The Mystery of the 1955 Fairlane-Trimmed Thunderbird

Join us as we delve into the intriguing tale of the 1955 Ford Thunderbirds with Fairlane chrome trim.

The Unicorn Thunderbird

The Ford factory photo of a 1955 Thunderbird above shows a unicorn – a Thunderbird with thick, Fairlane-style side trim that never appeared on regular production T-Birds. Some might say it’s fortunate that it didn’t. How the Thunderbird got and then lost the ’55 Fairlane bright metal is an interesting story, in part because it has been told in various ways.

The Detroit Auto Show

On February 20, 1954, at the Detroit Auto Show, FoMoCo boss Henry Ford II and his brother William Clay Ford were seen admiring the brand new 1955 Thunderbird, which made its public debut at the show. Reportedly, this prototype was completed only the day before on February 19, when actual T-Bird production was still more than six months away. The flashy checkmark-motif bright metal trim, as found on the full-size ’55 Fairlane passenger cars, was nowhere to be seen. This would seem to indicate that in February at least, the Fairlane-esque trim was not yet part of the Thunderbird’s production plans. However, others have suggested that since the ’55 Fairlane was not yet introduced at this date, the distinctive Fairlane side trim was held back as well. Either story seems plausible enough.

The Fairlane-Styled Thunderbird

Leading up to the start of production at the Dearborn Rouge plant on September 9, the decision was made to add the exuberant Fairlane-style side trim. We know that because dealer brochures, advertising art, and Ford publicity photos were all produced that proudly displayed the extra bright metal, as shown in the artwork. The T-Bird was a halo car, intended to elevate the image of the entire Ford product line. Shared chrome trim would help to tie the identities together.

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The Reversal of the Decision

However, at some point before the start of production and the official public product launch on October 22, the decision to add the Fairlane trim was reversed, and the trim was removed. In one version of the story, it was Henry Ford II himself who vetoed the Fairlane trim, asserting that a sports car should not wear so much chrome. This last-minute change meant that all the marketing materials had to be redone, as shown in the new photo. Note that the new photo was staged in the same driveway at the same house as the previous photo.

Last-Minute Production Changes

Last-minute production changes like these are not uncommon in the auto industry. As the automakers like to say in the fine print, “features and options are subject to change without notice.” The decision to add and then remove the Fairlane trim from the Thunderbird highlights the fluidity of the design process and the power of executives to shape the final product.

For more interesting examples of last-minute changes, see our features on the 1957 Chevrolet that never was and the 1933 Willys 99.