Everybody knows that Enzo Ferrari insulted Ford, telling a representative that he wouldn’t sell to a company that made ugly cars at an ugly factory. But it wasn’t always like this. Enzo was actually generous, gifting a 1952 Ferrari 212 Barchetta to Henry Ford II. Hank the Deuce loved it so much that it kickstarted Ford’s own roadster, the Thunderbird, or so the story goes.
There are a number of other factors at play here. First, American soldiers were coming back from Europe where they got to experience open-top 2-seat sports cars from British or Italian manufacturers. But there wasn’t anything they could buy from American carmakers until the Corvette arrived.
The Ford Thunderbird was the baby of designer Frank Hershey, who served in the Navy during WWII and also worked at GM’s Opel design office in Germany, back in 1936. He dreamed of making something like the Jaguar XK120 for Ford, which is ironic considering the last Firebird ever made was a Jaguar in disguise.
Anyway, adding more and more power to these early American roadsters was always important. The Corvette started off with the Blue Flame six-cylinder, for example. But today, we’re checking out one of 212 1957 Ford Thunderbird roadsters that are believed to have left the factory with an F-code 312ci V8 equipped from the factory with a Paxton/McCulloch supercharger.
1957 was the last model year of the first Thunderbird. Nicknamed the “Baby Bird”, this is the one true American equivalent to European roadsters. It was small, so not everybody could fit inside it, but T-Bird fans tend to agree this particular model is the coolest and most valuable.
Of the 21,380 Thunderbird roadsters made that year, the so-called F-Birds are the rarest. These 205 examples all came with the F-code engine, a 312 cubic-inch V8 that had been fitted with a 4-barrel carburetor and a Paxton-built McCulloch centrifugal supercharger. They also got a special cylinder head to keep the compression ratio at 8.5:1 and allow them to run on regular pump gas.
I mean, can you imagine having a 300-horsepower, 340 pound-foot sports car in the era of luxury boats with tail fins? Crazy.
The supercharger made the F-code Thunderbird more powerful than the Corvette. But this was more of a bonus. The real reason Ford built this is to homologate the car for NASCAR.
F-Code Thunderbird for sale
This particular example is a real F-Bird that has just come up for sale on Bring A Trailer. Even though it’s just been listed, bidding has almost reached $50,000 because this is a rare car that doesn’t come up very often.
Chassis number F7FH333802 only has 3,000 miles on the odometer and has plenty of unique features such as the Starmist Blue paint with a dark blue soft top over Colonial vinyl upholstery. There could be less than a dozen in this configuration, and we believe it’s worth at least $150,000.
The most expensive F-Code was, I think, at the peak of the Thunderbird market in 2006, when one example sold for $319,000.