(first posted 12/10/2013) This sanitary 1986 T-Bird Turbo Coupe may appear ready for a spirited jaunt through the countryside, but it makes me think of one thing: 9000 RPM clutch dumps.
In 1986, I was a nine-year-old car loving lad with Fords on the brain, thanks to my Blue Oval-loving Dad. Nothing provided a brat in the third grade with more thrills than a trip to the Ford Dealer, where I bugged salesmen, corrected their factual inadequacies, and generally annoyed them. I also gathered enough literature to sink a small canoe (it’s all still in my basement).
In between those peregrinations to the dealership, however, I was glued to our console Zenith, watching Bob Glidden smack down those Reher-Morrison Camaros in NHRA Pro Stock drag racing. The skinny front tires of Glidden’s Chief Auto Parts/Motorcraft T-Bird would trip the stage lights, the engine would scream, and potential energy turned brutally kinetic in an instant. Even as a kid, I’d feel a pang of sadness for U-Joints and ring gears as I cheered on one of my racing heroes.
So maybe the street Turbo Coupe didn’t quite have the effect on the drive train or psyche that a mountain motored door-slammer did, but even factory ‘Birds pervaded my pre-adolescent gray matter. I vividly remember a test ride in an ’88 model, 5-speed equipped, gold, with Dad taking a freeway entrance ramp a couple dozen miles an hour faster than the posted speed limit, the boost needle swinging to the starboard side of its small gauge. If I said I wasn’t a T-Bird fan by that point, I was lying through my teeth.
I ran into a 1986 model at the US-127 cruise up the gut of the Lower Peninsula last year, and immediately, that funny feeling came over me: Bill Elliott’s Coors Cup car at Talladega, Bob Glidden’s Pro Stocker, my own forays into three digit “I don’t do this now that I’m an adult” speeds in my Dad’s hand-me-down ’87 5.0 ‘Bird. Dad would sometimes take the car to get the tires rotated, and the employees working on the car would explain that the right rear seemed to have abnormal wear. Dad would always come home and knowingly ask me how that could possibly happen.
Although I’m biased toward the ’87 restyle from a nostalgic perspective, I think the ’85/6 version of the Turbo Coupe is the one to have. I love the subdued deep red and the grey matte lower cladding, with “Turbo Coupe” spelled out on the rub strip. I think the nose was a little less flagrantly “bird-like,” as well. Someone in ’87 may have stretched the metaphor a bit far. The fancy “Turbo” valve cover on the old Pinto 2300 engine made it look somewhat more ready for action, even though it still only cranked out around 155 horsepower. That engine was a zero without a turbocharger (my buddy’s ’88 Mustang with the NA 2300 could probably be beaten 0-20 by a high school track star), but in the T-Bird, it more than kept up with its contemporaries.
One thing that never worked out too well in Michigan was the Goodyear Gatorback unidirectional tire. One ride in the winter on a set of those made Dad march right to the tire store for a set of “Mud and Snows” on Mom’s 5.0 Mustang. No go, no where in the snow…They did look terrific on the Turbo’s 10-slot aluminum wheels, however, which I think were a hair more attractive than the later standard-issue Turbo wheels. The equally cool ’85 30th Anniversary edition shared those wheels, but came with the Crown Vic style 5.0 instead of the turbo 2300.
I also loved the Marchal driving lights with their black covers on the ’85 and ’86 models, but the real clincher is the ’80s style velour. America needs to embrace the velour; I think it is one of the most indestructible upholstery materials devised by the human mind. Who doesn’t want to drive on the living room couch?
While 80s cars certainly lag behind earlier predecessors on the collectability scale, I’d have to think that Turbo T-Birds are in the Top 10 as far as American cars are concerned. The later models topped out at 143 MPH; they look great in an 80s jellybean sort of way; they had a combination of good ride and handling, and my Dad liked them, which always counts for something in my mind. I’m a little too 60s car happy to run out and find a nice, solid Turbo Coupe, and the 80s electronics and plastic bits give me the heebie jeebies, but in a perfect world, I’d have room and money for a Turbo T-Bird or two. Until then, I can browse my brochures and reminisce about those test drives with my Dad, and Sundays watching Glidden.
I’m with you – and I also like the Mark VIII LSC version as well. Back in the early 1990s, I was cross-shopping the LSC with Oldsmobile 98 Touring Sedan and the Electra T-Type, ending up with the Electra because it’s retail value was $5-6K less than the other two. At that time, our state’s licensing fees were based upon the state’s idea of what the car was worth (and their depreciation curve was much different than what the marketplace determined).
My parents owned a 1988 T-bird with the 5.0l in it, for almost 20 years. It was a great car but had the worst-performing headlights of any car that I have driven.
I autocrossed a stock 1980 Mercury Capri with the turbo, which was the predecessor to the Turbo Coupe.
“It was a great car but had the worst-performing headlights of any car that I have driven.”
