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2002 Ford Thunderbird

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SAN FRANCISCO: In this world of sensible sedans, oversized sport utility vehicles, and high-tech sports cars with alphanumeric names, sometimes a car comes along that evokes earlier times. Certainly the name Thunderbird cuts through the commonplace with a familiar knife. After a four-year hiatus, the T-Bird returns to its roots in its configuration and style.

It all began in 1954 with the 1955 model, a two-seat convertible based on the Ford sedan of the day. The dramatic styling was more a factor than horsepower in early Thunderbirds, but the car had flair and appealed to what would become the "personal luxury" segment of the market in the 1970s. While the sporty types drooled over British and Italian imports, the average American with a couple of extra bucks could tool around in a mid-fifties Thunderbird.

The 1958 Thunderbird, with room for four, started a new era, and outsold its predecessors by a wide margin. Through the 1960s and into the 1970s, the Thunderbird soared. However, by the end of the fuel-conscious 1970's, most of the style had evaporated, and the Thunderbird had its wings clipped.

So, in 1998 Ford put the Thunderbird on a well-deserved sabbatical and went back to the electronic drawing board. The new 2002 Thunderbird is the result. Based on the platform upon which the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type are built, it returns to the two-seat, top-down glory of its first three years, but with a 21st century heart.

Ford made sure we would recognize the new car. It wears the Thunderbird logo, of course, and a chrome egg crate grille and a hood scoop reminiscent of the original. The headlamps are round, capturing both the original car and the recent revival of circular lights. The sides of the car slip back in a reverse wedge, with the tail tapering down to round tail lamps that evoke the 1961-63 lights and match the new car's headlamps. The chromed windshield pillars and header make it resemble a 1950's show car.

Inside the new T-Bird is handsome, but not as thrilling as the Buck Rogers whiz-bang interiors of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of the interior shape comes straight from the Lincoln LS, but tasteful use of brushed metallic accents on the dash that streak into the doors gives it a little extra distinction. The Thunderbird script logotype is emblazoned on the right side of the dash and inscribed on the metal threshold plates.

The seats feature an attractive tuck and roll stitching, but feel a little like they are inflated. Behind the two seats is a parcel shelf, terminating in a curved panel that mirrors the back seats in the 1960's Thunderbirds. You sit close to the ground in this T-Bird - it stands just 52 inches tall. The brake lever is located on the right side of the console, something my wife found a little unsettling. The needles of the gauges are rendered in a traditional 1950s Thunderbird aqua.

The Thunderbird comes only as a convertible, but a removable hardtop is available at extra cost if you want to seal yourself in for the winter. It has the traditional porthole on the rear pillars, just like a '56. The convertible top in my tester was quick and easy to drop. You simply pull down the attractive center lever and press the top-down button. All the windows drop in unison like students in an Aikido class, while the top folds neatly into the rear compartment. It takes only nine seconds to make the transformation. The vinyl boot was a bit of a chore to install, so I just ignored it.

Riding in any convertible is fun, and the Thunderbird revels in it. There is some cowl shake on occasional rough road surfaces, but a cross-car beam ties the frame structure together and three X-braces under the car keep it from moving around much. Overall the ride is more tuned for comfort than eager back road gymnastics. Powering the 2002 Thunderbird is a 3.9-liter dual overhead cam V-8 that puts out 252 horsepower and 261 lb.-ft. or torque. Through its five-speed automatic transmission, this adds up to plenty of oomph. My Inspiration Yellow tester earned 17 city, 23 highway using premium fuel.

Because it is based on a rear-wheel-drive platform, some trunk space is eaten up by the differential. That leaves just 6.7 cubic feet, enough for two golf bags or some groceries, but that's about it.

My tester was a 2002 model, but the 2003s are on their way. If you want to wait for one, there are a number of upgrades to enjoy. Perhaps the most significant is a boost of the engine to 280 horsepower and 286 lb.-ft. of torque, thanks to electronic throttle control and variable cam timing. For '03 you can order a Select Shift transmission that permits manual shifting without a clutch. All-speed traction control is now standard equipment, as are two-speed, variable interval wipers with a heated park position. The instrument cluster has been tweaked, and there are two new interior colors.

Ford is releasing a limited run of 700 James Bond Edition Thunderbirds this November in conjunction with the new James Bond movie Die Another Day. In the film, Halle Berry, as Jinx, drives a coral custom T-Bird. These cars feature 21-spoke chrome wheels, solid white seats, and white-trimmed lower door panels and speaker covers. The shift knob and steering wheel wear Black Ink leather. Each James Bond Edition car gets a numbered commemorative plaque on the inside of the glovebox. Pricing information will appear before Christmas.

Motor Trend magazine gave this new Thunderbird its coveted Car of the Year award for 2002. You can place one in your driveway for about $39,000. It's a trip from the past and into the future all rolled into one.  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  A trip from the past and into the future all rolled into one.
Topic:  2002 Ford Thunderbird
Word Count:   1045
Photo Caption:  The 2002 Ford Thunderbird
Photo Credits:  Ford Internet Media
Series #:   2002 - 27

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Download the original image file here:  2002 Ford Thunderbird








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