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Posts filed under ‘Ford’

Styling Misfires:
The 1989-1997 Ford Thunderbird

October 29, 2014 by Matt

Ford Thunderbird Beige

They never could figure it out.

The nose, I mean. They tried four times—four—over the course of the tenth-generation T-bird’s eight-year model run and still couldn’t get it right.

Sure, the various noses were representative of certain engine options and trim packages, and it’s common for automakers to tweak a car’s appearance based on the extras the buyer specifies, but still—it’s noteworthy that none of Ford’s fascia treatments of the ’89-’97 car is successful.

Ford Thunderbird Red

The design of the rest of the car isn’t much to write home about either. It clearly apes the proportions of the BMW E24 6-Series in profile—not a bad car to copy styling-wise—though with far less panache and character. That said, the lines are relatively straightforward, so it shouldn’t be that hard to pen a fascia that coheres with the rest of the car, right?

Ford Thunderbird Blue

What’s the issue? Simply put, the bumper is too big relative to the headlight-grille area. The bumper-to-grille ratio of the ’89-’97 T-bird’s inspiration, the BMW E24, is much more balanced and thus, successful. Compounding the problem is the fact that in two iterations of the car’s nose, prominent bumper intakes draw far too much attention to the ill-proportioned area, like a pimple on an oversized nose. Furthermore, the later “refresh” cars’ bumpers and headlights (shown above and at top) have a curvy, organic quality completely at odds with the boxiness of the rest of the car. There’s a huge disconnect.

Ford Thunderbird Blue

Arguably the most successful nose is that of the pre-refresh non-Super Coupe car, shown above. The area around the emblem is closed, and the visually-overpowering bumper intakes are absent. It’s more understated—but very bland, and still a long way from attractive.

Underneath the skin, the tenth-gen T-bird was a nice car, if a couple hundred pounds overweight. It was technically interesting, featuring independent rear suspension and the option of a supercharged V6 and 5-speed manual transmission. Later cars could be spec’d with the 4.6l SOHC version of Ford’s very competent Modular V8 engine, albeit only with an automatic attached to the back. It’s a shame the styling didn’t live up to the chassis and powertrain’s promise, contributing to the ’89-’97 car’s demise, and ultimately, except for the last-gasp, retro-themed ’00-’05 car, the end of Ford’s storied line of personal coupes.

Image credits:,,

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein we discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

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The 1989-1997 Ford Thunderbird

2015 Ford Mustang:
The Only Question that Matters

January 15, 2014 by Matt

2015 Ford Mustang GT Red

Is it cool?

No, really. Forget horsepower numbers, quarter mile trap speeds and lap times (especially Nürburgring ones); the only real question Ford’s development team should have concerned themselves with during the car’s gestation should have been: “How can we redesign this car and still keep it cool?”

To their immense credit, it looks like that question was affixed prominently atop the dry erase board in the conference room, because the 2015 ‘Stang exudes coolness in spades.

That’s really been the key to the Mustang’s enduring popularity in spite of periods of abysmal performance, hideous design choices and suspect quality control. Chevy fans scratching their heads, wondering why the often superior on paper Camaro has always nipped at the Mustang’s heels sales-wise have their answer. Young or old, rich or poor, it’s always been nearly impossible to drive a Mustang and appear—or at least feel—uncool. Sure, the Camaro, Firebird or whatever Dodge muscle car happened to be on sale that week may have been cooler to particular subsets of the buying public for limited periods of time, but arguably no automobile has maintained a durable coolness in the eyes of the general public more effectively than the Mustang. With occasional peaks and dips, capturing that intangible year after year amounts to something of a miracle given the average American consumer’s obsession with the new.

2015 Ford Mustang GT Red

I don’t want to minimize the significance of developments like the long-overdue transition to independent rear suspension or the reintroduction of the turbocharged 4-cylinder to the engine lineup (the latter would have been much more contentious if the ’80s SVO hadn’t blazed a trail), but I think we can call the new Mustang a success even before its first road test or lap time. A casual glance at its proportions, detailing and overall image confirms its coolness is intact. Kudos to the powers-that-be at Ford.

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The Only Question that Matters

The New King of the Hill:
950-hp Shelby GT1000

March 25, 2013 by Matt

Ford Mustang Shelby GT1000 1000 Dark Blue

This is getting a little ridiculous.

Top Gear has info today on the newest Mustang breathed upon by the tuning gods at Shelby, the 950-hp GT1000.

