I just had to stop for these two red classics facing off at a car broker’s lot. Not a full CC today, although we are a bit overdue on the ’55 – ’57 T-Bird. And I’m holding out for a ’56 -’57 “Vette. In the meantime, let’s do a quickie shopping comparison, before we whip out the old Bank of MM checkbook.
Let’s take a couple of steps back and size up just who is stepping into this ring. Like most face-offs, they’re not hardly perfectly matched. The Corvette is a 1959 (I’m 99% certain), whereas the T-Bird is a 1956. By 1959, the ‘Little Bird’ had morphed into the Squarebird, an altogether different animal.
And by 1959, the Corvette was suffering a bit from GM’s late-fifties bling binge. But their design origins stem back to a roughly similar time period, and certainly reflect their respective corporate themes.
Especially so, the Thunderbird. Except for a slightly different lens, that rear tail light assembly looks like it came right off the 1956 Ford sedans. That rear “jet exhaust outlet” sure doesn’t work for me. It was functional in 1955, with the exhaust pipe ducted through the middle of it. Now it just looks dumb. At least this one doesn’t have the continental spare hanging off the back end, as almost every ’56 T-Bird now seems to. Needless to say, the T-Bird’s boulevard-cruiser image was there from the beginning to some extent, but quickly came to dominate.
The Corvette hind quarters are a booty-lover’s delight. Big, bulging, sensuous; if already looking a bit out of date. It was the Corvette’s most dated feature, and the only one that merited plastic surgery (in 1961) before the end of its run. At least the ’59 had lost the horrendous additional chrome trim that cluttered up the 1958’s tail.
The T-Bird’s real intended purpose is also evident in the interior, which even eschews genuine buckets for a contoured bench. That red steering wheel looks a bit odd and unoriginal to me; or?
The Corvette’s interior meanwhile kept getting more business-like, in the idiom of the times. With the dash restyle of 1958, it even placed a proper-sized tach right where it belonged, front and center. Four-speed: check! And that steering wheel: the GM version of a Nardi.
Now we’re getting to the business ends. The T-Bird’s front end is rather handsome, although it would have looked that much better yet without the rubber Dagmars. The ones that have had the double mastectomy look decidedly better for it. Under the Thunderbird’s fake hood scoop beats the the heart of Ford’s Y-Block V8, not exactly a true sporting machine by any stretch. Maybe that’s what determined the T-Bird’s fate and direction from the start.
The 1956s had a choice of the the 292 or 312, in 202, 215 or 225 hp versions. That equaled the ’56 Corvette’s much smaller but also 225 hp 265 inch small block.
The Corvette’s 1958 face lift included some serious orthodontia. But some folks swear by its sparkling “presence”. To each their own.
But we know there’s plenty of sparkling performance under the hood, especially when it has those magic words on its side. A fuelie ‘Vette; if only it were a ’57. Or ’65. The words were near-mythical at the time, and still are among the C1 Corvette faithful. I don’t know which of the two it has:, the 250 hp “mild” version, or the 290 horsepower Duntov-cammed one. The little 283 fuelie would eventually peak with 315 hp in 1961, before the 327’s reign began.
There we have it. The market has of course already spoken by the asking prices: $26, 995 for the Thunderbird, and $49,995 for the Corvette. But don’t let that dissuade you, since we’re talking MM dollars.