1999 Ford Thunderbird Prototype Is Rarer Than Hen’s Teeth

1999 Ford Thunderbird concept car 7 photos
Photo: Barrett-Jackson/Ford
1999 ford Thunderbird prototype1999 ford Thunderbird prototype1999 ford Thunderbird prototype1999 ford Thunderbird prototype1999 ford Thunderbird prototype1999 ford Thunderbird prototype
Back in 1954, Ford was on its way to invent a new market segment that ultimately became known as the “personal luxury vehicle” niche with the first-generation Thunderbird, affectionately called the T-Bird by Ford fans and not only.
Now pretty much dead and buried, the personal luxury vehicle segment was essentially an American interpretation of the European luxury grand tourer, and the second generation of the original Thunderbird’s success paved the way for cars like the Continental Mark III and subsequent Lincoln coupes or the Mercury Cougar.

Fast-forward to the late 1990s, when Ford made a sadly ill-fated attempt at resurrecting the Thunderbird with a retro-futuristic styled convertible based on a platform that was shared with the Lincoln LS and the Jaguar S-Type.

Since Ford was in cahoots with Jaguar at the time, the new Thunderbird was powered by a naturally-aspirated 3.9-liter V8 based on a British design, with the two-door convertible sharing most of its innards with both Lincoln and Jaguar sedans.

Initial sales expectations of 25,000 cars per year were heavily surpassed after the model’s launch but quickly took a turn for the worse after the second year of production. A little under 70,000 modern Thunderbirds were built between 2002 and 2005, when Ford decided to pull the plug and put a definitive end to the original personal luxury vehicle.

That production figure may mean that it’s not exactly hard to find a used one to keep the Thunderbird spirit alive, but we have one better for you. Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction event last year was where someone bought the first of the last Thunderbirds ever built.

To make things clearer, Ford built three prototype concept cars to gauge public interest before unveiling the 2002 production car. This black on red car is the only one that’s ever been released to the public and is the same car that was shown at the Detroit Auto Show in 1999, Pebble Beach in August of the same year and the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, way before Ford executives even approved its design for production.

Unlike the production model, the Ford Thunderbird prototype is powered by a Lincoln 4.6-liter V8 and a 5-speed automatic transmission. Its wheelbase is about 1 inch longer and the windshield has a different angle. Everything else is pretty much identical to the production model but all the differences make it pretty much unique, especially when taking its story into account. In other words, someone now owns a real piece of automotive history not usually meant to be enjoyed by the public outside of an auto show.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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