By on July 4, 2012

The Thunderbird got an independent rear suspension in the 1989 model year, and Ford added a supercharger to its 3.8 engine and created the Super Coupe. Motor Trend, probably still smarting from the Renault Alliance fiasco earlier in the decade, awarded its Car of the Year award to the Super Coupe, and we can assume that the buyer of today’s Junkyard Find believed that he or she was buying the best car of 1990.
With 210 horsepower on tap and big-for-the-time 16-inch aluminum wheels, the Super Coupe was quite sporty.
This one only made it to 143K on the clock, but I’m sure each mile was lived to the fullest.
Premium Sound! The Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox uses Ford Premium Sound 6×9 speakers, and they aren’t as premium as I’d hoped they’d be.
We’ve seen a few of these cars in 24 Hours of LeMons racing, which says a lot about depreciation for worn-out MN12s. They aren’t particularly quick on a road course— about on par with the 302-powered Fox T-Birds— and the engines tend to explode after a few hours of full-throttle abuse, but supercharging is always cool.

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28 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1990 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe...”

  • avatar
    Dirk Wiggler

    Still love the SC version of these T-Birds.

  • avatar

    I was in college when these came out and remember thinking that they resembled a BMW 6 series. I also remember the car mags deriding the 3500# curb weight. That independent suspension apparently came in way over the weight budget.

  • avatar

    I always liked these, I thought Ford was a really forward thinking company at the time. A couple have popped up on craigslist with blown clutches, or whatever, but they are usually pretty cheap, and they go before I can get one.

  • avatar

    Depreciation? Does that even apply to a 23-year old car? I would think by that age, decent ones will be about to begin an appreciation curve!!

  • avatar

    The 3.8 was the same engine used in the Taurus and Sable cars, it also suffered the same head gasket failures too. The intake manifold was the same with the water exiting the opposite side of the engine to the radiator. The Eaton blower boosted the HP from 145 to 210 but the torque felt really great off the line.
    Ford should have deployed this package in the Mustang, it would have been well received.

    • 0 avatar

      Wasn’t the SC version of the 3.8 less prone to HG failures? Also, I think the 5.0 and the 3.8SC would be almost identical in performance if they had dropped it in the Stang.

    • 0 avatar

      No it wasn’t, a common mistake. The standard 3.8 and sc version shared displacement and head gasket is sues and that’s about it. Different crank, pistons, rods, ect. The block itself is even physically larger due to the larger coolant passages.

  • avatar
    John Fritz

    I’ve always wondered what major cost savings Ford realized by designing those worthless AOD shifters without the ability to select second gear.

    Some of us knew the trick to select “D”, let the tranny up-shift to second and then pop the shifter into “1”. That way you could hold second gear indefinitely. Or until you got slowed down enough for the car to automatically down-shift back into first.

  • avatar

    I recall seeing one of these for sale on a Ford dealers’ pre-owned lot while I was shopping for a new 1994 Probe GT. Funny how you never see these or the GT’s around anymore, at least not here in the South. Beautiful car, still.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I remember when these were all over the place, same as the Taurus, what happened to you Ford?

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Did anyone notice that there is a penny in the glovebox below the A/C controls?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I currently own a 95 Thunderbird LX with the 4.6 V8.(MN12)Bought it a few years back to replace my 87 Thunderbird(Fox body)which had the 3.8. Which I owned for a very reliable 14 years and 187k until the head gasket blew. When I was looking at Thunderbirds to replace it I did consider the SC model but was leary about some of the reliability issues, namely head gaskets and electronic suspension problems. My 95 is just as powerful as an SC w/205hp gets mid 20’s MPG hwy. It has been quite reliable, normal maintenance for a car with 114k on it. The only mod being a K&N replacement filter element and ceramic brake pads. It handles great considering it has IRS and weighs 3500lbs. My 87 weighted a mear 2800lbs which by todays standards is fairly light weight and also handled nicely. Considering these are basically a stretched Mustang GT w/Cobra IRS insurance on these is quite reasonable too, you do not pay the performance car rates, just what it would cost to insure a mid-sized luxobarge.

