Vintage R&T Review: 1983 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe – Eco Boost Pioneer

Although my purchase of one the first of these 1983.5 Turbo Coupes in LA was rather impulsive, I had read the magazine’s reviews of it. I more distinctly remember Car & Driver’s review, but reading this one, part of hundreds of vintage R&Ts sent to me by a CC reader,  brought it back to me. It clearly influenced my decision, one I might most likely not make again if I was reliving the spring of 1983. Nevertheless, I have quite a few fond memories of it.

R&T points out that this is their first review of a Thunderbird since 1959. R&T founder John R. Bond was quite fond of the original two-seater ‘bird, but once it went the way of a softly-sprung, heavy luxury coupe, it had no more interest to a magazine dedicated to cars that would appeal to enthusiasts. But the 1983 Thunderbird marked a major turning point, most of all the new Turbo Coupe.


R&T was very complimentary about the TBird’s new exterior styling, except for the too-chromey grille. I felt the same way. certainly, it was a pretty remarkable job coming out of Ford, after its Brougham-induced brush with near-death. 1983 was the year Ford really started to come back. Obviously, it still sat on the Fox platform, but there were worse things in life to start with, especially its light weight.

This was a whole new generation of Ford’s 2.3 L turbo four, the first one having been a dud. With genuine port fuel injection and Ford’s very advanced EEc-IV fully-integrated electronic engine management system, driveability, response, and performance were all considerably improved. yes, R&T noted it got noisy above 4500 rpm, but it ran cleanly to its 6200 rpm redline. R&T noted that it was a quiet and fine high-speed cruising car. Which was exactly my impression. The turbo four could be obnoxious in traffic, especially with four aboard and the a/c on, but once on the open road heading up across the high desert, it was very happy, relaxed, quiet with the cruise control set at 95. That was a revelation to me in 1983.

R&T rightfully knocked the Turbo Coupe’s interior, although the actual production TC did have a proper full-size tach, not that little one as in this pre-production prototype. But Ford was still coming out of its poor years, and didn’t have the budget for a new dash, which was a carry-over from the previous Box Top T Bird, except for the better instrumentation. But I wish that steering wheel had made it into the production version instead of the corporate wheel with that awful rectangular center section. Yuck.

As R&T said, if Ford had had the money to do a cheaper version of the BMW 6 series interior, the Turbo Coupe would really have been a game changer. Its interior was a very compromised aesthetically, but it was functional and the seats were comfortable, with one of the first applications of the blood-pressure pump-style lumbar support bladders.

The TC’s handling was not perfect, but quite a good compromise, given its prosaic Fairmont chassis.

My full write-up on my ’83 TC is here