1955 as everyday driver

Joined
May 4, 2022
Thunderbird Year
none
My name is Ben Thomson, and I am 17 yrs old interested in classic and antique cars. I have been looking for a car for a while now, because my parents drive me everywhere and I’m sure they are tired of it. The ‘55 t bird has caught my eye the most as a car that would get me out of bed and want to go to school, and I think it would be a great car for me. YES I know it’s not as safe as a modern car and the insurance will be higher, but I don’t mind those things because it’s something I would love to drive. I know I should make a few mods to make it a little bit safer such as the breaks and what not, but can anybody answer for me, is the ‘55 a reliable car? Yes I’m also aware it is probably not as reliable as a modern car but is it reliable enough for everyday use? I am prepared for anything the car throws my way since I took advantage of the job market and I have studied the engine if there’s a problem. Also is there any other mods that would make it a more reliable or safe car without ruining it? Thanks
 

jimntempe

Active Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2021
Thunderbird Year
1957
My name is Ben Thomson, and I am 17 yrs old interested in classic and antique cars. I have been looking for a car for a while now, because my parents drive me everywhere and I’m sure they are tired of it. The ‘55 t bird has caught my eye the most as a car that would get me out of bed and want to go to school, and I think it would be a great car for me. YES I know it’s not as safe as a modern car and the insurance will be higher, but I don’t mind those things because it’s something I would love to drive. I know I should make a few mods to make it a little bit safer such as the breaks and what not, but can anybody answer for me, is the ‘55 a reliable car? Yes I’m also aware it is probably not as reliable as a modern car but is it reliable enough for everyday use? I am prepared for anything the car throws my way since I took advantage of the job market and I have studied the engine if there’s a problem. Also is there any other mods that would make it a more reliable or safe car without ruining it? Thanks

The old cars were perfectly reliable back in their day. I had 60 Corvair, 62 nova as first cars and AFTER the stuff that needed fixing was fixed they were perfectly reliable. Started every time, took me all over the state and the southwest whenever I wanted to go somewhere. Yes, things did break once in a while but things break on modern cars too. If you want a 55 to be a daily driver the real problem I think you will have is that one that's had all the "stuff fixed", which includes new hoses, brakes, petronix ignition, radiator, heater core, speedometer rebuild, engine at least well cared for and in good shape, good u-joints, good suspension parts, recovered seats etc, you'll be looking at the cost of an inexpensive new modern car.. depending on how lucky you are at finding a deal I'd expect you'll pay in the range of 30Kish. You could certainly get one for less but I don't think it would be truly dependable out of the box.
 
Joined
May 4, 2022
Thunderbird Year
none
The old cars were perfectly reliable back in their day. I had 60 Corvair, 62 nova as first cars and AFTER the stuff that needed fixing was fixed they were perfectly reliable. Started every time, took me all over the state and the southwest whenever I wanted to go somewhere. Yes, things did break once in a while but things break on modern cars too. If you want a 55 to be a daily driver the real problem I think you will have is that one that's had all the "stuff fixed", which includes new hoses, brakes, petronix ignition, radiator, heater core, speedometer rebuild, engine at least well cared for and in good shape, good u-joints, good suspension parts, recovered seats etc, you'll be looking at the cost of an inexpensive new modern car.. depending on how lucky you are at finding a deal I'd expect you'll pay in the range of 30Kish. You could certainly get one for less but I don't think it would be truly dependable out of the box.
If all this is done and the car is fitted with these things, do you think it would be good enough for a daily driver?
 

jimntempe

Active Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2021
Thunderbird Year
1957
If all this is done and the car is fitted with these things, do you think it would be good enough for a daily driver?
I don't see why not. By daily driver I mean mainly around town. You realize you might only get 12 mpg and on the freeway it's not going to seem like a nice quiet modern car if you plan to be driving 75 mph. The engine will be running much faster than you are used to, no AC probably unless someone added it, fair amount of wind noise. When these cars were new in town speeds were about 35 mph, rural roads perhaps 50 mph and freeways 65 mph. A friend of mine restored a 65 mustang and put 60,000 miles on it as his daily driver, no real problems, but he's a good DIY mechanic, rebuilt the engine and transmission and suspension and then put the miles on it. One big consideration for you is whether you're capable of doing repairs when things break.. a lot of shops won't want to work on it so if it breaks it may be down for a while or you may need to haul it 15 or 20 miles to a shop that's willing to work on it.
 

biddle

Forum Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2003
YES I know it’s not as safe as a modern car
When you say you know it's not as safe, I suspect you have no idea how unsafe compared to even 1990+ cars.