While I’m not quite sure about the chronology here:

[It] arrives on a wave of history: exactly 50 years ago Carroll Shelby premiered the Cobra at the ’62 New York motor show, announcing the arrival of a new tuning house.

seeing as how it’s 2013, there’s no doubt Shelby’s creation is designed to steal some of the new C7 Corvette’s thunder at the upcoming 2013 New York Auto Show and to stoke enthusiasm for the outgoing Mustang generation, even as a new one is being readied by Ford.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT1000 1000 Engine Motor Supercharger Blower

What we have here, essentially, is an officially-sanctioned version of a particular flavor of tuner car familiar to almost all enthusiasts: The dyno queen. Bragging rights are the GT1000’s sole raison d’être. Whoever shells out the asking price of $200K (for a Mustang!) for one of the 50 that will be produced can claim ownership of unarguably the most monstrous pony car ever screwed together by an official tuning house. Nevermind the fact that there’s absolutely no way that kind of power is usable in a street or track setting; wheel that baby up onto the dyno rollers, fire up the digicam and get ready to upload the video of the pull to YouTube and achieve instant Internet fame. That’s it, really, aside from sedate cruises to local meets and being lovingly waxed every couple of weeks. I understand Shelby’s reasoning behind the GT1000’s build, but as a prospective automotive experience, to me, it’s less than desirable. No thanks.

Image credits:,

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950-hp Shelby GT1000

Early Impressions: Mark 3 Ford Capri

September 1, 2012 by Matt

European British Ford Capri Mark 3 III Mk3 Blue Gray Grey

The year was 1988. I was 9 years old, living in southern France with my family. A third grader, I took the bus home from school every day with my best friend Timothy.

By some incredible chance, the house in which we were living was situated directly across the street from one occupied by a British family, with boys whose ages corresponded almost exactly to those of my brothers and me. Not only that, but our interests were nearly identical as well, so Timothy and were inseparable for the 2 and a half years we lived in France.

One day, though, we didn’t take the bus home. Timothy’s uncle was visiting from the UK, and instead of flying, he decided to drive his late-model Mark 3 Ford Capri, and that afternoon, picked us up from school in it.

European British Ford Capri Mark 3 III Mk3 Silver

It was low and rakish. I did like cars, to the point of having the requisite white Lamborghini Countach poster on my wall, but didn’t know much about “lesser” vehicles like the Capri. Still, I liked what I saw. Crammed in the back seat with Timothy on the way home, I remember being mildly amused by the fact the steering wheel was on the right side (this being my first ride in a British car), and beyond that, by the size of the wheel. It may be an odd thing to stick in one’s mind, but the one thing that stood out was how incredibly small it was. Beyond the car’s external shape, that steering wheel communicated an undeniable sportiness, as impractical as it must have been, and made an impression on me.

European British Ford Capri Mark 3 III Mk3 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

I’m still slightly jealous that Europe got multiple generations of the Capri while we here in the US had to make do with pony cars like the Smokey and the Bandit Firebird and the Fox body Mustang. Ours were worthwhile in a straight line, but profoundly crude with respect to handling. The Capri, on the other hand, possessed a remarkable amount of cornering sophistication, low (~2,500 lb) weight and a whole host of engine options, ranging from a miserly 1.3l 4-banger to a 185-hp 2.8l turbocharged V6. Sure, it still sported a live axle out back and it was rough around the edges compared to its pricier rivals, but its priorities were in the right place, and for that, I wish my memory of it hadn’t been isolated to my time in France.

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The Aesthetics of Racing: Ford GT40

August 8, 2012 by Matt

Ford GT40 Mark II 2 Gulf Racing

Pure function can be brutally attractive.

Even though its profile changed in detail between its four incarnations, whatever specific shape it took, the legendary Ford GT40 epitomizes the function-as-form racer aesthetic.

The Mark I and II shape, shown above, remains the most well-known GT40 variation. The car’s genesis is familiar to most car buffs: After an aborted attempt to buy Ferrari outright, a racing-victory-hungry Henry Ford II decided to build his own Ferrari beater, and after a few years of working out the kinks, scored 4 straight 24 Hours of Le Mans victories from 1966 through 1969. The body of the 427-powered Mark II, which delivered the first Le Mans victory in 1966, was a British-based Lola creation, so it was technically an Anglo-American car. Still, whoever made it, the GT40’s design is absolutely arresting (especially for the mid-’60s), devoid of anything that would compromise its singular mission. There were no wings, no frills, no fancy multi-cam V12s—just brute American pushrod force to complement the stubby, blue-collar shape.

