Can you spot the hidden Thunderbird in Ford Motor Co.'s '02 revival of the storied nameplate?

It's there. But true to the car's mid-'50s roots, you might think you need your Captain Midnight decoder badge to find it.

Unless you visit a Ford dealer.

With the curvy convertible assuming icon status thanks to extreme public fascination, the automaker aims for each dealership to have a sort of spiritual guide on staff. Well-schooled on Thunderbird lore, these specially designated dealership sales reps will help buyers and buffs “connect” with America's dream car.

“We've told them that people who come in to their stores to look at this car are going to know a lot about the car,” says Mickey D'Armi, Ford's Mustang/Thunderbird marketing manager. “And so we've asked them to make sure they know a little bit about the history of the car, make sure they know about the collectability.”

A little? Thunderbird's background material sounds more like a romance novel than a manual.

One story goes that, when '02 was a concept, a group of young designers was led into a room where a '57 T'Bird was parked. Then they were given buckets and sponges and asked to wash and wax the car by hand. This allowed them to “caress” the vehicle, discovering a subtle but distinctive crease on the deck lid that only intimacy could reveal.

What ever happened to horsepower (252 @ 6,100 rpm) and torque (267 lb.-ft @ 4,300 rpm)? It's there, Mr. D'Armi says. “But we decided to include some of the softer stuff,” he adds.

In addition to on-line information and a briefing beamed live into dealerships on Ford's satellite broadcast system, a special “launch binder” has been prepared. It's a collection of facts and anecdotes designed to turn a sales person into a T'bird raconteur.

“The marketing campaign behind Thunderbird isn't really about selling the car,” Mr. D'Armi says, acknowledging the overwhelming public response to date. “It's about making sure that the customers understand that the passion that went into this car is the passion that carries through to all the Ford showrooms.”

Carl Grane, operations manager of Prestige Ford in Garland, TX, welcomes the information, saying he may need as many as three T'Bird specialists to handle the anticipated volume of inquiries.

Interest in Thunderbird is so intense and waiting lists are so long, Ford — which has set its annual production schedule at 25,000 units — expects to sell out this year. And next.

This will tempt dealers to sell to the highest bidder, Mr. Grane admits. “Our deal is that we're going to sell it sticker,” he says of the car with the base MSRP of $35,495. “I hope that most dealers stick to that. I hope that all dealers stick to that.”

Adds Mr. D'Armi: “People who would have never set foot in a Ford store before are going to come in and look… We've got a gift here.”

Oh, yes. Put away your decoder ring. You can see the hidden T'Bird by opening both doors and standing behind the car.

Most visible on the high-end, high-contrast trim packages, the car's ribbed armrests form the famed emblem's feathered wings.