Curbside Classic: 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe – Ask And You Shall Receive

Back in June, Jason Shafer shared with us a CC on the 1986 Thunderbird Elan. While it elicited many positive comments, the one most repeated was that even though this version was nice, everyone would like to see a CC on the revised 1987-88 ‘Bird. Commenter Sean Cornelis made the comment that he hoped one day one of these would appear on CC. Well, Sean, your wish has been granted!

A lot of words have been written about the 1983-86 Thunderbirds, so there’s not much need to rehash them now. You CCers who just have to know can find Jason’s post on the ’86 Elan here. I’ll wait while you check it out.

All done? OK, then, back to the ’87s and ’88s. In 1986, Ford was hard at work on the MN-12 T-Bird and Cougar set to bow for 1989. Meantime, the Fox-based Bird and Cat needed updating, and in 1987 Ford saw that they got it. Although their new look was not drastically different from that of the ’83-’86 models, their wheelbase grew a fraction of an inch, to 104.2″, and overall length increased a full 4.5 inches, to 202.1. The bird had sprouted a longer beak.

The ’83-86 T-Bird was very successful for Ford, so it made sense to give it an extensive facelift, even with replacement models only two years away, to protect the franchise. There were also a number of functional improvements to accompany the revised styling. In the case of the Turbo Coupe, they included new anti-lock rear brakes and, for manual transmission-equipped cars, and a horsepower boost from 155 to 190.

Those who desired a boosted ‘Bird with an automatic had to settle for 150 hp. Ouch! But in truth, an automatic wasn’t really in keeping with the car’s performance-minded intentions. The Turbo Coupe was also the fastest-stopping ‘Bird, thanks to its model-exclusive four-wheel disc brakes and aforementioned electronic ABS.

The attractive new look, interior refinements and increased power all added up to a nice, if not all-new, T-Bird. The 1987 Thunderbird managed to capture Motor Trend‘s Car of The Year Award.

Turbo Coupe amenities also included articulated sport seats with adjustable headrests, thigh supports and power-adjustable lumbar support, as well as full instrumentation with both a tachometer and (of course) boost gauge.

For 1988, the basic Thunderbird and the LX came equipped with a 3.8-liter V6. Both offered more-traditionally T-Bird-style motivation, in the form of an optional 155-hp, 5.0-liter V8.

While we’re on the subject of the LX, let’s look inside. Yes, these were pretty plush. With their soft cloth seats, wood grain and digital dash, they were much more like a Bill Blass Lincoln Mark VII than the BMW-inspired Turbo Coupe. And with that lovely V8 burbling under the hood, you could cruise in comfort and style. Let’s face it, the 2.3 was a little thrashy.

Only the Thunderbird Sport came standard with the V8. Sports also got a special “handling” suspension that utilized the Turbo Coupe’s quadra-shock rear suspension, but lacked its automatic ride control and other refinements. Sport models also shared the turbo ‘Bird’s Traction-Lok rear axle. Undoubtedly, many would have loved to see the 225 hp HO version of the V8 available too. But Ford was pretty invested in the Turbo Coupe. Too bad.

I shot this particular car last summer, in Bay City, MI, while on the way to bring my father home from the hospital to enjoy his final weeks of life. I think that is why I never did anything with these pics until now.

This car caught my eye not only because it was painted my favorite color offered on them, but also due to its surprisingly good condition. And look, it has the stick shift, too!

It’s too bad that cars of this ilk fell out of fashion. To me, there’s nothing better than a nice, mid-sized personal/grand touring coupe with a nice combination of luxury and sporting pretensions to make things interesting.

Maybe one of these days….(hey, it doesn’t hurt to dream!)

Editor’s Note: All 1988 Thunderbird brochure photos are from The entire brochure contents can be found on their web site here.