(first posted 10/25/2014) In 1997, Ford decided that its time and resources would be much better spent designing and developing a gigantic SUV that you could buy with a 6.8L V10 and that coupes that weren’t named “Mustang” weren’t really worth the effort anymore. Presented with this news we all thought that the good old phoenix would rise no more. But we weren’t counting on one small thing: Retro.
Yes, Retro, all the rage in car design from the very tail end of the ‘90s and way into the early ‘00s. Brought to us by the adorable, flower-vase equipped Volkswagen new beetle in 1997 and carried to this day by cars such as the Fiat 500, and the MINI. That is when the manufacturers don’t get creative with their air pumps and turn them into ungainly crossovers. No segment was spared from a little retro touch. Even the Mustang when it got a refresh in 2005 went to a “Suddenly it’s 1964” look. However, after the Probe Ford knew better than to take the Mustang fanbase for granted. So they decided to get into the retro trend by resurrecting a Model name rather than risking one that was alive and kicking (Bucking?).
In an appropriate way to bookend the History of the Thunderbird, not that they knew they were doing that, the final generation T-Bird returned the model name to the place where it had come from. A sporty looking two-seater convertible with rear wheel drive and a V8. No four seats. No sedan option. No Brougham. No turbo coupe or Mercury Cougar counterpart. This was going to be an uncompromised Thunderbird, just get it as close to the original as possible and pay no attention to the rest.
It was never going to work.
At first glance, it really is difficult to see what the problem was; the Thunderbird was based on the same platform as the Lincoln LS and the Jaguar S-Type. It had the same engine as the LS too, a 3.9 L V8 that was good for 252HP connected to a five-speed automatic. The styling is absolutely gorgeous, although personally I think the front could’ve been a bit less rounded. As it makes the car look either frightened or like a fish depending on the light. Whatever complains you could make about the front-end were atoned for in the side profile and in the back. Of Special note is the triumphant return of Ford’s awesome Jet-exhaust taillights. Which have always been a favorite in your author’s opinion.
Things started to fall apart on the interior though. Oh dear, it seems I have accidentally gotten a picture of an LS interior instead of the Thunderbird’s, I apologize. No wait; is that the logo on the steering wheel? Yes, unfortunately when they decided that the Thunderbird would be based on the Lincoln LS they decided they might as well just rebody an LS and be done with it. It’s not a bad idea on paper and you can certainly do worse interiors. But it was completely out of line with the rest of the design. Later models would add a little color to the interior but the damage was already done. At least it saved some R&D money, which would mean that the T-Bird would be within the reach of the masses and bought by everyone who could appreciate that pretty pretty body right? Right?
Nope. In fact, Ford decided that it would be a much better idea to sell it for around $40,000. A 2003 Mustang GT was $23,000. A Lincoln LS could be had for $32,000. To put it into perspective, a Thunderbird SC from 1989 could be had for $29,667.42 when adjusted to 2003 dollars. If I must be forced to point my finger at the one thing that made the thunderbird fail; I could only point it at the ridiculous pricing.
I’ll put it this way, it was more expensive than the most expensive BMW Z3 at the time. And if I were someone looking for some retro style and a two-seater coupe for around that price, I knew which one of those two I’d get. A Bond Girl may have driven a Ford Thunderbird, but Bond himself drove a Z3. Ford expected that the Thunderbird would sell around 25,000 units per year. It didn’t even come close, making the bulk of its sales on 2002, where they made 19,085 owners very happy. On its final year only 9,220 models rolled off the lots and the Thunderbird went back to its peaceful slumber. The V10-powered SUV was also going down around this time, proving once again that there is such a thing as “Too Big”, even for America; but that’s a story for another day.
At least we can take comfort in the fact that Ford learnt their lesson and their next foray into retro, the 2005 Mustang, Was nothing less than a total success. Sensibly priced and with an interior designed to match the expectations created by the exterior. It created a design language that is still with us and that we can thank for the lovely crop of retro-styled muscle cars we have on our streets today. Up to and including the awesome 707HP Challenger Hellcat.
In its final outing, the Thunderbird found closure, all its life it had been tossed from segment to segment and from platform to platform; and just when it seemed it had carved a niche for itself the powers that be went ahead and threw a curve ball and it had to find its niche all over again. By taking it back to where it had started it managed to get the spotlight back and be as liked by everyone as it was on those first glorious years. At least, until they looked at the price tag.
Excellent analysis of what went wrong with the retro-Bird. I just did an inflation adjustment on the original 1955 T-Bird; its $3,000 price adjusts to $22,000 in 2005 dollars. Well, that would have been close to impossible, but nearly doubling it was not realistic.
A lot of hype and build-up, folks paying way over MSRP to get the first ones. And then a rapid crash to reality.
First generation Thunderbirds have been mythologized into being something more than they were. Thunderbirds didn’t earn their way at Ford until 1958, and the reason for their success since that time wasn’t because of a back seat.
In 1958, Thunderbirds became portals, a glimpse into what drivers of the future would have in their driveways. Low riding, atomic powered, jet fighter inspired luxury road jets. What made Thunderbirds successful were how they offered something more than just a car – they offered a different way of motoring.
Swing away steering wheels, aircraft inspired overhead levers, chrome upon chrome, wood grain upon wood grain, shell bucket seats, electric windows, heavy landau roofs with faux bars, full width tail lamps with sequential turning signals, louvers behind frenched back lights, bullet shaped front ends, BMW coupe inspired profiles, digital instrument panels, basket-handle rooflines, opera windows and lights, V8 power, rear drive power – these were Thunderbird hallmarks. These were the reasons folks ponied up extra money for a ride.
Each generation of Thunderbird had something special. Turbo power, sports suspension, Aerodynamic cutting edge styling, monster brougham elegance, miniaturized compact brougham weirdness, there was always something different in each generation of Thunderbird.
Then this one showed up. It was all about the first generation, retro-style. It wasn’t fresh. It wasn’t original. It wasn’t different. It didn’t try to tell us about the future. It was trying to play on the memories of those old enough to remember the first generation. It was an instant old man’s car. It didn’t have to be. It could have been a hybrid. It could have had been four wheel drive. It could have been ridiculously luxurious. It could have had a folding hardtop convertible. It could have had something – but it had nothing.
So, the problem wasn’t the price. Crap can sell if the price is right. The problem was that there wasn’t enough Thunderbird in this generation that tapped into what really made the Thunderbird sell for generations.
Out of all the generations, this is my least favorite.
“It was trying to play on the memories of those old enough to remember the first generation. It was an instant old man’s car.”
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened in my case. And that’s a bad thing? See my comments below. I loved the ’57. The retro Bird did indeed play on those memories, which I treasured for years. I was bound and determined to have this new version, my first convertible, and I can guarantee you isn’t “crap.” I was 56 when I bought my ’03. Did that make me an old man? I certainly didn’t think so.
Well what about those of us who didn’t have fond childhood memories of the 57s? The retrobird pretty much threw out the entire history between 58 and 97 as if none of it really mattered, was not such a bad thing either?
FWIW I feel the same about retro Mustangs and retro Camaros. Those two cars went through ever changing restyles for the vast majority of their lifespan, for better or worse depending on point of view, but the two of them going back to their original styling, as if to pretend they evolved in a Corvette/ Porsche 911 kind of way is just a big middle finger to all the models in between and the enthusiasts of such.
