By on June 28, 2017

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

Check out these two words: Turbo Coupe. They roll off the tongue nicely, and all car enthusiasts should know exactly they mean — or used to. In 2017, they usually mean someone with a mullet is nearby, driving a beat-to-hell Thunderbird with peeling logos and ruined paint. Likely while listening to Whitesnake.

Our example today is what the term Turbo Coupe used to mean. It is perfect, painted a gleaming black, and on the floor there’s a five-speed manual. Here I go again…

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

From 1983 through the 1988 model year, you could go down to your Ford Dealership and check out the top-trim Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Unlike the six- or eight-cylinder base models, the Turbo Coupe featured a 2.3-liter inline-four and came standard with a manual transmission and limited-slip differential. Ford generously offered automatic versions, but not until 1984. The model variant underwent a name change for 1989, when the new, revised version with supercharged 3.8-liter V6 became the Super Coupe.

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

Now, on its own, an old Turbo Coupe wouldn’t really qualify as a Rare Ride; they just made too many of them. But this example stands alone as the cleanest your author has ever seen. The black paint choice and manual transmission easily push it over the Rare Rides qualifying barrier.

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

The aforementioned black paint shines like new, with nary a blemish.

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

Not a single detail on the vehicle is worn or incorrect. And like most Turbo Coupes, this one’s well-equipped.

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

Though it has 50,000 miles on the odometer, you’d never know it. Someone has taken excellent care of this Thunderbird.

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

Just look at those seats!

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via CraigslistAnd another interesting feature here: a switch to let the car know you’ve selected regular or premium fuel, whichever you prefer.

Image: 1988 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, via Craigslist

Currently listed on Craigslist in Detroit, the owner is asking $15,200. That seems a reasonable enough price, especially when considering the likelihood of finding another in remotely similar condition.

[Images: Craigslist]

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61 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Like-new Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe from 1988...”


  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Love it. I had one of these and enjoyed the hell out of it..
    Same color combo too. It was an auto, but still was a great ride.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    Listening to 94.7, whitesnake just might be playing for real.

  • avatar
    SMIA1948

    The Super Coupe’s 3.8-liter V6 was supercharged, not turbocharged.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    A switch to tell the car what sort of fuel you’re using? How janky. Shouldn’t a knock sensor be able to determine that? Or were those not as prevalent back then?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      This was still in the infancy of computer engine controls. It was easier and less expensive to put in a switch for the aggressive fuel and timing maps.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      yes, today. but this car is 30 years old now. The industry hadn’t yet even fully moved away from carburetors by 1988.

      IIRC the EEC-IV did support a knock sensor (used mostly in truck applications) but all it did was react if it sensed pinging. these early PCMs weren’t really fast enough to do too much “on the fly” adjustment, so you had two manually selectable fuel/boost maps.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        I know the Ford Probe GT released in the summer of 1988 had a knock sensor and could determine the difference between 91 octane + and 91 octane -.

        I believe it was one of the first “affordable” cars to have this technology. Knocking and pinging was a serious problem during the early malaise era. Gasoline makers would advertise that their fuels prevented “knocking and pinging.”

      • 0 avatar
        segxr7

        Exactly, my ’88 Turbo Coupe had a knock sensor, but the electronics were really primitive. I don’t think it was capable of more than “No knocking detected, run like normal” or “Knocking detected, cut the timing way back”. Considering it debuted in 1983, the PCM was probably developed in the 70s.

        It was a fantastic car, but the technology really wasn’t up to dealing with a high-pressure turbo. It ate plug wires and TFI modules like candy, and I never could quite get it running 100% right, despite replacing practically everything with new Motorcraft parts. Punch it on the highway and it was a total crapshoot whether it would shove you back in your seat, or…not.

        The electric brake booster was kind of bonkers, too. When it failed, not only did you lose power assist, but it only supplied like 75% force to the front brakes and *none* to the rear. Replacements were starting to get pretty scarce when I got rid of it, and that was almost 15 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No using a knock sensor that pulls out a ton of timing is the Janky way of doing it.

      At the time no one had thought about developing adaptive timing, that was still over a decade away, and I doubt the knock sensors available at the time had the precision required to actually implement adaptive timing.

      So the way knock sensors were implemented they only “heard” the more significant knocks and then the computer pulled out a bunch of timing in one big chunk and then returned to normal after a short period.

