It’s part four of my / our Ford Funderbird Fantastic, and you’ll be immensely pleased to hear that it’s also the final instalment. If you have any strong feelings towards or against these multi-part features, or about R.A-S.H in general, don’t be afraid to comment, so I know whether to pat myself on the back or, alternatively, to go to the pub, order many pints of Adnams Ghost Ship and sob myself into a tragic, alcohol-fogged spiral of depression.
Yesterday we visited the ninth generation Thunderbird and, generally, things were looking up. The wild styling excesses of the past had been dismissed and a stylish, aerodynamic form had been introduced, along with the powerplants to back things up. But time passes, and stuff gets old, and the T’Bird had been wearing the same old undergarments for ages.
It’s ’89, Public Enemy are in the charts. Say hello to Thunderbird Ten.
MN12 was the code and what it meant was an all new T-Bird from the ground up. Though components might have been shared with other FoMoCo machines, the platform was only used by the Thunderbird (and Cougar sister), and by the Lincoln MKVIII in stretched format.
“Only a few automobiles today are as universally recognised that they require but one word of introduction. The name of the car itself.”
In this they were talking about rekindling the aura of the ’50s Thunderbird, not necessarily those models we’ve discussed thus far in this series. But, still, the moniker “Thunderbird” was still A Good Name. And here, genuinely, was A Good Thunderbird.
“The styling is pure Thunderbird, dynamic and graceful. An eloquent statement of Fords design leadership in this age of aerodynamic cars.”
Again; “Pure Thunderbird” is a bit meaningless, when you consider some of the stylistic atrocities that that nameplate had been attached to in the past, but we’ll let that point slip.
No doubt, for you guys in NA where MN12s are two a penny, familiarity has bred contempt. To my eyes, though, the Tenth Generation Thunderbird is right up there with the best looking products to ever have emerged from the Ford stable. The glasshouse recalls (perhaps a touch too readily) the E24 BMW Six series, incidentally one of the cars Ford benchmarked for product development purposes. They actually declare this in the text:
“…we evaluated more than 350 Thunderbird features against the likes of the Mercedes 190E and BMW 6-Series”.
I’d like an itemised list, please.
The above explained what made this Thunderbird so different. In earlier years the American public might buy domestic on the simple bases of patriotism and, to some extent, blinkeredness. By now, though, imported cars were being so comprehensively covered by the press and media that the industry simply could not ignore them. Benchmarking your product against the competition was simply the only way forward. Where the Thunderbird could play its trump card, though, was in its ability to be made to go quite quickly without becoming as expensive as German imports.
Step forward the SC.
“Since 1955 the familiar Thunderbird emblem has evoked images of the greatest rewards driving has to offer. Today, its finest expression is Thunderbird Super Coupe.”
3.8 litres of Essex V6 under the hood, but augmented by a twin-scroll Eaton supercharger to vomit 210 horses out to the five-speed manual transmission. This was the first supercharged ‘Bird since the first gen, I believe, but I might be wrong on this. Somebody back me up, please. Anywho, this made the SC a pretty damn fast machine, with MotorWeek timing it at 7.2 seconds from launch to 60.
When first released the MN12 Thunderbird was a V6 only machine, with or without superchargers. Fours were dead and buried, but after a while it was realised that there was still a hardcore of folk for whom there really ain’t no substitute for cubes, forced-induction be damned. Enter stage left the Windsor V8 in High Output (200hp) flavour. This particular brochure (from ’93) marks the stage where the V8 was placed bang smack in the middle of the range, flanked by the natural or blown V6s.
Next year the venerable old Windsor would be dropped in favour of Ford’s new Modular 4.6 V8, which made the eight-pot Thunderbird a faster beast, but still in the shadow of the SC, which received a power and torque boost to compensate. But then again, they spoiled the styling at the same time. I may be a ridiculous limey halfwit, but I prefer the ’93 to the ’94, and a Windsor sounds better than a Modular to my ears.
“When you experience Thunderbird’s quiet comfort and solid feel over the road, what you’re experiencing is a result of our “Best-In-Class” approach to design.
“While for us it isn’t the easiest and least costly approach, for you it certainly is the best”.
It seems as if the product development team weren’t reading from quite the same script as Ford’s upper management, who shat on them from a great height for “Badly missing the Thunderbird and Cougar’s weight and cost targets”, which eventually led to Anthony Kuchta (MN12 development leader) voluntarily resigning just after the car was launched. Way to go, Ford. The extra cost per car was caused partly by Kuchta’s insistence on rear drive, and in the class-unique IRS setup which helped the ‘birds handling no end. Some people, it seems, just won’t be told.
The Thunderbird story doesn’t quite end there though, as you know. An eleventh generation Thunderbird came and went between 2003 and 2005, and I’m not going to grace it with its own instalment in this series. Based on the same platform as the Lincoln LS and S-Type. It was probably a pleasant enough car, but with its styling that was a pastiche on the ’55 original together with a woeful identikit interior, it did nothing to further the Thunderbird name. That and I don’t have a proper brochure for it, anyway.
So that’s it. Thunderbird covered from ’78 through 2005, in four easy sessions. There have been highs, there have been lows. Maybe Ford will reignite the Thunderbirds fire again some day, and maybe they’ll do the job properly. But if they don’t? Well, At Least I Own (most of ) The Brochure(s).
<Disclaimer:- All photos were taken by the author, (a guy called Chris Haining) and are of genuine original manufacturer publicity material, resting on the bonnet of a 1998 Audi A4. All copyright rights remain in the possession of the manufacturer. Ford: Bring back the Thunderbird. And make it good.>