The hankering had been growing for a while. I knew what I wanted, had test driven two or three examples, and it was just a matter of acting upon it. Having 2.3 liters of ecstasy erasing any desire for another Mustang, this new chapter of life called for something more sophisticated and mature.
Further, it was going to have seriously more motivational force. Looking around in 1996, choices were present but the ideal candidate was obvious. Too bad dealers didn’t keep the exact specimen on their lot.
I sought a Thunderbird, but not just any garden variety example as found on dealer lots and seen here. Many of those had the standard 3.8 liter V6 with various other trinkets. Most of the few V8 Thunderbirds to be found had a moonroof; I didn’t want a moonroof.
What I sought was a Thunderbird with the $210 Sport Option. For such a relative pittance, one got the suspension, rear disc brakes, and 16″ wheels from the now discontinued Super Coupe along with the mandatory 4.6 liter V8. This seemed like a screaming deal.
At one point during my search, a dealer inquiry found the closest black Thunderbird with the Sport Option to be in Louisville, Kentucky – two states away. After a little more shopping, I found a dealer who was willing to order what I wanted – what really helped was it being a small dealer having no Thunderbirds in stock.
Naturally, during my shopping Ford upped the price of the Sport Option to $450, but tossed a “no charge” deck lid spoiler into the mix. While I didn’t want it, I soon realized it worked well to visually balance the car in the rear, as I felt the standard Thunderbird looked a touch droopy in standard form.
So here is what I finally got, thanks to the efforts of those at the now defunct Courtesy Ford in Charleston, Missouri. For about the price of a pedestrian Taurus, I netted a new Thunderbird. In retrospect, I should have skipped the leather seats. I ordered it in black, and while it was often a bear to keep clean, I would choose black again.
A few reviews about this era of Thunderbird claim no young person would touch these. To the contrary; I was 23 years old when mine arrived. It was the right car at the right time.
A few family members critiqued my decision for purchasing the car. There was critiquing for not only getting a Thunderbird but one with a V8 and how eight cylinder engines are nothing but fuel-swilling mills nobody needs.
Why do some feel the need to inject themselves into other people’s business all while being judgmental? Some things I’ll never know.
My response was how my fuel mileage equalled or exceeded what I realized with that “economical” Mustang and how it was my money, not their’s. Interestingly, the critiques ceased.
Shortly before purchasing the Thunderbird, I sensed few would be the times in my life I would be purchasing a new car. That was a large reason for why I purchased what I did when I did. My inkling about the future was correct.
Remember the brunette I mentioned in my Mustang COAL? Well, a lot had happened since then as we were quite the item; Marie and I still are as she is upstairs while I type this. So back in 1996 and 1997 I traveled many evenings to her house in the small town of Linn, about twenty miles east of Jefferson City, where she had moved to teach middle-school science.
In December 1997 I asked Marie a certain life-altering question. We set a date for mid-1998.
In the interim period, she and I traveled a lot in the Thunderbird for various wedding showers and such. One trip was the five hour trip to my parent’s house in Alto Pass, Illinois, on New Year’s Eve in 1997. On New Year’s morning, Marie realized she had left some item back at her place and needed a replacement. As we were headed to town (said town, Carbondale, Illinois, being fifteen miles away), we came upon a Volkswagen Jetta parked in a business entrance in a desolate area, positioned parallel to the road. A person was hanging out the driver’s window.
Marie asked if the person appeared to be in trouble. I stated his troubles were over – he had quite obviously been shot in the head. The Illinois State Police and their marked Dodge Grand Caravan were present on our return trip.
In March 1998, I was offered a different position in Sikeston, thirty-five miles south of Cape Girardeau. My position in Jefferson City had been unsatisfying, so I happily made the move. The only downside was having to move the three cars I had at my place in Jefferson City – this Thunderbird, my 1975 Thunderbird, and a soon-to-be-covered something else. I have no memory of how they were all moved.
Marie and I were young and we were restless. Such is seemingly part of that era of one’s life.
After briefly moving in with my parents sometime in early April (giving the Thunderbird a commute of roughly 75 miles each way), I bought a house in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in early June.
Goodness knows I have mentioned Cape Girardeau often enough, so let’s take a moment to discuss my birthplace…
The city is named after Jean Baptiste de Girardot who established a trading post in the vicinity in 1733. The Cape part refers to a rock formation on the north end of town which was destroyed when the railroad went through. The settlement of Cape Girardeau dates back to 1793 and, in more recent times, is known as the home of attorneys and political commentators by the name of Limbaugh. Referring to the town simply as “Cape” is a little colloquialism I cannot escape.
In more recent times, Cape was the setting of Elmore Leonard’s 1989 novel Killshot, with parts of the movie being filmed there. In 2014, the bulk of the movie Gone Girl was also filmed in Cape.
Technically, I grew up just southeast of Cape on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, but I was born in Cape Girardeau and “going to town” for my first eighteen years meant going to Cape.
Back to our featured program…
Marie and I then married in mid-1998, with my having parked the Thunderbird by the front door of the church. I’ve jokingly told her it had a full tank of fuel and the keys were in my pocket in case I changed my mind. During the reception some well-meaning individuals decorated the exterior (I had locked the interior). While we avoided the dreaded condoms on the tailpipes, someone taped streamers to the car that had been connected with a straight pin. That left some nice scratches.
A little something about our wedding reception. It was held at the Knights of Columbus hall in the little town of Old Monroe, Missouri. At one point, Marie walked downstairs and found the best man and maid of honor “up to no good.” She has never said what but I have my suspicions. My suspicions were later reinforced by my now late maternal grandfather, Alfred.
