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!