You, sir, have apparently never owned a Gen 3 Grand Caravan or its siblings.
2nd gen Chrysler Minivan headlights sucked, I could outrun them at about 55. Cleaning the yellowed layer only added 5 MPH to my comfortable top speed at night. That is why I put a pair of 55 Watt Hella Foglights on my 95 Voyager since I had hit one Deer too many.
100% on the headlights, they were terrible!
I also remember that the headlights on my ’87 were headlights in name only. They didn’t get any better when the plastic headlight housings started to yellow.
+1 on the LSC MK 7.I could easily put up with the T bird though.
Brings back fond memories of my 1988 T-Bird Sport. Sure it only had a paltry 155hp, but combine that with a 3300 lb. curb weight, and you had a sub nine-second 0-60, and a car that felt plenty strong, especially off the line.
Looking back on these, I think I prefer the styling of the 83-86’s with the slightly stunted beak, and the gently sloping trunk. I used to favor the 87-88’s, but they look a bit awkward in profile.
I’ve alway been a fan of the Aero ‘Birds, especially the ’85 and ’86 models (much prefer the instrument panel those years) and if I hadn’t had such a woody to find my boxtop Fairmont I’d have probably bought one. Did have an ’88 3.8 powered ‘Bird many years ago, was such a sweet highway car, and regularly saw over 30mpg on the highway.
I still think these are one of the best looking cars ever made to this day.
A great looking car – then and now.
I’ve liked the “Aerobirds” for quite some time. I remember the 87-88 Turbo Coupes when I was a kid. That front end always stuck out in my mind. Years later I bought an 88 Thunderbird LX with a 5.0 and every option but a sunroof from my dad’s cousin as my first car. It was from California so no rust. I live in Chicago so that’s a huge plus. Since it was nice to begin with I decided to keep it that way. I’ve still got it 11 years later.
Engine isn’t, uh, stock. 302 with aluminum Edelbrock Performer heads, .533 lift Comp roller cam, 1.6 roller rockers, GT40 intake, 70mm Edelbrock throttle body, 24lb/hr injectors, 73mm MAF, 1&5/8” headers with mandrel bent 2.5” dual exhaust, AOD with a 2800 non-lockup PI Stallion converter, and a 3.73 Traction-Lok rear. It’s a bit quicker than stock, but almost 200 extra HP will do that.
Not that I’m Fox-body coupe crazy or anything but I also have a stock ‘91 Mark VII LSC.
One of my all-time favorites.
Thats a beautiful T-bird, I like your idea of keeping it stock appearing but getting that engine up to proper HP levels! Makes me rethink my idea of getting a Fox-body Mustang. Can you get a stick in those ‘Birds?
Only Turbo Coupes had a 5-speed stick stock. All the 5.0 cars were AOD only. A Fox Mustang T5 or T56 bolts right in though. All you have to do is cut a hole in the floor pan. Even the clutch cable hole is already drilled on the firewall.
The only non-stock thing one can see on my car is the 5.0 badges on the fenders. I put them on when I was 16 because I felt people needed to know what was under the hood. I wish I hadn’t because I’d like to take them off but I’m afraid I would damage the paint under them. 3M trim tape is really strong stuff.
Use dental floss to remove the 5.0 badges. It won’t hurt the paint. Residual glue might need a solvent to remove.
Handsome car. However, the odd offset of the headlights, particularly evident in photos 4 and 5, makes it appear they were supposed to have a clear aero cover.
I believe those were available as an aftermarket item back in the 80’s.
Generally I prefer the ’87 facelift, but that Medium Canyon Red and grey cladding look spectacular on the ’86 Turbo you’ve posted.
I posted on the Toyota Crown post a day or three ago that velour rocks! I just find leather cold and boring (albeit great-smelling). Velour is warm, comfy and inviting. To me anyway! (as long as I don’t think about Brendan Saur’s comment on the Crown post about “sitting in any cloth seats [with] retained bodily fluids from others…!)
Get your Rich Corinthian Velour here above at the T of Bird folks!
Nice cars gentleman, really liked thunderjet’s contribution.
Amen to that Sir
The 1983-1988 Birds were the best looking since the Birds of the 1960’s. I had a 1987 with the 3.8 V6. I also like the Mark VII too. I feel that both the 83-88 T-Bird and the Mark VII look so much better then the 89-97 Tbird and the Mark VIII. In fact the 83-88 Bird still looks just as stylish and crisp today as it did decades ago when it rolled off the assembly lines.
I looked pretty hard at an ’83 or ’84 aero Cougar – I liked it’s quirky roofline. Took a pass and went with another cheap old car. I did eventually purchase with my wife an ’89 T-Bird, used but very low miles and excellent condition in 1993. It did accommodate my young children as well as any two door of the era would, but it was traded for a new ’99 Town and Country.
There is something to like about almost any ’83 and up T-Bird. Not the least of which it put the ’80-’82 out of its terrible, awful, misery.
