Telling the Story of Corvettes’ Early Competitor

“What’s that FORD doing in a Corvette Museum?

Don Hering of Cincinnati, OH remembers the first time he saw a Thunderbird. He was 11 years old, and the 1955 model had just debuted. From then it became a life-long dream to own one. “Growing up I always thought they were cool, and I was interested in them from a young age. But then you go to college, get married, have a family, and it just doesn’t make sense to own one,” said Don.

Before you boo-hiss Don for his choice in make of vehicle, you have to understand that he’s actually a Corvette guy. With five currently in his stable, a ’63 Split Window, ’68 Coupe (that he’s owned for 42 years), ’78 Silver Anniversary Pace Car, 2003 50th Anniversary Pace Car and 2015 Z06, you might start to wonder just where this story is going.

About five years ago, Don happened to drive by a 1955 Thunderbird that had a for sale sign on it. Having been his dream to own one for so long, he wanted to make sure that this was the right car for him. “I’d had a 1966 Convertible T-bird, and a ’64 Sedan in the past. They were larger cars that you can actually put people in, but that ’55 is what I’d dreamed of,” said Don. “I waited and waited. It wasn’t until I visited the repair shop with my Corvette that the mechanic mentioned a T-bird being for sale – and it was the same car I’d seen. I thought maybe this was my calling, maybe this is the car for me.”

Thunderbird Donation
Don Hering, pictured with wife Joanne, stand in the Nostalgia Area of the National Corvette Museum with his donated 1955 Ford Thunderbird. The car is on display to tell the story of how the Ford helped push Chevrolet to further develop the Corvette, saving the American Sports Car from extinction.

Don purchased the car but started to realize perhaps it wasn’t the car for him. “I couldn’t drive it that well. I’m 6’4” and didn’t fit into it, and the 3-speed manual transmission was hard to shift due to my size. It’s red and looked to be in good shape when I purchased it, but after I had it a while I noticed some bondo rust repairs and that it wasn’t in pristine shape like my Corvettes. Plus, the Corvettes are much more fun to drive than the T-bird was. The Corvette is a tighter car and holds the road better. The T-bird seems real loose when you’re driving it. Corvettes have the power.”

Don decided that since he didn’t enjoy driving the T-bird like he did the Corvettes, and how it would be nice to park his daily driver in the garage again, that he should look into getting rid of it. That’s when he saw the wish list of cars the National Corvette Museum was seeking to help better tell the story of the iconic American sports car.

“I’d been a member for awhile and visited several times. I thought it was a good time instead of selling the car to donate it to the Museum.”

Don says since donating the car to the Museum he’s gotten a lot of ‘whats?!?’ about it. “You should have seen the double take from the auto carrier when I said it’s shipping to the Corvette Museum.”

We asked Don, how did he come to own Corvettes first if he’s wanted a T-bird since he was 11-years-old? “Interesting story… we had three children and my wife wanted a fourth. I made an agreement that if we have a fourth child, I get a Corvette. My son was born in December, and I got a Corvette the next April.”  That Corvette is his 1968. “We used to squeeze three kids in the back behind the seats, and the wife held the baby in her lap, back when it wasn’t illegal.”

So, which of the four kids gets the ’68? “My oldest son was born in 1968, and youngest was the reason I got the car, so they’ll have to fight over it,” Don laughs. “Although now that they have seen the ’15, they have their eyes on it!”

A lot of eyes will now be on Don’s 1955 Ford Thunderbird as it tells the story of Corvette’s first ‘competition’ in the Nostalgia area of the Museum. Learn how the Thunderbird’s hard top inspired General Motors to offer the same for their iconic car, and how the car spurred a much-needed V-8 for the sporty Chevrolet!

Thank you to Don for his generosity and help in telling another story in the history of Corvette. For a current wishlist of cars, visit CorvetteMuseum.org and click on Donate Your Automobile under the Support menu.