1987 Ford Thunderbird standard coupe

The inspiration for this blog entry is a 1987 Thunderbird standard coupe one of my frequent readers owned. As I was fairly deep into writing it, the Hemmings blog just happened to re-publish an article that ran in Hemmings Classic Car earlier this year—also about the 1987 Thunderbird (though mostly about the Turbo Coupe). Luckily, I have a slightly different view, in what looks to be a rather long-form entry.

“In step with the times”

For 1987, Ford significantly revised the Thunderbird—even though it didn’t look that different, the late mid-life update of what had been a 1983 model year debut cost approximately 250 million dollars. Few exterior parts carried over from the 1986, with composite headlights, a more pointed nose, flush-fitting side glass, and full-width taillamps being among the notable changes. There were few differences inside—all of the money had been spent on the exterior and mechanical revisions.

The standard engine for the 1987 Thunderbird was an Essex 120 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6 with throttle-body fuel injection. Optional power on the base coupe and LX (and standard on the Sport) was a $638 Windsor 150 bhp 4.9 liter/302 ci V8 with sequential fuel injection. Both engines came with a four-speed automatic transmission. The most powerful engine available on any Thunderbird remained the Turbo Coupe-specific Lima 2.3 liter/140 ci inline four with a turbocharger and fuel injection. With the new for 1987 addition of an intercooler, this engine made an impressive 190 bhp with the five-speed manual, but only 150 bhp with the automatic—something that was common with many Ford performance cars in the 1980s.

1987 Ford Thunderbird brochure page
Standard coupe page from the 1987 Ford Thunderbird brochure

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment for 1987 on every Thunderbird standard coupe included dual aerodynamic halogen headlamps, tinted glass, power rack and pinion steering, power front disc/ rear drum brakes, and P215/70R14 tires (a size still readily available) on 14 x 5.5 inch wheels with Luxury wheel covers. Inside, the standard coupe included a reclining cloth split bench seat with a consolette, a quartz electric clock, and an electronic AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers. All of this cost $12,972—approximately $30,400 in today’s dollars or about what a 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium Hatchback goes for.

Exterior and mechanical options for the standard coupe included two-tone paint ($218), a power moonroof ($841), and cast aluminum wheels ($343). Inside, dual power seats ($302), a digital clock ($61), and a range of audio options including the Premium Sound System were available. There were three different upgrades from the standard version of the Thunderbird, each with a distinctive personality:

  • For an additional $2,411, the luxury-oriented LX included everything in the standard coupe and added dual remote-control electric mirrors, styled road wheels, an electronic digital clock, speed control, interval windshield wipers, power windows, and an electronic AM/FM stereo radio with a cassette player and four speakers. LX upholstery included a Luxury cloth split bench seat in a special sew style and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
  • The Sport included everything in the standard coupe and added a heavy-duty battery, a Traction-Lok axle, styled road wheels, an electronic digital clock, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, speed control, and individual cloth seats with a full console. The Sport came standard with the 4.9 liter/302 ci V8 that was optional in the standard and LX versions, which Ford stated was it’s “driving force.” It cost $2,107 more than the standard coupe.
  • The top-of-the-line Turbo Coupe included everything in the standard coupe and added dual remote-control electric mirrors, Hella fog lamps, four-wheel disk brakes (newly anti-lock for 1987), a Traction-Lok axle, dual exhaust, and P225/60R16 Goodyear performance tires on 16 x 7 inch cast aluminum wheels. Inside, full analog instrumentation, interval windshield wipers, power windows, and adjustable articulated cloth sport bucket seats were standard for Turbo Coupe buyers. The Turbo Coupe cost $16,805—about $39,300 in today’s dollars and almost 30% more than the standard coupe. Ford stated confidently that it was “one of the most complete performance cars on the road today.”

Some in the automotive press were impressed by the Thunderbird’s substantial refresh for 1987, with Motor Trend giving it their Car of the Year award. Popular Mechanics was a little more even-handed; they liked many of the exterior changes but were unimpressed by the acceleration of either the V8 or the turbo four. Whatever the opinions were from the buff books, sales still slid substantially—dropping by almost 22% from 163,965 for 1986 to 128,135 in 1987.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1987 Thunderbird standard coupe in #1/Concours condition is currently $12,700, with a more normal #3/Good condition car going for $4,600. Turbo Coupes are worth a little more, garnering $20,000 for a #1/Concours example.

These 1987 and 1988 Thunderbirds frequently show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this blog entry in April 2020, there’s a Dark Cinnabar Clearcoat Metallic 1988 coupe with cinnabar cloth bucket seats, the 302 ci V8, and 26,000 miles up for auction. Make mine Medium Canyon Red, please.

Other Thunderbirds I have written about in this blog are the 1980 coupe and the 1983 Turbo Coupe. A sampling of the many other Fords I have written about includes the 1981 Escort hatchback coupe, the 1982 Mustang GT hatchback coupe, and the 1986 Taurus sedan.

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