Ford Thunderbird (eleventh generation)

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Ford Thunderbird
Eleventh Generation
2005 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop front 4.28.18.jpg
ManufacturerFord Motor Company
ProductionJune 5, 2001—July 1, 2005
Model years2002–2005
AssemblyUnited States: Wixom, Michigan
DesignerJack Telnack (1997)
Body and chassis
ClassPersonal luxury car
Body style2-door convertible (with optional hardtop)
LayoutFront-engine, rear-wheel drive
PlatformFord DEW98
Engine3.9 L Jaguar AJ35 V8
Transmission5-speed Ford Bordeaux 5R44E automatic
Wheelbase107.2 in (2,723 mm)
Length186.3 in (4,732 mm)
Width72 in (1,829 mm)
Height52.1 in (1,323 mm)
PredecessorFord Thunderbird (tenth generation)

The eleventh generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a personal luxury car that was produced by Ford for the 2002 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".[1]

Design and history[edit]

Ford Thunderbird hardtop
Ford Thunderbird convertible

When the eleventh-generation Thunderbird was introduced, 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), 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."

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.

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.)

Throughout its four-year production run, the eleventh-generation Ford Thunderbird was available in two trim levels: Deluxe and Premium. Both trim levels were very well-equipped, with standard equipment such as perforated luxury leather-trimmed seating surfaces (which was offered in retro color schemes to match the exterior color of the car), full power equipment (power windows, power door locks, and power seats), keyless entry, a security system, an AM/FM stereo radio with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer and Audiophile premium audio system, cloth soft top convertible roof, automatic headlamps and fog lamps, a 3.9L DOHC V8 engine with five-speed automatic transmission, aluminum-alloy wheels, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The Premium model was distinguished by heated seats and chrome aluminum-alloy wheels. A color-keyed hardtop roof was an option on both trim levels, and could be installed over the cloth soft top roof. In 2000, the all-new, eleventh-generation 2002 Ford Thunderbird was also the vehicle of choice for the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, and a few other "special-edition" Thunderbird models (such as the 2003 James Bond 007 Edition, the 2004 Pacific Coast Roadster Edition, and the 2005 50th Anniversary 'Cashmere' Special Edition) were also available (see below).

Special models[edit]

2002 Ford Thunderbird Neiman Marcus Edition[edit]

For 2000, the all-new, eleventh-generation 2002 Ford Thunderbird was the vehicle of choice for the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. Only 200 examples of the Neiman Marcus Edition Thunderbird were ever produced, with an MSRP of US$41,995. All 200 examples sold out within about three hours of first going on sale. The Neiman Marcus Edition Thunderbird featured design elements that set the vehicle apart from standard Thunderbird models, such as a two-tone black exterior paint color with silver hard top roof with the Thunderbird "Wings" emblem etched into the "porthole" glass windows, a scooped hood, special twenty-one spoke chrome aluminum-alloy wheels, a silver-accented steering wheel and transmission gear selector lever, aluminum inserts on the dashboard, a padded instrument panel, and a perforated black leather-trimmed interior with silver seat inserts that also included 'Neiman Marcus' embroidery on the vehicle's floor mats, and the Thunderbird "Wings" emblem embroidered into both seat backs. A 1/18-scale die cast model of the Neiman Marcus Edition Thunderbird was also available as well.[2]

2003 Ford Thunderbird James Bond 007 Edition[edit]

Thunderbird James Bond 007 Edition

For 2003, a special James Bond 007 Edition of the Ford Thunderbird was introduced as a tie in for the James Bond Die Another Day movie. Painted in Coral as a tribute to the 1956 Thunderbird, the exterior was complemented with a white hard top roof (the 2003 Thunderbird also starred in the movie, although the Thunderbird in the movie featured a matching Coral hard top roof instead of the production version's white roof). Other distinguishing features for the James Bond 007 Edition Thunderbird included twenty-one spoke chrome aluminum-alloy wheels, a Performance White perforated leather-trimmed interior, unique "Engine-Turned" interior trim panels with the "007" emblem on the instrument panel, special tuning for the 3.9L V8 engine (this increased the horsepower rating from 250 to 280), and a five-speed "Select Shift" automatic transmission with manual gear selection. Only 700 examples of the James Bond 007 Edition Thunderbird were ever produced. The James Bond 007 Edition Thunderbird had an MSRP of US$43,995, and like the Neiman Marcus Edition Thunderbird sold the year prior, a die cast scale model of the vehicle was also available for purchase.[3]

2004 Ford Thunderbird Pacific Coast Roadster Edition[edit]

For 2004, Ford introduced another special edition Ford Thunderbird, the "Pacific Coast Roadster Edition". With only 1,000 examples produced, the Pacific Coast Roadster Edition Thunderbird was painted Monterey Mist Green with an Ash Metallic hard top roof and Light Ash soft top roof, paired with unique Light Ash and Dark Ash interior and unique "Preferred Suede" trimmed seating surfaces. Unique aluminum-alloy wheels, color-keyed interior accents, a unique dashboard pattern, and a numbered dashboard plaque all helped set the Pacific Coast Highway Edition apart from other Thunderbird models.[4]