Count me as a fan
There was another major problem. When you went to buy a Z-3, you stepped into a BMW dealership. When I went to buy a T-bird in 2002, I stepped into a FORD dealership… My “salesman” was a 20ish idiot, whose pitch was “it’s powerful, what color do you want?” (Knew absolutely NOTHING about the car.) The sticker was $45,000. And they had a dufus trying to sell it! At the time, I had a paid-for, pristine (though lemon) 2001 Trans Am convertible. My credit is perfect. And I had the income. And Ford totally UNsold this car to me. As I drove away, I pondered the image of this $45,000 jewel being serviced beside Econoline vans and Escorts…Consolation came years later, when the dealership (Friendly Ford, North Miami) closed. I agree. I’ve always thought the nose was too aero. Hooded headlamps would’ve created drag, but looked better.
Very good point. I helped my son buy a new Focus at about that time, and the way they ran that Ford dealership and the salespeople…what a difference from the Subaru dealer; day and night. It made me never want to set foot in a place like that again.
Ford talked their way out of selling me a Fiesta. After an hour negotiating and then two hours of waiting with absolutely nothing happening, I asked for my keys back because I was hungry and pissed. The salesman actually called me and complained that I was shopping at Nissan (“You told me you were getting something to eat”). I was on the fence until then because the deals were almost identical moneywise. They must have seen NMAC running my credit score. If that’s how they were going to treat me BEFORE the sale…
I had the same experience when wife wanted a convertible. I checked out the t-bird, Merc and Lexus. End up buying the SC430 which is a very faulted car but fit her requirements to a tee.
Of that group, t-bird was the cheapest so price was to tbird’s advantage. But man, the Ford dealership experience totally turned me off. That and the soft top. Both the SC430 and SL500 had retractable hardtops.
I bought a 2005 Bird new. It was the worst new car buying experience I have had in a couple of decades. I had been used to Jaguar and Lexus sales methods so having to fight for the price I saw in the newspaper (they were selling them for around $35,000 at this time), negotiating in a cafeteria setting with children running all around, having them try to add on paint sealants, extended warranty, delivering it dirty, with the tank 1/4 full, the hardtop, not screwed down properly was a real jarring experience. The car was pretty nice, but the quality wasn’t all I thought it should be – guess I was spoiled even-though it listed for more than our Lexus SC300. My wife and I kept it for 9 years though, and sold it for $19,000 so we only lost about $16,000 over that period – pretty cheap driving.
That was more a dealer problem than Ford’s. My niece walked out of a Lexus dealer without buying a car for what you described at the Ford dealership.
Now why the T-bird failed. It wasn’t because it was a bad looking car, it wasn’t. It won Motor Trends car of the Year in 2002. At first it was dealer greed, most dealers were asking $10-15k over MSRP. This alienated many potential buyers and Ford didn’t step in to stop it. The $42k MSRP wasn’t the problem it was the extra $10-15k that was. Then Ford increased the HP in the 2003 model which left a glut of 2002 models still in dealers stock, so the new orders by the dealers weren’t as heavy as the 2002 model initial orders. I also feel they missed with the new 2003 colors that were added. The 2003 007 Special Edition done in coral was not well received and the car in the James Bond movie only had about 10 seconds on the screen. In 2004 they hit a home run with the Merlot color and the Pacific Coast Special Edition. However by then both MB and Lexus had two seat models with folding hardtops with similar pricing as the T-Bird which had the cumbersome hardtop that really needed two people to remove and install. Another complaint was the small trunk which could not handle two professional size golf bags. Two seater cars have limited appeal and if you remember the original two seat T-Bird was only made for three years. Ford was only planning to sell the retro Bird for five years but due to poor sales only made them for four.
I was a fan of the retro-Bird from the start. By then the retro craze was already in full swing and I thought it couldn’t miss until I saw the price.
The most successful of the genre wasn’t even a reissue of something that once had been, like the New Beetle or the retro-Bird, but a reissue of a CONCEPT, a state of mind: the Chrysler PT Cruiser. It captured the “feel” of retro like nothing else.
But the retro-Bird came close. Too bad it was priced higher than it justified.
IMHO the PT Cruiser is the second one incorporating the retro concept. I would place the Mazda Miata first.
While I would agree that the price tag was probably on the high side, I think that there were other problems that doomed it. The platform was not really designed for a convertible. Expensive two doors (Riviera, Eldorado, Toronado for example) were not successful in the late 90’s and were dropped. Clearly a lot of people wanted one early on, but then sales were over. Much the same thing happened with the 1995 Riviera.
If price were a real problem, then the Buick Reatta should have out sold the far more expensive (overpriced) Allante, but this is not the case, with sales nearly the same @21000 total.
The product was right and it was launched at the perfect time. If there was a car that could benefit from retro and sell from styling and styling alone, it was the retro-bird. But the price was far too high and, as other people in the comments have told us, the dealership experience was…poor.
Well the Car & Driver road test says the base price was just over $35,000, not $40,000. With a load of options the price tag was about $40,000. It would have been a much better car had it been put on a platform designed for convertibles and designed at a more attractive price. I don’t think that Ford could have sold it for much less on the Lincoln LS platform.
This was a major hit when unveiled as a prototype at the National Auto Shows. If it was priced $5-10K less, a 5-speed manual offered, a better-tuned suspension and a turbo offered as an option, Ford could have had a big seller. Maintenance is reasonable and car is relatively trouble-free I’ve heard from owners. Who at Ford decided that a sporty, 2-seat convertible with nice hardtop could only have an automatic transmission and a non-distinct, non-sporty suspension/ride? On the other hand, are these a decent buy as a nice- looking driver on the used-car market? Any collector value at all?
My brother in law found one a few years ago. He is quite fond of it.
But googling a T-bird test gave me a 2002 Car&Driver article on the car. They though it was not much of a sports car, with the suspension softer than the Lincoln LS’s. Basically the Lincoln LS was a much better handling car. The T-Bird has the looks but is otherwise rubbish (as Top Gear would say).
I think that Ford had to make it softer to mask the chassis’ deficiencies. They forced a 2 door convertible body on a chassis designed for 4 door sedans.
I just did a cars.com search. About $11,000 for a 32,000 miler in my area (NJ)
As Fred notes above, the platform wasn’t originally designed to be a convertible, so I think the suspension tuning was intended to mask the flexibility of the chassis — a common trick. I don’t know that adding more power would be a great idea, for similar reasons.
I think, the DEW98 shares way too much with MN12 and FN10. Double wishbone is not a typical Ford design, and the suspension tower looks way too similar. The subframe and floor pan looks suspicious also. I don’t believe the bean counters in Ford can help saving some bucks sharing as many as they can. on my personal experience FN10 relies too much on the roof for body intergrity. It’s especially obvious when the door is so huge ( quite huge. They realized the problem and made a prototype with doors slides down ) and the car has some noise from B pillar when driving on bad surfaces. The body intergrity shows its limit when making curves at higher speed ( 120+mph ) and sound from A and B pillar and roof could be heard. But it’s stretched out from regular driving though ( I pushed my Mark VIII to 135mph at most. Last 5mph couldn’t be pushed to be honest) I think this particular problem was carried over to DEW98, and being obvious on convertible body. ( it also explains why coach builder convertible of Mark VIII is that scarce. Quite more eldorados at that time ) But thunderbird is a convertible so the flexibility is harder to observe comparing to Mark VIII ( by hearing the body noise from roof )
However, some certain bodies still can’t cover up how weakly they were designed. My ’95 LeSabre with pillow soft suspension still feels like falling apart whenever I drive it, I can’t imagine how bad it could be without structure bar. A Dodge Diplomat SE feels even a bit better than that!
