This car was a dramatic departure, exterior wise from the 80-82 generation and truly started the trend towards the "aero" bubble look that would be joined by the Taurus/Sable 3 years later. First year engine choices were anemic. 105 HP 3.8 Essex V6, 130 HP 302 V8 and the 142 HP 2.3T in the Turbo coupe was the highest performance variant. A 1983 Monte Carlo in comparison had a 110 HP 3.8 V6, 150 HP 305 V8 and the SS came with a 180 HP 305 HO V8.
One of the first Ford passenger cars that I genuinely thought was a good looking car. Every time I see one of these things I instantly think of Bob Glidden in the Chief Auto Parts Pro Stocker and Bill Elliott in the Coors Cup car.
I'd love a Turbo Coupe
"not bad, for a front-driver" -F14
Seeing the promo vid. makes me wax nostalgic for my '88 Thunderbird Sport. It was my first car, bought it when I turned 17, but contrary to many firsts, it stayed with me for some time - about seven years.
I've always had a fetish for big ol' American personal coupes, obnoxiously large cars with hoods half a block long that extravagantly squandered raw materials for no particular purpose other than to pamper the driver and a treasured passenger. I admired these hedonistic machines, but throughout the latter part of high school I always thought I'd wind up with something smaller and more nimble, an Accord coupe or perhaps a coveted 3rd gen Prelude. The guys who drove those acted like ordained royalty, legends in their own minds. Even the kid who drove a base-model Prelude S, replete with 3-barrel carb and 104 thumping horsepower. Looks always flatter to deceive.
Then senior year a very close friend was given a '96 T-Bird LX with the 4.6, courtesy of his parents. It was love at first sight. For me that is. Smooth, comfortable, and reasonably quick with attractive lines that have aged reasonably well MN-12's still look sharp today. First time I saw it, I knew I had to have a 'Bird.
What bird it would be I simply didn't know, only fact I knew definitively was that it wouldn't be new, indeed far from it, though don't cry for me, this ain't no hard work pays off, Protestant Work Ethic, American Dream kind of story. Dad's a very shrewd man, and he was smart enough to realize that his children would one day be in need of car and college, and so he wisely invested a pittance in reliable income stocks that did well during the booms of the 80's and 90's. There would be a car in my future, not new, but hardly a beater either.
Finding a clean Bird proved daunting. I had decided to focus on the later years of Aero Birds, 1985 and onwards, but we're talking c.1997 in the northeast, so even the newer car would be around ten-years old. We all know a thing or two about cars, and way too much about multifarious platforms, and I'm willing to bet that every single pundit on GMI knows that Aero Birds were underpinned by Ford's ubiquitous Fox Platform, the one that was used for everything from the Fairmont to the Mark VII. Like most 70's designs, Foxes that lived their entire lives in the wild have a bit of a rust problem. I called up a number of people, checked out two Birds and a Cougar, (all with the 3.8), but these were daily drivers that had been to hell and back. They were tired and rusty, well on their way to oblivion.
Then one day I saw the ad in the Pennysaver, the Craigslist of the era. Funny how things change so rapidly. "1988 Thunderbird. $4000." That was it. I called the number. Made the usual inquiries. 65,000 miles, all documented to the letter. V-8. Loaded. I agreed to see the car the following evening.
Than I got lost. It's alarming how many communication problems have ceased to exist with the advent of cell phones, smart phones, portable navigation devices. At the time it was no laughing matter. The sun went down. Dusk turned to dark. Finally I arrived. I was completely unprepared for what I was about to behold. The owner started it up and backed it out of the garage. It was polished black, long and sleek, looking vaguely sinister and Vaderesque idling out in the driveway with the lights on, perched on its tiny aluminum rims on high-profile tires on on a cool Fall night. I opened the door to be welcomed by a bordello-red interior from top to bottom. A floor-shifter and analog gauges. Funny, the owner never mentioned it was a Sport over the phone, but a Sport it was. It drove as good as it looked. Mind you, I wasn't expecting it to ride like a new car, or even a modern car. The Thunderbird proved quick and nimble for its size and inspired a great deal of confidence. The 302 was smooth and quiet on the open road. Loaded too. I knew I had to have it. It was a passion. An irrational desire. A few days passed. $4,000 changed hands. It was mine.
Just to reiterate if you're still reading, my '88 Thunderbird was a Sport. The Sport was a trim level added to the Thunderbird lineup for the '87 MCE. It was basically a base T-Bird with the 302, the ride-and-handling suspension (quadrashock, stiffer springs, bigger anti-roll bar, 8.8in. rear with 3.08 gears), air dam and blacked out trim, buckets and floor-shifter. Mine was an '88 which was definitely the cream of the crop, as the Sport was the only T-Bird that changed significantly in 1988, when Ford added analog gauges, (replacing the full digital cluster with tach), and the 'Multi-Articulated' seats with adjustable bolsters from the Turbo Coupe. All '88 Thunderbirds recieved a faux-dual exhaust, which upped the horsepower to an earth-shattering 155hp. Remember, this was the mid-eighties! My car was also equipped with the usual allotment of power-conveniences, windows, doors, mirrors 6-way power seat, and the high-end radio with the graphic equalizer. Don't be messin' with my levels. All kidding aside, the period radio was really the one thing that truly sucked about the car.
