A very poor review today by Regular Car Reviews: tagging the 1988 Thunderbird as the quote “Black sheep of the Fox Bodies”.
Au contraire… the ’88 Thunderbird was one of the most advanced of the Fox body variants. And the most pleasant to own.
The video review starts by mentioning (not showing) the 8th generation Thunderbird, which ran from 1980 to 1982. It replaced the much larger 7th generation (’77 to ’79) with a much smaller car, Fox-platformed, but with very similar styling and appealing to much the same demographic. Ford’s concern at the time was whether the new smaller ‘bird would be too small… hence they held onto the familiar boxy styling. Back in the day it was tolerable… today of course it’s just awful. But it did sell a bit and moving to the Fox platform means that it was built at a very reasonable re-engineering expense. And it even offered TRX tires and real German Recaro seats as an options: strange options given the styling and intent – but perhaps as an experiment to test the waters for something better.
Note that from this point on we’ll be referring to the enthusiast version only: the Turbo Coupe. The first enthusiast-specific version of a Thunderbird in many many years!
But now the review jumps from the ’80 to the ’88 model, a Turbo Coupe, the 2nd iteration (reskinning) of the 9th generation, totally ignoring the first iteration of the 9th generation known by enthusiasts as the “aero-bird”. It came out in ’83 and lasted thru ’86. This is the real story… how Don Peterson took the Thunderbird thru a major evolutionary step unlike any in the previous 20 years and in an entirely new and radical direction. State-of-the-art aerodynamics, modern in every way. And without any acknowledgement to the baggage of the previous couple generations. A fresh approach – and unique. There is an enormous story here of leadership, risk, and bold decisions. And their reviewer entirely missed it.
Why the big miss? We suspect that this is because the folks at Regular Car Reviews had a friend with an ’88 Thunderbird so they just wrote the review around it. A modified non-stock car (painted intake, snake oil cap, wrong exhaust, lowered, wrong wheels, etc.) but nonetheless a very handsome example.
Oh, BTW, what are our own credentials? We were there during these years… not as a Thunderbird owner but as owners of a dozen other Fox-body cars including the all-important SVO. And we did test drive an ’80, an ’83, and an ’88 model – brand new – at the time.
So let’s look at the ’87-’88 model years. The Thunderbird received a big redesign for ’87 with a new front and rear ends (carry-over doors), aerodynamic headlamps (planned for ’83, but due to a delay in Fed approval they weren’t able to be readied in time), an updated suspension, and big jump forward in braking capability with an anti-lock system and improved discs. But it was the same Fox platform substructure under the improved looks. And this was the pinnacle of the “Fox” Thunderbirds.
The engine was a slightly updated version of the Mustang SVO engine, with several improvements including a large intercooler (a popular retro mod for SVOs), serpentine belts (HP-saving), much more efficient air intakes for the intercooler (the SVO actually exhausted air at speed up and out of its scoop – backwards. The Thunderbird now properly fed air into the intercooler thru the scoops). And a slight decrease in HP to combat the sensitivity of this engine to pinging under load (especially important given the increased weight of the Thunderbird over the SVO). But in reality, the Thunderbird wasn’t supposed to have this engine at all… it and the ’87 SVO were supposed to have a new DOHC cylinder head and a nice HP and torque increase. But the SVO was cancelled, and along with it its new engine. Hence the Thunderbird made due with the improved 2.3 SOHC.
So here we have the perfection of the very popular ’83 Thunderbird.
And now the review claims that the Thunderbird was somehow “detuned” so that it wouldn’t be faster than the Mustang SVO. Or the Mustang GT. The Mustang SVO having been cancelled at the end of the ’86 model year, and the Mustang GT receiving a raft of improvements including a 25 HP jump from improved breathing. And both directed at entirely different demographics. And the Thunderbird being much heavier than either. This is where their claim falls apart, trying to claim some sort of conspiracy their like that theory that claims that GM detunes the Camaro so that the Corvette is always faster. Just as ridiculous as that theory, and just as silly. Neither take the actual engineering factors into account, the weights of the cars, the demographics of the target market, the model cycles, nothing.
If there is an untold story here, its the story of the missing 2.3 DOHC engine, and also of the last-minute change to the ’87 Thunderbird: 5 bolt discs (instead off the 4-bolt inherited from the base Fox platform). At the last-minute in the development of the car they were changed from 4 to 5-bolt discs… probably to be consistent with the Mustang which used the same discs on front (unbelievably, rear discs not being offered again until the ’93 Mustang!). The first marketing materials, including a nice cutaway drawing, showed 5-bolt discs. Strange. But at the time this car was introduced, the far more radical MN-12 Thunderbird was wrapping up it’s design. An all-new platform, short/long-arm suspension at all 4 corners, and a supercharged V-6 engine. An even bolder step, one that was only possible because of the leadership of Don Peterson in bringing the ’83 Thunderbird to market earlier in the decade.
So the Regular Car Reviews video is cute with lots of singing and growling… but the facts are wrong. To be fair, maybe there is some redemption near the end, but the basic facts are still wrong. And Thunderbird enthusiasts want the significance of the aero-birds recognized as well as the huge contributions of Don Peterson. Mr. Peterson did almost as much to improve Ford then as Alan Mulally did more recently. He moved mountains to make this car happen, and the aero-bird was one of the highlights of his vision.