New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature Car -

from the first Thun­der­bird. It was of­fered in two guises: the deluxe ver­sion came with a mod­ern ren­di­tion of the Baby Bird’s iconic ‘port­hole’ hard­top as well as an elec­tri­cally op­er­ated soft-top. The pre­mium model omit­ted the hard­top.

Ac­claim was in­stantly heaped onto the new car — Mo­tortrend mag­a­zine named the Thun­der­bird as its Car of the Year, the fourth time a Thun­der­bird had won that award. Pre­dictably, sales took off with a bang, while un­scrupu­lous deal­ers took ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion by hik­ing prices.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, most peo­ple got their first look at the new Thun­der­bird in the 2002 James Bond out­ing, Die An­oth­er­day — a Coral-coloured ex­am­ple be­ing driven by the Jinx char­ac­ter, played by Halle Berry. That film was some­thing of a prod­uct-place­ment bo­nanza for Ford as, in ad­di­tion to the Thun­der­bird, it also supplied an As­ton Martin Van­quish and a Jaguar XKR — bear­ing in mind that, as well as Jaguar, at that time Ford also owned As­ton Martin. Ford cap­i­tal­ized on the pub­lic­ity gar­nered from the Bond film by pro­duc­ing a 007 Edi­tion, and 700 of these Coral red cars (com­plete with Per­for­mance White hard­tops) were built — each

suit­ably retro-styled frame through which to ob­serve the rapidly pass­ing coun­try­side. The next best view seemed to be from the side of the road, judg­ing by the num­ber of pedes­tri­ans who gave me the thumbs-up as I rum­bled through town streets.

Out of town, and it was time to open up the taps on the V8 and give the Thun­der­bird its head. As ex­pected, the car rides much more softly than an S-type, also ex­hibit­ing rather more roll than the Jaguar. As well, the V8 seemed to have less of an edge, the Thun­der­bird’s throt­tle re­sponse no­tably more re­laxed than that of the sim­i­larly pow­ered Jaguar. How­ever, none of this is re­ally much of a disad­van­tage and, truth be told, the Ford ac­tu­ally han­dles very well, with bags of grip avail­able, while the car’s long travel and very com­pli­ant ride ate up most road ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties with ease. In the end, though, this is a car for re­laxed long-dis­tance cruis­ing, push it too hard and that softly-softly sus­pen­sion gets a lit­tle over­wrought. No, it’s best to bear in mind that this last gen­er­a­tion Thun­der­bird, like the orig­i­nal Baby Bird of the ’50s, was never in­tended to be an out-and-out sports car — so but­ton off a bit, soak in the sound of the V8, and en­joy all the big smiles you’ll at­tract as you waft down the road.

Cer­tainly our test car lived up to the Thun­der­bird’s orig­i­nal ideal — pro­vid­ing well-ap­pointed ac­cou­trements for two, more than ad­e­quate per­for­mance, plus a re­laxed ride with sur­pris­ingly good han­dling and road­hold­ing.

Of course, with so many high-per­for­mance parts avail­able off the peg from Jaguar’s in­ven­tory, those look­ing for more hard-core thrills could al­ways turn to the op­tion of up­ping the Thun­der­bird’s big-cat quo­tient by adding in a heap­ing help­ing of S-type R up­grades. A sus­pen­sion set-up closer to the Jaguar’s would cer­tainly sharpen up the Ford’s han­dling, while the R’s thun­der­ous 300kw su­per­charged V8 would def­i­nitely give the Thun­der­bird a mighty per­for­mance punch.

That’d be a com­bi­na­tion I’d be keen to sam­ple!

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