1980 Ford Thunderbird

“New Thunderbird elegance in a new size …”

To me, the 1980 Ford Thunderbird was one of those “why?” cars, though the competitive drivers were obvious. The third Ford based on the “Fox” platform (the Fairmont and the Mustang had come first), the eighth generation ‘bird was of one of the most radically downsized automobiles in the North American auto industry. In comparison to its 1979 predecessor, the base 1980 Thunderbird was 17 inches shorter and 900 pounds lighter.

Standard power for 1980 was a Windsor 118 bhp 4.2 liter/255 cubic inch V8 with a Motorcraft two-barrel carburetor paired with a SelectShift three-speed automatic transmission. Powertrain upgrades were available: buyers could specify a $150 131 bhp 4.9 liter/302 cubic inch V8 with a two-barrel carburetor and could then add a $133 automatic overdrive transmission (with that engine only).

With the standard powertrain, 0-60 took about 15 seconds in the 3,100-pound car—the best powertrain combination dropped that time to a far more respectable 12 seconds. Mileage was 18 city/26 highway by the standards of the day—with a 17.5-gallon gas tank, a Thunderbird owner could expect a range of about 345 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $6,816 base Thunderbird (about $22,400 in today’s dollars) included variable ratio power rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, Thunderbird hood ornament with color-coordinated insert, full wheel covers, and P185/75R x 14 black sidewall tires. Inside, a tweed cloth-and-vinyl Flight Bench seat, a day/night inside mirror, an electric clock, and an AM radio were all standard.

Moving up to the $10,424 Town Landau (approximately $34,200 now) added a lot of equipment, including cast aluminum wheels, dual remote control mirrors, interval windshield wipers, velour cloth split front bench seat, six-way power driver’s seat, SelectAire air conditioning, power windows, power lock group, tilt steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo radio.

The top of the line Silver Anniversary edition ($12,172 then, $39,900 now) added the 4.9 liter engine, the automatic overdrive transmission, Keyless Entry System, a patterned luxury cloth split front bench seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, fingertip speed control, a power antenna, and turbine-spoke cast aluminum wheels.

Options included a power-operated moonroof ($219), electronic information cluster ($275-$313), and leather upholstery ($349).

Two pages from the 1980 Ford Thunderbird brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

To say the market was not ready for the 1980 Thunderbird is a distinct understatement. Despite a much better level of standard equipment, the Thunderbird was only five inches longer than the plebian Fairmont. Sales of Ford’s halo model collapsed: dropping from 284,141 in 1979 to 156,803 in 1979, and losing almost a full percentage point of sales during a year when none of the main General Motors competitors in the personal luxury coupe market had more than a facelift.

It would get worse in the following two years: 86,693 in 1981 and 45,142 in 1982. By 1982, the Thunderbird was being handily outsold by all four of the mid-size GM coupes: Buick Regal, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Oldsmobile Cutlass, and Pontiac Grand Prix. It would take the next Thunderbird design in 1983 to redress this balance.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1980 Thunderbird Silver Anniversary in #1/Concours condition is $13,400, with a far more typical #3/Good car going for $5,000. This generation of Thunderbirds maintains some presence in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I write this in November 2017, there’s a black/silver two-tone 1980 with 85,000 miles for sale in Germany. The price: $12,800.

1983 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

A recent query about whether I had done a write-up on a Thunderbird Turbo Coupe compelled me to update this post written a few years ago, changing it enough to consider it a new entry.

“Ford presents a dramatic new balance of form and function.”

The aerodynamic styling of Ford’s 1983 Thunderbird was a breath of fresh air and a substantial change from the boxy and unloved eighth-generation 1980-1982 models, though the underlying components remained the Fox platform. For 1983, the Thunderbird came in base, Heritage, and Turbo Coupe models.

The Turbo Coupe featured Ford’s Lima 142 bhp 2.3 liter/140 cubic inch inline four with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection and a Garrett turbocharger and came with a standard five-speed manual transmission. Road & Track recorded a 0-60 time of 9.7 seconds in a Turbo Coupe that weighed 3,420 pounds as tested. Ford’s new coupe didn’t just look aerodynamic—the drag coefficient was a very competitive 0.35. Fuel economy ratings for the Turbo Coupe were 21 city/33 highway by the standards of the day (17/24 by today’s standards). With an 18.0-gallon fuel tank, a Turbo Coupe owner could expect a range of between 330 and 435 miles with a 10% reserve—decent for a mid-size performance coupe in the early to mid-1980s.