      So the octane switch that is accessible was a good solution to allow it to run on regular fuel as good as it possibly could. Of course they could have done it like they did on their other cars and hide it taped to the harness somewhere under the hood. Of course there were benefits to those cars that had the octane adjust under the hood since usually the fuel pump prime/test port was near it. So when you needed to prime and purge a fuel system after repair or do a test w/o the vehicle running you just remove the octane adjust shunt and place it in the fuel pump prime connector.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Also ocatane adjustment isn’t really something new. Back in the day when points were still common there were a number of cars that had an octane adjustment on the distributor itself. Hanging off the side was a clear plastic cover that unscrewed. With it off you could turn the knob to adjust the base timing to compensate for different octane fuel that you might encounter. The knob was marked with a “0” and hash marks so you can return it to the proper position once you got good fuel again. The owner’s manuals even told you about it in many cases.

    • 0 avatar
      operagost

      It didn’t have a knock sensor for the same reason it didn’t have a Bluetooth interface on the sound system.

    • 0 avatar
      AlfaRomasochist

      As a certified Old I had the opportunity to drive my cousin’s ’88 Turbo Coupe back in the day – early ’90s somewhere. I don’t remember exactly why but he had loaned it to me for a couple of weeks, and at one point I scraped together enough cash to fill it up with “the good stuff”.

      Don’t get me wrong, the car wasn’t slow at the “regular” setting, especially by the standards of the day. But switching it over to premium made a HUGE difference – I want to say it went from 9 PSI to 15 PSI max boost, or something like that. That was the car that taught me turbo lag can be a lot of fun.

      • 0 avatar
        SirRaoulDuke

        88 was also the only year that allowed full boost in first and second gears. I know, I had one, manual. Fun, comfortable car than made long road trips quick and painless. I still miss it.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    Flat gorgeous.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Corey, This is very nice, but in your comments you overlooked, the almost forgotten FILA edition T-Bird of that era.

    Having leased/owned one, I can state that its driving dynamics and performance were considered ‘excellent’ during that mediocre era (84 – 86).

    From a website that I will not name: “The FILA Thunderbird was the most expensive ‘Bird in the coop, even priced almost $2k above the more powerful Turbo Coupe.”

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/top-10-obscure-special-editions-and-forgotten-limited-run-models-ford-edition-part-ii/

  • avatar

    Sajeev?

  • avatar
    JimZ

    My second favorite Thunderbird. I actually really liked the Super Coupe when it came out (especially in that black/silver paint scheme) but there’s no way I’d buy an MN12 today.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Cory, fantastic find. My mom had one of these new back in 1988. White with red leather. She passed away about ten years ago and these pictures bring back good memories.

    Was not too fast off the line. But was a great highway cruising vehicle that could pass with ease with a downshift. The drive from Florida to Michigan and back was always comfortable.

    Very reliable car until it hit over 99k miles and no one could fix the overheating issues. At least the three Ford dealers and a local shop couldn’t fix the overheating issues.

  • avatar

    One of the few real beauties to come out of Dearborn in the 80s. Nice find.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Seriously. That this was sold in the same showroom as a Tempo coupe is pretty shocking.

      Many of my friends had 10 year old T-birds of this vintage (none super/turbocharged tho) when I was in high school back in the late 90s. They all had engine problems early on, but my friends managed to get a few years of use out of them by somehow finding pristine examples with 30k miles or less. Apparently old ladies loved to garage-keep these in the Chicago area.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Agreed.

  • avatar
    mca1686

    The chronic over heating issue is due to the cracked cylinder head. What makes it worse is a n/a cylinder head has a different shaped combustion chamber so find a oem non cracked or even repairable turbo head is next to impossible

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I bought a sweet ’88 T/C for my mom in ’94, $1,000 with the blown head gasket, easy fix. She loved it except for its rear visibility. I liked it a lot, except for the auto trans. Then I found a cheap SVO. Bye Bye Birdie.

  • avatar
    matt3319

    Wow!! I came very close to getting one just like this with a manual tranny. It was a used ’88 at an Enterprise Car lot. Mileage was like 15K. ot sure why I didnt get that Turbo Coupe. My dad let me get a 1989 Honda CRX Si in yellow. That was a good choice. The chicks digged me for my car and I knew it.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Nothing says “80s” like red pinstripes on black. This is the car that low-ranking GI Joes bought with their hazard pay from kicking Cobra Commander’s butt, and got a little too crazy on shore leave.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    Be still, my beating heart.

