By on August 11, 2020

Rare Rides featured exactly one example of the legendary Thunderbird name in previous entries: A late Eighties Turbo Coupe that was basically brand new. While the Turbo Coupe has a following amongst classic car folks, today’s early ’80s Thunderbird is not held in such high regard.

In fact, I’ll go ahead and call it the worst Thunderbird ever.

Bring on the Malaise.

By the turn of the Eighties, Ford’s legendary Thunderbird nameplate was due for a new eighth-generation model. The outgoing seventh-gen car was the last of the large Thunderbirds. Derived from the Torino platform, Thunderbird Seven was 217 inches long and utilized only V8 engines. But those sorts of figures were from a different era; downsizing and fuel economy were en vogue by 1978.

Those two things in mind, Ford changed the Thunderbird considerably for the 1980 model year. The coupe moved to the newer Fox platform, which Ford was keen to spread around as much as possible. Gone were the full-size dimensions; the new model was 17 inches shorter than its predecessor, and over four inches narrower.

Power started at a lower cylinder count than before: six. The base engine was an inline Thriftpower 3.3-liter, eventually offered alongside a larger 3.8-liter Essex V6. Two V8s rounded out the range, 4.2- and 4.9-liter mills from the house of Windsor. Like past Thunderbirds, only automatic transmissions were offered, in three and four forward speeds.

Thunderbird sales were strong at the conclusion of 1979, and production expanded from two to three factories in 1980. Thunderbirds were born at the Chicago, Atlanta, and Lorain Assemblies. The new car benefited from a lower curb weight, better handling and fuel economy, and incredibly low consumer interest.

Critics panned the new midsize T-bird, while customers shopped elsewhere for a personal luxury coupe. Between 1980 and 1982, Ford shifted 288,638 Thunderbirds, a total just 4,000 cars greater than sales for model year 1979. Ford couldn’t ready the Aero Bird soon enough, and the ninth generation was on dealer lots for the 1983 model year.

However, in the early Eighties one customer in New Jersey loved their Thunderbird, but felt it wold be better without a roof. They contacted Coach Builders LTD in Florida and asked for a beheading. The shop was happy to oblige in exchange for payment of $12,000. The New Jerseyan agreed, then shipped his $8,500 Thunderbird to Florida. Coach Builders scalped the Thunderbird and installed a custom powered roof, and their job was done.

Over the years the custom Thunderbird racked up 66,000 miles and found its way to California. It’s for sale there now, where this one-of-one (with two sets of wheel covers) asks $12,500.

[Images: seller]

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41 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Very Special 1982 Ford Thunderbird Cabriolet...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I don’t know if I’d call these the worse Thunderbird ever. The 2002-05 existed and these, like all things Fox Body respond well to the “347 Stroker and aftermarket love to the suspension and chassis mod” The 83+ cars did look great though and all that holds true for them as well but if you want a sleeper, you can do worse.

    • 0 avatar

      The 02 model, while incredibly corny, was just an S-Type / Lincoln LS. And all three of those things are miles better than this.

      • 0 avatar
        spookiness

        @Corey
        I occasionally see an 02 retrobird in my town. It is a medium gray, with more tasteful 15 or 18 spoke painted wheels instead of the usual flashy chrome 5 spoke wheels, and some of the chrome body bits have been blackened or made matte finish or something. It looks rather nice with those minor changes.

        • 0 avatar

          The interior on these is one of my biggest issues. Despite the retro price and special halo purposes, they did nothing to disguise the LS interior on it.

          There’s an even flashier Neiman Marcus one on BAT right now. 21-spoke chromes.

          https://bringatrailer.com/listing/2002-ford-thunderbird-46/

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Interesting link, current bid, $12,500. Original retail price, $41,995

            Bidder’s comment, “Some cars will not make their original retail price”

            This is a perfect example

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          A friend of mine keeps one at his winter place in FL. Turquoise, no less. And it is pretty much a perfect toy car for winter in FL if you aren’t that into cars.

          I’ve driven it a couple times, my only gripe is the typical of the era craptastic interior quality.

          • 0 avatar

            You know, considering they’re the same money, for that purpose I’d go with a different car that I also hate: SC 430.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I looked and a ’01-’06 Jaguar XK convertible (so the V8’s early issues were largely fixed) with similar mileage is pretty much the same money as the Retrobird. That gives you a better transmission, a nicer interior and styling that is “classic” rather than “poodle skirt malt shop”.

            If I was in the mood to pay the Toyota Tax I’d have to do the IS350C because the 2G SC430 is just too much of a blob.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            With it being a V8 and RWD, it might be an absolute hoot with 4.10 or 4.30 gears and a locker.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I actually like the ’02-’05 model, despite the unforgivably cheap interior. It’d be a great ride for me, circa 2035 or so.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    A boxy ugly Thunderbird with huge overhangs and a cheesy, hack job convertible top and they wonder why they called it the “malaise era” :(

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    ‘Lipstick on a pig’. The previous generation T-Bird was perhaps the best looking PLC of its era (but mine was a lemon and possibly tried to kill me on multiple occasions). The ‘aero bird’ was a success in a number of ways. In particular the Super Coupe (although I had the very limited production run FILA). So I did have both the generation immediately prior to, and immediately after this ‘dud’ generation.

    I do like the seating. But personally believe that it should match the colour of the instrument panel and carpetting.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’d drive it, wouldn’t buy it for that price but definitely would drive it.

    Most people consider the 76 T-Birds the last of the full size, sharing much with the Mark and full size Lincolns. The 77 was the midsize Elite, itself “A car in the Thunderbird tradition” with some new sheet metal.

