Overview & Reviews
Unlike today, vehicle choices were pretty limited 50 years ago when the Ford Thunderbird first took flight. There were sedans, coupes, station wagons and convertibles, but essentially a Ford was a Ford -- straightforward variations on a common design. With the 1955 T-bird, however, Ford introduced the notion of a sporty "personal luxury car" -- a close-coupled two-seater with V8 power, a cushy ride and elegant styling. It also had the simple construction and reasonable price of a Ford.
What that first cozy Thunderbird convertible didn't have was much extra room for more people and things -- but when this was addressed in 1958, Ford's Thunderbird really took off. That year it became a bigger, heavier car, a four-seater available as a coupe or convertible with a blocky body that gave rise to the nickname "Square Bird." A much cleaner fighter jet-inspired body design debuted in the early 1960s and the sleek, missile-like profile earned these cars the moniker "Bullet Bird." The mid-'60s saw sharper-edged lines for the body, though the basic platform remained mostly unchanged.
Things really started to get weird in the later '60s, '70s and early '80s. Within this span of time, the Thunderbird convertible was dropped, a four-door version with suicide doors and landau irons was offered briefly, the car grew to the size and shape of a Lincoln Mark IV and was then downsized twice, first in 1977 and again to a Fairmont-based platform in 1980. Yep, the Ford Thunderbird "celebrated" its 25th anniversary in fine style, riding atop an economy car's chassis and sporting less than 130 horsepower from its V8 engine. But it did have a heavily padded landau top complete with opera lights as well as a digital dashboard, so things weren't that bad, right?
Interesting things happened during the mid- and late 1980s, when style and performance returned in the form of the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and its successor, the Super Coupe. The former had a turbocharged inline-4 while the latter sported a supercharged V6. The Thunderbird stayed with this format (standard coupe with V6 or V8 power and the hyper Super Coupe) through the late 1990s, at which point the Thunderbird died a quiet death due to slow sales and general disinterest in the personal luxury coupe market.
For the new millennium, Ford resurrected the Thunderbird. As a full-circle, retro-inspired return of the original two-seat roadster, the new Thunderbird garnered plenty of attention and initial hype. Still more about motoring with a little extra flair and panache than driving fast and hard, the Thunderbird seemed poised for success. It never met with much critical acclaim, however. Sales were brisk at first but slowed considerably afterwards. Ford ended production after four years.
Those shopping for a used Ford Thunderbird built in the last 20 years have lots of choices in terms of configurations, powertrains and styling. The best T-birds from the 1990s are the ones with V8 power. Driving enthusiasts may want to look for the performance-oriented but much rarer Super Coupe from the same era. Finally, the more recent two-seat roadster will no doubt satisfy those with retro "cruising" fantasies and could quite possibly become a future classic.
Most Recent Ford Thunderbird
In 1999 Ford displayed a concept car that brought the Thunderbird back full-circle to its roots as an open two-seat roadster. The response was overwhelming, and three years later it had a production version ready for 2002. The designers did such a great job that this "modern" Thunderbird managed to preserve the sleek styling cues of the original without looking like a four-wheel caricature.
As a basis, Ford used the same platform as it did for the Lincoln LS sedan. As such, some criticism was leveled at the Thunderbird's interior, as it was perceived as being too similar to the LS's and lacking in design flair. At the time, we suspected that buyers would have accepted a higher sticker price in exchange for unique, Thunderbird-specific pieces for the dash and center console. The pleated leather seats and door panels, however, recalled the days when auto upholstery resembled the seating in a diner's booth.
On the road, the new 'Bird performed quite well with its independent suspension and 3.9-liter V8 with a five-speed automatic transmission. But it didn't make the claims of a sports car; its mission in life was that of a comfortable boulevard cruiser. The Thunderbird gained 28 hp in 2003 for a total of 280. Detail changes marked its final couple years, with trim and paint changes and a Light Sand Appearance Package in 2004, and 50th-anniversary badging and more trim changes inside and out for 2005. Though flawed, it was still fun to drive and fun to be seen driving, and it largely succeeded at straddling the fine line between luxury and performance.
Past Ford Thunderbird models
The previous-generation Ford Thunderbird coupe was produced from 1989-'97. At its debut, a new fully independent suspension helped ride and handling, but acceleration was disappointing due to the combination of a hefty curb weight and 140-hp base V6. A more inspiring alternative was the new Thunderbird Super Coupe, (SC) which used a supercharged version of the V6 to produce 210 hp. It transferred its power to the rear wheels through either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. A special-edition 35th-anniversary model of the Thunderbird SC arrived in 1990, and a 200-hp 5.0-liter V8 returned to the Thunderbird lineup in 1991 -- the preferred choice for most Thunderbird buyers.
The base Ford Thunderbird was dropped from the 1993 lineup, and the car was now available either as an LX (with either the V6 or V8), or as a Super Coupe with the supercharged V6. Dual airbags were made standard in 1994, and this car also featured revised front-end styling and Ford's new, more refined SOHC 4.6-liter V8. The Super Coupe flew the coop after '95, leaving just the LX model to soldier on. There was a new instrument cluster in 1997 plus some new colors and a new rear spoiler, but the car itself was doomed as Ford shifted its focus to increasingly popular -- and profitable -- SUVs and trucks.
In reviews of this Thunderbird, our editors wrote that they liked the car's sporty coupe body style, V8 power and reasonable price. With its decent-size backseat, we claimed that it was "a car for closet enthusiasts who need a car that is more mature than the Mustang."
User Reviews:Showing 1 through 10 of 666.00
Sporty - 2002 Ford Thunderbird
By FRED - January 18 - 4:35 pm
Goes the distance - 1994 Ford Thunderbird
By Kevin Richardson - October 17 - 11:30 pm
I got my V6 bird early in 2008 for free, you could say it needed some repairs with 180000 miles and previous neglect. I would consider these repairs normal considering the neglect and age. After replacement of water pump, radiator, hoses, heater core, T-stat, front end rebuild including rack and pinion and power sterring pump, brakes rotors flexlines and calipers, alternator and a paint job. For awile the car was just like new long cross country trips without trouble also the car gets about 110 miles a day 5 days a week commute. Then @ 285000 miles it failed smog needed new valve guides so had the cylinder heads rebuilt and went from useing 1 quart of oil every 500 miles to useing 1/2 quart every 3000 miles, also had to replace catletic converters, EGR valve, mass air flow sensor, air intake temp sensor, and computer temp coolant sensor. After all that the smog guy said it was running cleaner than most new cars. @ 285000 miles this is considerd normal matenince. Then at about 305000 miles it started missing randomly needed new distrubtor drive gear so I changed the coil and ignition controll module and fuel pump out of reliabilty since these parts wont last forever. As it needs to be reliable I don't need to brake down 2500 miles away from home BTW never had to be towed home or brake down, it easyer to find problems through prevenitve maint. and fix it in the drive way than out on the road. So today I have 348000 miles running great would drive it 3000 miles with out hesatation. The truth is if your comitted your car will last as long as you want, unless rust is there. I dont want to spend 30000-40000 for a new car and have debt spend $1500.00 a year and keep your car cheaper than a new one. At this point I just do routine maint. drive to work and weekend tips ,vacation no worries. Also the V8 has less maint. Yeah the v6 needs head gaskes at 200000 miles but really that's high miles it normal. I have never replaced this trans. I hear that's un ususal but I change the fluid every 20000 miles, maby there is something to that. The cooler line also has an in line filter that is changed every time with the pan filter useing Ford mercon 5 fluid it really matters don't use cheap trans fluid. The best part or funny part is as the years go buy the parts get cheaper. Go figure newer car more expensive parts older cart cheaper parts. Transmission and lower end of the engine is orignal and rear diff. Looks like a new car with the paint job. runs/drives like a new car too. I'll probally keep it forever or untill corosion takes over underneath. This car also stops on a dime wow, its got 4 wheel disk and ABS un heard of in 1994. Turns great for how heavy it is.
