Keepers: Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

By Christopher Smith

September 01, 2009

(Photo courtesy of Joe Erickson, Rochester, MN)

Now that Ford is getting all excited about turbocharged engines, we thought it might be nice to revisit its original turbo effort from the 1980s. Long before Dearborn coined the term EcoBoost there was just plain boost, force-feeding Ford’s venerable 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Enthusiasts will recognize this engine as the force behind other Blue Oval 80s creations like the Mustang SVO and Merkur XR4Ti, but the unmistakably-aero appearance of the 1987-1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe holds a place in our enthusiast heart as having the best combination of performance, styling, sportiness, comfort, and gadgetry.

It’s that last bit that sometimes catches people off guard, for while most car nuts are at least somewhat familiar with the Turbo Coupe, few actually realize just how technically advanced this car was back in the day. Sure, drivers could get the turbo/intercooled engine making 190 horsepower, funneled to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox (automatics only had 150 horsepower), but that was only part of the Turbo Coupe experience.


A fully-optioned Turbo Coupe also included full power equipment, a factory moonroof, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, and an active suspension system with firm and soft ride settings. Those last two bits may not seem terribly impressive by 2009 standards, but twenty years ago those items were cutting edge in the automotive realm. As a result, the ‘Bird was quite an entertaining drive in either the back country or as a long-distance cruiser, and at full trot this Eighties icon could grab 140 miles per hour. It may not have been the straight-line performance beast that the Buick Grand National was, but it offered undeniable sex appeal in a luxurious package, with options that were years ahead of the competition. More importantly, it was also the only luxury performance coupe in its class to offer a manual transmission in a proper north-south configuration, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s what elevates the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe from a cool car to a Keeper.