2002-2005 Ford Thunderbird
I can't believe we haven't done a post on this generation of Thunderbird yet. We've already hit the mid-'80s version and some of the earlier gens have been mentioned here and there, but this one seems to be ripe for the Lust pickings. After all, time hasn't exactly been kind to it, having popped up on a few "Worst" lists, including Car & Driver's Dishonorable Mentions list of The 10 Most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History:
Ford’s relaunch of the Thunderbird as a two-seater in 2002 seemed like such a good idea. The styling was gorgeous, the concept car had earned raves at every car show, and nostalgia for the 1955–57 two-seat Birds was at a fever pitch. . .The result was an overweight, softly sprung roadster that looked great outside, was agonizingly boring inside, and was dreary to drive. And at about $40,000, it was stupidly expensive. If anyone were to drive this T-Bird, it would be platinum-haired women prone to carrying small dogs wherever they go.
Not that I'd disagree with the overall assessment -- sales don't always tell the whole story, but they rarely tell an outright lie -- but I've still always fancied this generation and feel the need to raise its profile some and maybe cast it in a bit more of a favorable light.
It certainly seemed a sure bet when it first came out, having been named Motor Trend's Car of the Year at its debut, and receiving generally quite positive reviews. I thought it was a stunner in the looks department: nice simple lines, nothing too ornate to draw attention away from the overall shape of the car, and managing to look nimble, elegant, and powerful all at the same time. In my view, it manages the neo-retro look just about perfectly: a modern take on a classic with enough styling cues from the original to make the lineage unmistakeable without looking dated right out of the gate. I think the design still holds up well and probably will for some time. Leastways, whenever I see one I still pause to take a good long look at it.
The color palette was, well, eccentric, designed to reflect popular colors of the 1950s. Some of us are all over the whole 'mid-century modern' schtick (some more than others) but I realize that fixation is not (yet) widespread, so the colors wouldn't appeal to a wide array of the car buying public. The available colors changed over the model run, but generally consisted of primary colors along with a few pastels, all named in such a way as to elicit a sort of quiet refinement. . . .well, mostly. "Torch Red" was one of the big eye-catchers along with Thunderbird Blue. The latter was one of the original colors for the '55 and is sort of a light turquoise aqua; in reality it's not all that bright, but it does tend to stand out. I quite like the Inspiration Yellow (top photo), more of a pastel yellow than, say, school-bus yellow. Another of the pastels was called Desert Sky Blue, another light pastel, that could be had with either the same color removable hard-top or a "performance" white top.
Probably the most stand-out color was called Coral (photo) and was a "007 Special Edition" which was used in the Bond film Die Another Day, driven by Halle Berry's "Jinx Johnson" character. In the movie it had a matching Coral hard-top but the car was put for sale to the public with the white top. Rumor has it that Berry was offered the movie car to keep but she opted for the Evening Black version instead. The Coral is undoubtedly the most polarizing color for this model; a slightly pinkish light orange isn't really for me, but I imagine it appeals to someone since 700 were built and sold.
Despite its initial positive reception, the car failed to meet sales expectations due to pretty much the same factors that have plagued many American cars for years. It was pretty pricey for a 2-seater and wasn't particularly astounding in either performance or luxury for that price. It was largely a modified Lincoln LS and priced within that range, around $40k. But for that price you got two fewer seats and doors, a cool body, and not a whole lot else. There was talk (and even a concept car) about making an SVT edition with a supercharged V8, but that was shot down and never came to pass. Perhaps the bean counters at Ford had a financial justification for that, but I, along with many others, think that might have saved the car. Having a truly high-performance version as sort of a "halo" edition might have made the model more acceptably cool, much like the hi-po Mustangs contributed to the Mustang lineup as a whole. Sadly, we'll never know, and the neo-retro T-bird went extinct once again after the 2005 model year.
For me, and many others, the Thunderbird always presented something of a quandary. Was it a sports car? Noooo. . . .a pony car? Noooo. . . .a luxury car, ala maybe a Continental Mark II? Hmmmm. . .no. It was supposed to represent something of an elegant cruiser, but with something of a sporty flair to it, what Ford used to call "personal luxury" whatever that means. They very often have looked quite stunning (though the look also tends to be polarizing) and makes one think of the Thunderbird as a pretty high performance car. That has so often not been the case, ending up as a heavy, slow soft-riding slug, much like the current subject. Like no one could really decide what it was supposed to be so it ended up being a mish-mash of different philosophies. This one, at least in your humble correspondent's opinion, probably came closest to what (I think) it should've/could've been, which was an elegant but fast car, something like a cowboy version of a Jaguar E-Type. Close, but no cigar. Once again.