As he told me: “Jason, you were too busy to know, but the shitter was backed up at your wedding reception. I had to go, so I went outside to find a tree. Finding one, I walked into those two playing tonsil hockey. All I did was say ‘Sorry, I see this tree is taken’ and I found another one. Nobody was doing anything behind that tree.”
Grandpa was correct; I was too distracted to know the toilets were all clogged. But Marie knew and has since said it was a prophetic moment for entirely too many things we have encountered in life.
Settling in with young, married life, I was using the Thunderbird to commute the 30-odd miles to Sikeston.
For a long while prior to Marie and I getting married, I had been experiencing severe acid reflux. It was so bad that during the several weeks I was in our house prior to our getting married, I had been sleeping propped up to keep stomach contents were they needed to stay. It seems I had had such since childhood but the stressors of
incarceration college had exacerbated it considerably.
Within the first few nights of our being in the house together, Marie realized my condition and said how such cannot be normal. After some prompting I got a doctor’s appointment in St. Louis to have my condition investigated. We took the Thunderbird.
To best investigate such things one needs to have an upper endoscopy. It’s utterly painless but it does require an empty stomach and anesthesia. I have no clue what truly happened after my inaugural endoscopy as reality has mixed with hallucination. Marie has confirmed we went into a restaurant afterwards with her parents, I had the hiccups, the whole place knew it, and I was embarrassingly loud. She said I gave all appearances of being heavily drunk. On the return trip Marie said I kept repeatedly asking “what did the doctor say?” about every five minutes. She said she flew that Thunderbird back to Cape as she was tired of hearing my same question.
Incidentally, the results of that endoscopy weren’t rosy. My esophagus had distinct deterioration from its chronic exposure to stomach acid, putting me in a pre-cancerous classification. The doctor said my gut looked like that of a 60-odd year old who had been a heavy drinker – and I was only 25. That’s not good.
While at the risk of being too much information, this little subject will rear its head again in this series, thus the mention.
Our first winter saw some unusually nasty weather. Cape is a touch further south than Richmond, Virginia (or a touch north of Las Vegas, if you prefer), so snow is not a regular occurrence. However, sleet and freezing rain are typical for any winter precipitation. One cold and gloomy Friday, a day when it was my turn to drive in the carpool, a nasty ice storm started about an hour before leaving work. The trip north on I-55 grew steadily more tense as the ice on the pavement was getting more pronounced by the second.
Midway we saw a Jeep Cherokee in the median. Somebody was pushing it, with the rear tires spinning away, and it was going nowhere. These people’s inability to recognize their Jeep had “4×4” emblazoned down the side, and their not using it, provided some needed comic relief. The trip to the commuter lot was successful. However, the lot was on the southwest part of town and our house was on the northeast part of town – the most challenging portion of the trip was to come. Even better, Cape Girardeau has some really nifty hills.
I have only a vague memory of that trip across town. All I remember is a long hill several blocks from our house. Getting two-thirds of the way up, the Thunderbird’s rear-drive bias made itself known as I started to slip downhill. Sliding toward a Chevrolet square body pickup parked at the curb prompted some instant creativity. With the Thunderbird in drive, I nailed the throttle, with the spinning tires able to correct my trajectory. I was close enough to that Chevrolet I could smell the paint, but I missed him.
Backing up an entire city block (I was the only person foolish enough to be out), I got a better running start and just made it up the hill. What was normally a forty minute drive had taken over two hours; it was a very long and tense trip home.
We took the Thunderbird on a major road trip in 2000. Marie, who has always enjoyed decorating cakes, learned of a cake decorator’s convention at the Renaissance Center in Detroit. I was all in, so we made the trip, with hotel reservations in Dearborn.
Two really bad hotel experiences, along with the various memorable sights to be seen along Michigan Avenue at that time (refer to New Year’s Day above and substitute “Jetta” with “Caprice taxi”), compelled us to cross the Ambassador Bridge and stay in Windsor, Ontario. So the Thunderbird was now an international traveler – if going to Canada counts as international. Does it count? I haven’t a clue.
In early 2001, life offered up another opportunity. Marie and I were torn, discussing it for several evenings, but we also knew that from the standpoint of my career, it had to be investigated. So I applied for a job in St. Joseph, Missouri. The day after the interview I was offered the position.
We were still young and we were ridiculously restless. But, looking back, it was a very shrewd move for us. I may have also jinxed us; in 1999, Marie and I had made a weekend trip to Kansas City and swung through St. Joe. I vividly remember saying “I can see us living here”.
Thus we moved to St. Joseph in March 2001. Talk about culture and climate adjustment.
Yes, St. Joseph is still within the State of Missouri. It is 404 miles from Cape Girardeau to St. Joseph. For perspective, and for illustrative purposes, it is 440 miles from Cape Girardeau to Atlanta, Georgia. Differences would be expected if moving from Cape to Atlanta, so similar should be expected anytime one moves that far, regardless of whether it’s in the same state or not.
Were the differences horrible? No, but they were there. When I first went to St. Joe in February, the Easter Lillies were blooming at our house in Cape. At the same time, St. Joseph looked like the pictures one might see of wintertime Siberia in National Geographic magazine. I joked we had moved from the tropics to the tundra.
Second, there was the induction into a new set of colloquialisms. The most obvious was the town itself. Few called it “St. Joseph”; it was either “St. Joe” or “Joe Town”. You can see I fell prey to one of these.
Additionally there were the differences in other colloquialisms, primarily with food and beverage. The process of grilling meat over an open flame was called a “steak fry” regardless of whether it was beef, pork, or chicken; I only knew steak fries as being the potatoes served in some restaurants. The key product of Coca-Cola and Pepsi was called “pop” – which was somewhat surprising, as I had not heard “pop” being used anywhere in this part of the country.
