It’s been over 15 years since for first of the 11th generation 2002 Thunderbirds rolled off the production line at Ford’s Wixom factory. Since its debut at the 1999 Detroit International Auto Show, there have been thousands of articles, books and news stories about the 11th generation Thunderbird, the first two-seat convertible T-Bird since the now classic 1957.
In the years since its first introduction, Ford built a total of just 68,098 2002-2005 Thunderbirds, in addition to a number of concept show cars. Anxious buyers flocked to Ford showrooms and placed deposits on the new T-Birds and waited a year or more before taking delivery of their new cars.
Ford promoted the new Thunderbird aggressively, and some dealers, well aware of the huge demand for this new car, added substantial mark-ups to the MSRP of $ 41,995. Some early buyers paid $ 5,000, $ 10,000, $ 15,000 or more over sticker price for the privilege of being among the first to own one.
Production of the new Thunderbird continued through the Summer of 2005. Then, despite initial plans to continue production with a 2006 model, and amid weakening demand, Ford cancelled production with the 2005 Thunderbird.
Loyalty to the 2002-2005 Thunderbird remains strong among those who purchased one new, and the two-seat convertible has built a new following among the many thousands that have purchased a pre-owned T-Bird.
As these Thunderbirds have gotten older, however, problems with repairs, maintenance and the scarcity of replacement parts have become an increasing challenge for owners. Despite the fact that many have far lower mileage than other cars of similar age, time has taken its toll, and as is the case with all used cars, components and parts break down.
Up until just the past year or two, most OEM replacement parts were readily available. But supplies and dealer inventories have shrunk to the point where many parts, including vital components like electronic modules and the integrated instrument cluster, are out of production, ‘obsolete,’ and no longer manufactured by Ford or its suppliers.
This has created a serious dilemma for many Thunderbird owners, and some, frustrated with the high cost of repairs and unavailability of replacement parts, have chosen to sell rather than deal with the expense and inconvenience of a 15-year-old used car.
As a result of normal depreciation, this ‘new’ Thunderbird, which had an MSRP of nearly $ 42,000 when new, now sells for anywhere from under $ 10,000 for a high-mileage example, to over $ 20,000 for the very low-mileage, well-maintained cars. At a price of $ 10,000-12,000, a 2002-2005 Thunderbird may be approaching ‘parts value,’ especially as the shortage of parts becomes more acute. Body parts like doors can bring $ 2,000 each, not including the interior door trim panels which are worth as much as $ 500 each. The hardtop assembly alone is worth $ 1,000 or more, and the original 7-spoke or 21-spoke chrome wheel in good condition, can bring $ 500 each.
The question of whether to sell a 2002-2005 Thunderbird now, or hold on to it despite higher maintenance and repair costs, is becoming a difficult decision for many ‘Retro’ owners. Some plan to keep theirs no matter what problems they may face going forward. Others choose to ‘cut their losses’ and move on to a newer car or truck and leave the maintenance and repair issues to someone else.
There has been much speculation about the potential future for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird, and about future market values as a ‘collectible’ car. Some think it’s just another 12-15 year-old used car. Others think that given its unique styling and low production numbers, it’s destined to become a classic like its 1955-1957 predecessor. Only time will tell. But when you consider the high prices many cars from the 1960’s and 1970’s are bringing at collector car auctions, there is certainly a case to be made for the future potential of the 2002-2005 Thunderbird.