The Thunderbird has always been something special. And while some are more interesting, cool looking or collectible than others, they always were a cut above basic transportation. Not the usual Falcon, Torino, Fairmont or mini-me LTD.
When the aerodynamically styled 1983 Thunderbird appeared in Autumn ’82, it was a revelation. With rare exception, most 1982 domestic rolling stock were rectangular, with additional chrome edging along the 90 degree angles the higher the trim level you purchased.
This was certainly true for the 1980-82 T-Bird, which could almost have been the box the ’83 came in.
A turbocharged four-cylinder was likely the biggest surprise to traditional Thunderbird buyers. A four-cylinder engine in a Thunderbird? It was a shock to T-Bird customers used to wafting along in cool, air-conditioned V8 comfort and silence in their ’60s and ’70s Nimitz-class Flair Birds and Glamour Birds. But the Turbo Coupe was the new top of the line ‘Bird.
It got priority in both showroom brochures and magazine ads. And it was very, very different from the lazy torque and landau-roofed Birds of the recent past. It was smooth and purposeful, with a .037 coefficient of drag, next to no chrome and blackwall tires.
Turbo Coupes had a 2.3L four cylinder. When at full boost, 145 hp was available. While that doesn’t sound like any great shakes today, with 300-hp rental midsizers commonly seen, but in the early 1980s, that rating was higher than many then-contemporary V8 domestics. But of course a turbo four was a whole different animal than a small block V8.
Demonstrating the Turbo Coupe’s sporting intent, a five-speed manual transmission was fitted as standard equipment. Though as you would expect, an automatic was available as an option.
I can’t remember specifically seeing a Turbo Coupe back then. I’m sure I did, but I don’t specifically remember a Turbo Coupe vs. an élan vs. a standard coupe. Though I do remember seeing a ratty FILA edition in all its go-go white-on-white ’80s hipness, about 25 years ago.
In late September of 2014, I decided to go up to my folks’ cabin in northern IL, and attend the National LCOC (Lincoln and Continental Owners’ Club) meet in Rockford IL. There I was, enjoying a $5 giant margarita and a most excellent lunch at the riverside Candlelight Inn, in the small city of Clinton. Upon paying the tab and crossing the bridge across the Mississippi back into Illinois, I spotted a bunch of old cars behind a fence near the river, including a 1975-79 Seville. Which prompted a U-turn and crossing back into Iowa to investigate.
I didn’t find them. There were a lot of dead ends, and at one point I had to turn around at a Pepsi distribution plant, zipping out of the way just as a fully laden truck left the loading bay. Screw this! I gave up trying to find the car cache and headed back to the main drag, when I saw a flash of red off to the right. Now what the heck is that?
What it was, was a genuine Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. I hastily parked across the street, leaped out of the wagon, and started poring over it. What a find! I started snapping away with my camera, and then noticed there were folks in the yard of the house. Oops. Busted!
I waved and said “Nice car! OK to take pictures?” The guy, whose name I’m afraid I’ve forgotten, said sure, and came over to talk about the car, which was his brother’s. He said it was somewhere between an ’83 and ’85, but wasn’t positive of the year. His brother had rescued the car and now it was a well-loved toy. This is one of the things I love about my car-writing hobby Seeing a cool old car, and actually getting to hear about the car from its owner. I left my name and email address for the owner, hoping to hear even more about the car.
And I did. I returned from the lake on Sunday, and later that week received an email from the Turbo Coupe’s owner, Jeffrey. So here is this particular car’s story:
“It is a 1984 turbo coupe that I picked up in 2010. The car was brought up here from Arizona by the previous owner shortly before I acquired it. The heat of the southwest took its toll on the car. The previous owner told me that he blew both front tires on the way up here from Arizona because of dry rot and damaged one of the front wheels so I had to find one of them. The heat also cooked the dashboard and panel so badly that I had to find a new one. After literally 150 phone calls I finally found a dash in Osage, Iowa up near Mason City.”
“I pulled the dash out of this donor car in 100° heat along side some sheep that were running loose in the yard to keep the grass down. The original owner tried to do a few things to the car but think he was a bit overwhelmed and lacked knowledge. He could not get the car to start and basically called a local body shop to just come and get it because he was sick of messing with it.”
“The body shop owner was going to pull the engine out for a small sports car he was building and then scrap the car but my father in law whom was friends with him knew I liked T-Birds and told me about it since I already had many T-Birds. I have 4 total. I got a good deal on a rust free car with potential. The Arizona heat cooked the insulation off of the wires of the main harness going thru the firewall and the previous owner connected the wires back up with wire nuts instead of butt connectors like he should have. Well one of the wire nuts fell off, disconnected a starter wire and it would not start. Which is how I ended up with it.”
“They started that body style in 1983. The engine is a 2.3L turbo charged inline 4 cylinder. It is fuel injected. They had used that turbo charged engine in pintos and mustangs for years but to my knowledge in 83 was first to be fuel injected. It has a fox chassis under it. It has a 5 speed manual transmission that works well but will have to put a throwout bearing in it eventually because I can hear it. It has the original paint. All of the air conditioning components have been pulled out of it. Will replace eventually. These cars have 2 fuel pumps and had to replace the low pressure pump in the tank. Put new brakes and tires around it. Would like to start upgrading engine next. Intercooler and boost valve for turbo. It has been in a few car shows and made a few long distance trips with it. Just a fun car. Thanks for your interest in it. I am proud of it. Got lots more planned for it too. Let me know if you have any other questions. I like talking about it.”
Reading that made my day. So many times a cool old car is purchased with the best of intentions, then things go wrong, the car is left to sit, and eventually scrapped. But in this car’s case, it all worked out.
Unlike the Fox Mustangs, the Fox T-Birds, specifically Turbo Coupes, just don’t seem to be widely collected-yet. I’ve never seen one at a show. It’s only in the past ten years I’ve started seeing 1977-79 T-Birds at car shows and cruise nights. Occasionally I’ll see a mammoth 1972-76 Thunderbird, but usually the years are between 1955-66, then skips ahead to the final, retro 2002-05 Birds. A shame.
Hopefully that will change in the near future. I am seeing more Mark VII LSCs at shows the last 4-6 years. These T-Birds, Marks and Cougars are great cars, and still look modern today. Ford really was on a roll during this time, with cars like the Aero Birds, Mark VII LSC, Taurus and Fox Mustang. Jeffrey definitely has a keeper.