I took my car in for service this weekend and got a black 2003 Ford Thunderbird as a loaner. Those of you who know my car biases might be expecting a T-bird trashing; you're not going to get it. Once you accept the fact that this is not a sports (or even sporty) car, it's as much fun as any car you'll drive. It's a cruising convertible in the tradition of the finset early Thunderbirds. It's got everything that made that first generation of 2-seaters great, and it's a throroughly modern car to boot. Maybe it's because I've never owned a convertible, but I just found it so much fun to put the top down and go cruising. It's quite a bit smaller than it looks, and the windshield is low and steeply raked, so it feels not so much like you're sitting in it as riding on it. The interior is absolutely fantastic. Fit and finish and quality of materials are at least as good as anything from Europe in this price range. The seats were comfortable, supportive, and covered in very high-quality black leather. See how the silver trim in the door and dash panel meets at almost a 90-degree angle? It works so well with the surfaces and contours of the cabin that the impression is more modern elegance than retro. My only gripes about the interior are the gauge faces that looked like they printed on an inkjet and hard-to-read radio and HVAC displays. The T-Bird would be the perfect weekend vacation car, if you don't mind wearing the same clothes every day. There's a small shelf behind the seats large enough for a duffel bag, and the trunk can probably hold two pizza boxes, but that's it. Driving impressions? Well, it's not really about that. For cruising up the coast with the top down, it's perfect. The 3.9L V8 makes (Ford specs) 280 hp, but it feels like the drivetrain eats half that and hands you the leftovers. The engine is dramatically slow to rev; it's as if the flywheel weighs several hundred pounds. Which makes for a great cruiser, but don't try to race anything faster than an Odyssey. The transmission is the only bad thing about the car. And it's really bad. It's a 5-speed auto, no manual control (other than moving the lever up the PRNDL), and it hunts for gears like they're wild rabbits. Stab the throttle at 45 mph in 5th gear, and the tranny first thinks 5th will do quite well, thank you, for your accelleration request. The engine slowly winds up in time for the gearbox to move for 4th gear, ask if there is a second, 4th gear is seconded, there is a vote, and then by majority decision swap 5th for 4th gear. The engine is still making progress now, perhaps up to 3500 rpm in 4th, when the transmission reverses itself and decides 3rd gear was what was desired all along. By this time, you've cancelled your pass and ducked back behind that RV. There is surprisingly little body roll, for a car built for cruising, and it always feels composed and in control. It doesn't take much to provoke understeer, though, and even with RWD and traction control off, oversteer is all but impossible thanks to the previously-mention flywheel/gearbox characters. Exterior design is (as always) a personal issue, but I love it. The downward-sloping belt line is unique and works well. Black is probably the best color to show off the great lines on the car. The bottom line is: I applaud Ford for taking a risk and building such a specialized, low-volume car like this. And they did a great job almost everywhere. Is it worth the $38,000 and up (way up if you get the hardtop too)? That's a lot of money, but the T-Bird's a lot of car.