I don’t claim to know how much the DEW98 shared with the MN12/FN10, although a lot of monocoque designs rely pretty heavily on the roof as a structural element. For a sedan, that makes sense because otherwise you tend to end up with either really wide sills or a particularly intrusive tunnel to stiffen the floorpan, which hampers entry and exit and isn’t great for packaging efficiency. However, it seems like if you don’t design in that kind of floor strength to begin with, there’s only so much you can add back later, just as wearing a belt and suspenders won’t change the fact that your pants are the wrong size.
‘when making curves at higher speed ( 120+mph ) and sound from A and B pillar and roof could be heard. But it’s stretched out from regular driving though ( I pushed my Mark VIII to 135mph at most. Last 5mph couldn’t be pushed to be honest) …’
Wow. Where do you live, the high desert?
There’s a lot of hard points the DEW98 seems to have derived off the MN12 but nothing’s truly shared. It’s more like the S197 Mustang is to the DEW98 as the DEW98 is to the MN12/FN10. The development probably used it as a starting point and ended up with similar foorprints and even geometry in some areas but nothing is really shared in a literal sense. Closest areas are the front shock towers and rear frame rails, but even they’re definitely updated designs.
Interesting point Aaron brings up that I haven’t thought of until now. The transmission/driveshaft tunnel seems much larger in the MN12 than the DEW98, I think the long doors necessitated that on the Thundercougarmarks, and since LS and S types were planned to be sedans with a central B pillar they were able to get away with a narrower and thus roomier tunnel setup, which intern compromised the 02 Thunderbird’s structure. Funny thing is when you look at the floor of the 05-current Mustangs, which were DEW98 derived, the tunnel is still relatively tidy yet the sills are huge! So huge Ford has sporadically covered them up with black plastic panels to hide them. Probably a direct result of turning that basic platform into a 2 door.
I’ve seen a number of these in my area, usually driven by older guys who may have had an earlier T-Bird back in the day. When well-kept, they can look great–I’ve seen a black-with-tan-leather one in my neighborhood that is striking.
OTOH, when my wife and I decided on a nice used roadster…we got a Z3 and have been really happy with it.
How did they offer options on a concept car? They made up the model and it got good reviews so they decided to go into production. It never was going to have a 5sp or a turbo, there was not enough room to put one. Did you ever own one? I did. The suspension was fine with the hardtop attached. A little loose with it off. It was designed as a boulevard cruiser not a Corvette competitor.
When the Retro Bird first came out I tried sitting in one that was on the local Ford dealers show floor.
I did manage to get into it, but being 6 ft 2 inches in height I seem to remember the top of its windshield frame being slightly below the top of my head. I felt ridiculous..
Everytime I see one I stare – over 10 years later that feeling in my spine when one drives by hasn’t faded. This Thunderbird is beautiful!
I don’t care about the interior or whether the price was wrong. This brought back what American cars used to instill in people. Just looking at it brings a sense of “Oh I want one!” It’s a design that makes one dream…
Too bad Ford never produced the retro ’49 concept. That’s another one that produces the same response.
They can’t afford building them both.
It’s the same with Chevy SSR and Chevy Bel Air
The other problem I recall was that after the car was announced, it took for-ev-ver to get to a showroom. I have no doubt that the early cars had plenty of “additional dealer markup” as well.
As much as I like the round taillights, this rear end needed some peaks above them also. I wonder if the car would have done better emulating the bullet bird. Then the taillights would have been perfect, and the aero front end would have looked more natural.
Yes, the intro of this car was dragged out for way too many years, like GM did with the current Camaro. Still, the Camaro was a hit.
I still like these T-Birds though; cannot say the same for the Camaro!
Totally agree, that bullet Bird was the one they should have emulated.
It seems Ford completely forgot why they stopped building the original T-bord after only 3 years. Not many people wanted a large heavy 2 seater car in the 50’s when money was flowing free and people bought anything with wheels, and it would certainly not work in the early ’00’s. Maybe cutting the price would have helped, but people would rather have the 4 seater coupe. The worst part is that is that at the same time Mercedes made a hueg hit when they ‘invented’ the 4 door coupe (compare to the 4 door Landau T-bird further down on this site) So that could probably have been the right way to go.
I have wondered if the 1995-1999 Buick Riviera would have been more successful as a 4 door coupe as in the 3 door Saturn coupe, with the rear doors of the so called suicide type. Then again, the 1997 Park Avenue would probably have made more sense and I can’t see both surviving.
A four door riviera would be olds aurora then. They can’t have both
The Aurora was a completely different car than the Riviera. But a 4 door Riviera would have made little sense with a 4 door Park Avenue. What I had in mind was that the rear doors would only open if the corresponding front door was also open. With all the doors closed, the rear doors would not be obvious and the roof line would have remained much the same. The three door Saturns are what I am thinking. See here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/37573576@N06/4962428426/in/photolist-8yvK5N-9NDjL9-9ND4FA-dZZBLa-nZBUvc-9NAfyg-9Jymnv-8Mjbpv-Ffpfe-dgYmNc-9NCYCL-5j457o-5j456W-7TWbeU-9JDx6s-9a5V8a-zQ6R5-zQ6QL-zQ6Pq-zQ6Q1-dZ9Znd-bX9YNi-56bFHH-bX9ZDH-4WJ66N-6vRbWG-MTRKa-5ZP4D1-MjtCX-6vRbhW-5ZP4Dq-6vRd83-63fZ5X-PHhfD-5fR1zY-56bFMk-dbxZUq-PHhfR-PHhga-fFwCd-5fLD1e-3ohNFS-8HHdAG-3iiWCK-3iiXCi-buAbeS-bC1VYv-9oFga8-di5JKY-7uaTPu-5fR1fS
I think what he meant was that the Riviera and first-gen Aurora were built on the same platform with the same wheelbase and similar price point (Aurora was moved slightly upmarket to compete with import luxury marques at the time). I don’t know how much mechanicals were shared between the ’95 Aurora and the ’95 Riv, though.
The Aurora came mostly fully equipped with a performance option that lowered the axle ratio to 3.71:1 from 3.48:1 and removed the speed limiter. Tires were upgraded. The engine was the OHC 4 liter version of the northstar V8 with the northstar automatic transmission. A trip computer was standard which provided a lot of driver information including oil pressure.
The Riviera started with the supercharged V6 (3800), with the base V6 available later. A basic Riviera was priced around $27,000, but with options would run closer to $31,000 or so. But there was no driver information electronics, only the usual lights for problems like low oil pressure and so forth.
One thing I noticed was that the Aurora’s interior was not nearly as roomy (narrower) than the Riviera’s (or the FWD Seville). My Aurora was a 98 and had upgraded suspension, so it did ride and handle better than the first Aurora’s and did handle better than the Riviera, which was not trying to be a sports coupe.
The Buick Park Avenue was upgraded to the Aurora/Riviera platform in 1997 and had a better trunk design (bigger opening).The interior materials were also far nicer than either the Riviera’s or the Aurora’s, which I though were quite awful.
The purest form of retro that could be done with modern regulations. That’s what I like best about these cars. The front end is not perfect but other T-Birds also had less than perfect front end’s. The pricing was too high, and greedy dealers adm’d the crap out of them, and for sure blew potential customers out the door. But I still really like the car. It probably generated more traffic into Ford dealerships, which is what a halo car is supposed to do. It may well have helped Ford sell other models.
