No Thunderbird enthusiast will ever forget that famous scene in "American Graffiti" where a mysterious, platinum blonde Suzanne Somers coyly smiled from behind the wheel of a porthole T-Bird. It's one of those images that indelibly mark the personality of the car. That sort of celebrity association can be a huge asset, but it has its drawbacks, too.
Despite all the design changes made over the years, the Thunderbird always retained a more genteel, even feminine persona, which carries over into the latest, reintroduced model. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The designers managed to preserve the styling cues of the original '55 two-seat cruiser without looking like a four-wheel caricature. Its new shape has a sweetness and refinement that's in keeping with its cruiser image. This boulevardier shares its basic DEW98-derived platform with the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type, but the T-Bird feels softer and less precise than either sedan. It's happiest cruising at sedate velocities, especially with the top down, the sun shining and the birds chirping. So don't expect to see a commercial promotion for the new Thunderbird featuring some hairy-knuckled NASCAR driver.
All the more reason, then, to inject some testosterone. As Peter Cameron of Special Vehicle Concepts (SVC) points out, "The stock Thunderbird is too quiet, too soft, too slow. We decided to introduce a more masculine version (as we think) it was meant to be," and he does back up claims with action in his new Cameron SSE 2002 Thunderbird. This 'Bird not only wears fresh plumage, but also conceals some sharper claws.
By way of comparison, the stock 2002 Thunderbird tips the scales at a rather portly 3,775 pounds, 40 pounds more than the Lincoln LS, which seats five to the T-Bird's two. It also uses that car's 252-horsepower 3.9-liter V-8 and five-speed automatic gearbox, good for a wholesome 0-60-mph time in the low 7-second range.
Into this sedate mix, Cameron poured some lightning from a bottle, an Eaton M90 GEN IV supercharger, set at a generous 6.5 pounds of boost and good for a 100-hp bump in the rear-wheel output, SVC claims. A K&N Super Filter and Borla Hi-Flow Stainless Steel Dual Exhaust help with respiration, and the exhaust note is now much more hale-and-hearty. Through some insider contacts, SVC was able to reprogram the code on the factory computer for crisper shift points and a higher rev limit. You may not be able to terrorize your local drag strip with this car, but it will break the tires loose when you stomp on the go pedal, good for a 0-60-mph time of 6.2 seconds.
To absorb this performance kick in the pants, the SVC T-Bird has Energy Suspension urethane bushings and Eibach springs, lowered one inch from stock. The factory brake rotors have been cross-drilled and the calipers epoxy-coated in yellow. The latter change looks cool, but doesn't change their performance. SVC upgraded the rolling stock to 19x8.5-inch Moda R6 Alloy Wheels fitted with 255/40ZR19 Toyo Proxes tires.
The styling changes added by Cameron are subtle, yet suggest a bird of prey. The five-piece aero body conversion designed by C-Tek displays a new front fascia, side skirts and rear cladding, along with a hard tonneau cover with sculptured headrest nacelles and aluminum accents. Those accents are particularly well executed, giving the rear deck a more dynamic visual statement. Carbon fiber accents adorn the cockpit.
Although the Cameron SSE Thunderbird is an integrated design, you can purchase the various packages separately, buffet style. As shown here, the price is about a $20,000 upcharge over a stock vehicle-Suzanne Somers' autograph not included.