Junkyard Gem: 1986 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe


Ford sold Thunderbirds in various configurations for nearly all of the second half of the 20th century and even for a few years in our current century. The most nimble and aerodynamic of all the 11 generations of T-Birds was the 1983-1988 version, built on the Fox platform and given extensive wind-tunnel work to achieve an Audi-grade drag coefficient. The hottest of this generation of Thunderbird was the Turbo Coupe, and I’ve found a rough but fairly complete example in a Silicon Valley self-service car graveyard.

The 1980-1982 Thunderbirds were also built on the Fox Platform, but they were boxy and blinged-up, bearing a strong resemblance to their Mercury Cougar XR-7 siblings.

This Thunderbird still had the Cougar as its closest Fox relative, of course, but the Ford Mustang/Mercury Capri were siblings to it as well. The Lincoln Continental Mark VII was a family member, too.

Those of you who know Fox Thunderbirds will recognize that this hood comes from a 1987-1988 car, while the grille is likely the one that was on this car when it came off the line at Lorain Assembly. The build tag says it was built in Ohio in December 1985 and then sold out of the San Jose, California, sales office.

The hood scoops are functional, delivering cold air to the engine air intake, so it makes sense that someone would have swapped a later hood onto this car.

The engine is the 2.3-liter straight-four often called the “Pinto engine,” but with an EFI-equipped intercooled turbocharging system added. This one was rated at 155 horsepower, which was 15 horses better than the output of the 5.0-liter V8.

In 1986, a five-speed manual transmission was standard equipment on the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, and that’s what is in this car. The optional automatic added $315 to the cost ($868 in 2023 dollars).

The MSRP for this car started at $14,143, or about $38,950 after inflation. That was still a lot cheaper than a new BMW 325 two door, which cost $19,560 ($53,868 now) and had just 121 horses under its hood.

This car had just over 110,000 miles on the odometer when its travels ceased.

Starting in the 1989 model year, the Thunderbird moved (along with the Lincoln Mark and the Mercury Cougar) to the bigger MN12 platform. The Turbo Coupe was replaced by the Super Coupe, with an Eaton-blown 3.8-liter V6.

A tough act to follow.

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