Ford GT40 Mark III 3 Road Car Blue Gray Grey

With the Mark III, shown above, Ford civilized the GT40 just a bit for road use. It’s a tribute to the basic appeal of the car’s proportions that the only major external changes came in the form of different headlight clusters and a slightly lengthened tail for additional storage. A contemporary of the groundbreaking Lamborghini Miura (the first mid-engined supercar), the GT40’s dynamics and racing pedigree easily trumped the Italian exotic’s. Sadly, only 7 were made.

Ford GT40 Mark IV 4

The wholly made-in-America Mark IV was a substantially different beast. Even though it retained the same overall look and feel as its predecessors, much of its aesthetic appeal was sacrificed in the name of additional aerodynamic refinement. Dispensing with the Lola-designed bodywork, Ford brought the design in-house, tweaking and refining the basic theme. The Mark IV kept the GT40’s signature stubby shape, and delivered the only true all-American Le Mans victory, driven by the all-star pairing of Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt in 1967.

I don’t know that there’s even been a car quite as effective looking as the GT40. Delicate F1 racers and more modern endurance machines are typically festooned and underpinned with far more sophistication, but the results seem to be cars that politely ask the elements (air, road surface, etc) to cooperate. The GT40, on the other hand, commands respect; its shape demands compliance from its partners in victory. It gets the job done, not glamorously, but effectively, and there’s an undeniable beauty in that.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series examining the aesthetic merits of cars designed almost wholly with function in mind. Read the other installments here:

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2015 Ford Mustang: Post-Retro Pony?

May 24, 2012 by Matt

2015 Next Generation Gen Ford Mustang Concept Red

Motor Trend recently offered the latest in a long line of speculation over the design direction of the next generation of Ford’s most important upcoming car, the 2015 Mustang.

Ford’s designers have a supremely daunting balancing act to perform, having to move the car stylistically beyond its retro roots while simultaneously capturing the nostalgic charm that caused the ’05+ Mustang to become such a breakout hit. I don’t envy them.

2015 Next Generation Gen Ford Mustang Concept Blue

In many ways the stylists’ task was much easier with the ’10+ refresh. They could afford to coast a bit on the retro themes pioneered by its immediate predecessor, and simply tidy up and tighten the proportions and detailing. For 2015, though, a bigger, more wholesale change is expected. Time will tell whether they’re able to successfully walk the nostalgia/progress tightrope, or whether the new Mustang ends up having all the appeal of a classic rock band trying pathetically to reinvent itself and “stay current.” For a car that draws so much on its own heritage for its appeal, the margin for error is very small indeed.

A quick disclaimer: I should be clear that the images shown in this post aren’t depictions of the actual 2015 Ford Mustang, nor even concept renderings the automaker itself has released, but purely speculative takes by the automotive press and blogosphere.

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2013 Ford Fusion:
An Aston for the Masses?

March 27, 2012 by Matt

2013 13 Ford Fusion Red

Forget the joke car that is the Aston Martin Cygnet; this is the real “economy Aston.”

An alternate subtitle for this post could be, “If you’re going to crib styling details from another brand, pick the automaker known for making arguably the best-looking cars in the world.” Ford’s 2013 Fusion is a masterstroke, really, and a key it’s-so-obvious-why-didn’t-we-do-that moment for Ford’s rivals. The challenge for the Detroit giant, perhaps, was to design a car that hewed closely enough to the sultry Aston look without being an outright photocopy of the big British GTs, and I think they’ve pulled it off. Out of necessity, the Fusion’s proportions diverge from those of their vastly more expensive inspiration, and the grille shape, while familiar, isn’t pinched in the corners in the classic Aston tradition, so it’s different enough to be distinct.

2013 13 Ford Fusion Red Rear Back

Even the rest of the car’s styling has Aston overtones, from the chrome strip surrounding the window area to the cohesive shape to the high-mounted, monoblock taillights. It’s a design that will still look fresh in 20 years time, which is more than can be said for most luxury cars, let alone econoboxes, which usually age very rapidly.

2013 13 Ford Fusion Interior Inside Cockpit Dashboard Cluster Instruments Console Stereo

Unfortunately for we enthusiasts, the good news—and Aston similarities—mostly end with the styling. The engines offered will be a triplet of 4-bangers, the lowliest one naturally-aspirated and the other two turbo’d, with power outputs from the mid-100s to the mid-200s. A manual transmission won’t be mated to the top-shelf engine (it will be available for the other two), although AWD will be an option. A couple of hybrids (one closer to a pure electric) round out the powerplant choices. All that is fine and good, and no doubt covers the waterfront of popular demand, but the absence of a sport package or stickshift option with the hot engine means, at the very least, that the Fusion won’t initially cater to the enthusiast crowd. We can hope, then, that Ford chooses to offer a Fusion SHO or SVT or some such a year or two out—a number of spicier packages would nicely complement the wide range that’s available for the Mustang. At least the car is built on the European Ford Mondeo plaform and has that Euro “tautness” built in. That’s something.