    I’m more drawn to a 1995-6 SuperCoupe but these are fantastic as well.

    Bravo, Mr. Lewis.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    When I was a kid I lusted after this car. Gotta love those equalizers on that stereo.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I haven’t seen one like this since I was a kid. This is a fantastic time warp and I love it. If it was a Mark VII LSC with air suspension intact, that would be even better. IMHO, Ford did a better job with its interiors than GM did for the same time period.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      I’ll give you that one. This interior is better than any GM coupe at that time. Did GM have a RWD coupe in 88 outside of the Corvette?

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        The F body was alive and well in 1988, and I think that was the last year of the RWD Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Not sure if its platform mates lived that long in RWD form or not.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        If you want to include the last gasp of the G-Bodies (actually ’87 carryovers?).

        The ’86 Monte Carlo SS i had actually looks quite familiar to this Ford’s layout and material – just a little more sloppily put together.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      They also had better interiors than GM in the 70’s on their PLC’s and the LTD/Grand Marquis were also visually nicer than the interiors of competing Olds & Buicks. Lincoln interiors were far ‘broughmier’ than their Cadillac counterparts.

      It was quite common even in Ontario to see cracked dashboards on many early 70’s GM sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      Looking at this interior, it’s a shame that Ford had to cheapen the MN12’s dash and door panels so much by comparison.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Those seats! That equalizer! Yowza!

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Those seats were outstanding also. Ford had some of the best car seats in the business in the late 80s. The Escort GT, Mustang GT, and Tempo sport models all shared the same seat. OK in the Mustang, pretty darn amazing in the Escort and Tempo. The Gen I Ford Probe LX and GT had, what I still consider the best front thrones one could buy in a mainstream brand to date. Adjustable thigh and side bolsters, lumbar support, 6-way adjustment power or manual. Drive all day and not feel beaten to death, can lock yourself in for autocross or track duty with the adjustable bolsters. I think the thigh adjustment in the driver seat went away in 1991, could be wrong. Those Thunderbird seats were also amazingly comfortable and grippy for the characteristics of the ‘bird.

      • 0 avatar

        One of the reasons why I kept my 95 Explorer, it also used those same bucket seats and 12-14 hours in the saddle with it was just as comfy as 2 hours in most other cars.

        Friend’s 85 Mustang was the same way, super comfortable seats- when it ran.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Oh the cleanliness. About what I’d expect to find in a garage that well-kept.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    A friend of mine owned a ’85 Turbo Coupe (5-speed manual), and it needed a new turbo (actually a Garrett rebuilt turbo) before 50,000 miles. The center bearing seal sprung a leak, and oil would seep down the intake duct, toward the air cleaner. A grand for the rebuilt turbo, and another friend installed it.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Pretty car.

    IIRC, that 2.3 Turbo had its roots in the Pinto 2.3 OHC engine dating from 1974, and turbo variants were used in Mustangs and even very rare Fairmonts.

    The 2.3 had a strong bottom end (crank), but the heads & gasketing were weak, and it was a rough engine. I had a couple non-turbo versions, with mixed results.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      It’s a Pinto 2.3 casting, but high nickel-content, plus all-forged internals. Truly overbuilt, embarrasses turbo 4s of its day.

      Like all 4 cylinders, it doesn’t mean you can beat on them all day like V8s. But racers are known to throw Hot Rod parts at the 2.3 turbo (stock block/crank, Mustang carcass) for 9 second 1/4 mile passes.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        “Like all 4 cylinders, it doesn’t mean you can beat on them all day like V8s”

        V8s are not inherently tougher than 4 cylinders.

        There are 4 cylinders that you can beat on all day long as well as V8s that are garbage.

        Do you think a Cadillac 4100 would survive abuse better than say, any Honda 4 cylinder?

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          “Do you think a Cadillac 4100 would survive abuse better than say, any Honda 4 cylinder?”

          Worst case vs best case. Weak sauce. The 2.3 turbo had more boost than any contemporary mainstream turbo 4, and easy to forget it’s not a V8. Frick yeah V8s are way tougher than 4 bangers. Where you been?? I lost count of all the times I overheated beater V8 cars and not one blown head gasket.

