Just as Freebird has been a staple of Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts for decades, so too did the Thunderbird once long hold court in Ford’s U.S. lineup. Today’s Nice Price or Crack Pipe Turbo Coupe may not be a ‘free’ Bird, but is its price good enough to make you free as a bird, now?
Aside from Chevrolet’s Corvette and possibly Ford’s own Mustang, does there exist a more venerable name in the pantheon of American automobiles other than Thunderbird? That model, introduced in response to the post-war car market’s demand for personal coupes - represented by cars like the Corvette and Jaguar’s XK series - proved to be a modest hit off the bat, and gained an even greater halo once it grew a pair of back seats.
You know how they say ‘don’t shit where you eat?’ Well, I guess that could also apply to not getting busy where you do your driving business, as ever teenager worth his or her salt knows that the best place for car-nal knowledge is in the back seat. As such, the original ’55-’57 ‘Birds, being two seaters, must have put a serious dent in the heavy petting industry.
The ’58 Square Bird set things right, and every model after that, up until the late seventies added both girth and baroque styling to the car's resumé until the ‘70s gas crisis’ pushed demand for smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Ford’s first take on a smaller ‘Bird was the woeful Fox-based disaster that melded the overly ornate old-school styling elements in a smaller package and looking much like a dwarf in prom tux . It was rightfully shunned in the market.
By the time the early ‘80s rolled around, Ford was financially on the ropes and needed a dramatic change in their fortunes just to survive. The products that arose as response, starting with the next generation of Thunderbird, are remarkable for just how different they were, both in concept and execution, from what came before.
The ’83 ‘Aerobird’ dropped both jaws and panties for its audacious, handsome, and wholly unexpected appearance. Ford took the best of what they had - the well thought out and cost efficient Fox platform and turbocharged Lima four - and wrapped them in a body that was both unrepresentative of T-Birds past, and fully inline with the marque’s soul and raison d’être.
Today’s 1988 Turbo Coupe represents the second generation of the model, a restyling that created a more elongated and beakier presence, while keeping the center section much the same. For whatever reason, it seems the vast majority of Turbo Coupes - both first and second gen - are painted in Merlot, as is this car, and it may be because they just plain look good in that shade.
The paint on this once seems to have held up well, and the plastic headlamps don’t seem to have gone yellow like that ancient printer at your work. On the inside the cloth Lear Siegler seats also seem to have stood the test of time, a fact that speaks volumes about the benefits of modestly bolstered thrones.
By the late eighties Ford was getting good at dash design, and the quality of the materials used to build them was also improving. This one may not be up to modern standards, but it’s still not half bad, and seems to be all there and without flaw.
Of course what gives the Turbo Coupe its name is the hot Pinto motor under the hood, a 2.3-litre four (the Turbo Coupe was history’s first four-pot T-Bird) shared with the SVO Mustang, and Merkur XR4Ti. Here, like in the BMW-chasing Mustang, it gets an intercooler, which is fed by a pair of hood nostrils. As equipped, the turbo 2.3 was good for 190-bhp when backed by the 5-speed manual.
This one is so equipped and as an ’88 model it gets to use its full boost in all the gears and not just the bottom two. Woot! Brakes are four-wheel discs and the car comes with the factory snowflakes, which were designed, incongruously, to give them impression of fronting finned drums.
The ad notes 132,000 miles on this T-Bird’s clock, and that it was a vacation car, spending most of its time idling away in a garage. Despite that, the seller claims that everything works, and is all original.
The idea that the Thunderbird wouldn’t top Ford’s line up was once unimaginable, but the marque fell from grace in later years. This one represents to some the model’s high point in the modern era, and despite that, finding a cherry example these days seems to be harder and harder.
To pop this cherry, you’ll need to come up with $4,950. If you love ‘80s Fords the way some folks do - you know who you are - then you might seriously consider that amount. For the rest of you, you still need to vote on the price, you just don’t need to pine for the car.
What do you think of $4,950 for this Turbo Coupe, is that a price that should let some new owner feel good about spreading their wings? Or, is this a Thunderbird that’s price is bird-brained?
H/T to JCAlan for the hookup!
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