I was getting off the bus the other day (yes, my life is that lame) and I saw one of these parked in the forecourt of a service station literally right next to my old high school:
Yes, it's the latest - but probably not last - generation of the Ford Thunderbird, launched in 2002, a hardtop and finished in turquoise, or "Thunderbird Blue." I think it's a beautiful car, but I'm aware that not everyone agrees with me. The owner certainly loves it though - enough to get herself a set of vanity plates.
How do I know the owner is a woman? Well, no man would pay for those plates first of all, and the eleventh generation T-Bird is famously a "chick car," in no small part because of this:
When Suzanne Somers played the Woman in the White T-Bird in American Graffiti, the T-Bird was in its sixth generation for Ford, a truly awful iteration of the model that banished the fifth generation of the car, with its brutal, gaping front grille that was echoed in muscle cars like the Dodge Challenger. Somers, of course, cruised through the film in a first generation T-Bird, the one with the iconic porthole window that Ford brought back for its last redesign.
The '60s T-Birds were awesome-looking cars - as beautiful as the cars made from the '70s through the '90s were gruesome - but it was the Somers T-Bird that Ford were keen to evoke, in the recent heyday of the "retro" design craze that produced the PT Cruiser and the Plymouth Prowler. This brief trend in car design is looked back on with an embarrassed mumble these days, a failure of vision from an industry suffering through a crisis of both economics and confidence, and the eleventh-gen T-Bird left Ford's productions lines in a fog of particularly vicious scorn after a brief moment of launch year celebration.
Frankly I would have loved to have seen it play out for a few more years, or at least until car designers had exhausted the '40s/'50s' design vocabulary and begun to revisit some of the better moments of the '60s. We might have been spared the endless parade of fantastically dull sedans and coupes on the streets and in the showrooms today, for instance, if automakers were moved to take a few design cues from the early '60s Chrysler Imperial, for instance, or any of several model years of the Beatles-era Ford Falcon. Don't we all stop for a moment when we glimpse one of these cars in a parking lot or car show and wonder what it would be like if they had decent handling or safety features that amounted to a bit more than "roll into a ball and hope you don't get speared by a piece of javelin-like chrome trim"?
My affection for the recent revival of the T-Bird comes from one of several reasons why I want to learn to drive - one that resides firmly in the "fantasy" folder. Very simply, I long to be one of those jaunty old dudes chauffeuring my wife around in a stylish but largely unthreatening sports car, signalling their empty nest status by taking to the roads in a car that has effectively shed rear seats but still has enough trunk space for groceries.
It's not an overambitious dream - and certainly not an uncommon one, judging by the sales of BMW convertibles and the Audi TT - but it won't happen until I get off the fucking bus and into the driver's seat.