The last generation of Ford Thunderbird was described by Doug DeMuro as a “retro failure”. However, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and something as different as the T-Bird can’t stay undervalued forever.
The last generation of the Ford Thunderbird was the 11th, which is amazing when you think about it because that’s just as many as a Civic. After being absent for five years, it arrived in 2002 and caused quite a splash.
The Detroit auto industry was leaning hard on nostalgia at the time. We got the Plymouth Prowler, shaped like a hot rod, the PT Cruiser that resembled a 1930s Desoto and the retro-delicious Chevy SSR. The Europeans were also looking into the past with things like the VW Beetle and MINI Cooper.
The Thunderbird wasn’t even Ford’s only nostalgic design because we also got the S-197 Mustang and the GT supercar. Most if not all the models we just mentioned are highly celebrated despite their flaws. So why not the Thunderbird?
To some, the styling might seem a little forced. Egg crate grille and a fake hood scoop, what’s that about? The handling is not that of a sports car, nor should it be. The true reason the Thunderbird flopped is price. And as you know, that has virtually no impact when you’re talking about collectible classics nearly 20 years later.
A fully-optioned example cost over $40,000, quite similar to a Corvette. Dealer markups made things even worse, but 10 years later, Thunderbirds were selling used for a quarter of their original price. In 2002, they’re averaging about $25,000, but several really cheap ones are still on the market.
The not-so-obvious classic
The age of the 11th-gen Thunderbird is perfect, as it’s turning 20 years old and nostalgia is about to kick in pretty hard. Some Fords of that vintage are already popular, like the F-150 SVT Lightning or the SVT Cobra Mustang.
And as far as Detroit-made 2-door cars from that era, few of them stand out or are as famous as the Thunderbird. Just think how much money people are dropping on a 2002 Chevy Monte Carlo SS.
Convinced? Well, consider this $29,900 example that’s currently for sale with RK Motors. The Thunderbird doesn’t have an iconic color, so getting it in black is a great idea, especially since it makes the chrome pop. The 17-inch wheels, shiny windshield surround, and removable hardtop are all there.
Powertrain-wise, all models came with the 3.9-liter AJ35 V8, which Ford borrowed from Jaguar. Later models had 280 horsepower as opposed to 250 hp, which doesn’t sound all that impressive. But this open-top classic is meant for cruising car shows, whether that’s traditional cars & coffee or riding on 26-inch wheels into donk heaven.