As an aside, and from sheer curiosity, why it is called pop in some locales? I’ve never quite understood this term as it is made from soda water and does not pop. Is it due to the bubbles? Then why isn’t it called “bubbly”? Colloquialisms are endlessly intriguing – and frequently confusing for the uninitiated.
There were other differences, and while nothing extreme, you hopefully get the idea.
There were just enough small differences, primarily climate, that Marie joked she was surprised we were still using the same currency and driving on the same side of the road.
We spent a lot of time looking for a suitable house. The only true shock in our move was real estate prices. My analogy was we could take our house in Cape, move it to St. Joe, beat the hell out of it, and the value would increase 40% – with there being absolutely nothing in St. Joseph to justify the price differential. The Thunderbird was driven many miles looking for the right place to buy. Even our real estate agent (a truly awesome lady) was not happy with the housing inventory at that point in time.
The house hunt was agonizingly slow, with our having to briefly rent an apartment. I greatly respect those who live in apartments as Marie and I learned entirely too much our neighbors while doing so. We were in a six unit building, having three levels of two apartments. Directly above us was a young couple who reminded us at least once nightly their headboard was entirely too close to the wall. He was also very vocal.
It seems one weekend Mr. Vocal was away and on Saturday night, his lady friend was practicing what I’ve heard called, in yet another colloquialism, “sharecropping”. Through the night hours she had four visitors, each spaced two hours apart. Each time, we were reminded the headboard was still too close to the wall. Interestingly, her company was quite vocal also. We were never so ready to move as we were then. After that weekend, you could have easily called us The Aging & The Unrested.
In late April we finally found a place. Rather, a palace. It was the best house we’ve ever lived in, a house being sold by a lady in her 90s who was going to assisted living. It was below market value and we were the first people to look at it. It was on the market less than eight hours. It was the seventy-fifth house our agent had showed us.
For both moves, the Thunderbird had been a champ. With the upgraded suspension it would shake your kidneys loose on rough city streets but open highways and curvy roads are where that car absolutely sparkled. During my time in Jefferson City, I drove the Thunderbird on many of the same roads I had driven the Mustang. The driving experience between the two was so vast it was almost incomparable – losing speed in the Mustang relegated you to agony in trying to regain lost momentum. In the Thunderbird, it was a mere flick of the foot to regain, and compensate for, any lost velocity. Body lean was non-existent and there was little need to slow down in sharp curves.
Most shockingly, when the Thunderbird downshifted, it would gain speed back, not lose it at a faster rate. It always responded positively when the accelerator was pressed – which is what a car is supposed to do. That 4.6, while not the most powerful V8 ever, was profoundly smooth and amazingly well matched to the Thunderbird. I have owned four vehicles having a 4.6 and the best match of vehicle and powertrain was with the Thunderbird.
The only downside with the Thunderbird was something I never would have discovered had I not changed my own oil. To remove the oil filter one really needed a joint between their elbow and wrist. Not having been bestowed with one, removal of the oil filter usually meant the filter would drain on the way out and the contents would run off my elbow. I eventually got an extra drip pan for this. Otherwise the car was nearly flawless in the 75,000 miles I put on it.
We took possession of our new house in late May of 2001. As life would have it, Marie immediately became pregnant. Eileen was born in March of 2002 and the Thunderbird continued in yeoman duty for us. In addition to the Thunderbird, Marie had her two-door 1996 Ford Escort. Two-door cars and baby seats are not a harmonious relationship.
After much discussion and evaluation, we decided to part ways with the Thunderbird for a more baby-friendly vehicle. After 75,000 miles, the Thunderbird went away; oddly a guy within eyeshot of our house bought it. In retrospect, I so wish I would have kept this car. It was an awesome car in which my time with it was simply too short.
In preparing this, I stumbled upon a twin to my Thunderbird and it was for sale. However, its condition was not great, making me realize some things are best left in one’s memory.
What came after the Thunderbird was less than stellar. But, due to my casual buying and selling of cars in the late 1990s, we have a few more diversions before we get to the steaming pile of what came next…
(Note: The Young & The Restless is still broadcast daily on CBS. It premiered March 26, 1973.)
I saw one of these Thunderbirds yesterday in Jacksonville although I can’t say exactly which year as I didn’t look too closely at it. It was a faded light blue and had a V8 badge on the front fender(s). I remember thinking that it didn’t look as attractive to me as its Cougar ” sister ” because the glass area looks like it belongs on a smaller car.
I worked at a phone company in the late 90s and the youngish (mid 30s?) receptionist owned one of these. She would trade it before it was even 5 years old for a new Explorer.
That Thunderbird sounds like it was a great car. The powertrain sounds a lot like the one on my 93 Crown Vic, and you are right – it was a really pleasant combination in all kinds of driving. What a great choice for a first new car! The color combo sounds great – my 63 Cadillac made me a fan of that classic combination of a black car with gray interior.
I had always liked these Thunderbirds, but was kind of out of the 2 door car market (at least new ones) when these were new and as they aged in my climate they tended towards rustiness, which dampened my enthusiasm for an older one.
One problem with buying older used cars is you don’t often know when one comes with a factory HD suspension option. I had one such car with proof on the original window sticker in the glovebox, and it was a delight.
Oh how I generally hated living in apartments. No matter what kind of house it might be, as long as it doesn’t share a wall/floor/ceiling surface with a neighboring unit, life is good.
This Thunderbird is what cultivated my fondness for the 4.6. Such a wonderful engine…made even better in this particular car as I really want to say the sport option also came with a 3.27:1 rear axle instead of the regular 3.08:1 ratio.
