1983-1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe – 1980s Lone Wolf

The Ford Thunderbird during its long production life was a trendsetter and always seemed to evolve into a luxury car that was always relevant during the changing times. As the 2-door personal luxury car segment reached its apex in the late-1970s, the Thunderbird led the pack. However by the early 1980s it was apparent that the Thunderbird needed to change course again in order to stay relevant during the 1980s decade. The new radically redesigned ninth generation 1983 Thunderbird was Ford’s bet on what 1980s luxury car buyers wanted.

The 1983 Thunderbird just like its predecessor, the eight generation Thunderbird, was built on Ford’s rear-wheel drive Fox body platform. The new 1983 Thunderbird was a big gamble for Ford since it had sleek aerodynamic European styling and didn’t look like any other American luxury car on the road at the time. It’s drag coefficient of .35 was better than most aerodynamic high priced 2-seat European sports cars at the time. However it did have the traditional Thunderbird long hood and short decklid exterior proportions. The new Thunderbird had a traditional front luxury car grille that was sculpted to blend with the Thunderbird’s new aerodynamic styling and contours. The twin taillights were a modern design of the Thunderbird’s traditional long horizontal taillights and had traditional Thunderbird emblems on each taillight. Overall it was a beautiful car that was ahead of its time, and it was a massive success with 1983 Thunderbird production being 2 ½ times 1982 Thunderbird production.

With this new direction the Thunderbird was navigating, Ford offerd a genuine performance model called the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe which had the distinctive look and performance of a genuine performance sports coupe. The 1983-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe would be a bright spot for 1980s performance cars. It had blacked out trim and accents which included black trim around the four square headlights. Ford would give the Thunderbird a full exterior styling update for the 1987 model year which gave the Turbo Coupe even sportier and sleeker styling. This new design gave the Turbo Coupe new flush headlights, removal of the traditional front grille, NACA style twin air inlets on the hood, new charcoal rear taillights, sporty 16-inch alloy wheels, and other changes. This new styling really caught the attention of performance car buyers. Motor Trend magazine awarded its Car of the Year Award to the 1987 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.

The interior of the Turbo Coupe was very modern and sporty, it received an update for 1985 which gave the entire dash a very European look. The bucket seats also had European flair and were comfortable and provided good support. The Turbo Coupe was standard with upscale cloth seats, leather seats were optional during some model years. The Turbo Coupe had a lot of standard features and available luxury and convenience options.

To match its European styling, Ford gave the Turbo Coupe a low displacement high-performance European style motor which was Ford’s Turbo 2.3 liter SOHC 4-cylinder engine. The other 1983-1988 Thunderbird models had a 3.8 liter V6 or a 5.0 liter V8. Overall the Turbo 2.3 liter gave the Turbo Coupe better performance than these two larger displacement engines. The Turbo 2.3 liter ranged in power from 145 to 190 horsepower and 180 to 240 lb-ft of torque depending on model year and transmission. From 1983 to 1988 a 5-speed manual transmission was standard and from 1984 to 1988 an automatic transmission was optional. Starting in 1987 was equipped with a intercooler for its turbo. Performance was excellent for its day, Car and Driver magazine (October 1986 issue) tested a 190 horsepower 5-speed manual transmission equipped 1987 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and obtained 0-60 mph in 8.0 seconds, the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds, and a top speed of 137 mph. These were performance figures that were on par with the average V8 powered American performance car at the time. To illustrated that the Turbo Coupe’s performance had improved over time, the 145 horsepower 1983 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe was considerable slower with 0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds and the quarter mile in 17.1 seconds however it was considered very quick by 1983 model year standards.

The 1983-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe had very good handling, steering feel, and braking – all of these improved as the model years progressed. The Turbo Coupe was always equipped with performance tires and began its production life with 14-inch wheels, which were later upgraded to 15-inch wheels after a few model years, and then for its final two years had 16-inch wheels. There was also an optional TRX wheel and tire package for 1983 and 1984. For 1987 and 1988 the Turbo Coupe received 4-wheel disc brakes thus removing its former rear drum brakes, the addition of 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, and also an electronically controlled adjustable shock absorber system that allowed the driver to select via a dash switch button either a firm ride or automatic ride mode.

Ford with the 1983-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe did an excellent job of providing a solid well-rounded European style performance sports coupe. It had the styling, the performance, handling, steering, braking, and sporty luxury interior that made it a genuine contender in the 2-door luxury sport coupe segment which was dominated by BMW at the time. The Thunderbird Turbo Coupe would be replaced by the 1989-1995 Thunderbird SC which would take the Thunderbird to the next performance level. There were no other American automakers that produced during the 1980s a high-performance turbo 4-cylinder powered luxury sports coupe with rear wheel drive to compete with the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. This made the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe a unique lone wolf among 1980s American performance cars.


Click on the link below, to watch the video of this article via Old Car Memories’ YouTube channel:



Written contents in this article – © 2022 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved