incorporated Thunderbird's dual exhausts into the bumper for a subtle yet functional treatment.
Mufp_0801_bird_14z 1957_ford_thunderbird Fender
Wheel Detail
In an age of simulated everything, it's nice to see genuine Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels wrapped in Coker Classic radials. The Bryners requested the radials for safety and handling along with the correct, wide, white-sidewall tires.

We tend to compare the two-seat Corvette and Thunderbird as though they were the same, but these Detroit wondercars couldn't have been more different, and here's why. Introduced in the fall of 1952, the Chevrolet Corvette was an all-out sports car conceived for performance-minded drivers and men in midlife crisis sporting gray temples. During its first two years, Chevy's potent Blue Flame six-powered Corvette attracted its share of buyers. Because Corvette was there first, it became America's most beloved sports car. For 1955, the Corvette got a splash of salsa-Chevrolet's all-new 265ci small-block V-8-which made the car legendary.

The Ford Thunderbird was not only an answer to Corvette in 1955, but it was also a softer, more luxurious alternative people would want badly. The Thunderbird wasn't intended to be a brute sports car; it was a sport/luxury two-seat automobile with a lot of nice amenities Corvette didn't have. Thunderbird's 292ci Y-block was not a high-performance V-8, but rather a civilized engine designed for the open road with a kinder, gentler demeanor. The Y-block wasn't a radical American V-8, but instead a soft-spoken, mechanical lifter V-8 sporting the soft chatter of 16 cast rocker arms mounted on conventional shafts. At the tailpipe, Thunderbird yielded a soft bellow of eight exhaust pulses and the sweet smell of unburned hydrocarbons thanks to point-triggered ignition and an old Holley "Teapot" carburetor. In 1956, the T-bird got a larger 312ci V-8 and a pinch more power to compete with Chevrolet.

The Thunderbird's two-seat status was challenging for salesmen pushing the original darling of Dearborn, which is why the car became a larger four-place personal luxury car in 1958. Sales in 1955 reached 16,155 units. For 1956, the Thunderbird sold 16,631 units, and in 1957, some 21,380 units. In 1958, sales figures doubled, proving to Ford it made the right decision when it grew Thunderbird to four occupants.

To help spur sales and give the T-bird a more exciting image in 1957, Ford's product planners and engineers warmed up the 312ci Y-block V-8 with two sizzling options-twin four-barrel carburetion or a McCullough supercharger. In the hobby, 8V Thunderbirds are known as E-birds while supercharged versions are called "F-birds" due to their engine codes.

Jan Bryner of Sandy, Utah, has the good fortune of a terrific husband, Jay, who's crazy about her-so much so that he put her in this Starmist Blue '57 F-bird roadster for her birthday. Jay's inspiration came from her birth year-1957. The Bryners flew to Dallas to see world-renowned T-bird expert, Amos Minter. Minter's collection of Thunderbirds was overwhelming, but there was only one car for Jan. The Bryners were moved by its rare, optional McCullough supercharger, three-speed stick, and 3.89 gears. These features made it distinctive, weekend ready, and a blast for the show circuit.

Even more appealing was the car's low-mileage, original status-just 43,800 miles, with original paint and an undisturbed powertrain. When Jay drove the car, its original 312 seemed tired and ran like it. Minter's staff rebuilt the engine and then turned over the car to the Bryners. Minter also fitted the car with radial tires to improve handling and safety. Those are real Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, by the way, factory original to this Thunderbird.