I just never warmed up to the looks of these. All I could ever think of was that the original T-Bird was a fine, lean, young athlete and the retro T-Bird looked like that same athlete 4o years later, gone soft and sloppy. I worked with a woman who kept a picture of the show-car/prototype of one of these on the wall of her office for two years. She had the money and just couldn’t wait to buy one. However, after the cars finally reached the dealers, she took one test drive, took the picture down an bought a BMW.
Still, when they get cheap enough, I’d like to do a mild customization – concave grill rather than convex; small fins, hooded headlights, and more chrome accents for the taillights. Oh, and a supercharger for the V-8.
So what 2 seat BMW did you buy or was it a four seat convertible which is a whole different breed of cat
I don’t think the styling of this car was successful at all. The original Thunderbird had an aesthetically pleasing balance of soft shapes and hard edges and had just the right amount of brightwork to highlight and offset the form without looking gaudy. With these cars, the proportions are off and I think it really suffers from everything being finished in body color — it looks like all the detailing has melted.
The final Thunderbird demonstrates a major problem of retro styling: It’s not enough to simply slap an earlier car’s styling cues on a modern platform; you have to reinvent the aesthetic in a way that evokes what people recognize and like about the original, but that still makes modern sense. I think the first-generation New Beetle and MINI managed that much more effectively. (Subsequent generations haven’t done as well aesthetically, illustrating the other retro problem: It becomes an evolutionary culdesac.)
I think this car is a case of a commendable enthusiast impulse running forehead-first into unfavorable practical realities. For this to work as anything other than a pure show car, it needed to share an existing platform, but Ford didn’t have one that really suited this kind of car. (I can easily imagine the reaction to a FWD Thunderbird or one on a live-axle Mustang platform.)
The DEW98 was as close as they could manage, but as it wasn’t intended for convertible duty, I assume they had to do a lot of reinforcement to keep it from becoming jelly, which likely contributed to the price point while using money that could otherwise have been spent on something like a new dashboard. The flexibility of the chassis was probably the reason for the soft suspension, and that and the cost issues were presumably what precluded trying to get more power out of the 4-liter engine.
I have to think Ford was perfectly cognizant of all of these things and their big dilemma was that the things enthusiast critics wanted to see changed would have further inflated a price that was already in the luck-straining realm.
Personally I think the new New Beetle (aka Beetle) is a much more cohesive design than the old New Beetle (aka New Beetle). The former generation was entertaining for about a month, then got tiresome.
It’s pretty easy when you put the engine up front to make it look more aerodynamic. Something they didn’t do with the original retro Bug. It now looks closer to a 356 Porsche than the original Beetle.
The retro bird came about right about the time I became a cynical teenager and the first one I saw in the wild was red and driven by an older upper middle aged dude accompanied by two 18-20 year old girls(one seemed to be sitting on the convertible top cover). That was kind of the image these cars have engrained in my head, just as Corvettes of the time do as well, which is a rather unintended way of coming full circle with the Thunderbird and Corvette’s relationship.
Despite being an admirer of classic iron since childhood I can’t say I ever was in love with any of the retro cars when they came out. The still soft organic 90s cues had a way of making cars like the New Beetle and PT cruiser look too cutesy and I think the Thunderbird suffers the same malady they did. I agree the rear styling is fairly attractive and side profile is ok, the front end I just find a mess, frankly it looks like a slightly more blunt 96 Taurus nose with a bigger shinier grille. Had the headlights had upright and better yet reverse slanted pods and the whole front end squared off I could see it working better.
The 05 Mustang was a bit of a different approach to retro. The New Beetle, PT Cruiser and Thunderbird all seemed to do retro as if retro was it’s own separate segment – as if a salesman were to ask you “hello sir, would you like Compact, Midsize or Retro today?” The 05 Mustang brought retro into an existing design evolution, and did it in such a way that played directly off the previous generation (when you actually compare a 99-04 “New Edge” and a 05 -09 you’ll actually notice the big changes are only the true to the 60s front end and roofline treatments, the rest like the flat/slightly wedge shaped beltline, pronounced C scoops in the doors/quarters, flared fenders and jeweled taillights were all hallmarks of the previous generation) There also seemed to be less focus on making it technically modern, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the 05 lost drag coefficient going to that upright front end, whereas previous retro entries were still trying to stay uncompromisingly modern, more in the vein of “if the 55 Thunderbird were made today” rather than “if we never changed the 68 Mustang”.
“The styling is absolutely gorgeous, although personally I think the front could’ve been a bit less rounded. As it makes the car look either frightened or like a fish depending on the light. Whatever complains you could make about the front-end were atoned for in the side profile and in the back.”
– You couldn’t have summed up my thoughts any better. From the side and back, I love these cars. That long, low rear end is so graceful. But the hood was too short and blunt; it looks like it was pushed in in a collision. I get that the grille pattern was meant to be reminiscent of the ’55, but it looked didn’t fit in with this newer design. As you mentioned, the interior was way to cheap for a car in this price range.
My doctor owns one of these in black. I’m sure if I ever wanted to buy it from him, he’d cut me a deal 😉
I think these cars look better in the metal than they do in photos. There are quite a few around SoCal as they are a perfect LA cruiser. I agree with those who appreciate the rear styling but not the front. I’ve always thought the front looked a little cartoon-like (sorry, Don) but the rest of the car is very decently styled.
Expensive two-seat cars have a limited market and this one came out when small sports/luxury sedans were becoming increasingly popular with the same population who might have gotten a T-Bird. I’ve always thought Ford should have created a small sports/luxury sedan with the Thunderbird label on it as it would have been a natural evolution of the make and more in keeping with the times (where was a McNamara when they needed one – again). I guess development costs would have been too great – though it seems like this also might have been a better option to have exercised under the Lincoln label than what they are trying to sell at present.
You remind me that I have been waiting to hear from Don. I recall unloading on this car in a comment thread some time back. Then Don came along and explained why he enjoys his so much, and it kind of forced me to rethink these and how I had been overly harsh on them.
It is certainly a polarizing car that folks either get or dont get at all.
Well, here I am. You’re right, JPC, I did comment extensively some time ago, no need to go into all that again. I think you’re right, you either get it, or you don’t. I got it. Big time. I love my little ’03 Bird, it’s been great for me. Thanks to Constellation below for his positive remarks. There are a lot of negative feelings that seem to float around, but none that weren’t easily overcome for me. I am tall, about 6’2″, and for whatever reason, I don’t really experience any comfort issues. The car rides nicely, yeah, there is some cowl shake, but nothing you can’t live with. The doors are extraordinarily long, a problem in tight spaces. I did have the COP problem once, but it was fixed under warranty, fortunately. I have had no other big mechanical issues, although I did have to replace the AC compressor, it was leaking, and since I live in the Palm Springs area, thought it best not to press my luck for the summer. I wish it had a retractable hardtop, that would have been much more desirable than the removable one (a PITA to wrestle on and off, so I mostly just leave it off). Other than that, the car has been a nice performer. It is Mountain Shadow Gray, with a saddle tan interior, a unique combination that you don’t see very often. To this day it only has 15,000 miles, and it is a keeper. It is a joy to drive, you just feel great in it, and you do get looks and smiles of approval everywhere you go. I once had a guy with a new Mercedes convertible approach me in a parking lot and offer to buy it from me right then and there. Nope, I replied, this is going to live in my garage for a loooong time.