There is one other apartment experience later in this series. It’s safe to say I have a different set of descriptors for that one.
That axle ratio does make a significant difference in the overall feel of a 2v 4.6 AOD Combo. While I haven’t had them in a T-bird I’ve had a 3.08 and a 3.23 Panther at the same time, far less downshifting for hills ect with the 3.23 and a negligible difference in fuel economy in everyday driving.
My employer purchased a new 1992 Ford Crown Vic with the 4.6 V8 for use as a company car. It was an LX model with the handling package and dual exhausts (210 hp as I recall). The car was a joy to drive. It was silver with a black cloth interior.
Oh apartments! I once angrily broke up a very loud party beneath our unit when the noise woke up our infant son at something like 2 am in the morning.
I really want to say the sport option also came with a 3.27:1 rear axle instead of the regular 3.08:1 ratio.
3.27s were made standard across the board in 1996 and 1997, be it 3.8, 4.6, regular or sport. 3.08s were standard on 94-95s with 3.27s an option. Before that 2.73s were common with the 5.0 engine. Gears really wake up 4.6s in cars as heavy as Tbirds, I put in 3.55s in my Cougar(from 3.08) as one of its first modifications and it completely transformed it, didn’t even hurt the fuel economy.
Well there’s a lot of life change for just one car. Don’t think I’ve so much as sat in that gen of thunderbird, but the 4.6 was indeed a nice engine.
Many a year since I’ve been to Sikeston, I recall driving to the airport in the snow and seeing cars in the ditch at every overpass and interchange. Those folks sure didn’t know how to drive in snow.
Learning to drive in snow is something in which little opportunity is provided for folks down that way. It’s such an irregular occurrence. I didn’t drive in snow very much until my late 20s, early 30s.
There is a remote possibility of my going to Sikeston sometime in the next few months; it’s been years for me, also, but likely more recent. I’ll send you some pictures so you can relive old times! 🙂
Sikeston was also the home of longtime Wall Street Journal theater critic and biographer Terry Teachout, who passed away unexpectedly earlier in 2022. He wrote many misty-eyed reminiscinces of growing up in Sikeston, which he slightly disguised as “Smalltown, USA” and his youth there formed the basis of his belief that great art could be found in many places, if coastal critics would leave their comfort zones and seek it out. There’s a nice tribute to him here:
Thank you for that link.
I worked in Sikeston for three years. There was simply an aura about that town that I have not encountered anywhere else…and it’s a positive aura. The town isn’t perfect (what town is?) but it was one a person should not be ashamed to admit being from. I’m glad Teachout wasn’t.
Love the park bench photo. Happy people have a glow about them for all the world to see even if that happy couple thinks no one else can tell.
Of all the rental cars I had when I was “commuting” once a month from NYC to Burbank CA I can only recall a few. One was a Lincoln Town Car (for obvious ego strutting reasons) and the other was a 1984-ish 5.0 Thunderbird coupe. It was sleek, fast, comfortable, and drove like it was made for highways, hills, and curves. With 10 years of development and improvement over my rental, I can see how well your 4.6 fit into your young and restless lives. It was a good choice.
The Young and Restless.. I never saw this show but I recall loading data on its many episodes into the Columbia Pictures/Tri-Star corporate asset system we developed as part of gearing up for the big sale of Columbia to Sony.
Moving the three cars; “… I have no memory of how they were all moved…” .
It’s kind of odd, or funny, how some details of one’s life just go poof. … gone, while others can be recounted on a minute by minute basis.
Not being a doctor I’m not sure if acid reflux is sorta-kinda-related to ulcers, but I feel (or used to feel) your pain. This segment of your COAL is not (in my opinion) TMI; such a condition can have a significant impact on one’s life and how decisions are made. Coming out of the anesthesia, which in current times is usually propofol, makes one blissful and forgetful from one minute to the next.
the steaming pile of what came next….
Oh dear. I guess we’ve all been there and done that.
Thanks about the photo. Marie and I are at 24 years and still going.
The acid reflux later got to the point where I had to sleep in a recliner, as lying flat in bed was highly problematic.
In late 2020 I had another surgery. I warned the anesthesiologist about my issues with the stuff – very slow to come out, subsequent foul mouth, and the hallucinations early on. These were all learned with my various upper endoscopies.
He told me anesthesia is like fuel economy. If you start your car only to drive down the street to the gas station, it’s not very efficient. To gain efficiency, you need longer, highway trips. I suppose he was right; instead of the typical fifteen minute procedure, the one in 2020 was over three hours and I awoke without issue.
That’s the only doctor I’ve ever met to put something in automotive terms.
What a great essay and insight into a slice of your life. For many of us, memories are tied or associated with different cars we had during those times. During a decade of travel for work, I really enjoyed various versions of these aero Birds, as they would gobble up amazing distances in the remote west. Eight hours of driving didn’t leave one tired or exhausted, and T-birds were just as happy at high speeds.
Your photo of you and Marie reminds me of why we venture into marriage – so many good things and happiness expressed in one picture. I can’t wait to read more!
Thank you. There are many chapters left to run, all waiting in the hopper, with only one more to write and a second simply needing pictures. It seems I have dived into many various subjects along the way.
Carbonated soft drinks are also referred to as “pop” in southern Michigan and northern Ohio. Venture outside of those areas and one will be reminded that it is “soda,” as my niece (in Columbus OH) would often correct me.
I always thought it was called “pop” because of the noise the can makes when you open it.
Or maybe the bottle before anyone ever thought of putting it in cans?