The $11,790 Turbo Coupe is about $29,700 in today’s dollars and about what a 2018 Mustang EcoBoost Premium Fastback (also with a turbocharged 2.3 liter inline four) costs. Standard exterior and mechanical features on the Turbo Coupe included variable ratio power rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, power mirrors, a Traction-Lok limited-slip differential, Marchal foglamps, and Goodyear Eagle HR 205/70R-14 tires (a size still readily available) on 14-inch x 5.5-inch cast aluminum wheels. Inside, all Turbo Coupe buyers got a leather-wrapped steering wheel, articulated seats, and an AM/FM stereo radio. Options included front cornering lamps ($68), tilt steering ($105), power door locks ($172), and a premium sound system ($179).

Two pages from the 1983 Ford Thunderbird brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures pages.

Reviews were quite good—Road & Track‘s tagline was “An enthusiast’s Bird comes soaring back”—and the newly aerodynamic Thunderbird sold well. After dropping down below 50,000 sales for the 1982 model year with the last of the eighth-generation ‘birds, the ninth generation would not see sales of less than 120,000 per year.

EightiesFordThunderbirdSales

For unclear reasons, Hagerty’s valuation tools do not track any Thunderbird after 1982 (they do track the related Lincoln Continental Mark VII). Thunderbird Turbo Coupes only occasionally show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—you do see them more often on eBay Motors. Make mine Silver, please.

1986 Acura Legend Touring Sedan

“No other automobile line has accomplished so much, so soon.”

The 1986 Acura Legend Touring Sedan was the top of the line vehicle available from the then brand new Acura brand and the first Honda product with a six cylinder engine.

I have always said that Honda is an engine company and the Legend’s 151 bhp 2.5 liter C25A 24-valve SOHC V6 was an interesting one, with a 90 degree V-angle to the crankshaft. Mileage with the five-speed manual transmission was decent—20 city/25 highway by the standards of the day (18/23 by 2016 standards). With that same five-speed manual, 0-60 mph came in a little under nine seconds in the 3,100-pound car.

Standard equipment in the $19,898 sedan (about $43,800 in 2016 dollars) included four-wheel disc brakes, driver’s side air bag, and an information system that could monitor maintenance intervals, fluid levels, and fuel economy. Power driver’s seat, adjustable rear seats, power folding mirrors, remote locking/keyless entry, and a power tilt/slide sunroof were also included. The only option available was a four-speed automatic transmission.

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1986 Acura Legend Touring Sedan

I don’t see a lot of Legends come up for sale in either the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. First generation Legends have a small but avid following (with decent on-line support) and I find that they stand out when I see them. Make mine Blade Silver Metallic, please.

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1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

“Affordable German Performance.”

The 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI three-door hatchback defined the “pocket rocket” for the US market, just as it had defined it in Europe since 1977. The Giorgetto Guigiaro-designed Rabbit was a small car by modern standards—the 155.3 inch length puts it squarely in modern Mini territory and makes it more than a foot shorter than a 2016 Golf GTI.

Under the blacked-out, red-lined, and badged hood was a 90 bhp 1.8 liter Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injected in-line four which VW dared to declare was “brawny.” A five-speed manual transmission completed the rest of the powertrain—there was no optional automatic transmission.

Car and Driver recorded a 9.7 second 0-60 time (Road & Track managed a 10.6 second 0-60) in the 1,918 pound car—faster than the same year’s BMW 320i and many other sporting cars of the era. Top speed was 104 mph. Fuel economy was rated at 26 city/33 highway; a 10 gallon fuel tank gave a 265 mile range with a 10% reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment in the $7,990 GTI (about $19,700 in 2015 dollars) included vented front disc brakes, rack and pinion steering, halogen headlights, a urethane front air dam, and Pirelli P6 185/60HR-14 radial tires mounted on 14 x 6 inch alloy wheels. Inside, a sport steering wheel borrowed from the Scirocco, heavily bolstered sports seats, a center console with additional gauges, and a golf-ball shift knob were included.

Options included air conditioning, a sunroof, and an AM/FM stereo with a cassette player and four speakers ($450).

1983 Rabbit GTIs sold like hot cakes when new and first-generation GTIs definitely have a following. Many were driven hard when no longer new, so there’s a paucity of cream-puffs out there. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1983 Rabbit GTI in #1 condition is $11,900, with a more normal #3 condition car going for $4,400. GTIs sometimes show up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors.

