The Don Ellis Thunderbird

The Don Ellis Thunderbird

On the surface, the Ford Thunderbird doesn’t exactly quicken my pulse. It’s a charade of a sports car, a creation more enamored with its own marketing hype than with genuine performance. Strip away the glossy sales pitches, and what you’re left with is a bloated convertible more interested in opulence than in velocity. A concoction like that typically spells out a flavorless disaster waiting to happen.

Yet, against all my better judgment, there’s always been a soft spot in my heart for Thunderbirds. Some of them, at least. Certain specimens have this uncanny ability to plaster a grin on my face and ignite fantastical dreams in my mind. Enter Don Ellis and his ride—a  ’55 Ford Thunderbird that defies convention and sparks intrigue.

Don, a proud member of the Ramblers clique out in Portland, Oregon, embarked on a transformative journey with his club brethren back in 1958. Together, they set their sights on reimagining the ‘bird, pooling their collective creativity and elbow grease into a communal project. What emerged from their labors was nothing short of extraordinary.

They stretched the fenders, installed quad headlights, coerced a bubble onto the hood to cloak the beastly Cadillac motor (!), and capped it all off with a touch of Mercury flair in the taillights. The outcome? A ’55 Thunderbird that stands wider, sleeker, and yes, faster than its vanilla predecessor. It’s a testament to the power of imagination and a bold statement of defiance against the mundane…. It’s what Ford should have done.

Images from the June, 1959 issue of Rod & Custom Magazine:

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