Yup, that’s my guess as well. Some searching around finds this: ‘Pop’ is used predominantly in the Northwest, the Great Plains and the Midwest. The word was originated by a British poet in 1812, who wrote, “A new manufacture of a nectar, between soda water and ginger beer, and called ‘pop,’ because ‘pop goes the cork’ when it is drawn.”
Perhaps the “pop” is a contraction of “soda pop”?
Yes, that is the case. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA where it was universally called pop. I first learned about the term “soda” at age 10 when my family took a trip to eastern PA and NYC.
Living in VA for the past 43 years, I’ve long since transitioned to calling it soda.
No, sir, it is not—it can’t be. “Pop” is not a contraction. A contraction is exactly that: a shortened form of a word or phrase. It’s instead of it is, or can’t instead of cannot, or wouldn’t’ve instead of would not have. If we were to make a contraction of soda pop, it would have to look something like “sopop” or “sodap” or “s’op”.
Yes, of course you’re correct. I meant that “pop” could be construed as a shortened variation of “soda pop,” and I assume Jason was thinking the same thing.
This would be something like the shortening of “omnibus” to “bus” in decades past.
My parents are both from Eastern Pennsylvania, but in the early 60’s we briefly lived in Pittsburgh…we moved there from southern California…when people found out, they’d wonder why we’d done that move…in the early 60’s most people were going the other way…anyhow, partly to be closer to family and also he got a job at Westinghouse semiconductor (who later moved us to Baltimore…my Dad moved around a lot in his early years. We even had 5 years in northern Virginia in the late 60’s before Dad settled down (in Texas) where he lived the last 35 years of his life.
I’ve never actually lived in Eastern Pennsylvania but since both parents are from there, have visited probably hundred times (or more). Don’t think we ever lived in a “pop” location, it was always soda…but we did enjoy a birch beer every so often. They also called sandwiches “hoagies” which I think is common in Eastern Pennsylvania, other places they were called “grinders” or sometimes sub sandwich so that name seemed to vary more depending on where we lived.
Never owned a Thunderbird, but a co-worker bought a new one in 1983 when the new aerodynamic ones came out, he liked his quite a lot. I started buying VWs in 1981, and still haven’t stopped, it’s been the only make I’ve owned in 41 years.
Great COAL Series Jason!
Sadly, I’ve been reading these almost too late to comment (on Mondays), but not this time.
“no young person would touch these”… It may be anecdotal at best, but I was 23 when I bought my first (of many) T-Birds, an ‘83 V6. In 1990, I bought a used ‘88 all black V8 with every option. A V8 is a must in these. While we bought my wife at the time an ‘88 Turbo-Coupe, we traded that car in 1994 in for a 1994 with the 4.6L. I did every oil change on that car (until we split up) and can totally relate to the oil filter issue. What an awesome drive-train though…
After splitting up, I was alone with the aging ‘88 LX T-Bird, and needed a more reliable car after putting 236K on that 5.0L. My last T-Bird was a slightly used ‘97 on which I got a great deal (in 1997 @ 37 years old), but sadly I was back in a 3.8L powered T-Bird. While better than the Aerobird, it was no 5.0 or 4.6. Since T-Birds were no more (until the 2002 RetroBirds), it got traded in for my ‘97 Grand Prix GTP (coupe, of course) in 2000 as a first mid-life crisis car at the age of 40.
I so miss PLC(s) 😢.
One final thought: Cape Girardeau sounds (by the name to me at least) like it should be the title of, or at least, in the title of, a soap opera. I don’t know why, it’s just has that ring to it for some reason…
Thank you. These have been a lot of fun to write and have dredged up some long dormant memories. There’s lots more to go, such as my ride-along with a cop in St. Joseph one night.
You’ve reminded me of something from long ago…some television announcer was saying the name of the town for some sort of advertisement. He made it all French sounding, pronouncing it “Zhe-rar-dough”. Wrong. It’s “ger-arr-doe”.
Another local site down there is Lake Wappapello. The pronunciation of that is always a giveaway for how close a person lives to the area.
I believe I got my ’88 LeSabre T-Type coupe right around the same time and age as you got your T-bird…conceptually similar vehicles and also great on long highway trips!
I liked the looks of this generation of Thunderbird and yes the V8 would have been a requirement for me as well. A more sophisticated Mustang, sort of. I knew two people with them, both V8s, curiously – one was Ted, the 60-something senior salesman at the company I was working at, the other was Robin, the 23-year-old cattle-rancher-baron’s daughter who was married to a friend from college who worked with me in my department. I suppose the appeal crossed generations.
After many years of random oil filter locations (how is this not basic engine service design 101?) and many hands bathed in warm and silky yet foul-smelling oil, I discovered the gallon Zip-Lok bag method to oil filter removal. Once slightly loosened, simply pull the bag over the filter and continue to unscrew it, the gallon bags are large enough to orient around any filter with the spilled contents contained within.
I have changed the oil on every car I’ve owned, and I few I didn’t own, since 1973. I never thought of (or heard of) the ZipLoc trick. I’ll have to try it on the Tacoma which is fairly messy. And it’s particularly appropriate as our local recycling requires the filters to be in sealed bags anyway. Thanks!
Proof that a Thunderbird has near universal appeal. Not widespread, but universal.
Thank you for the tip on the ziplock. I’m changing the oil in the Econoline this afternoon.
My flatmate, Jason, from around 2005 drove a dark blue Thunderbird V8 like those here. I frequently drove it for short trips – really short trips – back and forth on the driveway (which was single-car width, two cars long) so one of us could move the other’s car if it were blocking us from leaving home. The car was reliable, but the interior (also dark blue) looked cheap and not at all special for anyone who knew T-Birds from the 50s to mid-’70s. It was no better than GM cars from the late ’90s, all amorphous plastic forms.
