Thursday, June 10, 2010

1955 thunderbird- named for a local landmark

One of the most famous cars of the 1950s was the Ford Thunderbird. A low, stylish two-seater V8, with creature comforts like power windows and automatic transmission, it wasn't a sports car in the European tradition, but rather an American interpretation -- and it has a strong connection to the desert paradise knows as Palm Springs.

Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California opened in January of 1951 to a swarm of publicity. It was the first golf course in the valley and one of the first anywhere to be surrounded by home sites. It was an instant celebrity hangout, and within a year all of the home sites were sold, many to celebrities of the day. Some of the world's most famous entertainers maintained homes there. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Hoagy Carmichael, Gordon MacRae, Ruby Keeler, Dean Martin, Billie Dove, Esther Williams, Randolph Scott and Mary Pickford were among the celebrity members of Thunderbird.

Also on the list was a man named Ernest Breech who was an executive with Ford Motor Company. He was one of the "Whiz Kids" that Henry Ford II brought in after the war to revitalize the auto giant. At the time he was Ford's Executive VP, and he thought that some of the glamor of the golf course might rub off on the new sporty roadster the company was bringing out.

And perhaps it went the other way as well. Ford's Thunderbird debuted in late 1954, and it was an instant success. The very first one was delivered to Thunderbird members John and Velma Dawson. The car became one of the truly iconic brands of the postwar auto industry and no doubt had something to do with Breech being named Chairman of the Board in 1955. And the glamorous Thunderbird isn't the only vehicle to be launched at Thunderbird. The motorized golf cart also made its debut on Thunderbird.

1 comment:

  1. Only one small detail remained - a name for the car.

    There were 5,000 names considered. Hep Cat, Beaver and Detroiter were early, yet undistinguished, front-runners. Also suggested were Runabout, Arcturus, Savile, El Tigre and Coronado.

    Crusoe was unimpressed and offered a $250 suit to anyone who could do better. A young Ford stylist, Alden "Gib" Giberson, submitted the name that would quickly earn approval and eventually acclaim - Thunderbird. He thought of the name because he had once lived in the southwest, where the legend of the Thunderbird was well-known.