PERSPECTIVE 2000: Corvette debuts; price is $3,498
Ford Thunderbird priced at $2,944
Chevy was on the verge of dumping it in late 1954, but engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov made it a fire-breathing performance car, and the Vette found the niche it still occupies.
The two-seat Thunderbird was a "personal luxury" car (the term was new in 1954), not a sports car. But early in 1955 Crusoe was promoted, and Whiz Kid Robert McNamara replaced him at Ford Division. Sales were great, but the T-bird was losing money — and bean counter McNamara didn't like the idea of a money-losing image car.
The Thunderbird survived, but as a four-passenger car. In 1957, Ford sold 21,000 two-seaters. In 1960, Ford sold 92,000 four-passenger models.
Corvette sales lumbered along at a few thousand a year. The car didn't make a profit until 1962, when 10,000 were sold. But Chevy executives loved their image car. They still do.
The Thunderbird hasn't been an image car since 1958, but it sold well enough to remain in the Ford lineup until the 1997 model year. It will return as a 2002 model.