Road Test of the 2005 Thunderbird

Speed Demon USA October 2005
By: Patrick Smith

Automotive Wisdom Through the Ages:
It was fifty years ago when the first Ford Thunderbird rolled across the gaudy two tone canvas of American post-war exuberance. Half way through the golden ‘fifties, we witnessed an era of prosperity and romance like no other in the auto industry. Ever since Ford stopped making roadster models, the early T bird has appeared in countless ads, movies and novels to illustrate unbridled youth and power. The roadster came back in 2002 and has been issued as a 50th Anniversary edition to commemorate this special event.


The 2005 T bird differs from the 2004 in trim and appointments. The 3.9 DOHC V8 engine and five speed automatic is the same upgraded power team that appeared in 2003 with 280 horsepower. The ’05 T bird is available in two new partial interior color groups, Medium Steel Blue and a Torch Red package. There are six T bird colors available plus Ford added another one guaranteed to please T bird fans. The test car I picked up at Canada’s headquarters in Oakville was a stunning Cashmere Tricoat Metallic with Cashmere Accent leather interior. It’s a mid year addition that doesn’t appear in the 2005 brochures. It’s a loaded puppy with hardtop, Selectshift transmission, and 17” micro machined aluminum rims. I booked this car during the worst possible weather for spring. It was a rain sodden week with sleet and cold wind to boot. This meant I became very intimate with the traction control, bad weather driving and the heater system of the car. It was an unusual road test for what’s considered a summertime play toy.


What is it like to drive the Thunderbird in full bad weather mode? With the top up and heater on, I headed out for the back roads and major highways to wring it out. The engine operation was faultless for starters. No matter how wet or cold, the engine kicked over readily. Driving through pockets of standing water that covered old roads just made me work the windshield wipers harder.
The wet road handling remains classic T bird with poise to sweep you through with enjoyment. On tight curves and hairpins, it’s entertaining but rough roads reveals the highway oriented suspension. It’s a great handler considering its weight. Unless you do something stupid, this car won’t surprise you. There’s a nasty intersection with a concave surface where the outside tires roll when you turn left. Hit this spot while accelerating hard and you’ll spin out. Leaf spring cars can’t react quickly enough. With coils at each corner, the T bird can be pushed harder than average through the corner without penalty. If you take it too fast, traction control cuts power to kill the spin.


The Michelin Pilot tires were very noisy when I first picked up the car on Friday. By mid week, the noise had abated and smoother ride quality ensued. The tires were over inflated and extra poundage telegraphed road noise into the passenger compartment. The tires were an excellent choice for this car, with fantastic grip and cornering ability. Exactly the same qualities I encountered in my 2003 T bird road test.
Three quarters of the driving was conducted during cold, rainy weather. Piloting the car through the blasts of water behind tractor trailers was an everyday occurrence. The convertible top didn’t leak once. The heater/defroster worked well as did the heated leather seats. Everything inside the cabin was thoroughly tested.

For long range driving at night, the dash gauges are soothing with a mild orange glow on the US calibration and friendly green for the metric calibration. Seat comfort was good which is a blessing with my six foot height. I angled the seat against the cabin wall and it gave me headroom to clear the top. High marks to Ford for choosing a lovely light colored fabric for lining the top. It insulated wind noise and eliminated any claustrophobic feelings you’d get with a black liner.
I gave the audiophile stereo work out since I was enclosed most of the time. With eight speakers and two subwoofers, you get a full sound. I turned the bass down a bit and this gave me the best sound for my ears. The AM/FM frequency button had trouble switching consistently from one to the other. All the other controls worked flawlessly.

The transmission is automatic with optional Selectshift gate. I liked the shift points in D4 and preferred this mode. The overdrive in D5 saves your gas on long trips. The tranny was a tad harsh when shifting from park to a driven gear. It didn’t matter whether I used D4 or D5. The shift points were fast and consistent, making the transmission a vital part of the enjoyment of this car.
New this year are seatback map pockets and a different aluminum applique trim on doors and the center stack. The trim has an appealing textured finish with “50th Anniversary” marked right in front of the passenger seat for maximum envy potential. The aluminum center stack completes the show car look. The tri color upholstery looks great and is a refreshing change from beige or gray tones. The roadster is gone after 2005. If you want a no excuses luxury car with a trunk and curb appeal, it’s be hard to top this one. It’s like Elvis Presley said in a song, “ I Was The One.”

“Shop bill for Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 maintenance
- engine tune up-- $3,000.00
exhaust system replacement--$6,000.00
turn signal stalk replacement--$800.00
transmission repair main shaft failure--$10,000.00
If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it-Hollis Simonds, car restorer”