Best comparison I can think of is motorcycles. All fun and games until you are dead or missing limbs. It's basically a game of chance.
 

74 Harley

Active Member
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Thunderbird Year
1962
It will make a great daily driver,as long you learn to be a great caretaker of a really cool elderly car. There will be trade offs, but in the end I think you will enjoy the experience. The best safety device in a car is a well prepared driver. Become one.
 

knuckle47

Active Member
Joined
Nov 12, 2021
Thunderbird Year
1956
I admire your zeal Ben. You should price the cost of insurance before the plunge. Depending on your location you may be surprised or SURPRISED!. I had gotten my license at 15 in Miami but that was in the 1960’s. Driving an old car back then was also an experience. Dating was initially fun but wore me out making sure that Oldsmobile got her home. Parents won’t share your enthusiasm beyond their first look

The points highlighted here should be considered the top 10 but others will surely develop. As @74 Harley said….become the best instrument of safety yourself. Driving today is almost like the others are out to get you…unless you’re in a rural population. I’m not and driving an old T-bird distracts other drivers.
 
Joined
Jun 25, 2016
Thunderbird Year
1957
What is your budget?
$25k will get you a starter
Then plan on another $15 to $20k to make it reliable and safe.
If you want to make pretty, well that can be much more
Then again if you do the work yourself you can save some money
This is a great site for help
Good luck and hope to see you here more often
 
Joined
May 4, 2022
Thunderbird Year
none
When you say you know it's not as safe, I suspect you have no idea how unsafe compared to even 1990+ cars.

Best comparison I can think of is motorcycles. All fun and games until you are dead or missing limbs. It's basically a game of chance.

Thank you very much. Do you have any advice to make it safer other than seatbelts?
 

biddle

Forum Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2003
Thank you very much. Do you have any advice to make it safer other than seatbelts?
Even the steering wheel on an old car can kill you. The entire car just does not absorb energy the same way and the engines drop down in modern cars in serious collisions instead of ending up in your lap, and of course air bags. Even in 1988 my high school car had an airbag.
 
Joined
Jun 25, 2016
Thunderbird Year
1957
It will depend on the car you purchase

The brake system must be in good working order
Brake lines, wheel and mater cylinders
If so you may want to add disc brakes on the front
Mine came with original power brakes and drums
They work pretty good but not as good as modern brakes.

The electrical system must be in good order
Fires are very common in older cars

Suspension system must be good order, maybe add sway bars

For an everyday driver you may want to add an alternator
Especially if you plan on adding air conditioning
With the original generator your limited to 35 amps
 

74 Harley

Active Member
Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Thunderbird Year
1962
@Ben Thomson , I forgot to welcome you!
WELCOME FROM CALIFORNIA!
So, safety can be a concern. But then again look who you're talking to. I ride motorcycles, ( really) I run around our island in a 56 year old ski boat, and I work in construction. Life isn't always about being surrounded by bubble wrap. Get out there and live it! An old T-bird, I got my first at 20, a 1961 rocket bird. In red. Yes it was fast, I was young, and dumb. We had the best times together! I had her over 20 years. I have regretted selling that one even before it left.
Best advice I can give you is this, buy the best car you can afford.
Become a safety conciousence driver!
Have respect for yourself, your car, and everyone else on the road. No amount of safety equipment is going to save you if you pull out in front of a speeding semi. You need to rely on yourself, as a safe driver.
 
Joined
Sep 15, 2020
Thunderbird Year
1956
Ben, I have had my Tbird since I was 18 years old and it had been in the family for seven years before that. When I was 18 I drove it everywhere because it was the only car I had. I never thought about breaking down, I just had fun. Now, fifty years later after a total restoration I don't drive it as much as I would like because I'm afraid I might get a "ding" in the paint. I love driving it now but nothing beats the freedom of a daily driver.