I had always wanted a ’57 T-Bird. By the time I got my first car in 1965, my dad, who helped buy that first car, wanted me in something much newer with low miles. We found that in a ’64 Pontiac LeMans, which I drove for seven years through college and grad school. But my T-Bird lust never left me, and by the time the retro-Bird came along, it was just preordained for me. I have had several Mercedes coupes, great cars in many ways, but absolute death on the maintenance costs once they are out of warranty. I swore off any more exotic cars. As Constellation notes below, it is a pleasure to pull into the Ford dealer, and not come back to a $1500 repair bill when you thought you were just going in for an oil change.
I, too, concede that Ford did a lousy marketing job when these first came out. They were not heavily promoted, and I agree that the young yahoos trying to peddle them at dealers were completely out to lunch. When I first spotted one at Pearson Ford in San Diego where I lived at the time, I dropped whatever I was doing and swung into the dealer. They had a new 2002 black model sitting there, with an $80,000 price tag on it. I said are you even kidding? Are you guys completely crazy? There’s no possible way I would pay that. The salesman said, well, what would you pay, make us an offer. I just said no thanks and left. I wisely waited another year, and by that time, the hoopla had died down and there were several models sitting unsold on the lot in October 2003 at Bob Baker Ford in San Diego. I bought mine for $33,000 out the door, which I thought at the time was a pretty good deal. I was still working, and my mom had just passed away earlier that year, leaving a bequest, so I felt that my moment had finally come. And so I grabbed for the ring, happy as a clam, and still remain so. And, as I noted before, I came to find out several months after purchasing the car, when I was in for warranty work, that this very car was manufactured on my birthday, May 29th, so how can I possibly ignore such a serendipitous occurrence?
I’ve rattled on here, apologies for that, but I love my T-Bird, I remain passionate about it. It is quiet, comfortable, reasonable on maintenance, still pristine, and a lot of fun to drive. And I treasure that.
Thanks, Don. This is what I love about this place – the personal experience of the long term owner.
Thank you, JPC, for the positive reinforcement, and all the others who offered positive remarks. I always feel like I’m swimming upstream against all the naysayers about this car. It’s hard to not take it personally. All I can say is “Ask the man who owns one.”
I own two of them – both ’04s. Silver base car with no hardtop and PCR (monterey green) with everything. The difference in serial numbers is exactly 900 digits.
It is no sports car. It is a boulevard cruiser. Seats do not have enough leg support for a taller man but my wife is quite comfortable in hers. Trunk is tiny; only for weekend trips. It is very shallow. The cars creak in the rear suspension – for some reason the convertible with the top down and a full load (passenger aboard) most and mine (with hardtop always on) rarely. Only mechanical issue is the cars are prone to (expensive) engine coil failure but neither of our cars has had the problem. The cars are not quick but are quick enough. The wheels are hard to clean.
But we love these cars and have my eyes always open for another one to stick in my garage (burgundy ’04?). They hold value well. Most used ones are low mileage. The ’02 has less horsepower; buy an ’03 to ’05. Fit and finish are generally good to excellent. They are smooth, quiet, comfortable and boy to people stare at them (still). For us the Birds were an alternative to an SL or SLK and it is nice to be able to go to a local Ford dealer for service rather than to a Mercedes dealer 100+ miles away. Think of it as 2.5 T-Birds for an SL or maybe 1.25 Birds for an SLK. They were both a bargain when thinking that way.
Certainly Ford did a horrible job at introduction; I concede that point. Too expensive, too late, too much unfulfilled hype, stupid salesmen. My local Ford dealer two years after not allowing test rides was stuck with multiple of them sitting at the back of the new car lot; I got one then cheaply.
They can have gaudy interiors (especially ’02s) but that can be avoided. I have no complaint about the Lincoln LS dash of ours – just the length of the bottom of the seat. For us, these have been superior cars that seem to be durable enough to use as every day drivers but we don’t. We use them in the summer for fun and both are pristine originals.
If you’d like one, call my estate lawyer in maybe 20 years or so; he’ll have two good ones that were treasured.
As one poster here said already, time from “announced ON SALE date” and when these actually hit the showroom was too long.
But as bad as the price was, the real insult was the HUGE dealer mark up to the window sticker. THEN, it would turn out the quality control….wasn’t.
Neither the Lincoln LS or T-Bird would survive the lack luster assembly quality
BTW, the DeLuxe model of the T-Bird did indeed start at under $35,000 with the Premium model starting at $39,000. Both prices before options.
If you wanted the factory hardtop (with traction control) you needed to add $2500 to those prices.
While a SIX CYLINDER LS undercut the ‘bird by $2,000 the V8 LS started ABOVE the cheapest T-Bird….by nearly $2,000.
And the neiman marcus one was $42000
I always liked the looks of these, but iirc, headroom is very tight with the top up. I’m tall from my seat up, so in spite of only being 6′, a lot of cars get crossed off my list for lack of headroom.
Beyond that quibble, mark this generation down to suffering a severe case of haloitis, for the outrageous price.
Get right down to it, the Mustang suffers almost as much. Once in a while, since 05, I have considered a new Stang, but the base price is fiction. Try and find a V8 for under $30K. The latest generation is even worse. Everything on the dealer’s lot is $35,000+. Then I get up close to them. In spite of the styling cues (imho, the 05 didn’t quite work as it was a 66 roof grafted onto a 69 body) the thing is just too big. The latest one not only lost the retro styling cues I liked, it’s as big as the 71-73 bloatstangs.
Whatever happened to the concept of a nice, small, responsive, reasonably priced car, with a touch or two of styling, that people with an average income can easily afford without a lease or 6 year financing?
While cars are generally more expensive (adjusted for inflation), it seems like many other things are, too. Cars do have more engineering sophistication and features, both mandated and desired. So, relative to other cars, I think the Mustang is pretty reasonably priced, especially if you can live with the now respectable V6. If you need serious muscle, the 30k base GT has everything you really need. It may be hard to find at lots among the loaded ones, but isn’t it more fun to order one in the colors you want?
The new ones are large compared with the 65. It is however, smaller than the Camaro by a little and the Challenger by alot. I own 2011 GT, can you tell? The T-bird was too expensive, but as a low volume halo car, I can see its charms.
but isn’t it more fun to order one in the colors you want?
The way I figure it, if I order a car, I’ll pay top dollar because the dealer has to go through the motions, and I’ll not know until after the dealer has my money whether the thing sets a new low for build quality. I learned the hard way to never, ever, let the dealer “fix it later”.
If the car is on the lot, the dealer has already spent the money buying it for inventory, and his concern now is turning his inventory and getting his money out of it. Might shift bargaining in my favor.
but as a low volume halo car,
I have seen too many halo cars blow up in the company’s face. The saddest cases are when a dying company makes a hail mary pass: Cord 810, 55 Packard, Avanti, Kaiser Darrin. So many resources spent, and the end product is half baked, and instead of adding to the company’s reputation, it destroys what’s left of the reputation.
I would rather see a company come out with a new, stylish, model, that is actually intended to sell on it’s own merit, rather than something that is designed to suck people into the showroom, so they can be sold another dull sedan or SUV.
I think you can still get a good deal ordering a car. If you negotiate a good price, the dealer will gladly take what ever margin he gets off it and it is over the regular off-the-lot sales. He also knows he won’t have to pay to keep that car in stock. I ordered my car and it’s quality was fine. Quality control is a lot better these days. If you are going to have problems with a new car, it’s most likely going to be on functions that are not immediately apparent, not so much on fit and finish issues. But the lemons are still hiding out there!