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An Aston for the Masses?

Sophomore Slumps: The Mustang II

December 15, 2011 by Matt

1975 75 Ford Mustang II Ghia Blue White Vinyl Roof

Here’s a dilemma: How do I defend my characterization of the ’74-’78 Mustang II as a Sophomore Slump when 4 of the Mustang’s 10 best-selling model years were recorded on its watch? In other words, can a car so popular really be considered a slump?

As with most things in life, it all depends on the context. When taken in isolation, as many automotive pundits have pointed out both in its day and later on, the Mustang II was just right for its economic climate. Arriving in ’74, just as the market was clamoring for smaller, more economical cars in the wake of the ’73 oil crisis, the Mustang II was a perfect fit. Lee Iacocca, the creator of the original Mustang in ’64 and the force behind the development of its second generation, must’ve looked positively visionary when he anticipated the market shift and greenlit the car’s development several years before consumers began altering their buying habits.

Ford Mustang II Interior Red

So when considered with respect to its environment, the Mustang II was a winner. But as a Mustang? Compared to the original? Sadly, that’s where things start to go a bit pear-shaped for the II. Part of the appeal of the original car was its size; however, that aspect wasn’t the most important one. It was the first of the pony cars: Fun, youthful, customizable vehicles built using their more mundane stablemates’ running gear, but in the case of the Mustang, an essential ingredient of its appeal was its performance—it was a muscle car as well. And that was the critical side of the Mustang’s personality that was lost with the update. In fairness, nothing except certain Ferraris had any semblance of performance at all in the early-mid ’70s, especially compared to the ground-thumping muscle car heyday of just a few years earlier, but that doesn’t change the fact that whatever the cause, with the II, a huge part of the original Mustang’s raison d’etre was missing, gone. The general buying public may not have minded, given the circumstances, but enthusiasts certainly took note. So in spite of its success in the marketplace, for being half the car it was in the late ’60s, both literally and figuratively, the Mustang II deserves to be called a Sophomore Slump.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting cars whose second generation failed to live up to the promise of the first. Read the other installments here:

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Underrated Lookers: The ’87-’88 Ford T-Bird

October 4, 2011 by Matt

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Turbo Coupe Super

Coming down off the dreadnought-sized Thunderbirds of the ’70s, in ’83 Ford took the opportunity to foreshadow the introduction of their mold-breaking Taurus with the unveiling of the T-Bird’s smaller, sleeker ninth generation. Then, after the Taurus was introduced, Ford further whittled the T-Bird shape in response, lopping off the upright grille and honing the profile to create the most downright aquiline of all T-Bird generations, and a very pleasing shape: The car’s ’87-’88 refresh.

The front-end styling was offered in a couple of variations for those two years of goodness: The LX and Sport trim levels received an integrated chrome grille, while my favorite, the Turbo Coupe (shown at top), forsook a grille entirely in favor of a smoothly aerodynamic nose. It’s a remarkably cohesive shape harkening back to the beautiful restraint of the original T-Bird; not only that, there’s bite to match the visual bark: Ford fitted the Mustang SVO’s very tunable 190 hp turbocharged 4-cyl and specified a 5-speed manual as standard equipment. The power wasn’t much out of the box for the big coupe, but as with the contemporary Buick Grand National—though to a much lesser degree—there was more to be had with a few simple mods. And, if all else failed, the ’87-’88 T-Bird was built on the contemporary Mustang’s Fox platform and would accept virtually the full range of Mustang performance goodies, including the Windsor V8, also known as the 5.0, or 302.

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Rear Taillights

Here’s an excellent example of what can occur when an owner is committed to preserving the purity of the factory lines, but decides to go for a bit more oomph. I applaud his effort, one of the few to see the car for what it is. It’s a shame the car’s tasteful lines aren’t more widely appreciated, a fault perhaps of the short two-year model run of the refresh, and the fact that the infinitely more boring tenth generation T-Bird and shameless nostalgia exercise eleventh generation immediately followed, and in addition to the original car, define “Ford Thunderbird” in the minds of many.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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