I rented a 6-plex apartment similar to yours, only older (and it was really a quadplex where the basement was divided from ground level to create two additional apartments), and sublet a bedroom in it to bring in income. Biggest problem with renting IME is that the owner can decide to sell the property at any time, with virtually no notice to me. I’ve three times had to move on short notice at times when the last thing on my mind was having to quickly find a new place, pack up, and unpack after moving. Second problem with renting is paying monthly rent instead of acquiring home equity that often exceeds mortgage payments.
I call a bubbly sweetened beverage a “soft drink”, rarely “soda”, never “pop”, occasionally a “fizzy drink”. The apparently rare colloquial term I use is related to the pic below – what do you call than small area of grass between the sidewalk/footpath and the street? I’ve called it a “treelawn” my whole life, but apparently only about 2% of Americans prefer that term. So what do other people call it? berm, strip, buffer, parkway, verge, nature strip, tree belt, utility strip, planting strip, inferno strip, devil’s strip, or city grass, and several others. (“city grass” alludes to how this small plot of grass is often local government property, not the homeowner’s).
The life-altering question I’ve most been asked is “this isn’t working, is it?”…
Traumatic breakup/separation ensues.
A year or so before I bought the Thunderbird I test drove a two-door Lumina with the Z-34 engine. While I dodged a major bullet with that thing, I agree with your assessment of GM interiors as the interior wasn’t overly nice.
We have only rented during times of relocation. That issue is explored later in this series. Like you, I prefer to own due to the equity build.
Having never lived anywhere having a sidewalk out front, that is a good question about the strip of grass. The grassy strip???
This has been an entertaining series so far. My mother-in-law had a Mercury Cougar of this generation, which also had the 4.6 V8, but hers was equipped as a luxury cruiser with not one ounce of sport. I remember it as a quiet, smooth-riding car, with more than enough power to pass slower traffic on steep grades even when there were four passengers on board. She really liked the car, but my perpetually restless father-in-law traded it in on a Chevy Cavalier after deciding the Cougar was too thirsty for her long commute, and then a year later, traded the Cavalier for a Dodge minivan.
Yes, one’s 20s are a time of seemingly endless change, involving lots of moves, getting established in a career, marriage for many, and lots of cars as budgets and tastes evolve. Looking back, it’s interesting to see how some snap decisions changed the trajectory of our lives and how things we agonized over back then turned out to not be important at all. I look forward to the next installment of Days of Our Lives!
What a step down to go from a Thunderbird to a Cavalier. Not saying Cavaliers are bad, but there is a palpable difference between the two.
Days of Our Lives is a later installment. We still have quite a few better known, and some lesser known, titles to go before we get there. 🙂
Cavaliers ARE bad. I say this as a former owner of one, my first and last GM product.
I’m glad to read the full COAL about this car – since I’ve heard and read many stories about it over the years.
As you know, my wife bought a similar T-bird, while living in Jeff City, in 1995. So your two Birds undoubtedly crossed flight paths at times.
Like you, Margaret upgraded from a Mustang, though a different breed of Mustang. Hers was a 1967 with a 289 V-8 and a 4-speed… but at 27 years and 200,000+ miles, it was ready to be put out to pasture. Margaret saw the T-bird as the spiritual successor of her Mustang – a four-passenger V-8 Ford coupe. She absolutely wanted a V-8, but with as few other options as possible. Of course, such a vehicle probably didn’t exist in any dealer’s inventory. When she went test-driving, she drove a V-8 that was well-equipped, and since these were slow sellers, the dealer offered a good price of $17,000. She took it.
Incidentally, I met Margaret years later after she’d moved to Virginia, and on our first date we somehow got talking about cars. She told me she drove a Thunderbird, and told me her V-8’s displacement in cubic inches. Considering that most girls I met hardly knew that cars had four wheels, I was more than a bit intrigued. We were married 18 months later.
We still have the Thunderbird – it’s 27 years old now. We’d considered getting rid of it several times, but always opted to keep it. I’m not sure that’s the most rational decision we’ve ever made, but it is fun to have a car that’s been in the family for nearly three decades.
Margaret is one of the few women I’ve met who can talk about anything automotive. It seems her only taboo subject is anything from the Chrysler Corporation.
I likely have seen her / your Thunderbird. Let’s hope you keep it for many years to come. It’s not like that drivetrain will ever wear out.
Margaret’s stance on Chrysler Corp. products appears to be softening a bit… she’s mentioned a few times that she “kind of” likes some of the new Ram pickups. Hmm.
We intend to – hopefully we’ll be able to, given life’s ups and downs.
Incidentally, writing about the T-bird was my first article here at CC, seven years ago:
A new Thunderbird and a lovely new bride; life is good!
I couldn’t afford a new car when we got married (I was 25) living in LA and working for the non-profit little tv station at the time, which paid everyone a flat $500/month salary, no matter what your job was. I did find a cute little over-the-garage garage studio to rent, and my landlady was…Stephanie, as her mom was in Europe at the time.
So my old ’68 Dodge van had to do for our wedding ride. 🙂 But I soon upgraded to a ’68 Peugeot 404, so she could ride a lot more comfortably. The new ’83 T-Bird TC came along a few years later.
To the best of my knowledge, I have never driven a vehicle with the 4.6. Seems hard to believe, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case.
That was indeed a good time of life. Few responsibilities and relatively carefree. What’s not to like about that?
Something tells me you will cross paths with something 4.6 (or 5.4) powered in the future. These engines are quite different in feel than most other V8 engines; perhaps that’s why I like them so much.
