- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

Affluent car buyers can be the first on their blocks to have the long-awaited Ford Thunderbird by ordering it from a department-store catalog.
Ford has introduced a limited version of the next-generation Thunderbird. Done in partnership with the famous department store, the Neiman-Marcus Thunderbird will be available exclusively through the store's catalog beginning Sept. 25.
The new Thunderbird is reminiscent of the 1950s classic, and the partnership between Ford and Neiman-Marcus is a repeat performance. The two teamed up in 1971, offering "his and her" Thunderbirds. The newest Neiman-Marcus Thunderbird, a sporty, luxury two-seat roadster, comes in a black-and-silver color scheme to match the store's colors, and it sports Neiman-Marcus badges. Its body is black and its removable hardtop silver.
The color scheme is carried over inside. The interior is matte black across the dashboard and upper door panels and body color on the bottom. Smooth black leather covers the sides of the seat bottom and seat back; the insets are of silver perforated leather. Subtle Neiman-Marcus badges, with the cursive capital letters "NM," are found on the instrument panel, floor mats and at the top of the seat backs.
Other than the color scheme and badging, the limited-edition model is virtually identical to the mass-market version that is to go on sale in dealer showrooms next year. Ford reportedly expects to build about 30,000 of the volume production versions, listing for about $35,000 each.
The earliest Thunderbirds cost $3,000 to $4,000. Few of the classics (worth $14,000 to $50,000) remain. The newest model will be the first roadster since 1957.
The new Thunderbird rides on the same basic rear-wheel-drive architecture as the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type luxury sedans introduced last year. In fact, the Thunderbird will be built at the same Wixom, Mich., assembly plant that produces the Lincoln LS. It also will be equipped with a version of the 3.9-liter V-8 engine, rated at 210 horsepower, and the same smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission as in the Lincoln LS.
The new Thunderbird's body is sleek and bears retro-looking aluminum-finished chevrons, the trademark Thunderbird badge, round headlamps, taillamps and fog lamps to match the round porthole windows on the removable hardtop, and a hood scoop.
Inside, the Thunderbird borrows heavily from the Lincoln LS. The instruments have a whitish background with black letters. The speedometer needle, like the famous Thunderbird badge, is pale turquoise, a popular car color in the 1950s. Brushed aluminum trim, like that on classic Thunderbirds, accents the interior. A horizontal bar of aluminum trim on the doors echoes the interior of past Thunderbirds.
Despite hints from the past, the new Thunderbird is thoroughly contemporary. It comes with a center console containing modern-day cup holders and has side air bags, power adjustable seats and a storage compartment with an armrest between the two seats.
Ford designers describe the Thunderbird not as retro, but as a modern interpretation of the 1955 original. Ford Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. is fond of saying it is important to remember and honor the company's legacy but not to dwell in it.
Indeed, the new Thunderbird is recognizable immediately as a descendant of the original, but it is a thoroughly contemporary design, not a replica of the original. The original Thunderbird was introduced in October 1954 and sold as a 1955 model. Designers were inspired with what they saw in Paris and figured Ford needed a similar car to add prestige to the Ford nameplate. They sifted through 5,000 suggested names for the car that would become an American icon, finally settling on "Thunderbird." The thunderbird is considered in American Indian legend to be the creator of the winds and thunder in the Southwestern deserts.
Throughout the next four decades, the Thunderbird evolved, in many years moving far from its original two-seat personal-car concept to conservative, fuel-economy four-seater models. The last Thunderbird, which had come in far over budget and vastly overweight, was discontinued in 1997. At the time, Ford hinted it was merely mothballing the legendary name to be assigned to an appropriate car in the future.
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