The Ford Thunderbird is unquestionably one of America’s most iconic cars and a status symbol for drivers lucky enough to own a set of keys. Ford’s personal luxury coupe was brought to life in 1955 to compete against the Corvette and was produced over 11 model generations through 2005.
Unfortunately, the Thunderbird never had a chance to get the curtain call it deserved, as the last generation was a sales flop that didn’t live up to the hype.
With the retro-styling fad now in the rear-view mirror, the Thunderbird deserves one last shot to get it right. Considering the decade-long absence of a personal luxury coupe in Ford’s lineup, it might just get it.
While Ford could choose to start from scratch, the platform being used for the sixth generation Mustang could provide a good base to work from for the T-Bird with a few minor tweaks. The Mustang’s adjustable shock absorbers could be tuned for a more luxurious feel and the chassis lengthened to accommodate the Thunderbird’s longer wheelbase. A rear wheel-drive configuration should be mandatory; anything else and the Thunderbird will almost certainly be headed for imminent failure. With the Mustang’s sophisticated new chassis and independent rear suspension, the performance architecture for the Thunderbird is certainly within reach.
Like the Mustang, the Thunderbird should be available with multiple powertrain options to choose from. Ford’s 2.3L EcoBoost would be an excellent base engine with 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. While it’s far from a ground-pounder, the turbo four-cylinder offers plenty of torque for drivers who don’t want to sacrifice performance for fuel efficiency.
Though the EcoBoost deserves consideration for its excellent two-way potential, it would also pay homage to the Thunderbird Turbo Coupes that were produced from 1983 to 1988 with the same displacement turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Perhaps they could even resurrect the historic name to boost sales. After all, the Turbo Coupe was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1987. That has to count for something.
To continue the Thunderbird’s long standing performance heritage, Ford will likely choose between the Mustang’s 5.0L Coyote V8 or the 3.5L twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine used in Ford Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKS for the premium powertrain offering.
It’s certainly hard to deny the 5.0L Coyote V8’s instant power delivery at any rpm, but it seems a little too raw for the luxury-appointed Thunderbird. Ford’s twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 is a more refined option and fits the Thunderbird’s character to a tee. Even if it matches the Taurus SHO’s current output of 365-horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque, any longing for a V8 will be erased as twin Garrett GT15 turbochargers deliver 12 PSI of boost with the potential for far more.
Though the tenth generation Thunderbird produced from 1989 to 1997 was available with the revered 5.0L V8 and Modular 4.6L V8 engines, the Super Coupe was a far better performer with its sophisticated 3.8L supercharged V6. Its smooth power delivery and superior torque helped the Super Coupe land Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award in 1989. Like the Super Coupe of old, a new Thunderbird with a forced induction V6 would be a potent performance combination.
While a new Thunderbird certainly wouldn’t compete against the C7 Corvette today, a new stylish and performance-oriented luxury coupe is always welcomed. With the Cadillac ATS-V notwithstanding, there is simply no domestic market to speak of. With a sticker price well below German competitors like the BMW M4, Audi RS5, and Mercedes C63 AMG, the luxurious Thunderbird could certainly make things interesting in the segment despite its lesser performance pedigree.
If Ford is willing to give the Thunderbird one last shot, there certainly seems to be a market willing to give it another chance. The 10-year migration has been long enough. It’s time for the Thunderbird to come home.