Thanks for a wonderful story and insights into your life. I’ve never so much as sat in one of these TBirds, nor the previous generation. Come to think of it I’m pretty sure I’ve never been in a Thunderbird of any kind. But I do think that if they’d been available with the full Mustang GT powertrain including 5 speed, I might have been tempted by one.
For many years we had a vacation cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains in central California. One time when my wife was up there with the kids in our 4wd, I drove up in our Corolla. It was snowing pretty well and I stopped at a crest in the road, with a pull out, around 5000’ to put on chains, knowing I had another 1500’ to climb on the state highway, followed by another 300’ in just a mile on o our side road. Coming towards me up the hill I was about to descend, was a TBird like yours, no chains, at a 45° angle to the direction of travel but just barely making it. Each time his rear end crossed the center line I was glad I had pulled off. And even now 25 years later, I visualize that dark blue TBird every time I pass that point on Hwy 4.
I’ve never been in Missouri, either, except for one or two layovers in the STL airport, so thanks for the geography lesson. I’ve noticed your reference to the Cape in prior posts and always wondered how there could be a cape that wasn’t on one of the ocean coasts, or at least on a big lake. And now I know. As for sweetened fizzy drinks, soda pop here, or just soda; sometimes soft drink but never pop. Although a friend (a California native like me) uses the term bubbly to refer to the now-popular flavored carbonated waters, like LaCroix. My wife picked up that term and now I use it too. And thus language evolves.
“if they’d been available with the full Mustang GT powertrain including 5 speed, I might have been tempted ”
This!! In 1985 I test drove a Mustang GT and a Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, both with 5 speeds. The drivetrain of the Mustang in the body of the Thunderbird would have been perfection. I never understood why they wouldn’t go there, other than (perhaps) the costs of CAFE/EPA certification.
For a brief while, when I had this ’96 and my ’75 Thunderbird, my goal had been to own an example of each generation.
Youthful optimism at its best. But I sure enjoyed those two, which were about as opposite each other as possible.
I’m really enjoying this COAL series, Jason. As Doug said, that’s a lot of living to transpire in a single car’s time with you. I very much look forward to what’s coming next.
I’ve found that carbonated beverages are one of those great products that have wildly different names in different parts of the country…names that locals hold strongly to. Long sandwiches served on some sort of white-bread rolls usually with meats and cheese are another. It took me some time to get used to the traditional New England name for soda, “Tonic”. Sounds medicinal or something that should go with gin. But in traditional New England, it’s what I grew up calling “a Coke”.
My personal favorite (and automotive-related!) example is the fiberglass or aluminum enclosure that mounts on a pickup bed.
Depending where you are, it might be called a cap, a truck cap, a canopy, a topper, a camper shell, and maybe some other names I’ve forgotten.
I’ve tried to keep them all in chronological order of acquisition, which has led to a lot of overlap and what seems like some jumping around. It got a bit complicated but I am hoping its relatively easy to follow.
The next two weeks have us back in Cape.
So, after the Tbird, what are we talking……minivan??
No minivans for me…the only van I’ve ever owned is the Ford we still have. It’s decidedly non-mini.
Those T-Birds were good looking, roomy, comfortable and seemingly in very good supply at the big Ford dealer lots. Most were, as you indicate, 3.8s. My wife wanted one and we tried to buy a ’96 4.6 from a big city dealer but couldn’t get the price right. She ended up with a five speed V-6 Contour from Tom Peck Ford in Clinton, Wisconsin. I made it two deals there with a ’97 F-150 4.6.
I’ve worked (very briefly) in both Cape & St. Joe. Might as well be Kentucky and Nebraska; they are different. Cape has some charm. St. Joe feels like it looks to the west; it is just at the far end of the midwest.
Kentucky and Nebraska – you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Cape has a touch of southern charm; such does not exist in St. Joe. The landscape is also leagues different, which was also an adjustment.
I bought a 94 cougar new with the v8. The car gave me quite a few issues so I had to sell it at year 3 which was very difficult as the suv craze was on. It’s too bad because the car had a lot going for it otherwise.
I do remember driving it quite a bit in the snow with its primitive traction control. I managed to continue after I sold the cougar with a 95 impala ss with a few stories like yours – planning in advance for hills etc
And the cougar did bring home our first baby. That was the last coupe in the family for a few years.
The only real issue I ever had with this Thunderbird was a mass airflow sensor that went bad and kept popping O2 sensors. That was it.
The regular SOHC 4.6 is a great mellow engine, mine is in a ’96 Mustang. It has plenty of power, is very smooth, gets good gas mileage, and is long lived. 216,000 miles at this point. I find it easy and relaxing to drive as it is smooth on takeoff. Compared to my ’06 three valve Mustang, which is a little too eager off the line. I don’t like every start to be a tire spinner. I had considered getting that gen T Bird as it has IRS, but settled for the Mustangs. I bought a new V6 ’84 Cougar that I kept for six years before we bought the inevitable mini van. It was smooth quiet car with adequate power. I sorely miss these types of cars. Enjoying your series.
Thanks. This series is only warming up.
Awesome write up, I believe I enjoy your COALs the most.
Briefly had a 1994 Thunderbird 4.6L, beautiful car that performs just as beautifully. Was not my idea to get rid of it (never trade cars with your best friend, especially if you suspect he’s doing something beyond smoking a little weed).
The MN12 was a truly world-class platform.
“Why do some feel the need to inject themselves into other people’s business all while being judgmental? Some things I’ll never know.”
The only reason I got rid of this car was due to the need to haul our papoose. It was an absolute joy to drive. Its replacement is a few weeks out due to other cars I had along the way, but I suspect you will take a rather strong interest in it.
It’s not a *gulp* wagon, is it? Looking forward to it anyway!