I agree that low volume halo cars are often less than ideal. I think the Mustang is successful because it is high volume and fully baked. The volume V6 sales subsidize the halo cars like the GT500, Boss 302 and to a certain extent even the GT.
Excellent writeup that absolutely nails it – and funny you compare it to the Z3. At the time my old boss was – and still is – a big Ford fan looked at the T-Bird for his wife’s car. He’s a guy who buys a new Navigator every four years despite the fact that he fully admits his last three – including a new one last year – have been basically identical. For his wife, it would have been right up their alley but.. the price. Even he couldn’t believe it nearly reached the price of a Navigator for what it was.
What did they end up with? A black Z3.
I can’t believe they did that because the Lincoln LS was such a great platform. My Mom nearly picked up a LS V8 when she was getting her Mustang GT, and both she and dad were hugely impressed with the Lincoln.
I own a 2002 Thunderbird that’s loaded in Thunderbird Blue and love it. I agree that it was priced too high and dealers didn’t know how to sell it. I bought mine about 2 years ago with 22,000 miles on it. It drives great and gets lots of attention wherever it goes. I love the styling especilly with the hardtop on it. It’s a very comfortable cruiser and like Constellation, I will never sell this car.
Agreed that the write up hits the issues well. I was more forgiving of the interior at the time, but I’ve thought that the Mustang interior has been very cool with its retro touches the past several years. This Bird interior made no impression on me, it was merely modern and acceptable – not good adjectives for a premium priced car.
My wife is only sufficiently a car person to put up with being married to one. But, the T-Bird name, and several generations of it have long spoken to her – and she drove an ’89 MN-12 for several years. She really thought a lot of this retro car, and very much admires the original. Maybe our old age garage will hold one of these retro Birds for her and and either a ’65 or ’72, either of which seem to fit my overall big car / brougham bent.
I do wonder why Ford did not turn the Thunderbird into a Corvette fighter from the beginning and leave the Mustang to be the cheaper sports car aka Camaro fighter.
Mediocrity, thy name is Retro-Bird. Every review I ever read on the last Thunderbird said the same thing: the driving experience was severely wanting in every aspect. It simply did nothing well. Combined with the interior done on the cheap and sky-high pricing, it’s no wonder the car flopped so badly. In fact, if not for the reasonably decent styling, this version of the Thunderbird could easily have gone down as being second worst only to the 1980-82 ‘Fairmont-Bird’.
As to retro styling, the one thing that really bugs me about any retro-styled car is the lack of chrome bumpers, particularly in front. The last LS T-Bird really typifies this absence. Putting some kind of ersatz chrome bumper up front would have exponentially improved the appearance. Without it, the LS-Bird looks about what an original ’55-’57 T-Bird would look like without a front bumper. Along with more realistic pricing and a dedicated interior, well, the car might have sold better and stayed in production a bit longer..
I have an alternative theory:
The price was OK but at that price point, it have to deliver more. A dedicated platform with a supercharged 3.9 litre or even better a supercharged 5.0 litre version of the same engine. Chassis to leverage the engine output.
The exterior styling was OK and yes the interior could be more inspirational.
Indeed, the ’02-’05 ‘Bird would have worked if Ford had went with the Mustang game plan all the way through. The real beauty of the original Mustang was that, even though it was just a Falcon underneath (and a Falcon dash on the first cars), you could still get a Mustang pretty damn cheap. Even a base six-cylinder, 3-speed Mustang was okay because of the low price. The Retro-Bird was as if Ford tried to sell the original Mustang in only one form: a loaded convertible with all the options save one: a powerful engine and chassis to handle it.
Ford might have hoped to be able to sell an expensive 2-seat retro Thunderbird due to nostalgia and appearance, cleaning up with big profits from all the schmoes buying on looks, alone. And, at first, that’s exactly what happened. Unfortunately, consumers caught on very quickly and, towards the end, Ford dealerships had a real tough time unloading base retro-Birds for something approaching half of what they originally wanted, particularly those in retro colors (mint green comes to mind).
I think it was penny wise approach. Ford HAD to realize at that price point, T-bird won’t be a volume item. So creating a unique platform for it make more sense. OR, based it on Aston Martin’s platform but with super charged 3.9 litre?
Market it as a dress down Aston instead of a dressed up lincoln? Suddenly super value.
Why not allow the t-bird to be Ford’s Viper? or better still a brand new “brand” t-bird, instead of Ford t-bird and sell them though alternative outlets instead of Ford dealership.
By not using the LS platform, the engine can sit further back behind the front axle. Not only that it helps handling, but also look more aggressive.
Wow, your lengthened front end fixes a lot of what my eye disliked about this car’s profile.
Agree on toffee’s photoshop. Simply stretching the wheelbase a few inches and adding the extra length to the front end would have done wonders all the way around.
Actually I didn’t stretch the wheelbase, the wheelbase and overall length actually shrunk a bit. I moved the windshield/door back by a few inches, then added inches to the front. Mainly to allow behind front axle engine placement. I believe even under my ‘new’ arrangement, the trunk could still be big enough for 2 sets of golf clubs.
I also believe that the odd proportion was forced on Tbird out of necessity, as the LS/S-type platform was designed for 4 doors, hence the engine to sit between the front axle and not behind.
Ford was aware of the odd proportion, all their promotion pics were 3/4 view. Typical of big three, they will compromise on excellence for what they can get away with.
Apple is successful because Jobs insisted on making “INSANELY GOOD” product.
I saw what you did there, and yes, building a two seater on a sedan platform without altering the basic proportions was a cop our, and a very fundamental problem with this car.
It reminds me of the Bulletbird Sport Speedster, with the cover over the back seats, and way too long of a tail.
What Ford did is precisely the opposite of what BMW and Mercedes did with their two seaters, which is why they look fundamentally right and the TBird doesn’t.
You are right about the bullet bird, Paul, but at least the ’61 bird was designed as a 4 seater. And to be fair, ’61 also had a much fancier interior.
Ford is a smaller company today than Hyundai and why am I not surprised? This is a company that “blessed” 5th gen ’03 Mustang with solid axle just to save $50/car. That was to save FIFTY bucks; they knew that by doing so would kissed export market good bye; and in doing so, kissed the domestic pony car market share good bye too after Camaro came out with a “modern” chassis. It’s was $50 on an small volume sports type vehicle. Allow me to repeat : 50 bucks.
A company thinks like that doesn’t deserve long term success.
The long hood works very nicely, but I actually like the long deck on these cars too. Maybe it is the Sports Roadster similarity, though that took it to extremes.
Solution? Longer wheelbase. Give it more hood, keep the deck.
The enjoyable essay prompted me to peek at recent actual sales on eBay, with mileage ranging from 400 to 140K. Hmm….some not-bad prices there for a cruiser–maybe I should just get one of those rather than go after that ’55-56-57 I always thought I wanted (is the price ever gonna dive on those?).
I’ve enjoyed the whole Thunderbird series, BTW!!!!
I thought this car failed in every way. Styling? Well, that’s all subjective, but I thought it was more “Round for round’s sake” than retro. I don’t know how it could be made any more blah, inside or out. The price was just ridiculous on top of it.
To lump the “retro” of the T-Bird to the retro of anything made now, especially the Challenger, is a big stretch.
The ultimate so close and yet so far car. I agree the face looked a bit frightened or like a fish but I really liked it. The front clip was beautiful, and unique, and I loved the windshield frame. But that back end and LS interior, wow.
