Ford Thunderbird (eleventh generation)
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|Eleventh-generation Ford Thunderbird|
|Designer||Jack Telnack (1997)|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupé
|Layout||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout|
|Platform||Ford DEW98 platform|
|Engine||3.9 L AJ35 V8|
|Wheelbase||107.2 in (2,723 mm)|
|Length||186.3 in (4,732 mm)|
|Width||72 in (1,829 mm)|
|Height||52.1 in (1,323 mm)|
|Predecessor||Ford Thunderbird (tenth generation)|
The eleventh generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a personal luxury car that was produced by Ford for the 2001 to 2005 model years. It was based on the Ford DEW platform. Although it was initially well received by the automotive press, garnering accolades such as the Motor Trend Car of the Year and a nomination for the North American Car of the Year in its first year of existence, many publications regarded the Thunderbird's revival rather more frostily after a few years; it garnered a place on Car and Driver magazine's 2009 list of "The 10 Most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History".
When the eleventh-generation Thunderbird was released, it followed the then-recent trend for nostalgic recreations of old-fashioned (or "retro") styling (see Volkswagen New Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler, MINI Cooper), using design cues from the original Thunderbird. Available only as a convertible with a soft top and an optional removable hardtop, according to automotive writer Jerry Flint, the new Thunderbird "turned heads wherever it went."
Ford expected sales of 25,000 units per year, but despite strong sales during its initial launch which had dealers charging well over the manufacturer's suggested retail price, this goal could not be met after the introductory year. The 2002 Thunderbird sold 31,368 units and sales declined each subsequent year until its cancellation.
Forbes magazine writer Jerry Flint attributed significant blame of the latest generation Thunderbird's demise to a lack of proper sales and marketing, writing: "Ford dealers have been successful selling $35,000-45,000 trucks, but have little experience selling automobiles in the near-luxury price range. If there was a marketing effort by Ford Motor, I wasn't aware of it. Naturally, sales didn't meet expectations."
Though the retro body styling never changed, exterior and interior color packaging was changed year to year. For 2002, the car was available in bright red ("torch red"), bright yellow ("inspiration yellow"), and turquoise ("Thunderbird blue"), all reminiscent of 1950s colors. Furthermore, "retro" two-tone interiors (black and the color matching the exterior), were paired with these exterior colors.
"Whisper white" and "evening black" exteriors were also available in 2002, with matching solid-color interiors or the two-tone red interior. The black and red proved to be the models for the remaining years. Beginning with 2003, the two-tone "retro" interiors were no longer available, with the exception of red and a limited white — in favor of all-black (or other one-color) interiors. Gone were the bright yellow and turquoise exteriors, replaced with more subdued colors: "mountain shadow grey", "desert sky blue", and coral. Exterior and interior colors added for both the 2004 and 2005 model years remained subdued and white was replaced by platinum silver.)
Post 2002 sales
Ford's tinkering with the exterior/interior packages did not yield a sales boost. Just 11,998 were sold in 2004. The Ford Motor Company announced in March 2005 that the Thunderbird would again be discontinued in July of that year, with 9,548 sold for 2005. Unlike previous T-birds, a second row of seats was not added which might have widened its appeal, though Lincoln had the LS rather than an upscale Mark based on a Thunderbird platform. The last Ford Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line on July 1, 2005.
The Thunderbird used an odometer system, shared with the Lincoln LS, which used a six-digit display including the 1/10 mile indicator. After 99,999.9 miles, the 1/10 mile indicator disappears and the number reads simply in whole numbers.
Also, talk of a performance edition from Ford's SVT existed. A 2003 concept, the Ford SuperCharged Thunderbird concept, which was designed by Sid Ramnarace, featured a modified Jaguar Supercharged V8. Ford ultimately decided it was not necessary, though some Thunderbird fans believe it could have saved the car, both by improving performance and hearkening back to the Thunderbird's roots. The original '55-'57 Thunderbirds came with several engine upgrades and were considered high-performance cars of the day. Ford made no effort to give a performance image to the new Thunderbirds, and while the V8 engine was competitively powered (280 hp (209 kW), 286 lb·ft (388 N·m)), its relatively heavy weight of over 3,700 lb (1,678 kg), widely spaced gears on the five-speed automatic, and suspension that favored comfort over handling made it feel more akin to a large luxury car than a true sport coupe.
The 2003 Thunderbird was featured in the James Bond movie Die Another Day. Halle Berry's character Jinx drove one in the movie. The mainly superficial design changes for the 007 edition Thunderbird were designed by Sid Ramnarace, including the coral paint color which would become the basis for the Jinx character's wardrobe. Ford issued a limited edition to commemorate the movie.
FAB 1 on display at the Heritage Motor Centre
|References||Pang, Alex; Richards, Jon (2004). Thunderbirds X-Ray Cross-Sections. Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-19911-249-4.|
|Maximum speed||199 miles per hour (320 km/h)
100 knots (190 km/h; 120 mph) (on water)
5,664 miles per hour (9,115 km/h) (in air)
|Armaments||Mini-guns, heat-seeking missile launchers, torpedo tubes|
|Propulsion||Gas turbine jet engine, hover engines|
|Power||Nuclear fusion reactor|
|Mass||3.3 long tons (3.4 t)|
|Length||26 feet (7.9 m)|
|Width||7 feet (2.1 m)|
|Height||5.5 feet (1.7 m)|
The 2004 live-action film Thunderbirds (an adaptation of the famed British "Supermarionation" series) featured a heavily modified 11th generation Ford Thunderbird called FAB 1. It is a fully functional full-sized six-wheeled prototype. Rolls-Royce was originally approached to build and design the prototype since the original FAB 1 was a Rolls-Royce, but BMW (current owner of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars) declined due to their development of the Phantom. Ford then replaced Rolls-Royce and designed and built the car based on the film's namesake vehicle. The car was featured in a segment of Top Gear in which presenter James May test drove the vehicle on public roads.
- "Dishonorable Mention: The 10 Most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History - Feature". Retrieved 29 July 2011.
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