The sides and rear of the car are nice – a bit like a simplified BMW 635 CSi. The front is where it goes wrong. The leading edge of the bonnet, over the headlamps, looks like the kind of forced line found on a facelifted car: they kept the metalwork of the wings and the lower edge of the lamp but made the bonnet a bit different. It´s not homegenous. The grille is a silly little hole too. It needs a bigger grille, by about 100%. That said, I do actually like this car. I last saw one in Denmark, parked up in a light-industrial area (they were never sold here). Ford didn´t have a similar car in Europe – the Cougar was a different beast from 1998, much more styled and more expensive in relativer terms but smaller than the Thunderbird, I think. I wonder did the US designers ever feel jealous of their German counterparts because the EU Fords were always neat and tidy cars, sometimes surpassingly excellent in styling terms while US Fords nearly always look like someone forced a compromise on them at the 11th hour. I bet this car had a different lamp design until 2 weeks before sign-off but then someone took a shine to another design and rammed it through…
The front of the ’96 and identical ’97 models weren’t as graceful as the earlier version of this generation.
Although my thought was / is I am not looking at the front of the car – and it drove so great one could overlook a few subjective styling cues.
Always fun to learn more about your personal backstory, Jason—-automotive and otherwise. You’ve really sold me on that Thunderbird (i.e., building on my own longstanding enthusiasm), and it prompts me to take a few minutes to check out the market. Hmmmmm—–white, V8, under 20K miles:
This example is exactly why I special ordered my Thunderbird. However, a quarter-century down the road, I am really liking the example you found! For the intermittent use it would see, the colors really aren’t a big deal anymore.
George, I can see you driving this Birdie. It would suit you. Plus, your wife would really like it.
Every time I hear the name Cape Girardeau I think of AK-2039 SS Cape Girardeau. Probably may have told you that in the past. In fact you are probably the one who completed the connection since I remember it next to the Hornet in 1998 and then in the Reserve Fleet in Suisun where I spent a few afternoons on board. I believe it is now up for scrapping.
I remember you having mentioned the ship. Darn shame it’s due to be scrapped.
Thank you for the reminder of its existence – however temporary.
I own a ’95 cougar, have for 22 years with the 4.6, it has been known as our Florida car on trips from w. Ky. Will I let it go. ,no, I intend to drive it as long as I can, you don’t give up a car that performs that good. Oh,and if you put a floor jack under the box frame and lift the left front wheel off the ground it will cause the sway bar to twist downward and open up more room to get that oil filter down and out
That’s a wonderful tip about jacking up the front left wheel. If only I had known!
Yes, one needs to keep a car such as these. I really wish I had. A coworker has a ’97 Cougar he and his wife bought new. He said it will never be sold.
Jason, your Thunderbird with the Sport option was a great deal. Interesting to compare your window sticker to the one for my new 1996 Altima GLE sedan, also in black with a dove grey leather interior. About $3,000 more! IIRC it had every option available. The GLE was the top model equipped with automatic temp A/C, moonroof, cornering lights, etc. Mine also had the optional leather seats and ABS. Because it was so expensive (most Altimas on the lots were around $18,000) the dealership couldn’t sell it so I bought it as a loss leader for $19,000 plus tax and license. Unfortunately I only drove the car for about two years+ and 16,000 miles before it was stolen, dismantled and, and parted out: a theft ring operating out of a Nissan dealership where it was towed when the alternator died (closed shortly thereafter and not the dealership listed on the window sticker). The car had a peppy four-cylinder but I was not satisfied with the performance or the roughness upon hard acceleration so opted to replace it was a new Maxima, a great car.
That generation Thunderbird was a beautiful car and sold well here in SoCal. My next door neighbor had one but with the 3.8. Fine for in-city driving but a slug on the highway by comparison to your car. Wonderful story. Looking forward to the next chapter.
The fate of your Altima is awful.
My parents had a ’95 Cougar with the 3.8 and a moonroof while I had my Thunderbird. I drove their Cougar a decent amount and it convinced me I wanted neither the 3.8 nor the moonroof. One was too pokey, as you said, and the other robbed too much headroom.
Thanks for this which I enjoyed reading. The car in question was, where I lived at the time (the UK), a unicorn to be glimpsed only inside various editions of US car mags I used to buy at the airport. Ford (unlike Cadillac with the Seville STS) obviously did not think it had any chance of selling in Europe – we will never know… I was never entirely convinced about the styling, it has a really weird vibe, looking a bit like a BMW 635 from the rear but some Japanese domestic market only model from the front. The potential of that 4.6 however cannot be denied and – if I were in the US – I might have been tempted to get one to play with…
You answered a question of mine…I had wondered if Ford attempted to sell this in Europe. I doubted such to be the case but you have confirmed it.
That 4.6 generally returned fuel economy in the mid-20s. Not horrible, not stellar, but quite good for what it was.
Well 25 MPG was no worse than what the equivalent Jag or BMW would return!
This was a great COAL entry, looking forward to more! Lots of food for thought in this one.
At my advanced age, I had not ever heard the term “tonsil hockey.” I thought of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, but googling revealed it’s not as risqué!
I believe “pop” is a contraction of “soda pop”. As a New Yorker I grew up calling it soda. My father in-law is Bostonian and calls fizzy drinks, “tonic”. Then there’s the Carolinas who commit the linguistic war crime of indiscriminately calling and sort of soda “Coke”.
There’s also the regional paradox, Atlanta headquartered Coke is more popular in the north east than New York headquartered Pepsi. Also Coke was extremely hard to find at my alma mater since Pepsi was literally across the street.
So what did you get after the t bird ?? Ya left us hanging.well written though .