  • avatar

    Back in the mid 90’s my parents owned a ’93 Thunderbird LX with the NA 3.8. When they went new car shopping, they offered me the Bird free of charge IF I agreed to get rid of my 1968 Cougar. I wisely declined.

  • avatar

    While far from being a S/C, my parents had a ’97 NA 3.8 T-Bird. The only thing that went wrong was that a brake light burnt out. That was it. Really great car, sure not exactly the paragon of speed with it’s 145 hp with an auto and it was fairly spartan by today’s standards (rear drums that were likely non ABS, a/c, cassette, power windows and locks, that was it!) but it never had any issues. My parents though wanted something nicer with 4 doors and they traded it for a ’99 Chrysler Concord LXi, which was utterly horrific in every respect. The Chrysler was literally the worst car they ever owned and made them really miss the T-Bird.

    I’m waiting for Murilee to do the Chrysler Concorde soon…. it’ll happen……

    • 0 avatar

      Wow, I thought all cars above econoboxes in ’97 had CD players standard. Now I wish you could even get a cassette player in addition to CD standard, because I’m into all my old tapes again.

      I agree, Murilee needs to find one of the awful LH cars for this column. Those Concords, along with all the other hellish variations of that platform, were truly pieces of crapola. They looked good for about 10 minutes, and then the styling got really tiring. The worst was the second-generation Intrepid. The ultimate in middle-American tastelessness.

  • avatar

    Oh lots of good memories of the T-birds, though never owned one myself, I was a sort of GM guy. Couple of friends had these, back when we were all getting jobs and enough money to have a nice car.

    Silly Ford designed the big ol T-bird for only the 6 so we got the Supercoupe. You have to drive one to believe it, the torque peak was higher then the HO 5.0 of the day, and quite a bit lower RPM, it was quite a stump puller. Later models got a bump to 230hp and a redesigned interior.

    IIRC the roots blower was *upside down* on top of the engine, intake air went in under the front of the manifold, out the top through the big “Supercharged” tube to the intercooler, then back behind the blower underneath it into the intake manifold proper. Silly but how else do you get an air-to-air intercooler with a roots, the much simpler GM 3800s were non-intercooled.

    I had friends with Turbocoupes those were nice in their own way, a much lighter car.

    I always liked the performance luxury aspect, very well equipped cars. Ford had a quite a performance portfolio in those years, I think I may have picked an LX 5.0 or SHO over the big bird.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    I couldn’t do it then, and I can’t do it now.

    Go ahead and try….

    Say “Tee bird Turbo Coupe” ten times… fast!

    (When I try, I end up saying a certain NY Jet QB’s name instead. I crack me up!)

    For a few years after college, I aspired to one of these, as I drove my Ford Tempo HSO coupe (great car for me…don’t laugh.)

    By the time I could afford one, I wanted a ‘Vette instead….

  • avatar

    I had an 85 with the 5.0. Truly a bulletproof car. I didn’t go for the 4cyl turbo coupe because the 4cyl turbo was “all hat, no cattle.” But when this “Super Coupe” came out, I really wanted it badly. I almost got one, but I didn’t like the fact that every tenth car on the road back then seemed to be a lower-level non-SC Thunderbird, which I thought were too bland looking. It was really all about the great engine (for its day) and the subtle styling tweaks that I loved, but the brand positioning had slipped, and I talked myself out of it.

    • 0 avatar

      And the ’85s looked a hell of a lot better than these Birds. I hated the styling of this boat…it’s like a giant slab, with terrible detailing. Mounds of cheap black plastic/rubber all around the windows. Yuck.

  • avatar

    I have a 94 SC with a 5 speed manual trans. It’s one of 722. The 94s have an improved superchager, and are rated at 230 hp. The torque is 330, at 2,600 rpm.