I dearly loved that car, but given the benefit of years worth of hindsight, I think it's fair to say that this generation of Thunderbird wasn't as good as it could have been. It's always hard to critique a car that you're emotionally involved with. Main problem was the suspension. Despite Ford's assertion, handling really wasn't great, lots of understeer, though the car would slide back into line if you just eased off the gas, akin to a front-drive car. And while my 'Bird rode serenely over smooth roads, it delivered a flinty ride over minor road imperfections, and the car had a touch of the float over large-bumps. It always amused me to see the prow rock back and forth whenever I careened over railroad tracks at a fair turn of speed. Steering, though quick at 2.4 turns lock to lock, wasn't much help either, as it was completely devoid of tactile feel. Looking back on it now, I think the standard suspension, which made no pretense at all towards 'handling,' might have been more the wiser choice, but again, we're talking used cars here, you take what you can get. Best part about the driving experience was the torquey 302, which punched well above its stats. 155hp isn't much, but 270lb.ft from just above idle is respectable, and the the Thunderbird took off with alacrity from a standing stop, though most of its thrust had vanished by 40mph. There was so much low-end torque that lwheel spin was always available upon request, and the back-end could be kicked out with consummate ease around low-speed corners. The Bird only weighed 3,300 lb., so it's not like you need an abundance of ponies to get moving. I've spent years looking in vein, but I've never stumbled across any instrumented testing for V-8 powered 'Birds from the era. However a buddy and I once timed a 0-60 run at 8.8 seconds, and that seemed about right.
Other thoughts. Interior plastics were nasty, but they did prove durable. The multi-articulated seats were very comfortable over long runs. The back-seat was comfy too, but I never sat there, so that part of the car was wasted on me. Mileage wasn't bad, though to be perfectly fair, the 155hp 302 led an easy life. I averaged about 19mpg in my usual allotment of mixed driving, and would get 24 on highway runs. It was a superlative highway car, (provided the pavement was smooth), and many a mile were spent with the cruise set at 75mph, with only two grand registering on the tach. Need a little more pace? I'd nudge the gas, and listen to the turbine-whine of the drivetrain as the Thunderbird majestically gained velocity!
To my relief it proved trustworthy over seven years. I did replace a significant portion of the suspension components, (it only made a difference to my wallet..), and typical wear items like starters, alternators, exhaust, oxygen sensors; the usual deal. A few things broke, but not many. The windows liked to come out of the u-clamps, always when it was cold out. Go figure. After a few futile fixes, I just acclimated to pushing the windows down into the clamps after I had powered them down about half-way. Problem solved. C.2000, the AC packed up, and that was that. The retractable wiper blades no longer retracted. When it was brutally frigid, the car wouldn't upshift past second gear until it had reached normal operating temperature. After dealing with this for one entire winter, I made sure to change out the transmission filter/fluid annually, problem solved. And despite copious washing and waxing, rust began to encamp in the rear quarter panels around 2001. Amazingly almost all the power options always worked flawlessly, even to the very end. Only thing that really broke unexpectedly was a vacuum hose and a P/S high-pressure hose. Everything else that 'broke' was always destined to break.
That car stayed with me to May 2004. One day while on the road with a company that no longer employs me, I saw an ad for an attractive lease on new Accords. Didn't think much about it, went to work and went on with my life. Driving home that week, I pulled into a Honda dealer. I drove out with a 2004 Accord LX, mine for three years and $200 month. In my initial excitement I completely forgot about the sixteen year-old Thunderbird Sport. The dealership 'offered' to take it off my hands. It wasn't a trade. The car that once meant the world to me had no value to them, or to be more concise, no value that they would willingly pass on to me.
It's funny, I've had the pleasure of renting two new cars, but only the resplendent T-Bird and my rickety old Volvo have succeeded in stoking the fires of my automotive passion. I often find myself daydreaming about the 'Bird, and many an hour has been wasted pondering its life after me, if it indeed it had a life after me, and what became of it when it finally met its demise. It's been almost nine-years gone, but I still acutely feel the loss, and occasssionaly suffer twinges of remorse as I question the ethics of my actions, for in my haste to lease a new car, and participate in the consumer economy like a good American, I callously cast aside a perfectly usable vehicle that had been nothing but good to me. Quite bizarre how so many of us impart anthropomorphic qualities to the vehicles we've came to love. And as my Volvo closes in on its twentieth year - (save the date Sep. 2013) and it incrementally rolls its way onward to an inevitable, inexorable, demise, I also find myself frequently ruminating over its fate, for there will be a day when it will break and simply won't be worth expending my extremely limited funds to repair. If and when this does transpire and it's more a question of 'when' than of 'if,' I can only hope that I can devise a means of walking away from it that allows an appropriate semblance of closure, and spares me the endless hours of pining away for a machine that I perversely forged an emotional connection with - as I did with my beloved Thunderbird.
Last edited by tbirderic; 01-10-2013 at 09:41 PM.
Gone but never forgotten:
1988 Ford Thunderbird Sport
1992 Mercury Sable GS
2004 Honda Accord LX
2007 Hyundai Sonata
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