In an aside, I know you mentioned getting a 55 but I would suggest that you might be happier with a 56 or 57. The 55 has the honor of being the first year of production but the 56 and 57 benefited from the improvements inspired by deficiencies in the first year. Having a 12V ignition is a lot easier to deal with today. The addition of portholes in the top and vents on the sides happened because they improved the car. That being said, I love a beautiful 1955 Thunderbird.
 

57tbird57

Active Member
Joined
May 3, 2019
Thunderbird Year
1957
Even the steering wheel on an old car can kill you. The entire car just does not absorb energy the same way and the engines drop down in modern cars in serious collisions instead of ending up in your lap, and of course air bags. Even in 1988 my high school car had an airbag.
I grew up driving these cars we call classics now. never had an accident in one except for a DOT inspector pulling out of a parking place and ran into the side of a 66 continental i was using as an everyday driver at the time. these classics are heavier and more able to take a hit than modern cars. as long as you buy one that is well sorted out, there is no problem using the for an everyday driver. all the better if you are mechanically inclined. you can watch videos on youtube about fixing anything you can think of. the best thing you can buy for your baby bird is an electric wiper motor if you plan to drive in the rain. also make sure your top seals are in excellent condition as the little birds are prone to leaking. drum brakes are fine as long as they are kept adjusted properly. if you are dead set on a 55, i would look for one that has been properly converted to 12 volt. you should be able to find a driver in the high teens to low 20s and begin to have fun. asking prices are almost always negotiable. you may have to look at several to find just what you are looking for. take your time and do alot of research before committing. look out for crude bodywork. loose and hanging wires with lots of electrical tape. inspect under the car for rust and leaks. these old cars a prone to leak a little, you just dont want the whole undercarriage cover with oil. look out for excessive undercoating as well. it could be hiding something. hopefully this gives you a little insight into the classic car market
 
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Joined
Mar 22, 2022
Thunderbird Year
1957
Ben, I hope you have both a lot of money and lots of mechanical skills. I would not buy a 55. Anemic 292 and 6 volt electric. A 57 would be a better investment. Make sure you get power steering and brakes, its a beast without. A car that needs no major repairs, has power steering and brakes and both (good) tops will set you back at least $40k today, and it will be imperfect at that price. Count on spending $$$$$ on maintenance and improvement. Modifying the car much will be counterproductive, both costly at the time of the mod and a devaluation when you sell it, with exceptions for a few things like adding aircon.
Alternatives, buy a fixer and do what you want, buy a car that has already been modified, buy a kit car etc.
Your car needs a new convertible top? $2k plus. Your car needs a new front seat? $1.5k+ ( and another $1k for door cards and a dash pad). Need a good new paint job? $10k- if you don't need much bodywork. Need to have the motor and trans pulled and re sealed? $5k. Need a complete brake rebuild? $2k if you're lucky These are just examples of the impracticality and high cost of this car.
But man, my nice 57 Bronze/Bronze, white top makes me an instant celebrity wherever I go, top up or down. And, its fun to drive.
 
Joined
Jan 1, 2021
Thunderbird Year
1955
You can't compare traffic conditions/driving habits of 67 years ago to what we have today. I have a 55, but it will never be a daily driver. Modern cars weren't available in 1955; people had to drive what they had. Do yourself a favor and buy a car that is as new as you can afford, has all of today's safety features, gets good gas mileage, and cheap to insure (if there's such a thing for a 17-year-old male). When you're rich and have a lot of free time, buy your classic car; keep in mind it's an expensive hobby for working-class people.
 

biddle

Forum Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2003
You can't compare traffic conditions/driving habits of 67 years ago to what we have today.
In the reading the comments here, some of which I had to remove like 99.9 percent of accidents are avoidable, you can see that what I initially said about "It can't happen to me" is alive and well. The fact is, we live in a world where many people are careless and irresponsible, people are on hard-core drugs, DWI, running from police etc. Yes, *some* accidents can be avoided with defensive driving.
If you are stopped in traffic and get hit by someone running from police, no amount of narcissism or driving experience can save you. That's why people are called victims. There was a couple where I lived killed on a motorcycle sitting at a red light. There was nothing they could do to prevent it. Happens all the time.

