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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Fri, Jun 13, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff



By HARVEY SCHWARTZ All Photos & © by Harvey Schwartz

From the first time I turned the dash mounted ignition switch on and heard the engine’s throaty song, to the day that I had to return it at Ford’s test fleet center, I knew that Ford had gotten it right with the all-new 2002 Thunderbird. No wonder, the all-new Thunderbird came with unique retro-modern styling true to the original 1955 Thunderbird, a powerful 250hp V8 mated to a smooth shifting, close-ratio, electronically controlled 5-speed automatic transferring torque to the rear wheels, a racecar tuned, 4-wheel double-wishbone suspension exhibiting crisp handling characteristics, and 4-wheel ABS disc brakes to quickly slow the Thunderbird down. The well-designed and ergonomic interior makes driving the Thunderbird easy, fun and exiting in comfort with the latest in luxury and safety features. I wasn’t alone as Motor Trend Magazine named the all-new Ford Thunderbird ‘Car Of The Year’ in 2002.

Ford didn’t just sit on its laurels and only add more colors to the 2003 Thunderbird, instead, Ford increased the horsepower, performance and comfort levels of this great grand touring sports roadster. Changes to the 2003 Thunderbird includes more power and precision to the potent 3.9liter, all-aluminum DOHC 32-valve, SFI V8 engine with the addition of Variable Cam Timing that improves engine performance, power, fuel economy, and is now rated at 280hp at 6,000rpm and 286lb.ft. of torque at 4,000rpm. A new Electronic Throttle Control system gives quicker response to your input on the gas pedal. This new injection of power and precision enables the Thunderbird to accelerate to 60mph from a standstill in just 6.4sec. Available this year is Select Shift transmission which allows you to command gear changes similar to a conventional manual transmission but without the clutch. Just move the chrome stick shifter over to the right and see the +/- gate, just push to upshift and back to downshift. Also new for 2003, Ford makes the all-speed traction control system standard on all Thunderbirds. On the inside, Thunderbird designers restyled the analog instrument cluster to make it even easier to see and understand, and also added optional heated driver/passenger bucket seats. To enhance the Thunderbird’s ability and safety during winter driving, a new, 2-speed, variable-interval wiper/washer system comes with heated wiper park that more easily clears snow or ice off the windshield. New exterior colors include mountain shadow gray and sky blue. These new features on the 2003 Thunderbird only increase it’s standing as one of the world’s best grand touring, 2-seat roadster’s. The Thunderbird’s unique styling is highlighted with a reverse-wedge body shape that is higher at the front fender and A-pillar than at the rear, which captures the laid-back, relaxed character of the originals. The classic egg-crate grille with three-dimensional texture found on the ’55-’57 Thunderbirds re-emerges on the new model, and the short front overhang is in keeping with the proportions of the original’s as well. A hood scoop reminiscent of the ’61 Thunderbird is incorporated into the sheet-molded composite (SMC) hood. A long-wing chromed Thunderbird is set into the fascia above the grille. Dual halogen headlamps are round with integral parking lamps and turn indicators under the clear lens. Front fenders are also made of SMC, while chrome louvers set in the front fenders hint at the chrome louvers on early Thunderbird roadsters. The 64-degree angle of the large, chromed A-pillar and header gives the look of strength, solidity and safety of former Thunderbird models, while at the same time giving an updated, precisely crafted appearance. The rocker panels are curved sharply under the body to conceal steel reinforcements that improve body strength and rigidity. At the rear, small cutouts highlight the 3in. round, chromed tipped, dual exhaust pipes, and the large round taillamps are reminiscent of the jet-plane treatment that enamored so many Thunderbird fans in the 1950’s.

With 6.9cu.ft. of trunk space, it is spacious enough for 2-sets of golf clubs. A soft, woven boot with snaps is provided to cover the black, woven soft-top when it’s down. When the power convertible top is up or when you install the optional hard top with classic porthole windows, additional outside noise isolation results from the doors ‘drop-glass’ feature that automatically lowers the side glass slightly when the door is opened, and when the door is closed the glass goes back up to fit snugly into the seal system. While its design sets it apart from the crowd, Thunderbird also delights customers by providing excellent ride quality, smoothness and outstanding handling characteristics, thanks in part to Thunderbird’s fully independent suspension and 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution. A cross-car beam ties the structure together just behind the seats and three steel X-braces are bolted to the underbody in the front, mid-car and rear. The result is a body structure and chassis with good strength and stiffness that helps provide excellent ride quality and handling. Even when I drove over rough or un-improved roads I detected very little cowl shake. To improve the desired ride comfort and keep handling crisp, Thunderbird engineers chose spring rates lower than the average sport sedan, they then put in larger-diameter shock absorbers. The Thunderbird’s low-speed-tuning shocks help keep the car precise over bumps in the road while maintaining a relaxed ride. The T-Bird always feels light on its feet. Thunderbird uses a power rack & pinion steering gear with variable assist to provide low-effort maneuvers at parking speeds and a high level of road feel at highway speeds. The Thunderbird features a standard power tilt and telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel for optimized driver comfort and control. The 4-spoke steering wheel has controls for the electronic cruise control and the standard, powerful AM-FM stereo/Indash 6-CD player with 6-stereo speakers. To add steering precision, the stabilizer bars have molded-in flat sections on the bar and bushing that fit together much like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The closer-fitting sections result in quicker response to steering adjustments. The front and rear stabilizer bars also add to the minimal body-lean in tight corners at speed.