2005 Ford Thunderbird 50th Anniversary 'Cashmere' Special Edition[edit]

In 2005, to celebrate both the 50th anniversary of the Ford Thunderbird (which debuted in 1954 for the 1955 model year, as well as the final year of production for the eleventh-generation Ford Thunderbird, Ford introduced the Thunderbird 50th Anniversary 'Cashmere' Special Edition. While all 2005 Thunderbirds were badged as "50th Anniversary" models, the 50th Anniversary 'Cashmere' Special Edition Thunderbird featured a limited production run of 1,500 units, each featuring a commemorative dashboard plaque. The Cashmere exterior paint color was only available on this special edition model, and was complemented by a Medium Light Stone soft top convertible roof. A Cashmere hard top roof, which could be installed over the soft top roof, was also included as part of the package. "50th Anniversary" emblems adorn the front fenders, exterior color-keyed mirrors, rear "Thunderbird" emblems, a teal-accented third rear brake lamp with an illuminated "Thunderbird" script, a special, two-tone Medium Stone and Dark Stone-accented interior with Cashmere perforated leather-trimmed seating surfaces, and a color-keyed instrument cluster with turquoise gauge needles, "Ford Thunderbird" door sill plates round out the features on this special edition Thunderbird.[5]

2003 Thunderbird SuperCharged concept[edit]

While a high performance variant of the eleventh generation of the Thunderbird was never marketed, a concept car was introduced at the 2003 Los Angeles Auto Show called the Ford SuperCharged Thunderbird concept. Based on the Thunderbird convertible, it was a joint effort between Ford's Living Legends design studio and Ford Performance Group, 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 harkening back to the Thunderbird's roots. The supercharger V8 engine in the concept was rated at 390 hp (291 kW) at 6,000 rpm and 390 lb⋅ft (529 N⋅m) of torque at 3,500 rpm. Unique features of the concept included high-flow intake pipe, Gloss Red cam covers with carbon fiber coil covers, ‘Thunderbird’ script inscribed across the cam covers, a carbon fiber radiator cover housing and integral supercharger air filters and all-new power dome hood providing functional engine cooling for the supercharged engine. Chrome tr was applied to the 16 forward-facing surfaces on the hoods twin air extractors, with the engine’s Gloss Red cam covers visible through slots in the louvers. A new more prominent grille was installed, finished in the same chrome as the hood’s twin air extractor louvers. Larger Chrome trim air-intakes were present on each front fender, with all-new cut down rear view mirrors in color keyed housings. Newly designed front and rear bumpers were installed and the suspension was lowered by one inch. White 18-inch tires on custom 16-spoke aluminum wheels harkened back to the original Thunderbird. A lockable two-piece hard tonneau cover was present on the rear, which concealed the soft, black convertible top underneath. At the rear, twin exhaust ports were present on either side of the license plate surround, seamlessly integrated into the rear bumper. Rear backup lamps were moved from the tail lights and were placed above the exhausts tips, inset into the license plate housing. The concept car was finished in a unique Cool Machine Silver exterior paint which contrasted the all-leather, chamois-tinted interior. The concept was sold by Ford to a private collector in 2010 and was auctioned off in 2014.[6][7]

Film and television[edit]

Ford Thunderbird featured in Die Another Day on display

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[edit]

FAB 1 (Thunderbirds)
FAB 1 front-left2 Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon.jpg
FAB 1 on display at the Heritage Motor Centre
General characteristics
ClassCustomised Ford
ArmamentsMini-guns, heat-seeking missile launchers, torpedo tubes
Maximum speed199 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)
PropulsionGas turbine jet engine, hover engines
PowerNuclear fusion reactor
Mass3.3 long tons (3.4 t)
Length26 feet (7.9 m)
Width7 feet (2.1 m)
Height5.5 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.


Official production of the 2002 Thunderbird began June 5, 2001. 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.[8]

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.

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."

Production totals[edit]

Year Production
2002 31,368
2003 14,678
2004 12,757
2005 9,295
Total 68,098


  1. ^ "Dishonorable Mention: The 10 Most Embarrassing Award Winners in Automotive History - Feature". Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  2. ^ "2002 Ford Thunderbird 'Neiman-Marcus' Special Edition -". Powersport California Custom. July 6, 2015.
  3. ^ "2003 Thunderbird 'James Bond 007' Special Edition -". Powersport California Custom. July 6, 2015.
  4. ^ "2004 Thunderbird 'Pacific Coast Roadster' -". Powersport California Custom. July 7, 2015.
  5. ^ "2005 Thunderbird 50th Anniversary 'Cashmere' Special Edition". Powersport California Custom. July 4, 2015.
  6. ^ "2003 Ford Thunderbird Supercharged Concept Car". Thunderbird Specialities. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  7. ^ "2003 Thunderbird SuperCharged Concept". RM Sothebys. 15 November 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  8. ^ "The Porthole Authority 2002–2005 Thunderbird Production and Specs". Retrieved 2018-09-09.