I kinda like it except for the Lincoln dash. Interesting that the T Bird went out like it came in, a two seat roadster with a sporting flair. It would have worked better if the dash was more `55 to `57 like, but, hey, you can`t have everything.Still, I`ll take one.
Okay, the front and rear favor a first generation Thunderbird and that is where the retro stops. It was a shameful attempt at retro. My best friend has one that has had a very pampered life as an extra car living mostly in his garage. It is worth pennies on the dollar. Each summer he drops the asking price and puts the car up for sale with no serious interested expressed. I keep encouraging him mark it down to whatever it takes to get rid of it and never speak of it again. The amount of depreciated alone the car has experience would equal the purchase price of a nice classic Thunderbird.
I get it, but not at that price.
The author makes an interesting comment about the interior, yet I’m not sure I agree. I don’t know that sales suffered for lack of 55-57 interior cues, though I’m not sure it didn’t either. I suppose Ford could have made a more retro interior, at even higher cost. But in the end a “modern” interior is going to have a lot of black plastic, room for air bags, and such things as AC built-in. I’m not sure a big white thin rimmed plastic steering wheel would have helped sales.
I agree with JP about the rear end, it needed to have a proto fin like the 55 and the taillight needed to be partly under that fin. The taillights also needed a chrome bezel so they wouldn’t look so cheap. They look as if Ford bought them from J.C. Whitney. (Turn any car into a Thunderbird…..)
I doubt anyone bought it expecting true sports car performance and handling. I don’t think those issues hurt it any, though one could be sure C/D et. al. would complain to high heaven.
It was just too damn much money for what it was.
I do recall a writer for C/D (don’t recall who) suggesting retro styling back in the ’70s. VW has had success, but then the beetle always looks more or less the same (broadly speaking). How many years was Ford going to sell a 55-57 Bird before it became retro-dull? But then, maybe the next evolution would have been a retro Square Bird?
I don’t know that the interior was ever really going to be retro, which in a lot of ways was just as well — ’50s interiors looked neat in the showroom, but left a lot of be desired when it came to legibility, visibility, safety, etc. However, it is possible to give a cabin a bit of appropriate vintage flair while still keeping the basic modernity. As an example, consider the Nissan Figaro of a few years earlier. (Admittedly, I’m not sure some of the Figaro’s interior detailing would pass NHTSA muster, but it doesn’t seem too far off except for the lack of airbags.)
I seem to remember an article by either C&D or Motor Trend, in which they did a subtle custom “remodeling” job on a retro ‘Bird. IIRC, it was then given away in a contest; unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a reference for it via the net. Anyone else remember this as well? 🙂
“kissed the domestic pony car market share good bye too after Camaro came out with a “modern” chassis.”
Toffee – while I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding the solid rear axle (Ford mumbled something like “the drag racers ya know”), I highly doubt there was much pony car market share to give up. Either you’re a Mustang, Camaro, or Mopar person….I’ve truly never met someone who was uncommitted enough to substitute one for the other, especially over IRS. Either you’re in a position to buy-in or upgrade to the latest model or you’re not.
I do agree it hurt them in Europe, but that was a small piece of pie compared to what their home market can produce.
Camaro out sold Mustang, it could be many reasons but all road test praised Camaro’s more competent chassis so it ought to play some part in the result. As for export market, My point was why only think domestic? Why not think global when Ford developed a new generation of Mustang?
I heard the solid axle for drag racing too, what a way to save $50. As I said, with that kind of mentality, they deserve to be smaller than Hyundai.
I heard the solid axle for drag racing too, what a way to save $50.
Oh they get a lot nuttier with the penny pinching than that.
Self adjusting drum brakes had been standard on US cars at least since the 60s, if not the 50s.
When I had the POS Zephyr, I noticed noises from the rear end by the time it had 8,000 or so miles on it, clunking and scraping sounds. Back to the shop, again. The work order came back “adjusted brakes”. What?? I checked the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual. Sure enough, at every oil change, I was supposed to pay to “adjust brakes”. How much did they save be eliminating the self adjusters?
For an equally long time, US cars had roll down windows. A simple and effective scizzors mechanism was devised that supported the glass at two points and moved the window up and down smoothly. By the time the POS Zephyr was about 18 months old, the window would jam every time I tried to raise it. I would have to pull on the glass to unjam it, turn the crank a couple turns, until it jammed again, then I’d pull on the glass again to unjam it, repeat until the window is closed. I pulled the interior trim panel off the door and looked. Instead of the well proven scizzors mechanism, there was a single vertical rail, with the glass on a plastic block that fit, sloppily, on the rail. Checking the maintenance schedule I found the note, at every oil change “lube window track”.
The POS Zephyr also required periodic chassis lubrication, and, of course, Ford had not put grease fittings in, so that was something else I had to pay for.
So, to save a few dollars in initial production, Ford abandoned simple, proven, effective designs for quick and dirty shortcuts that would aggravate the customer for the life of the car.
I liked how these looked when they first came out , never bothered to check the price , wow that was too dang much $ ! .
I think we need a reality check on prices:
2002 Park Avenue (without OHC) $34,000 to $38,000(ultra) + options
– Corvette $40,000 to $50,000
– S type Jag with V8 $50,000
– Lexus GS 300 – $39,000
– Aurora V8 $36,000
– top Bonneville $33,000
– Volvo convertible C70 $45,000
– BMW 3 series convertible with 3 liter engine is over $40,000
I think we need a reality check on prices:
Alrighty. My 98 low trim Civic hatchback cost my $12,500. Adjusting for inflation, that would be $18,254.00 now.
Last winter, I gave a bit under $21K for a Jetta wagon. So what does the Jetta have that the Civic didn’t, for the roughly extra $3K in inflation adjusted dollars? Doors for the back seat, air, auto, cruise, power windows/locks/mirrors, CD player, ABS, stability control, traction control and about 4 extra airbags.
I can see the extra money in the Jetta, so I don’t have a problem with the price.
On the other hand, when I was at the show a few years ago, I walked into the Audi stand. Liked the looks of the A4 wagon and took a closer look. One glance at the $48,000 sticker and I walked away laffing.
Caddie is probably figuring it will make more profit per car on it’s recently announced $100,000 offering than it will on 20 Chevy Cruzes, but everyone else is thinking the same thing, see Ford’s recent announcement about how they are going to pour money into moving Lincoln upmarket, and there is going to be a glut of these high profit status barges, far too many for the small number of people with a checkbook that can handle that kind of price.
Well Audi and VW are the same company. Once you get to $100,000 the Mercedes S class is a possibility and a Rolls is not that much more.
Well Audi and VW are the same company.
Yup, and Audi and Porsche both crack six figures, along with VW’s halo brands Bentley, Bugatti and Lamborghini. Besides M-B, BMW, Jag and Lexus also break six figures. Rollers start closer to $300,000.
With so many entrants, at some point these people are going to run out of millionaires to sell their overpriced circus wagons too.
I thought Ford should have targeted folks shopping for the SL or SC or someone an extra $10k would not be the primary concern. If t-birds could offer sime or better performance at 75% of cost, they would have created following. William Lyons used to offer Ferrari level performance at 50% of cost.
I don’t believe the price killed t-bird, but what Ford offered or failed to offer for the price did.
I don’t believe the price killed t-bird, but what Ford offered or failed to offer for the price did.
I’d say that’s a distinction without a difference. If what you get is too far off of what you pay, most people will start to resist.
