Editor's Pick

The Supercharged Thunderbird That Never Left The Nest

The Supercharged Thunderbird That Never Left The Nest - Car History
This SVT Cobra-engined, manual transmission prototype of the last original Ford Thunderbird has petrolheads dreaming about what could have been

Once a thorn in the side of the almighty Chevrolet Corvette, the Ford Thunderbird was a corpulent, lethargic land schooner by the time it reached its tenth generation in 1989. To the chagrin of anyone who hoped that that the T-Bird would become a sports car by the 1990s, the cornering limits MN12-bodied Thunderbird were pretty much restricted to a KFC drive-thru in Tennessee. As a result, the 10th-gen absolutely earned its ThunderChicken badge.

The Supercharged Thunderbird That Never Left The Nest - Car History

As the age of two-door road boats reached its twilight, Ford tried a couple of different ideas to get the T-Bird in shape. Their best attempt was the fan-favourite SuperCoupe, which packed the supercharged 3.8-litre Essex V6 from the original Taurus SHO. This actually made the ThunderChicken a properly quick coupe, though it was far from a sports car. Unfortunately, Ford discontinued the SuperCoupe in favour of the new 4.6-litre Modular V8 from the Mustang GT. This engine proved to be considerably slower and thirstier than the SuperCoupe, and it soon became clear that buyers were staying away from the Thunderbird in droves.

The Supercharged Thunderbird That Never Left The Nest - Car History

What many people did not know was that the mad geniuses at Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) division had some big ideas for the MN12 T-Bird. Their creation, the Thunderbird SVE, would have almost certainly become a classic. Visually, it was differentiable from other T-Birds by its unique combination of MN12 fascia from previous years; most notably the front bumper and the wheels from the Cobra Mustang.

The Supercharged Thunderbird That Never Left The Nest - Car History

However, the SVE Thunderbird was perhaps most easily identified by what was under the hood. Along with its 5-speed manual transmission, Ford outfitted the SVE T-Bird with the same supercharged 4.6-litre V8 from the SN95 Mustang Cobra. With power in excess of 300bhp, the SVE was no ThunderChicken. It was a legit GT car.

A picture from the 2009 Craigslist ad of what was allegedly the last surviving SVE Thunderbird.
A picture from the 2009 Craigslist ad of what was allegedly the last surviving SVE Thunderbird.

Sadly, the Thunderbird SVE would never really come to pass. Instead of sending it to mass-production, Ford decided to ditch the Thunderbird altogether after the 1997 model year. After 42 years of continuous production, the car that was once destined to bring the fight to the legendary Corvette was no more. Of the four SVE prototypes produced, three were sent to the crusher. The surviving prototype allegedly resurfaced in 2009 after being put up for sale on Craigslist. If you ask me, that car was the greatest Thunderbird that never was.