2002 Ford Thunderbird.
By Bill Vance
When the original 1955 Ford Thunderbird arrived in October, 1954, it was a sensation. Created to compete with the Chevrolet Corvette from General Motors and increasingly popular imported sports cars, the two-seater convertible cut an impressive figure. Intended as a luxury touring car for two, not a hard-core sports car, this low “personal car’s” sleek silhouette carried the Ford family lines to a new level of glamour and appeal.
From 1955 to ’57 Ford sold just over 53,000 T-Birds, outselling the Corvette by four to one. But it wasn’t enough for Ford management, particularly division president Robert McNamara. So for 1958, the T-Bird’s persona changed completely. It became a four-seater and did indeed sell far faster, just as McNamara had predicted. Its almost 38,000 1958 sales were about double the ’57’s – but classic two-seater T-Bird fans never forgave him.
The Thunderbird travelled a 50-plus year journey covering 11 generations that saw it grow and shrink through such phases as the “Square Bird,” “Round Bird,” “Big Bird” (Lincoln size), another “Square Bird,” and the “Aero Bird” before finally dying in 1997.
But not for good; the Thunderbird name was too iconic to lose, so for 2002 Ford finally rewarded the patience of two-seater fans by returning the two-passenger convertible T-Bird to its flock.
2002 Ford Thunderbird.
When it arrived there was no mistaking that Ford was aiming to tap into the nostalgic “happy days” optimism of the 1950s. With its round headlamps, eggcrate grille, hood scoops and circular driving lights integrated into the front bumper, the new Bird was thematically related to the original. After all, if Volkswagen could plumb those sentimental yearnings with its new Beetle, and Plymouth with its retro hot rod Prowler, Ford could travel the same nostalgia road.
The new two-seater was based on the same platform as the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type (Ford then owned Jaguar). The only transmission was a five-speed automatic that sent power to the rear wheels. Suspension was all independent with A-arms, comfort biased coil springs and front and rear anti-roll bars.
It was powered, as fans expected, by a V8, Ford’s corporate 3.9-litre (3,950 cc) double overhead cam, 32-valve 252-horsepower aluminum engine. The original ’55 had the Mercury 4.8-litre (292 cu in.) overhead valve V8 rated at 193 horsepower with manual transmission, or 198 with automatic.