An ’83 TC was my first new car, and as such holds a special place in my heart despite its limitations. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/auto-biography/auto-biography-1983-ford-thunderbird-turbo-coupe-ecoboosted-egobooster/
I too prefer the 83-86 Birds over the 87-88. They might not be as aerodynamic but as is so often the case when the designers are forced to do a mid cycle refresh it usually doesn’t look as cohesive as the original design. Certainly there are exceptions to that rule.
Hilariously written piece, especially when describing childhood behavior in the showroom. I thought I was the only kid who was that bratty!
I, too, prefer velour over other other materials, but the facelifted 87/88 is better looking, IMO, looking less snout-y up front and leaner elsewhere.
I’m a Ford guy too but I remember taking a test drive of a 85 or 86 Turbo Coupe – thought they were great looking and had read a positive article in one of the mags and was really thinking this is going to be an enjoyable drive – got about 5 minutes out of the dealer and the engine started sputtering and then died. I pulled over (saleswomen was with me and apologizing profusely). After a minute, it started back up and we headed back to the dealer – it stalled two more times before we got back……
I drove Toyotas for the next 12 years before I went back to a US manufacturer (1999 Chrysler LHS)………
Love these cars as well! I came very very close to buying a Turbo Coupe in ’86. Everytime I see one, I think back and then kick myself!
This is really weird–yesterday the thought popped into my head, “Which car that I’ve owned would I like back?”, and the answer was, my 1986 T-Bird. It was just a V6/C5 coupe, but I really enjoyed that car. I bought it off the Hertz resale lot with 30K on it, and eventually repainted it a Mercedes-Benz blue-green metallic. Man was that car sharp. I drove it past 70K, then sold it because (1) the digital dashboard was winking and blinking, and (2) it was very tailhappy in the rain, which happens a lot in New Orleans. With top-of-the-line NAPA struts and a rear swaybar that I pilfered from a wrecked Cougar, it was a sweet Interstate cruiser and suitably nimble around town.
I replaced it with a ’90 T-Bird, which was one of the biggest POS I ever owned, and the car I would LEAST want back. C’est la vie!
I think these were good looking cars but in terms of performance they were WAY behind the contemporary Buick Grand National. The GN had it beat in hp, torque, 0-60 times…etc.
I want my GN back!
I’m the original owner of a 86 Turbo Coup. It has 134K miles and runs like a top. 5 speed and leather rounds it out. I also have a 97 Mark VIII and see a lot of similarities between the 2 cars.
Beautiful car you have.
If you don’t mind me asking, were taller springs installed, because it looks a little tall. But I dig it.
Had the same blue one as yours. It was comfortable for highway driving and a pain in parallel parking. Some female nagged for this one instead of the Merkur xt4. “The price was right” It was fun to drive but the quality was typical Ford. Differential went out at about 40k and later followed by the heater core. It wore tires unevenly and a left front suspension bolt with bushings broke about every year. Looks like yours wasn’t made on Monday
I walked into a Ford dealership and bought a grey 1986 five-speed right off the dealer floor. Needed to sell it two years later but what a ride. I’ve owned about 25 cars over the years and of all of them, I wish I could have my TurboCoupe back.
I got a 86 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. With Only 120k . Love It.
1996 T-Bird Turbo
Motor needs work but turbo is good
what would be value? In North idaho
I missed this one the first time around. My wife and I purchased a new 1986 Turbo Coupe not long after we got married. It was her car (it replaced a Nissan 300Z) and I drove it only occasionally. What I remember the most about the vehicle was the pronounced turbo lag, it seemed to take a couple of seconds for the turbo to spool up enough to provide any real boost. It made passing on two lane roads an exercise in planning for sure.
The Turbo Coupe was a pleasant vehicle to drive, at least as long as you didn’t get caught in a situation of having to wait on the boost. For the several years we owned the car I always thought that the 5.0 V8 would have been a better choice, more torque and smoother power delivery. The turbo four probably was lighter than the 5.0, and anytime you can take weight off the front end is a plus, but I always thought the four was an odd choice for a car like the Thunderbird.
One seldom sees a Turbo Coupe in the wild these days; most of them were driven hard and, as they made their way down the food chain, maintenance was deferred or just ignored entirely. I wouldn’t spend my money to own one today but if someone offered me one to drive for a couple of hours on a sunny day I wouldn’t say no.
Do you ever notice that nobody seems to have bad memories of the Fox-body Aero Birds? I wanted one bad, but I was only in high school at the time.
I owned a loaded Midnight Wine (dark purple) ’86 elan for a couple of years with the 5.0, and really loved that car. Great looking (still is after all these years), loaded with all the best ’80s electronics and gizmos, a great handler, and could knock down 25+ MPG on the highway. Now that that they are older (25+ years), I’m hoping to start seeing a few at shows.
The highway mileage was surprisingly good with the 5.0. I imagine that the Turbo Coupe would have been among the best cars of the ’80s if it would have had the Mustang’s High Output engine.