“And she’ll have fun, fun, fun ‘til her daddy takes the Beaver away.” The 1964 song by the Beach Boys could have had a very different feel had a young stylist not stepped in to change history.
One of the joys of being a motoring writer is discovering nuggets of information from the archives. Little twists of fate or turning points that could have determined the success or otherwise of a famous vehicle.
Like the fact that the Ford Thunderbird could have been called the Ford Beaver. Yes, really.
Ford Beaver, meet Ford Probe, etc, etc.
In response to the Chevrolet Corvette, Ford designed America’s first ‘personal luxury car’, with an emphasis on style over performance. It tapped into the growing confidence of 1950s America and the increasing affluence of buyers who weren’t prepared to sacrifice style for practicality.
U.S. servicemen had returned home from service with images of stylish European cars in their heads, while Ford executive Lewis Crusoe and designer George Walker were inspired by a ‘sportier automobile’ while exploring the Grand Palais in Paris in 1951.
History will recall that the Ford Thunderbird was a great success, with production spanning 50 years over 11 generations, and inspiring the launch of countless ‘personal luxury cars’. But Ford really struggled with the name.
More than 5,000 names were considered, but none of them came up to scratch. When you consider that Hep Cat, Beaver, Detroiter, Runabout, Arcturus, Savile, El Tigre and Coronado were some of the ‘better’ options, you can see the problem.
Ford Runabout conjures up images of the kind of car you buy when you can’t face the horrors of public transport. Detroiter sounds like a Motown band. Arcturus is a good idea, but it doesn’t work in practice, while Savile – with hindsight – is a bullet dodged.
Not satisfied with Beaver, Crusoe offered $250 to anyone who could do better. Step forward stylist Alden Giberson, who prepared a list for consideration. Giberson had lived in the American Southwest and knew about the Thunderbird’s link to Native Americans.
There’s also a suggestion that Giberson took inspiration from Thunderbird Ranch, which opened in 1946, and the exclusive Thunderbird Heights. The latter sits alongside one of California’s best golf courses and is a playground of Hollywood A-listers and presidents. The perfect fit for a ‘personal luxury car’.
Giberson’s name soared to the top, earning him the right to the $250 prize. Instead, the humble stylist was content with $95, a pair of trousers from Saks Fifth Avenue, and a place in the Big Book of American Car History.
The Ford Thunderbird debuted in February 1954 before going on sale in October of the same year. Daddy finally took the T-bird away in 2005, but not before it had cemented itself as one of the most famous nameplates in automotive history.
No goddamn beaver was going to stop that.