    This car really shines as a comfortable high speed GT. It cruises effortlessly in the Colorado mountains. The active suspension rides nicely on Denver’s rough roads. On the smooth mountain highways, a flip of the switch to the “firm” setting really tightens up the handling.

    The Super Coupe Club of America website has a lot of info on these cars. I’ve read that Ford purposely restricted the exhaust and the supercharger intake so that the SC would not outperform the Cobra Mustang.

    Changing the exhaust, the supercharger top, intake, and driving the supercharger 10% faster really makes these cars come alive. Opening the exhaust helps the head gaskets to survive. Also, the coolant should be changed yearly.

    I have less than 60,000 miles on mine, and it’s been trouble free. There are guys in the SCCOA pushing 200,000 without major problems.

    These cars are definitely under recognized and under appreciated.

  • avatar

    Pops had one of the very first 1989 models. I think it might have one of the first 300.

    He gave it to my mom, who promptly and accidentally fishtailed the the big SC out of the junior high school parking lot. She was terrified but I was very proud.

  • avatar

    The Thunderbird was a great looking car…Ford’s 6 series. Low beltline, airy greenhouse, slender roof pillars. I do remember Ford designers were chastised for missing their target weight by a few hundred pounds. The 3.8 liter engine was a dog and The 302 engine wouldn’t fit because of the low hood..The heads were redesigned for the car and it spent a short time as an option until the SOHC 4.6 was available.
    Only 210hp from the supercharged engine while Buick was previously getting 245 using turbocharging.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, except the 6-series had attractive trim and the BMW designers paid some attention to detailing. As well as a decent interior. Ford tried, but could not escape the generic quality inherent in all of it’s designs of that decade.

  • avatar

    I have a 1990 Red SuperCoupe. Still own it. Has approx. 110,000. Currently garaged. Needs new interior. I have read all the blogs and a few notes. The radio is indeed very good. However, I blew it out twice because of playing it so loud, the caps melted. I replaced with a lincoln model. No more caps. works great. I put an auto-start in in it when no one know what that was. I have radar and air horns. Now the HP #’s. For all of you who think it only has 210 HP (as I have been reading) you are so wrong. That engine produces over 285 HP. Ford was playing games again just like in the 60’s with the Cobra. I had it on the dyno. I drove the 8 cyl. version rated at 225 hp. My t-bird blows the doors off the car. When the mustang came out that year, I had the opportunity on a open road to see what the coupe had. Not sure what the Stang had but it was more than 210hp. Anyway, I was driving on an open highway and a Stang (convertible) was in front of as we were doing about 70 MPH. I was driving solo he had a girl in the car with and wanted to show off. He crept up to 85 and I stayed behind him. He noticed what was going on and stepped it up to 100. Again, I stayed right behind him. I now moved of to the right lane and started creaping up on him. We are doing about 110 now. I then see his exhaust burn and I step on it more. 2 hands on the wheel now. Upcoming car, slow roll to the shoulder and around him. 120 and (oops the speedo only goes to 120, don’t ask me why) We are now even. He is bewildered and I punch it to the floor! He could not keep up with me. I was pulled away and the speedo was passing 6:00. I was finally running out of real estate and the car waas still creaping faster but I had to get off the highway. What a rush. He got off the exit as well. He pulled up next to me asked me, “What the hell do you have under the hood?”. I told him a 6 banger and smiled. I asked him what speed we were doing because mine only goes to 120. He said he was going 146 and I was pulling away from him!!! That is not coming from 210HP people. I never did it again but the car rocks. Another thing you can’t do with 210Hp. I could sit on those tires and burn them till there was no rubber left. Went thru my 1st set at 4,000 miles. 210HP my butt. The tourque is off the charts as well. Drives more like 300Hp And by the way, I also confirmed it with a techy at Ford. I told him my story and he was not surprised at all.

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