As a teenager growing up in Beacon, Fred Penzetta knew exactly which car he wanted to own: a 1957 Ford Thunderbird.
He had seen two Thunderbirds: one owned by a Beacon woman and the other by a man everyone called Dudley who worked at the Ford dealership in Cold Spring.
“I always wanted that Thunderbird, but I was making $1 an hour working at Texas Wieners and couldn’t afford it,” recalled Penzetta, 78.
In 1985, his dream came true. A friend of a friend won a ’57 Thunderbird on Imus in the Morning, a New York City radio show, by reaching into a fishbowl of car keys and selecting the one that started the car.
“The guy was getting married and wanted to build a house,” Penzetta says. “He didn’t have much use for the Thunderbird.” Penzetta bought it for $10,500.
Model: 1957 Ford Thunderbird
Manufactured: Dearborn, Michigan
Number built: 21,380
Engine: 292 or 312 cubic inch V-8
Transmission: 3-speed manual or automatic
Top speed: 124 mph
Gas mileage: 14 to 16 mpg
Original price: $3,408*
*$36,885 in 2023 dollars
The car had been repainted and refurbished, so Penzetta isn’t sure how much is original. He says it doesn’t matter. “I always liked its lines — I was just really attracted to it,” he says. As a teenager, he drove a 1947 Dodge pickup. “That’s quite a difference!”
His model includes the hard and soft convertible tops. For 1957, Ford added a porthole to the sides of the top to eliminate a blind spot.
The car has a standard radio, although a “Volumatic” radio was an option — its volume increased with the speed. Penzetta’s T-Bird has an automatic transmission and power windows, and he added power steering two years ago.
He and his wife enjoy cruising in the evenings, with favorite destinations being Cold Spring, Fishkill and Monticello. They average about 400 miles a year. Penzetta has taken the Thunderbird to car shows in Rhinebeck, Bear Mountain and Beacon and is considering the weekly show at the 84 Diner in Fishkill.
The Thunderbird was introduced at the 1954 Detroit Auto Show. It was designed to compete with the Chevy Corvette, which hit showrooms in 1953, and it did, outselling Corvettes by a 24-to-1 margin. In 1958, Ford changed the two-seat Thunderbird to a four-seater and promoted it as a luxury car. Someone knew what they were doing: Sales grew from 21,380 in 1957 to nearly 93,000 in 1959.
After sluggish sales, Ford ceased production in the mid-1990s. A retro model produced from 2002 to 2005 had moderate sales.