The Ford Thunderbird is a rear wheel drive automobile which was manufactured by Ford in the United States over eleven model generations from 1955 through 2005. The Thunderbird created a market niche that eventually became known as the personal luxury car.
The Thunderbird entered production for the 1955 model year as a sporty two-seat convertible. Unlike the Chevrolet Corvette, it was not marketed as a sports car. Ford positioned the Thunderbird as an upscale model and is credited in developing a new market segment, the personal luxury car. In 1958, the Thunderbird gained a second row of seats. Succeeding generations became larger until the line was downsized in 1977, again in 1980, and once again in 1983. Sales were good until the 1990s, when large 2-door coupes became unpopular. Initial production ceased at the end of 1997. In 2002, production of the Thunderbird started again; a revived 2-seat model was launched which was available through the end of the 2005 model year. From its introduction in 1955 to its final phaseout in 2005, Ford produced over 4.4 million Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbird’s modest enhancements don’t extend to its rather elastic chassis, and there’s still a lot of wind noise coming through the canvas top at freeway speeds. And it hasn’t gotten any cheaper. The as-tested price of our 2002 T-Bird came to $39,867 compared with $41,795 for this similarly equipped ’03 car. For the same money, you could strap on an Audi TT roadster, a BMW 325Ci convertible, or a Saab 9-3 convertible. To name just a few.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door roadster
PRICE AS TESTED: $41,795 (base price: $37,320)
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, Ford PTEC engine-control system with port fuel injection
Displacement: 241 cu in, 3950cc
Power (SAE net): 280 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 286 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic with lockup torque converter
Wheelbase: 107.2 in Length: 186.3 in
Curb weight: 3800 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.5 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 16.8 sec
Street start, 5-60 mph: 6.9 sec
Standing 1/4-mile: 15.0 sec @ 95 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 132 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 183 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g
EPA city driving: 17 mpg
C/D-observed: 16 mpg