2003 Ford Thunderbird
8-cyl. 238cid/280hp EFI DOHC
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Ford’s 2002 Thunderbird exemplifies the neo-retro design trend that took hold of the automotive landscape in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Along with the Volkswagen New Beetle of 1997, and the 2000 Chrysler PT Cruiser, and others, the new Thunderbird modernized earlier styling concepts to create futuristic interpretation of a popular past design.
The 2002 Ford Thunderbird revisited the first generation 1955 to 1957 Thunderbird, right down to bright 1950s colors and two-seat configuration. The chassis and engine were shared with the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type. The AJ-30, 3.9-liter V-8 engine cranked out 250 horsepower and 0-60 came up in seven seconds through a 5-speed automatic transmission. Like the earlier model, the Thunderbird was promoted as a “personal luxury car,” not a sports car. Prices ranged from $35,495 for the base car to $39,795 with a porthole hard top. A limited run of 200 Neiman Marcus models were sold through the retailer’s famous Christmas catalog in two hours.
The design was penned by Ford designer J Mays, who incorporated many of the first Thunderbird’s traits. Cowled headlights, an eggcrate grille, a hood scoop, and afterburner taillights are all signature elements of the car’s design.
The eleventh generation T-Birds are finally starting to be driven, after mostly being purchased as future collectibles that did not appreciate immediately after production ceased. The first ones were black or white, or bright primary colors, but there was a striking turquoise called Thunderbird Blue. Second-year colors included 1950s classics such as Salmon pink and black, but sales dropped off fairly quickly and the car was discontinued in the 2005 model year after fewer than 70,000 were built. Later cars had the AJ-35 V8, with variable valve timing and 280 hp, and a manual shift feature on the automatic transmission.
Reliability for the 2002 to 2005 Ford Thunderbird has been acceptable after some early overheating issues and an unhealthy appetite for coils, which was covered by the factory. For many, the retro image is quite attractive without being slavishly accurate and overly inconvenient. The car has adequate performance, so even though trunk space is limited, the relaunched Ford Thunderbird is a fun weekend cruiser, and still captures attention today.