Now that Ford has addressed the performance coupe market so well with the new Mustang, and built a new platform with at least a world-class rear suspension (if not front), the question comes up of where else this platform could be used. For example, a 4-door Lincoln? Yes, and certainly needed, but apparently not the direction that Lincoln is taking. How about a personal luxury coupe? The Thunderbird brand name is even older than the Mustang brand, but with some absolute atrocities was even more abused (ponder this question: what’s worse – the LTD-II based Thunderbird, or the Mustang II?).
Other than the original 50s and early 60s models, there is one other Thunderbird that tried very hard to match the pace of the original: the DEW98-based 11th generation Thunderbirds of 2002 to 2005. These “set the pace” because of the terriffic styling and a world-class platform – the most advanced platform Ford had done to date or since then. The heavily aluminum-based chassis with double A-arm front and rear suspensions was much more sophisticated than the current Mustang with its strut-type front suspension. In fact, sophisticated enough that the basic suspension design reached a 3rd generation with development partner Jaguar.
Where did the platform come from? The Renaissance of the early nineties, when Ford engineers broke out of their chains and created the DEW98 platform in partnership with Jaguar. And in the late nineties, when Jacques Nasser took over as CEO, this platform was to have played a central role in taking the entire company to the next level of sophistication. It would underpin not only the Lincoln LS sedan, but also smaller (think 3-series) and larger Lincoln sedans as well as a new Mark coupe. It also would be used for the Thunderbird, and eventually (as costs came down) the Mustang. Unfortunately, as the economy unraveled, and as the Firestone crisis unfolded, development monies dried up and the company retrenched. Plans were cancelled wholesale, and Nasser left the company. Only the Lincoln LS and Ford Thunderbird survived, for a few years, with minimal updates.
Plans had been in place to keep the Thunderbird current and attractive, including a handling package consisting of special tuning and Brembo brakes, and a supercharged engine. This last was an important point – both because of the heritage of the original car and because a halo version of the T-Bird would keep it interesting to potential buyers, as well as attract more people into the Ford showrooms.
Neither option made it into production. Mr. Nasser left at the same time as his plans were stomped into the ground by His Highness Billy Ford. Nonetheless, to keep interest alive and by a quirk of Ford marketing versus the executive offices, the Supercharged Thunderbird Concept was shown once in public. 390 HP and torque! We mourn the loss of this version, as well as the entire Thunderbird line (and it’s stablemate the Lincoln LS).
Could Ford create another Thunderbird? Yes. Would they? Highly unlikely. With development budgets stretched by the aggressive development plans for the all-new F-150, as well as much-needed replacements for the Fiesta, Focus, and Taurus, it’s unlikely that funds would be available. And with the sole production plant of the Mustang stretched to capacity by also building the much more popular Fusion, there wouldn’t be any excess capacity to build it anyway. In fact, it may well take sales away from the Mustang. That wouldn’t work for the Mustang where every sale is needed to justify continued development.