93 ford thunderbird LX V8 - 1993 Ford Thunderbird
By Tanya - October 17 - 2:49 am
I love my car its my first one ive had it for a year. Ive replaced the water pump and starter and done a tune up and full oil change and front brakes. I also had to fix the AC when i bought it. Recently my cars been shaking alot something its never done and it gets way worse if you try turning on the AC. Also overheats when i run my AC. Does anyone no what could be wrong i really want to figure out whats up and get it fixed before it causes something else to go wrong
Wife's Little Bird - 2002 Ford Thunderbird
By Ron Stephens - September 13 - 8:51 pm
My wife looks great in this car. Folks point her out at the stop lights and parking lots. I did have to replace the coils but that was after several years. It was the same deal on the Lincolns having this engine. Only thing I wish was better the review mirror and the sun visors. Just kind of chintzy when it comes to those items.
Great car - 1997 Ford Thunderbird
By Trevon - September 2 - 7:05 pm
I was born in 97. My mom got this car when I was born she drove it everyday as a family car it was just me, her and my brother. Once she got a new car my brother drove it now I'm driving it and the only thing that's really wrong with it is that it needs a paint job. Now I drive it and even though I love mustang this is still one of my favorite cars. I love speed the only thing I wish this car had was more speed but anyway I'll never get rid of this car for any other car.
Love the T Bird - 2005 Ford Thunderbird
By valor trooper - July 29 - 3:54 pm
Only has 2 seats and limited space in the interior for additional items. Trunk is more than adequate to accommodate luggage or golf clubs. A really neat sports car!
Attracts attention - 2003 Ford Thunderbird
By lhaskins - August 7 - 10:25 pm
I purchased this 2003 T-Bird (torch red with white roof) new and have had it ever since. It is not our primary car although we originally bought it for my wife to take to work. It was not long before we placed it in the garage (where it is now) with a dust cover on it. With 21,000+ it is more of a "toy" to enjoy riding in around town when the weather is cooperative. It is not comfortable enough for us to take on long trips, but it still attracts attention. I do all of my own service and it has had no major problems. vlh
Great ride - 1995 Ford Thunderbird
By shogie - May 30 - 9:24 am
I purchased my 95 T-Bird new and have put almost 300,000 miles on it. It is the 4.6 V8. I just put a Ford rebuilt engine and tranny in it as it was burning too much oil after all those miles. It still ran great, however. I have not had any unusual problems with it other than normal maintenance. It still has the original rotors after 3 sets of pads on the front. Top speed is 105 mph as the governor shuts it off at that speed. It goes back on as soon as it gest under 100. I am now in the process of getting the body redone due to the clearcoat coming off. I have nothing but nice to say about this vehicle. I do agree with other reviews regarding the cup holder. Not good planning on Ford's part.
Loving my car - 2003 Ford Thunderbird
By computerlen - January 25 - 3:38 pm
I own a red '03. I absolutely love it! I bought it back in March and only drove it until September when I placed it into storage. I have wanted one since I first saw a used 2002 yellow t-bird at a Ford dealership. I fell in love with it. No other car in my life has excited me-period. I am 66 years old but feel like a teenager when I am driving it. I get looks from many people including children. I did not expect any of this. I just liked the style of the car. One driver on the road called out to me with his thumb up. Another was stopped by the police for speeding but called out to me and said "nice car". I honestly would not sell this car for $10,000 more than what I paid for it.
Love my Bird! - 1995 Ford Thunderbird
By ladymelan81 - January 12 - 2:23 pm
I love my bird, I bought it off my dad and he's had it since it was new. We scored the rare factory Venetian Blue Pearl color so it changes from purple to blue in the sun light. People stop and stare at her she's so pretty! Very fast, she can get up to 100 mph without trying. This car likes to fly, speeding tickets may be an issue.