Ford reintroduced the Thunderbird in 2002 and it quickly won the Motor Trend Car Of The Year" honor (for the fourth time). Basically, it's a recreation of the 1955-1957 Thunderbird in a modern style.
While the critical acclaim and reviews for the new Retro Bird were largely quite positive, the vehicle failed to attract significant consumer support. Less than 10,000 were sold in 2004 and, in 2005, Ford decided to pull the plug.
Our own opinion is that Ford had changed the car much closer to a "luxury" car, and away from the "sports car" driving feel of the old classic. Too bad, it's a beautiful convertible, has all the amenities, and it is indeed a pleasure to drive.
But it's true that it's just not a sports car and is more of a blend between luxury and performance.
And it's mostly this last generation of Thunderbird, its eleventh, that we see out there in the used market. And many are still in remarkably good shape ... a testament perhaps to the caliber of owner who originally purchased them.
The older, "classic" Thunderbird of days gone by can be found at car collector auctions, a market I'm not involved in.
For those shopping for a used Thunderbird of this newer era, here's some background information that may be helpful.
Under the hood is an aluminum, 3.9-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine that's good for 252 horsepower. It's paired with a a close-ratio 5-speed-automatic transmission.
Standard features for the base Deluxe model include head and chest side-impact airbags, four-wheel antilock (ABS) disc brakes, leather upholstery, dual zone climate control, power windows, power door locks, power seats, a 15-inch leather-wrapped, 4-spoke steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, speed-sensitive wipers, an AM/FM radio/stereo system with a 6-disc CD changer, and Ford's SecuriLock and passive anti-theft systems.
In addition, the Premium model came with traction control, heated seats and chrome alloy wheels.
These Thunderbirds can also be found with several options, including chrome wheels instead of the painted ones, an interior upgrade package, all speed traction control, and a removable hardtop with the T-Bird's "trademark" porthole windows instead of the standard power-folding soft top with its heated glass rear window.
Year-To-Year Thunderbird (2002 - 2005) Changes:
2003 Thunderbird: While the 3.9-liter V8 remained the same, it was given a 28 horsepower boost to 280. Also new was a manual-shift feature for the 5-speed automatic as well as some instrument cluster revisions.
2004 Thunderbird: There were only slight revisions for 2004, including restyled wheels, a standard univeral garage-dooe opener and the availability of a Light Sand interior trim package.
2005 Thunderbird: A 50th Anniversary model was offered with Cashmere metallic paint with a matching removable top and Medium Light Stone cloth convertible top and soft boot, special interior trim accents, 17-inch wheels with 16 spokes and a cashmere accented hub ring to match the paint, and a numbered commemorative plaque mounted inside the glove compartment.
Built on the same platform as the Lincoln LS, the Thunderbird's V8 engine can only be described as "silky smooth". Steering, road feel and response are also very impressive.
But if you're looking for "thrills", this car probably isn't for you. If you're looking for "elegance" and "style" in a hardtop convertible, the Thunderbird may be just right.
No doubt, the Thunderbird is one nice car. We had a 2003 here at one time and were indeed impressed by the smooth and quiet ride as well as the handling. And as a "looker" ... yep, it was turning quite a few heads.
Reliability And Mechanical Problem Watchlist
The reliability record of the 11th generation Thunderbird is somewhat mixed. While many owners have reported enjoying trouble-free ownership experiences, others have encountered various mechanical issues over time.
Factors such as regular maintenance, driving habits, and individual vehicle history play significant roles in determining reliability. That said, there have been some problems reported by owners that should therefore be included in a pre-purchase inspection:
Transmission Issues: There were reports of transmission problems, including rough shifting, slipping gears, and in some cases, complete transmission failure.
Electrical Problems: Owners reported various electrical issues such as malfunctioning power windows, door locks, and interior lights.
Cooling System: Some owners experienced problems with the cooling system, including coolant leaks and overheating.
Suspension: There were complaints about suspension components wearing out prematurely, leading to a rough ride and handling issues.
Convertible Top Malfunctions: The convertible top mechanism had its share of problems, including issues with raising or lowering properly, as well as leaks.
Engine Performance: While the Thunderbird's engine was generally reliable, some owners reported issues such as rough idling, loss of power, and engine stalling.