2002 Ford Thunderbird

Scott Dahlquist
0107 Ford Thunderbird 04

We think the Thunderbird's proportions are the secret of its appeal. Like a teardrop, the front of the car is prominent and leads the way, while the rest of the car tapers to a low rear-fender line. The enormous wraparound windshield is laid back at an acute, 67-degree angle, and it energizes the overall shape of the car. The chrome band that runs from the A-pillar and across the windshield header provides a unique signature of style. This is a car that looks fast and sleek. The single false step in our test car is the set of chrome wheels that are part of the premium trim (one of three trim packages offered); they're a blast from the 1980s, not the 1950s. An ignition key that looks as if it comes from someplace other than the bin of Taurus parts would be nice, too.

0107 Ford Thunderbird 05

Our experience on the street suggests that the Thunderbird's look cuts across the conventional barriers of age and gender. We expected some notice from people old enough to remember the original T-Bird of the 1950s, but we were surprised to get shouts of recognition from kids in school yards. We got double takes from guys in Toyota pickups and inquiries from people at the supermarket. The T-Bird also had enormous appeal to those who cared about fashion and style. They told us that they were worn out by the relentless entreaties from the world of consumerism to buy into the latest "new & improved" thing. They said the Thunderbird offered real style--lasting style. This is an interesting aspect of the retro look and perhaps an indication that we haven't yet seen the end of such designs.

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When the Thunderbird first took shape in 1955, Ford engineers whittled down a Fairlane sedan into the right-size package. Much of the same strategy can be found in the new T-Bird, which is based on the platform of the Lincoln LS, minus 7.3 inches of wheelbase. It is a fine choice, since this is one of Ford's most sophisticated platforms (it's also under the Jaguar S-type) and offers much of the best stuff in the corporate parts bin. Lightweight aluminum suspension members, front disc brakes with four-piston aluminum calipers, and electronic brake-force distribution are just some of the pieces in place here.

Ford engineers tell us that they were surprised at the amount of torsional rigidity that was lost when they sliced off the roof from this sedan platform and created a convertible, even though their computers predicted it. They worked hard to improve chassis rigidity by installing three braces beneath the body pan--an X-shaped brace under the engine, another one under the middle of the car, and a stout lateral brace behind the passenger compartment. Thanks to these and other measures, the engineers figure that they managed to double the Thunderbird's torsional rigidity to about 6000 pound-feet per degree, which they believe to be in the same league as the BMW 3-series convertible and the Mercedes-Benz CLK cabriolet. Unfortunately, doing so inflicts a weight penalty, so this car tips the scales at a substantial 3775 pounds.

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