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.

1980 Ford Thunderbird coupe

“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 ci 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 ci 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, a Thunderbird hood ornament with color-coordinated insert, full wheel covers, and P185/75R14 black sidewall tires on 14-inch wheels. 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).

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 1980, 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 ci 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 Turbo Coupe started at $11,790—approximately $30,300 in today’s dollars and nearly what a 2019 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 front 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).

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

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1983 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe in #1/Concours condition is $17,000, with a far more typical #3/Good car going for $6,700. Thunderbird Turbo Coupes only occasionally show up in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds. You do see them more often on eBay Motors; as I update this blog entry in December 2018, there’s a 1985 Silver Clearcoat Metallic/Medium Charcoal Clearcoat Metallic two-tone Turbo Coupe with Oxford Gray cloth seats and 52,000 miles listed for $8,500. Make mine Silver, please.

Updated December 2018.