Ford Thunderbird (ninth generation)

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Ninth generation Ford Thunderbird
Ford Thunderbird -- 08-12-2010.jpg
Manufacturer Ford
Production 1982–1988
Model years 1983-1988
Assembly Lorain, Ohio
Wixom, Michigan
Hapeville, Georgia
Designer Jack Telnack (1980)
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door coupe
Layout FR layout
Platform Ford Fox platform
Related Mercury Cougar
Lincoln Continental Mark VII
Engine 2.3 L Lima I4 (turbo)
3.8 L Essex V6
5.0 L Windsor V8
Transmission 3-speed C3 automatic
4-speed A4LD automatic
4-speed C5 automatic
4-speed AOD automatic
Borg-Warner 5-speed T-5 manual
Wheelbase 104.2 in (2,647 mm) [1]
  • 1983-1986: 197.6 in (5,019 mm) [1]
  • 1987-1988: 202.1 in (5,133 mm)
Width 71.1 in (1,806 mm)[1]
  • 1983-1986: 53.2 in (1,351 mm)[1]
  • 1987-1988: 53.4 in (1,356 mm)
Predecessor Ford Thunderbird (eighth generation)
Successor Ford Thunderbird (tenth generation)

The ninth generation of the Ford Thunderbird is a personal luxury coupe built by Ford for the 1983 to the 1988 model years. While nominally shorter and lighter than its predecessor, the radical change sought from the previous model was not in overall size but in exterior styling and handling. As opposed to the traditional straight-edged styling carried from the 1970s, the 1983 Thunderbird was an aerodynamic design (drag coefficient of 0.35) that would serve as a preview for vehicles such as the Ford Mustang SVO, Ford Tempo, Ford Aerostar, and Ford Taurus.

Although bearing little resemblance to the 1980-1982 Thunderbird, this generation also was derived from the Ford Fox platform and shared the Mercury Cougar as its counterpart. In 1984, the Thunderbird and Cougar were joined by the Lincoln Continental Mark VII, which was produced until 1992.


Following the introduction of the 1980 Thunderbird, sales of the nameplate sharply decreased in comparison to its 1977-1979 predecessor, despite it being a more fuel-efficient vehicle. As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, personal luxury cars gradually became more sporting in image, with vehicles as the BMW 6-Series and Mercedes-Benz SL increasing in popularity. In 1980, Ford President Donald Petersen asked Ford Vice President of Design Jack Telnack of the 1980 Thunderbird: "is this what you would want in your driveway?". The negative response by Telnack prompted the company to request the Thunderbird be restyled completely.

A Lincoln proposal was designed in the Lincoln Mercury Studio which Mr. Peterson liked. Dave Royer was assigned the task of putting a design similar to that on the Thunderbird package. He and Master Modeler Sam Borg put the clay model together in a very short period of time. Caldwell approved it and Royer then developed it further in the wind tunnel. Many members of design management thought it was a mistake. One high level design management person referred to it as a "Burnt Tennis Shoe."

To give the car a more contemporary image, the body was completely redesigned from the ground up. Aside from the egg-crate grille and the Thunderbird emblem (which were both significantly updated), no styling cues were carried over. As a necessity to control development costs, the 1983 Thunderbird was forced to retain its Fox-platform chassis. In the style of the Ford Probe concept cars and the 1982 Ford Sierra, the Thunderbird was designed for aerodynamic efficiency alongside its looks, with many of its body panels having rounded edges and its doors wrapping into the roof. In extreme contrast to its predecessors of the late 1970s, the 1983 Thunderbird was designed to minimize the use of chrome trim; some trim levels limited it exclusively to the wheels.