The standard power assisted 4-wheel disc ABS brakes come with aluminum calipers and vented rotors at all-four corners. The standard all-speed traction control senses wheel slip by means of the ABS wheel-speed sensors. When wheel slippage is detected, the system takes corrective action by applying the brake pressure to one or both drive wheels, by retarding the ignition timing, and reducing the fuel-injection flow rate, or any combination of these methods. Ride quality and traction are further enhanced because all Thunderbirds ride on big P235/50VR17in. all-season steel belted radial tires that are wrapped by 17X7.5in. chrome wheels with 5-lug nuts. The Thunderbird was developed to deliver sportiness without compromising comfort. Accomplishing this goal means eliminating unwanted noises and tuning preferred noises to the desired sound quality. A computer-aided engineering technique called statistical energy analysis was used to understand convertible acoustics and build a balanced package. Testing led to the decision to increase the density of the convertible top liner and sealing and barrier material to reduce road noise. Top-down turbulence on the T-Bird is reduced because of the steep angle of the windshield. The radio antenna is embedded in the windshield to reduce wind noise from whistling that can occur with an outside mounted antenna. Inside, Thunderbird provides a comfortable environment for two occupants. The newly designed black numbered/white background instrument cluster features gauges more jewel-like with chrome bezels. You get a 160mph speedo, 7000rpm tachometer and smaller gauges for fuel and engine temperature. The dashboard is highlighted with 2-wide pieces of brushed aluminum appliqués and textured, soft-feel foam backing. The center stack flows out of the instrument panel with a sculpted line that creates a waterfall effect leading to the console. Two cupholders add to the front storage space and have a stylish chrome lip. Thunderbird’s door trim panels feature a black base panel with molded-in horizontal flutes and chrome door handles. The comfortable and supportive, six-way powered, manual lumbar adjustable, high-backed leather bucket seats come with perforated inserts with the familiar T-Bird ‘tuck and roll’ design. All switches, buttons and dials are within easy reach of your hands for sure adjustments. A carpeted shelf behind the seats holds grocery bags, newspapers or other items. Each door has storage slots, the glove box is wide, and the center console storage bin is deep for optimum storage of personal items.

For safety, the Thunderbird is equipped with second-generation airbags for driver and passenger. In addition, the driver and passenger seats are equipped with standard side airbags, making the Thunderbird the first Ford convertible to come equipped with combination head-and-chest side airbags. Thunderbird also features the child-seat anchor system or LATCH. The Thunderbird safety-belt system includes a pretensioner and an energy management retractor, Ford’s BeltMinder system that reminds drivers t buckle up with constant warning chimes until the belt is buckled. Also standard is Ford’s glow-in-the-dark emergency trunk release handle, which enables a person trapped in the trunk to open it from the inside. Other standard safety features include front and rear crush zones, steel beams in each door, a SecuriLock anti-theft system which uses an electronically coded ignition key with 72 quadrillion possible codes, the remote keyless entry helps with unlocking and locking the doors, plus the doors lock automatically when the car is running or shifted out of park or neutral. To keep you from being locked out of your T-Bird, the power doors will not operate if the driver’s door is open while the key is in the ignition. The new 2003 Ford Thunderbird grows in stature with more power and performance, while adding more comfort, luxury and safety. Priced at only $35,900.00, it is a good bargain for your money in the premium, 2-seat, sport roadster segment of the marketplace. Test drive one today and fly high.


SPECIFICATIONS Suspension: front-independent short/long arm (SLA) type with a long spindle and coil-over-shock absorbers attached to the lower control arm, stabilizer bar; rear-independent short/long arm (SLA) type with anti-lift, coil-over-shock absorbers design and stabilizer bar Brakes: 11.8in. front vented disc with dual-piston caliper; 11.3in. rear vented disc with a single piston caliper. Overall length: 186.3in. Overall width: 72in. Overall Height: 52.1in. Base curb weight: 3775lbs.

Recommended fuel: 91 octane unleaded Fuel tank: 18 gallons

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