Ford Authority

Ford Thunderbird Comparison Pits First Generation Against Last: Video

The Ford Thunderbird originally launched back in 1955 as a sporty, two-seat convertible marketed as an upscale rival to the Chevy Corvette. That didn’t last long, however, as the T-Bird grew to add a a second row of seating in 1958 and wound up lasting a total of 10 generations before it was discontinued and brought back once again as a retro two-seat convertible in 2002 before it bowed for the second time following the 2005 model year, though that last model initially garnered quite a bit of praise from the press.

Ford filed to trademark “Thunderbird” in January of 2021, and as Ford Authority exclusively reported this past May, the automaker is considering bringing back its iconic model as a possible Corvette rival. In the meantime, we can take a closer look at how the original and last-gen Ford Thunderbird stack up in this video from Tyler Hoover of the YouTube channel Hoovie’s Garage.

Though both of these cars are two-seat convertibles, this 1957 Thunderbird and 2003 model couldn’t be much more different otherwise, as one might imagine. In terms of styling, however, Ford did a nice job of paying tribute to the first-gen T-Bird with its front grille and circular headlights. Whether the two really diverge is in the interior, as the newer car is often criticized for its uninspiring cabin full of cheap plastic, which isn’t quite as elegant as the original.

Sharing a platform with the Jaguar S-Type and Lincoln LS, the last-gen Thunderbird is equipped with a somewhat underpowered 3.9L V8, but one could say the same of the ’57 model and its 312 cubic-inch V8, which is a little slow by today’s standards. However, at least this particular car has a manual transmission to make it a bit more fun to drive.

Overall, it’s clear that Ford did a nice job making the last-gen T-Bird a suitable tribute to the original, even if it didn’t sell in massive numbers, as one would expect from a two-door convertible in this day and age. Now, we’ll simply hold out hope that Ford has another, more exciting follow-up in the works.

We’ll have more on the Thunderbird soon, so be sure to subscribe to Ford Authority for the latest Ford Thunderbird news and continuous Ford news coverage.

Brett's lost track of all the Fords he's owned over the years and how much he's spent modifying them, but his current money pits include an S550 Mustang and 13th gen F-150.

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  1. Mark B

    Sometimes deviating too far from the original styling queues just doesn’t work. It’s difficult to believe that a solution with clearly more original lines, wouldn’t have done much better.

  2. JoeBryant

    1955 Thunderbird, the car that saved the Corvette.

  3. Dan

    The 2005 designed Thunderbird series failed because it was a 2-seater only. Success would have been better if the vehicle was a 4-seater, two – door convertible and hard top leaving a four-door convertible version for Lincoln LS. The 55 ‘bird was good but did better in ’58 with a back seat.

  4. dcirucci

    The newer 2003-2005 Birds are fun cars to own and drive. Much better driving cars than the originals. I for one believe the ‘57 was the best design and most beautiful one ever but that’s my humble opinion. The real miss that I believe killed them is the top. While beautiful on or off it is an effort to safely remove or replace it. I have lift motors in my PA and Florida homes but it’s still a hassle. I honestly believe if Ford designed the top to fold and retract as Mercedes or Lexus does the car might still be in production. And I totally agree that the interior had way too much cheap plastic.

  5. Bob

    As an old retiree and former Ford employee I have had the opportunity to either own or drive all generations of T-Birds. I loved them all from a 3 speed,292, 55; to a Raven Black 05. My personal favorite was a Polar White 63 convertible. There’s magic in the name.

  6. Gregg

    Anyone that says tge 2003-2005 Tbirds is a disappointment has really never driven one on a regular basis. They are a very nice smooth and adequately powered cruiser. If you wanted 400, 500, 600hp, buy a Shelby! I own a 19,000 mile original and love the car. Everyone says how cheap the interior is, by early 2000 standards they were a cut above what else was out there, have you looked at a 2000 era
    Corvette, or if you want to see cheap, take a look at a 2000 BMW 3 series..have you looked inside a NEW Hyundai? lastly, the 55-57 Tbirds is the 1950’s car, it was what America was…but have you ever tried to get in or out of one…remember always smelling like carbon when you hot out of it? We all have fond memories of days gone buy. I would suggest you have an extended drive with the top down of a retrobirds and you will find people are just repeating what some arrogant know it all car magazine reporter said who probably owned a Preius.

  7. Jeffrey Sproul

    Even though the retro Bird was a sales flop I kind of like it for what it was having a 2 seater T Bird with a modern drivetrain and modern comforts fits the bill for most people wanting a sporty type car that they don’t have to fuss over. For what Euroasian Bob wants for it it is well worth the price.

  8. StuartH

    Regarding the retro T-Bird, it’s not about how well it is to drive, it’s that it just does not have any drama, any passion with its styling. The originals were sporty miniatures of the standard, mass-market Ford, with styling elements like taillights and upper rear fenders that matched the standard Ford. The changeover in ’58 still had styling elements which were shared with the standard Ford, yet what made it stand out among all cars at the time was its unique at-the-time mission … it was the first ‘personal car’ which did not try to seat 6 passengers, but instead focused on satisfying the driver/owner with individual bucket seats and console.

    The last generation was nothing special in performance, in distinctiveness, in definition.

    1. Larry

      I’ve had my 2004 Thunderbird for four years now, and I can’t recall a drive when it didn’t attract thumbs-up, turned heads, or stoplight conversations. Your opinion that the styling has no passion is definitely not shared with most people. From a performance standpoint, he car does exactly what it was designed to do … drive spiritedly with no drama. If I want a sports car, I’ll buy a sports car. This is a beautiful, lively cruiser.

      1. Ronald E Wilk

        I had a 2004 Bird, it was Fantastic! Wherever I parked, it drew a crowd. The interior was Black & Red BEAUTIFUL not cheap plastic. I did trade for a new 2010 Shelby I missed the Bird.

  9. Betty Fowler

    My first car was a pre-owned ‘62 Thunderbird. I absolutely LOVED that car. It remains my favorite car today. I am a Ford fan and have always bought Fords. I’m 83 years old now and finally sold the last car I will ever own. I thought that one day I would find a ‘62 T-Bird and relive the good old days of fun, mini skirts, parties. but most of all dancing to Motown music and driving my wonderful T-bird to show it off. Memories are wonderful.

  10. philip tilley

    What we need is a Crown Victoria Saloon and Wagon, I don’t know why Ford has never used the Mustang platform?

  11. Doug

    The last true Thunderbird was 1966 unibody 1967 was full frame dressed up with Thunderbird emblems just for the purists

  12. Chip

    i recently bought a 2003 retro Thunderbird convertible. It isn’t a sports car but rather a fun to drive cruiser. It had a short 4 year run because the engine got a bad rap from the get go. Why because of the Ignition Coil failure issue and problems with the electronic control modules. If they would have changed it to a Ford 5.0 it probably would have survived much longer. It has classic looks, even today it turns heads. Should Ford make another. Absolutely a Hybrid to challenge the Corvette E-Ray would be great


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