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Rare 3-speed manual, hardtop, CA car, recently serviced, new tires and exhaust

For sale: 1956 Ford Thunderbird Roadster

Technical specifications

Item location:
Macedonia, Ohio, United States
Number of cylinders:
Interior color:
Vehicle Title:
Contact the seller / ! Report


Two-seat Thunderbirds remain a cornerstone of the old car hobby. They were special when they were new, so their survival rates are astronomical compared to almost everything else, and they remain as popular today as they ever were. Perhaps the combination of sunny good looks and V8 power is intoxicating, perhaps it’s the awesome club support, or maybe it’s just because it’s impossible to be unhappy behind the wheel of an early ‘Bird. Whatever the reason, these cars are special.

This particular 1956 Thunderbird is a little rare in that it is equipped with a 3-speed manual transmission. A vast majority received the Ford-O-Matic automatic, and that’s fine, but the manual shifter seems to transform this ‘Bird from pleasant boulevardier to something a little closer to its intention: a sporting 2-seater. The ’56 cars also received a host of updates that make them a lot more user-friendly, and if you like continental kits on your Thunderbird, the 1956 models are the only way to get one that’s factory-installed. At some point it was switched from its original Raven Black to its current Colonial White, which is the archetype of the two-seater ever since Suzanne Sommers drew appreciative stares in an identical car in “American Graffiti.” This is a California car, so it’s every bit as clean as you’d hope, and while it hasn’t had a frame-off restoration, it just hasn’t been necessary for something so clean. It’s exactly the right color, not too bright, but a little creamy that softens the look just a bit. Panel fit is typical Thunderbird, with great gaps around the hood and trunk while the rear edges of the doors are a little proud of the bodywork. Interestingly enough, fender skirts were optional on the Thunderbird, although you rarely see one without them, including this one here. They fit well and there’s no sign of rust in the top of the rear fender arch, which is quite common on these cars. The chrome trim has been refinished at some point and looks great, and the exhaust system is still routed through the rear bumpers, although they use cool deflectors that help keep the chrome bright.

The two-tone red and white interior is how this car was originally delivered, although it has been restored and freshened at some point. The seat cover accurately reproduces the original look and provides comfortable seating for two. The carpets are the right square weave with a few splashes of black woven in, and the handsome door panels are beautifully rendered with bright inserts that continue into the dashboard. The original speedometer, tachometer, and fuel gauge are all fully operational, but auxiliary dials for temperature, oil pressure, and voltage were added under the dash (they’re easy to remove if they’re not your thing). The factory steering wheel remains in great shape and the look of that three-speed manual shifter with cue ball knob on the transmission tunnel transforms the ‘Bird’s outlook. There’s a modern AM/FM/cassette stereo radio in the dash with speakers behind the seat, which is easy because there’s no folding top. Interestingly enough, when you bought your new 1956 Thunderbird, you could have EITHER a hard top or a soft top as a no-charge option, but both tops were extra, and while many T-Birds now have both tops, it’s unlikely that they all came that way. Besides, with the folding top out of the way, the seat has more travel and it’s easier for taller drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel. The removable hardtop remains in great condition with recent weather seals, and it doesn’t take much effort to take it off if an afternoon of open-air motoring in in your plans. The trunk is neatly finished with a correct plaid mat, and thanks to moving the spare tire out into the continental kit, there’s plenty of room for a week’s worth of luggage for two.

The first digit of the VIN is an M, which means a 292 cubic inch V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor, which was exclusive to the cars with a 3-speed manual transmission. It’s easy to start and fires with only a few turns of the starter, settling into an even idle which only comes from careful tuning. It’s plenty energetic out on the road and as I said, the manual gearbox makes it feel like an entirely different animal altogether. It’s tidy under the hood, with Ford Red engine enamel, a dealer-installed Thunderbird dress-up kit that includes the lovely finned valve covers and chrome air cleaner, plus those distinctive cast iron exhaust manifolds that are in great condition. The proper Holley “teapot” carburetor lives under the air cleaner and the distributor is a correct unit with functioning vacuum advance. Experts will quickly spot the modern alternator tucked down low and out of sight, but that’s the lone modification to the hardware and makes a difference in keeping the battery topped off at all times. It runs cool and doesn’t get cranky in traffic, but you’ll probably enjoy it even more on the open road where the dual exhaust burbles away and the engine’s considerable reserves of torque can be better exploited.

The 3-speed isn’t anything remarkable, with a standard H-style shift pattern, but having it in an early Thunderbird makes a huge difference in personality. The clutch and throw-out bearing are new, so no worries, there, and the engine makes enough torque that it steps off without a lot of throttle and pulls smoothly from almost any speed. Looking around underneath, you’ll note that the exhaust system is brand new and the shocks are relatively recent. Out back, it has 3.10 gears, making it an effortless highway cruiser and the gas tank has been recently cleaned and serviced. As a California car, the floors and rockers are excellent, and things like the body mounts are completely solid, so you can drive this car with confidence. New brakes, including lines and hoses, ensure calm, confident stops, and the 205/75/15 whitewall radials have less than 500 miles on them.

This isn’t a show car, but you already knew that by the price. It is, however, the ideal kind of Thunderbird that you can get in and go anywhere in style and comfort. It’s been extensively serviced, so it runs and drives great, and the color combination is arguably the best you can get on an early ‘Bird. Add in the fun of a manual transmission and you have a fantastic hobby car that’s better than the rest simply by virtue of the fact that it’s a movie star anywhere it goes. Call now!

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