          They’re just different animals. Story time:

          My first V8 was a rebuilt-car (I did myself) from a “totaled” Mustang so when it 1st hit the street, no one (I knew) could figure out why it would run extremely hot, until it would overheat. It turned out it was a “wrong” used fan, pre “surpentine”. The junkyard said it was the “right” fan and it looked right, but the blades blew hot-air *forward* into the radiator. Common mistake at the time.

          • 0 avatar
            nels0300

            OK, what makes V8s stronger?

            I’m 40 years old, owned 14 cars, 4 cylinder, V6, and V8 and have been around cars and car enthusiast friends for all of my driving years. That’s where I’ve been.

            If the V8 configuration is stronger, why do semi trucks, and heavy duty industrial equipment use inline engines?

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            The straight 6 is the stoutest engine, from what I can tell. It’s not always the greatest for packaging, and automakers moved away from gas versions for multiple other reasons.”Emissions” is one iirc. Ask BMW, one of the last holdouts.

            I can’t explain why gas V8s are so much tougher to break (head gaskets especially) than V6s and 4 bangers. I’m not a mechanical engineer. I just know what is. Or tell me I’m wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            bikegoesbaa

            I am a mechanical engineer.

            You’re wrong.

            Even if your observations are accurate, it can be explained without inherent “toughness” of various engine configurations.

            The beater V8 cars you overheated were probably old boat anchors with iron blocks and iron heads.

            V8s were more common in less-optimized older designs with substantial thermal mass, big cooling passages, and a high tolerance for being overheated.

            Because of the way the auto industry has developed more optimized modern powerplants have tended to be 4 cylinders more often than V8s. They do not tolerate abuse as well, but not because they have fewer cylinders.

  • avatar
    nels0300

    This car should have been the Mustang, looks way better than any Fox body Stang.

    I say this as a former owner of a 91 LX 5.0L notchback.

    This car, in deep jewel green metallic, with the EFI 5.0L and stainless dual exhaust pipes from an LX 5.0L Stang….DROOL.

    That’s one of my lottery project cars.

  • avatar
    Shawnski

    From a Fox body purist standpoint the Turbo Coupes were great parts cars (rearend, brakes, wheels, swaybars, audio, seats, intercooler) but not exactly coveted. Too heavy. However this is an excellent example of a desirable TC; OEM and not butchered. Nice car!

  • avatar
    kmars2009

    I lived close to the plant that built these along with the Cougar and the Econoline van in Lorain, Ohio. Ford basically raped Lorain. They closed the plant when the Thunderbird ended and moved the van production to Avon, Ohio. Some people transferred to the Avon plant. Most people lost their jobs. That plant is now an eyesore on the shores of Lake Erie. The city of Lorain still hasn’t recovered from the jobs lost. Their economy is horrible, and the unemployment rate is high.
    Now Ford announced it will build the Focus in CHINA?!?!? I can’t imagine how many other cities Ford has done this to. Once the tax breaks end, they pull out and leave a city in blight.
    I WILL NEVER OWN A FORD PRODUCT.
    PS. GM did the same thing in several cities in Michigan.

    • 0 avatar
      jfk-usaf

      You make it sound like Ford is the only US company that has done this. Kellogg, Good Year, GM, Chrysler…oh, and don’t forget Carrier (after getting the promised tax credits)… just too many to list.

  • avatar
    jfk-usaf

    Loved these cars back in the day. I actually had a 1986 Mercury Cougar with the 3.8 v6 in 1990. Awful engine with absolutely no power.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    SMIA1948: This Turbo Coupe WAS a turbo.

    All the Fox-based T-Bird Turbos featured a turbocharged version of Ford’s ubiquitous 2.3 liter 4 cylinder, which debuted in the Pinto in 1974.

    The 1989 Thunderbird, the gracefully shaped car with indep rear suspension, THAT ONE had a turbo 3.8 V6. Though a heavy car, it was credible back in the day, and one of the best looking cars of that year.

  • avatar
    geo

    Truly beautiful cars.

    I’ve wondered why Ford didn’t make the 89 T-Bird into the next-gen Mustang. I know it was more expensive to build, but the higher volumes may have helped.

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