Design history[edit]


1983–1986 Ford Thunderbird

Following its redesign for the 1983 model year, the Thunderbird came in base, Heritage, with an all-new performance-oriented Turbo Coupe as the most expensive model. Both the base and the Heritage came standard with a 3.8 L (232 cu in) Essex V6 that produced 110 horsepower (82 kW) mated to a 3 speed automatic. A 4.9 L (302 cu in) Windsor 5.0 V8 with 140 horsepower (100 kW) was available with the former two models as well. The Turbo Coupe, the top-of-the-line model was special for several reasons. It used a turbocharged 4-cylinder 2.3 L (140 cu in) engine with Ford's EEC-IV electronic engine control system. Unlike the other models, the Turbo Coupe came with a standard 5-speed manual transmission. Other improvements included a limited-slip differential (called "Traction-Lok"), larger tires and wheels, and a sportier interior complete with analog gauges.

Rear view of 1985-1986 model

For the 1984 model year, few changes were made. The Turbo Coupe gained a 3-speed automatic transmission as an option. A "FILA" model was introduced, which featured unique paint, unique interior, and wheel choices, as well as badging to provide the car with a more European feel. The mid-range Heritage model was renamed the Elan.

For 1985, the Thunderbird celebrated its 30th year in the Ford model lineup; a 30th Anniversary Edition model was offered, that featured unique blue paint and stripes, and came very well loaded with options. It was loosely based on the Elan model and most examples were equipped with the 5.0L V8. In addition, all Thunderbirds received an updated interior. Turbo Coupe models increased engine output to 155 horsepower (116 kW)

Minor changes were made in 1986, including the addition of a center high mount stop lamp, and the deletion of the FILA edition. In 1986 Ford began work on the "MN12" project which would serve as the basis for an all-new Thunderbird generation. Supposed to compete against the BMW 6-Series, Ford believed that the new Thunderbird would be too big a change for the public and still wanted to capitalize on the success that the existing generation of Thunderbirds had brought.


1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
1987-1988 Ford Thunderbird LX
1987-1988 Ford Thunderbird Sport

For the 1987 model year, the exterior of the Thunderbird was updated to further improve its aerodynamic performance. The headlights were changed from sealed-beam units to flush-mounted composite units and the rear quarter glass was also flush-mounted. Thunderbird Turbo Coupes were distinguished by their own front bodywork, which did away with a traditional front grille, featuring functional hood scoops directed to the intercooler. In sharp contrast to the Thunderbirds of a decade before, chrome trim was used only sparingly; on Turbo Coupes, the only chrome trim on the entire car was the Thunderbird emblems and lettering.

The model lineup was further changed; to bring the Thunderbird in line with other Ford models, the Elan was dropped, replaced with LX and Sport versions. The LX was equipped with the V6 while the Sport was equipped with the V8. Turbo Coupes gained an intercooler, essentially giving the car the powertrain of the Ford Mustang SVO. Versions with the 5-speed manual were given a power increase to 190 hp, reaching a top speed of 143 mph. Versions with the 4-speed automatic transmission (new for 1987) were detuned to 150 hp in the interest of transmission durability; turbocharger boost was reduced to 9.5 psi (65 kPa or 0.65 bar) instead of 10-15 psi (70 to 100 kPa or 0.7 to 1 bar). Turbo Coupes were equipped with anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes, Automatic Ride Control, and 16-inch 225/60VR performance tires. The Turbo Coupe also featured a performance-styled front valance with fog lights and special trim with "Turbo Coupe" badges on the doors, as well as "Snowflake" 16 inch alloy wheels.

The Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe was named the Motor Trend Car of the Year for 1987.

1988, the final year for the Turbo Coupe, saw only a minor change. The 5-speed manual transmission now allowed the full 15 psi of boost in all forward gears (as opposed to excluding the first two gears). The Turbo Coupe was replaced in 1989 by the Super Coupe which had a 3.8 L supercharged V6 engine—a radical departure from the old turbo-4.

Production totals[edit]

Year Production[2]
1983 121,999
1984 170,551
1985 151,852
1986 165,965
1987 128,135
1988 147,243
Total 885,745


  1. ^ a b c d "The Aero-Bird Thunderbird FAQ". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Tast, Alan H. and David Newhardt. THUNDERBIRD FIFTY YEARS. Motorbooks. October 15, 2004.