Make mine black, please.

1986 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Coupe

“Camaro Z28 Is Its Big Brother”

Chevrolet’s Cavalier Z24 was announced for the 1985 model year, but didn’t actually become available until the 1986 model year. The most important feature of the Z24 was definitely the engine—GM’s corporate LB6 120 bhp 2.8 liter V6 with multi-port fuel injection. Paired with the standard four-speed manual transmission, 0-60 came in about 8.5 seconds in the 2,450-pound car—decent for a sporty compact car in 1986 (the 102 bhp Volkswagen GTI hatchback of the same year was about as fast).

Mileage was 19 city/26 highway by the standards of the day (19/24 by today’s standards). The Z24’s range was an unimpressive 225 miles with a 10% fuel reserve—like all Cavaliers, the fuel tank was only 11.6 gallons (the same size as a modern Mini).

Standard equipment on the $8,878 Z24 (about $19,600 in today’s dollars) included the aforementioned engine and transmission, a ground effects package, black grille, dual black sport mirrors, the F41 sports suspension, and P215/60R-14 Eagle GT radial tires mounted on 14-inch Rally wheels. Inside, all Z24 buyers received digital instrumentation fed from “a 16K computer,” including a tachometer and trip odometer, along with reclining front bucket seats, a rear window defroster, and an AM radio.

Available options included 14-inch aluminum wheels ($173), tinted glass ($99), air conditioning ($645), cruise control with resume ($175), power door locks ($130), power windows ($195), Comfortilt steering wheel ($115), and an electronic-tuning AM stereo/FM stereo seek/scan radio with cassette player, graphic equalizer, and clock ($494). A comfortably optioned Z24 could easily reach almost $11,000 (about $24,100 in 2016 dollars or about what you’ll pay nowadays for a loaded Chevrolet Sonic RS).

Page from 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Handsome in a broad-shouldered sort of way, the Z24 coupe sold pretty well for 1986—about 36,000 units. The slightly more expensive hatchback added another 10,000 units: the two models accounted for about 11% of total Cavalier production.

There are a few folks collecting these cars, but they certainly aren’t common at shows. You do occasionally see Z24s for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I write this in November 2015, there’s a white 1988 Z24 convertible with a gray interior and 52,000 miles listed on Hemmings for $7,000.

Other J cars in this blog:

1982 Cadillac Cimarron sedan

1988 Cadillac Cimarron sedan

1982 Chrysler LeBaron Convertible

“No other car is causing so much excitement.”

The Chrysler LeBaron convertible was a mid-year introduction, becoming available in the spring of 1982. It was the first factory convertible available for sale in the United States since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado.

All LeBarons were all-new for 1982. Based on the more plebian Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant front-wheel drive K cars that had been on sale for a year, the LeBaron (sometimes described as the Super-K) was a move at least slightly up-market. Most exterior body panels were the same as the K. Notable styling differences were a waterfall style grill (somewhat resembling that of the previous year’s rear-wheel-drive LeBaron), quad headlamps, relocation of the parking lamps and turn signals to the front bumper, and a full-width tail-lamp housing.

Chrysler used almost all of the standard K pieces inside the LeBaron. Recessed door handles and rocker type door locks were one of the few changes, along with a different style of armrest and door pull. There was less vinyl trim and the carpeting and other fabrics were of somewhat higher quality. A significant difference was the attention paid to noise, vibration, and harshness: between soundproofing, better parts, and suspension tuning, the LeBaron was upgraded from the base K in 26 separate ways.

Two-door LeBaron coupes were heavily modified by Cars & Concepts in Brighton, Michigan on their way to becoming convertibles—the process included 32 steps. They installed a boxed-in backbone along the center of the car and welded a three-piece windshield header to the A-pillars. Next, Cars & Concepts installed new door glass and added door wedges. Finally, they added a new fiberglass panel to hold the rather small rear seats and mounted the convertible motor on the floor pan behind the rear bulkhead.

The convertible top itself had a plastic rear window and broad rear quarter panels; Car and Driver wrote that this created “a sort of Conestoga-wagon effect.” The top was actuated from a button on the console, and a padded top boot snapped into place when the top was lowered.

A K 2.2-liter inline four with a two-barrel Holley carburetor producing 84 bhp was the base engine. A two-barrel carbureted Mitsubishi G54B 2.6-liter inline four with 92 bhp and 20 additional ft-lbs of torque was available for an added $171. Both engines were paired with a TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. Mileage with the base engine was 25 city/36 highway by the standards of the day. The optional engine was rated at 23 city/31 highway and brought the 0-60 time down from about 17 (aargh!) seconds to about 15 seconds.

