The Ford Thunderbird debuted in the 1955 model year with a fairly conventional range of engine options, but the Blue Oval also experimented with something rather unorthodox. The company installed a gas turbine engine in a Thunderbird in 1955.
Ford archivist Ted Ryan posted a photo of the turbine-powered Thunderbird and test notes on Twitter on Tuesday. They are artefacts from a time when automakers considered turbines as a possible replacement for conventional piston engines.
The project began in August 1955, and the vehicle was ready for testing by March 1956. The goal of the project was to “gain experience with the packaging and operation of gas turbine engines,” according to the note. experiment. Ford also sought to understand “the special advantages and problems associated with this type of engine.”
To that end, Ford invested $188,000 ($155) in the turbine-powered Thunderbird prototype. Originating from aircraft manufacturer Boeing, the turbine is mounted where a conventional engine would normally run, but with a large exhaust outlet just behind the front wheel.
1955 Ford Thunderbird gas turbine prototype
Different results. The positives include good mid-speed acceleration, good power-to-weight ratio, less vibration, and low maintenance requirements. However, the notes also mention “severe acceleration lag on start-up,” as well as problems with the front-mounted exhaust and “many other characteristics presenting problem areas.”
Needless to say, Ford has never put the turbine-powered Thunderbird into production, but it’s not the only Detroit automaker to experiment with turbine power. The Chrysler Turbine appeared in 1962, and Chrysler even delivered 50 cars to customers for actual evaluation.
However, Chrysler didn’t go any further than Ford and most of the Turbines were phased out after their loans ended. Nine of them survive to this day, mostly in museums. Two are known as in private handsinclude one Jay Leno’s Collection.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbird continued to operate for decades in various forms, but never as a turbine engine. Production of the retro-styled T-Bird finally ended after the 2005 model year, although Ford kept the current trademark to maintain control over the iconic nameplate.