Ford Thunderbird Roadster Concept

Few American automobiles are as iconic as the Ford Thunderbird. Its release in 1955 was in direct response to another American icon, the Chevrolet Corvette. Like the Corvette, the Thunderbird was a two-seater coupe also available as a convertible. Although the new T-Bird was in competition with the Corvette, it was billed as a “personal luxury” car. Ford placed greater emphasis on the car’s comfort and convenience features rather than its inherent sportiness, and it succeeded on that platform.

With the release of the second generation Thunderbird in 1957, the two-seat layout was replaced in favor of including a second row. This never hampered its sales as the Thunderbird flew strong for four decades and ten model generations, each variant as distinctive as the last. The final Fox-bodied Thunderbird rolled off the Lorain, Ohio assembly line in 1997, bringing the end to an American classic. However, like so many other icons of automotive history, the Thunderbird was soon reborn. Created in the Design Studio in Dearborn, the “retro” Thunderbird was unveiled at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Returning to the two-seat personal luxury style of the first generation Thunderbird, Ford’s design was an immediate hit.

Alongside the production Thunderbird, Ford added a little excitement to the 2002 NAIAS with the re-imagined Thunderbird Sports Roadster concept. The Sports Roadster concept took design cues from the “Bullet Birds” of the 1960s, specifically the 1962-63 Thunderbird of the same name. Like the original Sports Roadster, the Ford concept also features a molded fiberglass tonneau that integrates the rear deck with the headrests. In front an integrated chrome hood scoop as well as the chrome headlight surrounds complement the sleek look. The chrome-finished egg-crate design grille also recalls T-Birds of the past as do the wheels, which at 18 inches in diameter are both modern in size and classic in design.

Drawing from the flamboyant style of the ’60s, the Roadster concept is painted in vivid red that contrasts well with the “ceramic” white leather interior. The instrument panel, pillars, scuff plates and interior door trim panels are all wrapped in the same leather and feature unique stitching by Draxlmaier. Also featured in “ceramic” white is the three-spoke steering wheel, shift knob, hand brake and arm rest. Contrasting the miles of white leather, the instrument panel and door panels are finished in elegant brushed aluminum along with aluminum-finished buttons.

The eleventh generation production Thunderbird may currently be the last interpretation of this classic icon but in itself has become a statement of American design.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2011 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.

3.9-liter V-8 engine, automatic transmission, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes.

Sources: RM Auctions and Ford press

Gallery: Ford Thunderbird Roadster Concept