Classic Cars A to Z

Ford Thunderbird History (1956)

Article by Mark Trotta

Ford had hoped to sell 10,000 T-birds in 1955, but instead found itself unable to keep up with demand. Production ran into September, eventually selling over 16,000 examples for the model year.

1956 Ford Thunderbird at classic car show

1956 Thunderbird

The T-bird saw only minor changes in its second year. Vent wing-windows were new, as were small round 'port' windows in the optional hard top roof. New paint colors were offered, including several two-tone paint schemes.

Starting in 1956, the hard top could be ordered in a contrasting color from the rest of the car. Customers could choose whether they wanted port windows on the hardtop, with most opting for the new windows.



An optional 312-cid V8 produced 215-horsepower with the overdrive 3-speed manual transmission, or 225-horsepower when mated to the Ford-O-Matic 3-speed automatic transmission.

Optional safety equipment included a padded dashboard cover, padded sun visors, and seat belts.

Positive to Negative Ground Polarity

The Ford Motor Company used negative ground polarity on the Model T, then in 1928 switched to positive ground when the Model A was introduced. In 1956, Ford went back to negative ground electrical systems, as well as switching from 6 volts to the new industry standard of 12 volts.

Addressing concerns of a warm passenger compartment, front fender cowl vents were added, which were manually opened and closed from inside the car with a lever.

Continental Spare Tire

In the late thirties, Edsel Ford had taken a trip to Europe. He noticed sports cars with external spare-tires mounted on their rear bumpers, done so to allow more trunk space. Upon returning to the States, he asked Lincoln's chief stylist to incorporate this design into the new Lincoln Continentals. Ford stylists designed a similar "Continental style" spare tire kit for the 1956 Thunderbird.

1956 Ford T-bird with Continental kit

Aside from looks, the exterior spare tire allowed more trunk space. Also helping this was relocating the jack to under the left fender.

1956 Ford Thunderbird with Continental kit

Production output for the 1956 T-bird was 15,631.

Continental Kit Issues

Complaints of the additional weight of the Continental spare causing steering issues would lead to a trunk lid redesign for 1957, allowing the spare to be moved back inside. Although no longer available from Ford, aftermarket companies continued to sell Continental kits for those who liked the appearance of the external spare.


Articles of Interest:

Ford Thunderbird (1955)
Ford Thunderbird (1957)
Ford Thunderbird (1958)
Cars of the Fifties