There is an old saying that codes are written in blood. Just the number of people killed by steering wheels before they started making energy-absorbing steering wheels and then later airbags is probably staggering.

Old cars "Being Built like a tank" also has nothing to do with how your body is affected during an impact. Modern cars are designed to absorb and distribute the energy of the crash thereby reducing the amount of energy directed toward the driver and passengers.
 
Joined
Feb 9, 2019
Thunderbird Year
2002
Biddle "nailed it" I hope he leaves the "non-Ford" images on here to reinforce his point.

You can do everything right 100% of the time and some teenager updating their Facebook page can change your life in an instant of distraction.

You brought up two things, reliability and safety, I'm a rarity in that I can give you "real-world" personal experience with both.

I can tell you a vintage car can be as reliable as you have the skills to make and maintain it. This fastback Mustang made the 3 hour run from Tidewater, Virginia to Southern Maryland (where I worked during the week) EVERY weekend for two years at 65 mph in the late 90's. Never once, let me down or gave me a problem; it was also my daily driver in Maryland while I worked there. However, original and even good repro parts are harder to get now and a water pump or other failure might take you days or weeks to resolve, not good for a daily driver.
Fastback1.jpg
Safety is an entirely different issue, these cars have no crush zones, collision, computer "nannies". airbags, ABS brakes, shoulder harnesses, side impact protection, collapsible steering columns and on and on. And now, with distracted drivers, texting and possibly under the influence or just plain aggressive - its not the same world when I commutted. Trust me on this, I have first hand expereince, my 63 Corvette in 2016. Aggressive, uninsured driver on a sunny, summer Sunday afternoon in an Escalade pulled right out in front of me. $65,000 and 18 months to repair it, I got knocked out and if it were any worse I wouldn't be typing this. My meticulous attention to maintenance (like the original drum brakes and lap seatbelts) saved my life; the perfectly opreating brakes hauling me down from 40 mph to a survivable speed before impact.

Others will disagree but I wouldn't recommend a vintage car for a dialy driver.... They are great weekend crusiers and a wonderful hobby though.
redact.jpg

A word on classic car insurance, nearly all policies provide a low premium because risk is reduced as the car is driven a limited number of miles and usually to car events. They also provide "agreed value" meaning you and the insurance company determina a value for damage repairs/replacement - this Corvette had a $95,000 policy. A Daily Driver policy will be substantially more expensive and may only be "stated value" - meaning, if the car is wrecked, it would most likley be totalled and the compensation would be for a 60 year old, used car and next to nothing. Do your homework on this.

Just so people don't worry too much, the Corvette was repaired by an expert with 50 year sin the biz and sold last June to a South African collector for a substantial sum.
IMG_0503_lil.jpg
 
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knuckle47

Active Member
Joined
Nov 12, 2021
Thunderbird Year
1956
Well Ben, The comments you read here are from forum regulars…people who live and breathe vintage cars. They have given you their thoughts for holding off on a daily driver in this class. These views are colored with incidents on reliability and safety. These are separate form the thrill, enjoyment and camaraderie they do provide… would be interested in any opinions you may have at this point based on these “revelations”
 

jimntempe

Active Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2021
Thunderbird Year
1957
In regard to the old cars being built like tanks. They were not. The largest car ever built was the 1960 Lincoln. It weighed just over 5000 pounds. My midsized Jeep Grand Cherokee weights slightly more than that. Original Mustang was at least 500 pounds lighter than current version. The old cars typically had a stout frame, which doesn't provide much crash protection as its way down low, with a bunch of sheet metal hung on top of the frame... sheet metal which was not designed to absorb energy in a crash and which easily tore off the frame. They had roof pillars too weak to withstand much of anything, bumpers with no energy absorbing capabilities.. doors that popped open, seats that ripped out of the floor and on and on.

Take a look at this video of a "tank" versus a modern mid sized car. Which would you want to be in during this crash?
 
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