- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

Ford finally made it official: the legendary Thunderbird will return. And to gear up for its introduction next year, Ford will host a summerlong bird-watching contest.
Ford confirmed it will begin building the nostalgic Thunderbird beginning next year. In the meantime, Ford intends to build excitement for the bird's arrival by offering Americans a chance to win one of three 1950s-era Thunderbirds. Through Aug. 20, three 1950s-era white, two-seat roadsters will drive through the streets of 144 cities and towns as part of Ford's American Dream Car Tour.
People who spot one of the cars sporting the American Dream Car Tour logo can enter a sweepstakes by mail or on the Internet to win one of the three vintage cars. Observers can log on to www.fordvehicles.com or write to: Dream Car, Box 1955, Young America, Minn. 55594, providing information on the day, city and approximate location they saw the car. Winners will be announced in October.
"We're trying to capitalize on the excitement the classic birds always generate and harness that into the growing excitement for the new production Thunderbird," said Mickey D'Armi, brand manager for Mustang and Thunderbird. "The vehicles create the same emoted response in enthusiasts. If they loved the classic birds, they will love the new one."
Ford designers describe the upcoming Thunderbird as a modern interpretation of the classic models. A major difference is that the new vehicle will employ a version of the rear-drive architecture and 3.9-liter V-8 engine used for the Lincoln LS, introduced last summer.
"The new Thunderbird is not really a retro car," said Mr. D'Armi. "It has some styling cues based on heritage. We see its buyers as people who give it as a gift to themselves, a reward for achievement."
Dealers are not yet taking orders for the Thunderbird, nor will Ford confirm an on-sale date. What Ford will say, however, is that the new model will closely resemble the concept car introduced in 1999 at auto shows across the country. The concept featured design elements from Thunderbirds of 1955-57 and 1961-62. Those cues included porthole windows, aluminum-finished chevrons, hood scoops, round headlamps, taillamps and fog lamps and an oval grille with the trademark Thunderbird badge.
In the concept version, a circular theme runs throughout the vehicle, starting with the round headlamps and fog lamps, then moving to the removable hardtop with its round porthole windows a signature cue from the original Thunderbird and back to the taillamps.
The scoop of Ford's concept T-bird was integrated into the hood design, rather than serving as a prominent addition. The wraparound windshield was set at a 64-degree angle and surrounded by a wide band of chrome, as are the porthole windows. The signature windows were functional, allowing additional light to enter the vehicle when the top was on.
The rear of the concept featured cues from 1961-2 Thunderbirds. Doors were set to the center rather than to the rear. A crisp line ran from the headlamps straight back to the taillamps, hinting at one of the car's legendary fins.
Introduced in October 1954 and on sale in 1955, the Thunderbird became an American icon. In later years, the Thunderbird moved far away from the original, becoming bloated in size and price. Sales slid, prompting Ford to discontinue it in 1997, but promising to bring back the name on a new car.
Few of the classic Thunderbirds like those Ford is touring around the country remain. The ones on tour are valued from $14,000 to $50,000, according to classic-car price guides. In contrast, the new model is expected to start at about $35,000.
The tour of vintage cars is Ford's first step in marketing the new car. Other efforts, which Ford executives would not detail, will follow, including the debut of a special limited-edition model at this year's Pebble Beach Concourse d'Elegance in August.

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