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By Jim Flammang
April 7, 2004
Vehicle Overview Ford created a flurry of excitement when the revived Thunderbird appeared as a 2002 model. Though it is fully modern underneath, the redesigned model was a throwback to the original two-passenger T-Bird of 1955 – 1957.
The wheels have been restyled and a universal garage-door opener is now standard for the 2004 model year. The front fenders hold new V-8 badges, and newly styled seats have leather seating surfaces.
Adapted from the Lincoln LS platform, the rear-wheel-drive Thunderbird has a 3.9-liter V-8 engine — which received a boost from 252 to 280 horsepower for 2003 — and a five-speed-automatic transmission. The convertible comes in Deluxe and Premium trim levels. A removable plastic hardtop is optional, and the car’s hood, fenders and rear deck are also made of plastic.
Even though Ford shuns the retro label, designers gazed backward to a dramatic era of the company’s heritage to revive the Thunderbird. Like its long-ago predecessor, the 2004 Thunderbird seats two occupants and is equipped with rear-wheel drive, but it incorporates all the benefits of modern technology.
Exterior Styling kinship to the original Thunderbird is obvious in its eggcrate-style grille and round headlamps, while the hood scoop suggests a 1961 model. It’s also evident in the classic porthole-style quarter windows that are incorporated into the optional removable hardtop. The basic reverse-wedge profile and taillight shapes also hark back to the past.
The current Thunderbird measures 186.3 inches long overall and has a 107.2-inch wheelbase, versus a 175.3-inch overall length and a 102.0-inch wheelbase in the original. Six colors are available for 2004: Merlot, Vintage Mint Green, Platinum Silver, Torch Red, Light Ice Blue Metallic and Evening Black. A fabric convertible top is standard. Cast-aluminum 16-spoke wheels hold 17-inch all-season tires.
Interior According to Ford, the two-seat cockpit “reflects the exterior design and the car’s romantic heritage with bold style combined with the comfort and convenience [features that] today’s customers demand.” The interior trim complements the body color. Standard features include automatic dual-zone air conditioning, leather bucket seats, a tachometer, a six-way power driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped power tilt steering wheel and an in-dash six-CD changer. Trunk capacity is 8.5 cubic feet. Heated seats are optional.
Under the Hood An aluminum, 3.9-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine produces 280 hp at 6,000 rpm and drives a close-ratio five-speed-automatic transmission. SelectShift operation for manually selected gear changes is optional.
Safety The Thunderbird was Ford’s first convertible with head and chest side-impact airbags. Four-wheel all-disc antilock brakes are standard.
Driving Impressions Even though the Thunderbird’s ride quality isn’t bad on smooth highways and handling is agile enough, its suspension is on the stiff side and can take some bumps rather hard. Featuring brisk passing and merging capabilities, acceleration from a standstill is outstanding.
Slipping inside the T-Bird may demand a significant twist of the neck in order to clear the soft top, but the seats are cushioned beautifully. The mirrors are ample in size, but serious blind spots make lane changing dicey.
Even though it’s more ordinary than the flamboyant shape suggests, this two-seater delivers a generally enjoyable experience — a flashback to the Fifties. Sadly, it doesn’t feel especially well assembled.