Vintage Reviews: Car And Driver 1987 New Car Issues – Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

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One of the bigger introductions from a domestic brand for 1987 was the revamped Ford Thunderbird.  The T-Bird received a thorough restyle along with significantly reworked suspension components–in essence a thorough overhaul of an existing platform.  How well did Ford do?  Have a look at Car and Driver’s extended preview drive report from October 1987.

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The quarter billion that FoMoCo spent on the Thunderbird refresh was significant, equating to $550 million in today’s dollars.  While far short of the cost of a new platform, this was still a significant expenditure for a car at the late stage of its life cycle.

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One of the challenges with re-skinning an aerodynamic design is freshening the looks without adding clutter.  While the 1987 T-Bird was fresh and attractive, the style was not shockingly different.  To the average U.S. consumer, the looks were probably not noticeable as a major refresh.  Audi’s designs today face the same problem: even enthusiasts can miss the newest models…

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Much attention was lavished on the Thunderbird Turbo.  Ford was working hard to position the blown Bird as a halo model to attract the attention of discerning shoppers eyeing imports.  The electronically controlled shock absorber system was a sophisticated approach to balancing ride and handling.  Engineers deserve credit for trying to wring more out of the humble Fox platform than most people would have dreamed possible…

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So what was the sum of all these changes?  Was the Thunderbird now truly world class?  Sadly, no.  The Turbo 4-cylinder was still too rough for a car like the Thunderbird.  The fancy suspension was not applied to the “ordinary” T-Birds.  The new looks weren’t quite new enough.  Ford was undoubtedly disappointed in the final sales tally for 1987: 128,135 were sold, down 22% from 1986 (companion Cougar XR-7 sold 104,526, down 23%).  Still, the sales were enough to put the T-Bird at the top of the Personal Luxury category (Cougar XR-7 was 3rd behind the evergreen Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme).  However, the category itself was a big part of the problem–buyers were abandoning larger coupes in search of smaller, nimbler cars, often with 4-doors.  The market was looking for a new kind of thunder, while Ford was still offering a really nice version of the old.