In the mid '50s, Motor Trend wrote several road tests comparing the Corvette with the Thunderbird. These were the days when the editors wrapped the term sports car in quote marks when referring to these two-seaters, as if the writers just couldn't bear to put them in the same class with Jaguars, MGs, and other European models.
Yet when MT Editor Walt Woron put a '56 Vette and a T-bird through a head-to-head comparison for the magazine's June '56 issue, the balance was beginning to shift. In acceleration testing the two were in a dead heat: The Vette went from 0-60 mph in 11.6 seconds, the 'Bird 11.5; a tenth of a second also separated the two in the quarter-mile, with the Vette's 17.9-second pass just that much quicker than the Ford's 18.0.
Where Woron really noticed a difference was in the handling of the two. He called out the T-bird for leaning "considerably" through turns while the Corvette "...feels more like a sports car, with more steadiness and not as much apparent lean." And while both cars would oversteer when pushed hard enough, "it's easier to correct [the Corvette] than the T-bird." Woron did note that the dual quads feeding the Vette's V-8 "starved the engine on a hard left turn: the right bank gets its share, but not the left one." Right turns weren't quite as bad, he said. And he pointed out that the Corvettes that raced at Sebring had the same problem, "except that they starved out in either direction."
Woron wrote that the T-bird's ride "is definitely softer" than the Corvette's, with a tendency to "‘float' over dips and bumps, which is comfortable at low speeds and not as likable at higher speeds."
Woron, MT staffer Paul Sorber, and Petersen photographer Bob D'Olivo covered some 650 miles while testing the two cars, driving from the magazine's offices in Hollywood up and over the 5,700-foot summit of Mt. Wilson and then down into the Mojave desert. The photo here, of a gas stop along the route, is an outtake that didn't appear in the magazine.
At the end of the test, Woron called the Thunderbird "pretty much what Ford claims it is—a ‘personal car,' suitable for the bachelor, for the young or ‘young at heart' couple, or for the husband or wife as a second car." The Corvette, he said, "is less of a personal car and closer to being, or easily becoming, a sports car."
There were no quotes around sports car that time.