In the competitive automotive world, Ford and Chevrolet have been adversaries for 110 years. The first Ford Model T was built in 1908 and the first Chevrolet in 1911. The Chevrolet was a more advanced car, but the price was $2,150, compared to the Model T for $850. While there were other manufacturers building cars, the main rivalry was Ford versus Chevrolet. Both brands had fierce loyalty among their owners, being the best-selling car was the goal of each, and each tried to learn the secret plans of their competitor.
Right after World War II, the car business was pretty good for everyone, and the industry was mostly building cars styled before the war. In January 1953, Chevrolet showed a concept sports car called the Corvette. It created a lot of excitement because it looked great, but initially it wasn’t a very good car. Apparently across town in Detroit, the Corvette stirred up some excitement at Ford Motor Co.
I imagine there were some long and stressful meetings because Ford couldn’t let Chevrolet have a whole market segment to themselves. Ford was already two years behind, but Ford worked quickly and made the first production Thunderbird for the 1955 model year. The Thunderbird wasn’t marketed as a sports car but rather as a personal luxury car, a completely new category.
Strangely, credit for the Thunderbird development is generally given to a retired GM executive, Lewis Crusoe, whom Ford lured out of retirement. Henry Ford II approved the design in 1953, and there have been 11 generations of Thunderbirds since then. In my opinion, though, there have really just been two, the first and the 11th generations. I think the ones in between were just fancy Ford sedans using the Thunderbird name. Ford sold a lot of them, though — more than 4.4 million from 1955 to the end of Thunderbird’s production in 2005.
Ron Lommori has the first year of the first-generation Thunderbird, a 1955 model and the last year of the 11th generation, a 2005 Thunderbird. The Danville resident bought the 1955 model about 10 years ago and referred to these two vehicles, both of which are bright red, as his “book end” cars.
Lommori has been a Ford enthusiast starting with his first car, a 1940 Ford. He bought his first 1955 Thunderbird in 1964 for $1,500, which was the “date” car for him and his wife. He kept that one into the early 1970s, when he discovered that kids and two-seat sport cars are not a good combination.
He found this issue’s 1955 Thunderbird in Santa Rosa and paid $26,000 for it. It’s equipped with power steering, automatic transmission and standard drum brakes. The Torch Red finish is a factory color, and the body was in great shape. It was a nice car, but it needed work. Lommori purchased it from an individual.
“I went out there with a buddy of mine and looked it over. I fell in love right away. It needed some engine and transmission work as well as brake work but nothing we couldn’t handle. I’ve got a circle of (car collector) friends who have been together for 65 years. My brother who lives in Shingle Springs has a nice big garage with a lift and everything, and we would go up there to work on the cars.”
Now if most of us owned this beautiful 1955 Thunderbird, we would probably drive it around on nice sunny days and get a few “thumbs-up” signs from observers. Lommori may do that too but says, “I still go on Wednesday nights to the races at Sears Point. I race the old Thunderbird. It’s drag racing. I have raced the ’55 against the California Highway Patrol. They have a program at Sears Point called ‘Top the Cops’ (the program is really designed to get young people to interact positively with law enforcement).”
The owner doesn’t know the history of his 1955 Torch Red Thunderbird other than it was first sold in Detroit and somehow moved west. There was one disappointment.
“After I first bought it, I was in Pleasant Hill, and some guy backed into me — not a major dent, but that was traumatic. The owner reasoned with the insurance adjuster that this Thunderbird damage isn’t like a dent in a 15-year-old Toyota Corolla. Luckily the insurance company didn’t argue with me.”
So the whole car was repainted perfectly, not just the dented area. Lommori drives this car a couple times a week and has no plan to ever sell it. He has put some extra bucks into the car, maybe more than its current market value estimated at $40,000, but the car is not just a car, it’s a trip down memory lane from his courting days and a hobby he enjoys with his circle of friends.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected] To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.