Friday, February 15, 2002

In test driving the 2002 Ford Thunderbird, I couldn’t help but go down memory lane. Let me share some of those thoughts with you.
In October 1954, I visited a Ford showroom to purchase the exciting, eye-catching, all-new 1955 Thunderbird. On close examination, however, I changed my mind. The trunk of this two-seater couldn’t hold my working tools and golf clubs. Through the years, I regretted that decision, as the T-Bird became an icon in automotive history, although it was a short-lived icon. In 1958, Ford put a back seat in the car, enlarged the trunk and increased its overall length and the emotion created by its cute appearance vanished.
The original model sold for $2,944. But with options such as a side-view mirror, radio, heater, wheel covers and so on, the price rose to about $3,400. Too rich for my pocketbook, I purchased the Victoria hardtop instead.
The 2002 replica of the legacy is equipped with everything including side-view mirrors, radio, heater and all the necessities of life. It costs $38,465. Performance-wise there’s no comparison to the original model. The new T-Bird has plenty of power, as well as a smooth quiet ride, and handles with precision. Although the new version has modern-day lines, it retains a stylish resemblance to the original model, including the “egg-crate” grille.
This T-Bird is powered by a 3.9-liter, 32-valve V-8 engine, linked to a five-speed automatic transmission that produces 252 horsepower. There is nothing sluggish about this car; a slight touch on the accelerator pedal brings immediate response.
This car’s excellent suspension system allowed me to hit the curves with speed, yet still feel secure due to a balanced rear-wheel-drive ride. The independent short- and long-arm shocks on both front and rear made a bouncy, rutted road feel very smooth. In no way does the new ride compare to one in the days of old. A slight resemblance to the car of the past, is in the dual exhaust. Today’s version has a dual-inlet air cleaner for more power. The small tubular size also produces a low-frequency sound. Unlike the 1955 model, the 2002 model has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 17 miles per gallon city, 23 highway.
This car also has the latest in safety and security features, such as side-impact head and chest air bags and all-speed traction control.
The interior is clean and attractive with power seats covered with soft leather. The steering wheel is power-adjustable with controls for the six-disc sound system on the dash panel and on the steering wheel. When the convertible top is up, the car is exceptionally quiet.
There’s a choice of two tops under one roof: an 85-pound hardtop with a canvas top beneath it. The hardtop, however, must be left in the garage. The canvas top easily lowers with the touch of a button. Should the top-down occasion be formal, a boot cover stored in the trunk improves its appearance. I found it difficult to snap the buttons..
In 1954, I opted for another car because the trunk on the T-Bird was too small. Today, I still wouldn’t buy the 2002 model for the same reason. When the boot cover is in the trunk, there wouldn’t be room for my golf clubs. Years from now I might regret that decision, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

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