(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.