I vaguely remember having seen this on the History Channel in the early ‘00s (when they still showed nonfiction programming), and thankfully, someone has recently uploaded it to YouTube. It was a 40 minute documentary on the complete history of the Ford Thunderbird, narrated by the late Edward Herrmann, of ‘90s Dodge commercials fame.
Toward the end, they mention that after formally approving the Mk11 T-Bird project for production, Jacques Nasser also required that Ford’s global design studios submit their own proposals for the car, to make sure the development team wasn’t missing anything.
J Mays ended up criticizing the alternative proposals for looking “too Italianate”, too much like an Aston-Martin or Ferrari, or being “modern to a fault”, and the focus groups (which, seemed to be composed entirely of people born before the end of WWII) overwhelming chose the American design team’s original retro concept, which the documentary depicted as a victory for, and vindication of, the project team. Remember, this was all produced before the car actually went on sale, everyone was very upbeat about its prospects, and had no idea it would go on to be an embarrassing flop that would kill the Thunderbird name forever.
I’ve never seen these images anywhere else, and here they are:
Would these have done any better on the market? Tough to say, luxury 2-seat roadsters are a product with an inherently niche appeal, add in mediocre performance, a cheaply finished interior, overly ambitious MSRP, and the fact that this was taking a storied nameplate back into a segment it hadn’t occupied in 45 years (after half a decade off the market entirely), and the fact that this was really when America’s SUV obsession was hitting its stride, and chances are, the 11th gen Thunderbird was always going to fail regardless of what it looked like. But, I do think there were some better ideas here.
Also, this is the early version of the production design the focus groups favored. Mostly the same as what we got, but I think the grille treatment was actually tidier.
Link to YouTube video, for anyone interested: