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


(first posted 10/4/2016)    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.


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.


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…


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…



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.