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Ford Thunderbird Concept: American Icon is Back

7 January 2000

Ford Thunderbird Concept: American Icon is Back
    LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6 -- An automotive legend was reborn as the
Ford Thunderbird made its return as an all-new concept car at the 1999 North
American International Auto Show in Detroit.
    Since its introduction in October 1954, the Thunderbird has been an
American cultural icon -- with trademark design cues that set it apart from
the crowd of sports cars available at that time.  Today, the all-new
Thunderbird concept draws on that rich heritage and introduces a modern
interpretation of an automotive legend.
    "The Ford Thunderbird has an emotional hold on the American public that
spans decades and generations," says Jac Nasser, Ford's president and chief
executive officer.  "This timeless classic is an important part of Ford Motor
Company's heritage and, indeed, this country's automotive history.
    "The new concept car is an indication of where we're headed with the
Thunderbird when it goes back into production for the new millennium," Nasser
continues.  "It's also just one example of the exciting and dynamic new cars
we plan to introduce in the future."
    The new concept features design elements from Thunderbirds of 1955-57 and
1961-62, simplified into contemporary forms.  The cues include port-hole
windows, aluminum-finished chevrons, hood scoop, round headlamps, taillamps
and fog lamps, and the trademark Thunderbird badge.
    "The design of the Thunderbird concept reflects the attitude of a simpler
time," explains J Mays, Ford's vice president of Design.  "The unbridled
optimism and the confident attitude of the 1950s comes through in an
absolutely modern design."
    The Thunderbird concept's stance is designed to be relaxed and confident
-- achieved through a negative-wedge design in which the front of the vehicle
appears to be set slightly higher than the rear.  The 18-inch, eight-spoke
aluminum wheels and P245R50-18 tires help give the car an equally sporting
    A circular theme runs throughout the vehicle, starting with the round
headlamps and fog lamps and back to the taillamps.  The removable hardtop with
its porthole windows has the signature cue from the original Thunderbird.
    "This is an aspirational design," Mays says.  "Simple shapes combined with
timeless materials and textures convey a relaxed, confident look and a feel
that is the true essence of the original Thunderbird."
    The oval grille opening remains true to the original with an aluminum-
finished egg-crate design.  Two large fog lamps are set into the front bumper
along with a secondary grille opening below them.
    The scoop is integrated into the hood design -- rather than serving merely
as a prominent addition.  The wraparound windshield is set at a 64-degree
angle and is surrounded by a wide band of chrome, as are the porthole windows.
The signature windows are also functional, allowing additional light to enter
the vehicle and providing better rearward visibility when the top is on.
    Chrome slash marks on the front quarter panels are cut into the sheet
metal.  They are a modern interpretation of the chevrons that were prominent
on the original car.
    The concept also features cues from 1961-62 Thunderbirds, which were more
equally proportioned than their predecessors.  Thus, doors are set to the
center, rather than to the rear, and a crisp line runs from the headlamp
straight back to the taillamp, hinting at one of the car's legendary fins.
    The car's interior continues the design theme by combining modern
materials and finishes with the flair of two-tone interiors of the past.  Two
black leather-wrapped bucket seats are specially stitched with a washboard-
like pattern.
    The interior door panels are covered in black leather with yellow leather
inserts and brushed aluminum accents.  The instrument panel sports white
gauges with turquoise pointers.  The upper instrument panel, steering wheel
and floor-mounted shifter are covered in black leather.  The lower instrument
panel and glove box are accented in yellow leather, matching the car's sun-
mist yellow exterior.
    A black leather-wrapped tonneau cover is visible when the hardtop is
    The aluminum-finished Thunderbird badge features a turquoise insert across
the wings and is prominently placed on the vehicle's nose, rear and across the
front seat backs.  The aluminum-finished Thunderbird script stretches across
both rear quarter panels.
    The Thunderbird name has a rich automotive heritage but originates from
Arizona and New Mexico.  According to legend, Thunderbird ruled the sky and
was a divine helper of man.  The great wings -- invisible to mortal man --
created the winds and the thunder and provided rains in the arid desert, where
fate had brought the Native Americans.
    The name is fitting for a car that has become an American legend.
Thunderbird's appeal extended far beyond its roots in Dearborn.  In 1961, the
car caught the eye of the newly elected president of the United States, John
F. Kennedy.  President Kennedy demonstrated his passion for the Ford
Thunderbird by including 50 of them in his inaugural procession.
    This is only one example of the Thunderbird's role as an American icon.
Thunderbird represented the carefree and youthful attitude of the 1950s and
1960s.  The Beach Boys' "Fun, Fun, Fun" heralded, in a song, aspects of the
American car culture, as did the street cruising scenes of Thunderbird in the
film "American Graffiti."