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We head south along the shores of the Monterey Peninsula, climbing the steep and craggy cliffs of the Big Sur coastline. The gloomy fog suddenly lifts off the sparkling waters of the Pacific, a blue as brilliant as our turquoise T-Bird.
Traffic is sparse, yet we can’t help noticing the way heads turn in the cars heading north. Pulling into the Coast Gallery for a few minutes break, we’re quickly surrounded by curious onlookers who’ve stopped to check out our retro-styled two-seater.
Only a few vehicles have managed, over the years, to cross that invisible line separating mere transportation from iconic status. But in the nearly half a century since the first Ford Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line, the T-Bird has become an essential part of American pop culture. It has inspired movie makers like George Lucas—who gave the car a central role in his early film, American Graffiti—and songsters such as the Beach Boys—who immortalized the ‘bird in their Top 40 hit, “Fun, Fun, Fun.”
That’s despite some truly awful incarnations, when the Thunderbird name was applied to a series of overweight and ill-inspired coupes, the last of which was mercifully pulled from production at the end of the 1997 model-year. At the time, Ford officials hinted the ‘bird would be back, and a few years later, they pulled the wraps off a slick, retro-shaped roadster that quickly became a hit on the auto show circuit. Emboldened, the automaker promised to put the prototype into production.
But that left observers wondering whether the production version would maintain the concept car’s distinctive styling, so clearly reminiscent of the original ’55 two-seater. And with so many other roadsters on the market, how would it stack up against the competition?
2002 Ford ThunderbirdEnlarge Photo