The LeBaron convertible’s base price was $11,698 (about $28,900 in today’s dollars and about 44% more than a LeBaron coupe). For that money, you got dual outside mirrors (actually taken from the Dodge Omni 024), power brakes, power steering, and P185/70R14 whitewall tires. Inside you got vinyl bucket seats with a folding center armrest, digital clock, and an AM radio. 76% of convertible drivers moved up to Medallion trim, which boosted the price to $13,998 (about $34,600 in 2015 dollars) and added halogen headlamps, better gauges, and snazzier wheel covers.

The Mark Cross package cost an additional $861, moved the sticker to a non-trivial $14,859 (about $36,700 in today’s dollars) and added the 2.6-liter engine, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and attractive Mark Cross leather/vinyl seats. Other options included cornering lamps ($57), cast aluminum wheels ($344), automatic speed control ($155), and an AM/FM stereo radio with electronic tuning and cassette player ($455).

1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.
1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible advertisement.

First-year sales of LeBaron convertible were a respectable 12,825, especially considering the shortened year and the relatively high price. These cars are being collected and shown. You see them for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors: as I write this in July 2015, there’s a Mahogany LeBaron with 39,000 miles for sale on Hemmings for $6,500.

These convertibles also started Chrysler’s long tradition of making convertibles that might occasionally be sporty but were not sports cars—a market niche they exited only a couple of years ago with the demise of the Chrysler 200 convertible.

I still like what Chrysler was trying to do, and I appreciate how these cars look, at least with the top down. Make mine Mahogany Metallic, please, with the Mark Cross package.

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1983 Ford Mustang Convertible

I was driving westbound on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia this morning and saw a Fox Mustang convertible (red exterior, black top). A good enough reason to write a blog entry about these attractive cars.

“It’s not just a convertible … it’s a Mustang.”

For 1983, the big news for the Ford Mustang was the return of the convertible for the first time since the 1973 model year. Introduced on November 5th, 1982, the convertible was available only in the luxury GLX trim and the performance GT trim—lower end L and GL trims remained with the notchback coupe (L and GL) and the hatchback coupe (GL). The GLX was also available only with V-6 and V-8 engines (no inline 4—turbo or not—would sully the droptop experience).

The V-6 engine choice for the GLX was the 112 bhp Essex 3.8 liter with two-barrel carburetor. Optional on the GLX ($595 additional) and standard on the GT was (of course) the 175 bhp Windsor 4.9 liter V-8 with four-barrel carburetor.

Starting at $9,449 (about $22,500 in today’s dollars) and rising significantly during the middle of the model year to a non-trivial $12,467 (about $29,600 in 2015 funds, which is almost exactly what a 2015 Mustang V6 starts at), the GLX did come fairly well equipped. Standard external and mechanical features included power front disc brakes, tinted glass, and an automatic transmission. Standard interior equipment included light group and AM radio.

The GT version of the convertible listed for $13,479 (about $32,000 in 2015 dollars). Standard external and mechanical features included power front disc brakes, power steering, rear spoiler, and a five-speed manual transmission. Standard interior equipment included an AM radio.

The Mustang option list was long. Inside, air conditioning ($724), speed control ($170), power locks ($160), tilt steering wheel ($105), and AM/FM stereo radio with cassette player ($199) were all available.

All 1983 Mustang convertibles came with a power top and all windows rolled down—an emphasis Ford frequently made in reference to the Chrysler K car convertibles.

Page from the 1983 Ford Mustang brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

The 1983 Ford Mustang convertible sold fairly well considering its expense (the GT convertible stickered for 45% more than the GT hatchback). For that year, it probably saved total Mustang sales from dropping below 100,000—helping hold that off until 1991. Between 1983 and 1993, Ford would sell over a quarter of a million of the pony car convertibles.

FoxBodyMustangSales

There is strong club support for the 1983 Mustang, as there is for all Mustangs except the mid-seventies Mustang IIs. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1983 Mustang GT convertible in #1 condition is $17,800, with a more normal number #3 condition car going for $6,700. 1983 Mustangs often show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds—as I write this in February 2015, there’s a well equipped red V-6 GLX with a black top and a black vinyl interior with 11,000 miles available for $10,000.

Make mine Medium Red, please.