The point was do not target most people, target people that an extra $20k is extendable, so long that they wanted it.
Ford failed to offer something that could attract those people. In my little community of 550 houses in SoCal desert, about 15-20% has or had a sc430 (Clarkson was spot on to say sc430 was designed for old country club set), 10-15% has or had a SL or bimmer/Audi convertibles. A few show offs drive Continental GTC. Zero retro t-bird.
My point was Taurus needed to target “most people”, a t-bird should NOT target “most people”.
My point was that I think the 2002 T-bird price was reasonable. However, if buyers expected more of a sports car, they would have been disappointed even if the price had been $10,000 less.
People buying VW’s don’t expect to get the Audi’s sport sedan handling or what I would expect is a higher level of interior material quality (although I could be wrong).
The opinions here do seem sharply divided, which I guess is what you get with retro. While I agree wtih some of the criticisms (hood too short, the “face” has an odd “expression”, LS interior) I overall loved the look of the car. The sweep of the fenders and the return of the “afterburner” tails just did it for me, and continue to work. I’ve never drive one but, having driven several V8 LS’s, can imagine it would be a little underwhelming given that I didn’t find the LS to be a corner-carver. It handled decently, especially for a sedan, and it was a good car to drive overall, but going softer doesn’t sound like an ideal proposition. The LS interior is perhaps the worst part for me, as I didn’t like it in its original environment, and like it less juxtaposed into the T-bird.
As to how it could have worked…some extra chassis stiffening, suspension work, and a supercharger on that little 3.9 would have been just the ticket, and then maybe they could have asked for $45K and had less complaints about it. If it was actually a folding hardtop, $50K. Sell ’em through Lincoln dealers and maybe that experience would have been better too. Thunderbird as its own mini-marque, excise any Ford emblems from the car. Eh?
The funny thing about these cars? I’ve heard a lot of accusations that it’s an “old man’s car” or that it’s for those “trying to recapture their youth”. Yet my 33 year-old wife, who generally doesn’t like old cars and refuses to ride in my Crown Vic because it “ages her 10 years”, actually likes these T-birds. She wants a convertible sometime soon and, completely unprompted from me, mentioned one as a possibility. So who knows…
Since Ford owned Jag, they might have used the XK8 platform, or redesigned the XK platform, for a much better T-bird, but also probably a more expensive one.
I think the T-bird was a fairly good car for what it was. Styling picked up much of the early T-birds looks I think, which was the idea. Ford always wanted the T-bird to be a luxury personal car, not a sports car.
As I mentioned in a previous comment (under Thunderbird Week Finale: Which One Will Grace Your Driveway At 6AM?) I think my car lust began with a white ’57 Thunderbird that graced our street for a short time. Subsequent ‘birds just didn’t do it for me. Fast forward to the summer of 2012. I’m driving a 2004 PT Cruiser (which has been very good to me) and after two bouts with cancer I’m looking for some positive stimulus so I begin looking in the used market for a “Retrobird.” I liked them when they came out, but was not in a situation where I could have a $40,000 “toy.” I examined well over 40 online and probably a dozen in person, finally narrowing down to two 2002 Inspiration Yellow models. I actually bought the one with about six thousand more miles (36,000 when I purchased it) as it had the “full accent” interior (yellow and black seats, yellow on the lower instrument panel and door panels). Described by some as gaudy, it definitely adds to my enjoyment of the car (however I would have felt a little irked by the $800 initial cost just for the color change had I purchased it new). Though I drove big American V8 powered cars growing up in the sixties and seventies, this is the first car I’ve owned with more than four cylinders. With mortality never far from my mind I often think of this as both a return to my V8 rear-drive roots and my last hurrah. For someone who has owned six VWs (one Beetle, two Karmann-Ghia convertibles, two GTis and a Jetta) as well as a TR3 and an RX-7 most of my experience has been with much lighter, smaller cars. The Thunderbird lets you know from the moment you begin moving that it is a big, heavy car. Yet it takes surprisingly little effort to maneuver rather nimbly. It is a boulevardier’s car, built more for comfort than speed, yet it will move pretty quickly. It reminds me quite a bit of my motorcycle (a 1999 Honda Shadow Aero 1100 pictured below, my RetroJerry handle is not just based on this car, all the vehicles we own including the aforementioned PT Cruiser and my wife’s Mini Cooper convertible are “retro inspired” and I have no idea what that says about us) as both the ‘bird and Aero attract admirers that do not normally notice vehicles. I agree as many have pointed out that Ford, especially their dealers, really dropped the ball with this one (but I have ALWAYS thought that the dealer system and experience are the weakest part of any car company’s marketing strategy) but to buy a two-owner creampuff for less than a used Civic with such low miles to me is a bargain. It drives well, gets decent mileage (20 to 24 which is just under what my Cruiser gets – a whole different story) and it lifts my spirits. Yes, the coils are a weak point but I replaced all of mine right off the bat for under $100. Like my Aero, which cost $7,495 new, it attracts attention even when surrounded by MUCH more expensive cars. I always liked the styling with the exception of the front end when viewed from directly in front, and I will probably hold on to it until either I or it expires. There are hundreds out there, mostly pampered “garage queens,” and if you’re in the market for a two-seat convertible I highly recommend one.
Interesting that this is a vehicle I already said some pointed things about. I read it with a bit of trepidation because I think after twenty years, my opinion may have softened. However, I couldn’t disagree with what I wrote six years ago. This was the generation of Thunderbird that declared that the TBird had retired from being a relevant US icon. It was the generation that looted from its heritage and presented a farewell to those drivers who coveted it.
It is unnecessary to restate what I wrote. Instead I’ll give an update.
I shopped for one as a possible first car for my 16 year old. The market is opening for the twenty year old “Retro Cars” bought by the over 60 crowd. I see this car as a cute ride for a teen girl. Couldn’t find one that I thought would be dependable for the prices asked.
Here in 2020 (unlike 2002) I suppose I could really afford a decent one, and the proportions, interior, whatever aren’t dealbreakers to this Ford loyalist. Still, I realize it’s not the first toy car I’d seek out if I had that kind of budget.
A recent issue of one of the collector-car magazines has an article for today’s prospective buyers—any parts getting scarce/pricey?, and so on. It did dampen my ardor a tiny bit, even while I hoped for the opposite.
If I had a can’t-turn-that-price-down opportunity, and a third garage stall, I’d probably take it, being of the post-65 demographic now….
As noted over and over, the price killed these.
I was actually a salesman at Beverly Hills Ford in 2003. Through creative use of incentives, the dealership became the number 1 seller of Thunderbirds for a few months that year. We sold them all day long at $29,999, but customers laughed at $40,000. If I remember correctly, we sold 29 T-Birds in one particularly good month–this was in a store that sold about a 100 cars per month.
Funny timing of this write-up, as I spotted one of these as a soft-top convertible when I went up to Chimney Rock, NC on October 10th, in fact almost exactly the same as the car in the first photo! Whoever owns it was lucky to have the top up as rained off & on almost the entire day.
If you ignore the fact that it shared a Jaguar-sourced platform, the ’02-’05 Thunderbird was externally a 100% reincarnation of the ’55-’57 model; its side profile is still fairly attractive even now. As other commenters have pointed out, however, the interior wasn’t exactly a good match-up to the exterior and the ultimate downfall was–as with Oldsmobile’s arguably best modern car, the Aurora–the hefty pricetag.
I own a 03 Desert Sky Blue Tbird. At this time I am watching football and polishing this beautiful car.