    This is the second “downsizing” of the Thunderbird, but only in dimensions as it too was considered a mid-size by Ford being a stretched and widened version of the Fox. Much like the 77 B-body lost a lot of weight and size but was still considered full-size.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    It would be fun (if I had more money than sense) to take one of these ugly T-birds and make a sleeper out of it.

  • avatar
    Dirk Wiggler

    There’s no debate absolute worse T-Bird ever. Don’t believe? Look how fast Ford got rid of it and rehashed it. Ironically, the aero T-Bird is one of the best.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      The problem was by the time the aero T-Bird came out Ford had pretty much devalued the Thunderbird name to the point that it was no longer on anyone’s radar. When they tried to bring it back in all it’s glory that no longer existed Ford was shocked that no one cared

      • 0 avatar

        Honest question: If they had continued the streak of desirability, would it have mattered much longer? By 1988 the PLC was mostly dead across the board.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          I doubt it, originally the Thunderbird and Corvette were equals in price and market, Ford took the Thunderbird in every conceivable direction away from it’s original intent. Where as the Corvette stayed true to it’s original concept. See where they are today?

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            True but through the 60’s and until this downsized, cheapened version the T-Bird was considered a prestigious, desirable vehicle and sold relatively well for Ford.

            As auto engineering improved and discovered ways to increase power despite pollution controls, drivers tastes did change and plush PLCs did fall out of favour.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Arthur, the Thunderbird was fine through ’76 even as a luxo-barge it still had prestige, but from ’77 on when it went down-market to catch the mid-priced PLC popularity that signaled the beginning of the end for the “Thunderbird” name. When Ford tried to go back up-market with the retro-bird there were too many junkie old T-Birds still running around to capture any mystique of the originals

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Ah, yes, the “Corvette versus T-bird” debate. You know what? I’d argue Ford’s approach worked rather splendidly for a long time.

            The Corvette stayed a sports car, but the T-bird morphed into an ersatz luxury coupe by the ’70s, and they sold TONS of them. And given that almost all those T-birds made after the mid-sixties – the exceptions being the final Aughts and late-’80s/early ’90s model – were based on shared platforms (the late ’70s models were fancied-up Torinos) they probably made a fat profit on every one they sold.

            In fact, I would be willing to wager a twenty that Ford made more over the T-bird’s run than GM has on the Corvette.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “In fact, I would be willing to wager a twenty that Ford made more over the T-bird’s run than GM has on the Corvette.”

            I’d take that bet. Other than that the Corvette has been around for decades longer now, and likely hasn’t lost money in those gens, it isn’t like the late C3s were costing GM a fortune in margins either.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            When I acquired my new 78 T-Bird, the name/marque still had considerable prestige. The previous larger T-Birds were as you know, were identified with a high prestige (and price) scale in the PLC hierarchy. Competing with the likes of the Toronado and Riviera. And the T-Bird still retained some of the ‘cool’ aura related to its use in shows like Seventy-Seven Sunset Strip.

            The 77-79’s were still relatively large, good looking (for the time) vehicles that benefited from the prestige acquired over the previous generations, but at a price point more reflective of less ‘exclusive’ PLCs. Thus yes, they did start the downward slide. But the 77-79 models sold very well as they became available to a new group/’class’ of buyers.

            It was the Fox body T-Bird that drove a stake into the heart of any prestige that remained with the T-Bird name. I knew of a number of ‘executives’ including the top managers of the Maple Leafs who traditionally received company leased T-Birds. The Fox body T-Bird ended this tradition, as they were considered to be ‘downmarket’. They were no longer large, attractive and desirable vehicles.

            The Aero-Bird was not able to reclaim the T-Birds former ‘executive’ image, instead becoming positioned as more of a ‘driver focused’ vehicle

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @Ajla: I think you’d lose.

            Ford sold almost ***one million*** T-birds between 1977-79 ALONE, all based on an ancient Torino platform and existing mechanicals.

            Even this generation of T-bird sold in decent numbers, and it was based on a Fairmount.

            I think the T-bird would get the win based on sheer sales volume.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            The MN12 cost a fortune to develop and GM has the entirety of the C5, C6, and C7 generations (so over 20 years) where there was no virtually Thunderbird. And again, the C3 was also “old platform and existing mechanicals”. It may not have had the margins of the superfly ‘Bird but it wasn’t a weak money maker either.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            “The MN12 cost a fortune to develop…”

            And missed so many of it’s design targets you’d think that it was a GM project.

            I still kind of want a Cougar from the end of RWD V8 production, loaded with every option – please no vinyl roofs though.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well the 77-79 also only lasted 3 years and it was a huge success, so they didn’t get rid of this one any quicker than they did the one that preceded it.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I read that Ford’s NASCAR teams had a lot of sway with the 83 model (Specifically Ford’s desire to not have the big names defect) and getting it out there. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday was still a viable strategy back in the 80’s and on the big tracks the Aero Birds were a force and pretty much wholly responsible for the oddball GM low number variants of the time (Aero-Coupe Monte Carlos, etc.)

      And the Aero cars came out in 83 and sold well. It was the MN-12 cars that presided over the end of the PLC (Though my Challenger is as much of a PLC as any of these so I’d argue its actual death) but the MN12 cars did well at the beginning if I remember though the 94 decontenting was a sign of the writing on the wall for sure.

      No, there was nothing stock about the cars EXCEPT the bodies. This was an era where they at least tried to pretend and the stock body shells at least meant the cars looked like their showroom equivalent.

      Personally I think the Aero Birds have aged the best of any of the Fox Body cars and still look good today. I’d love an 85+ Thunderbird Turbo Coupe manual (I go back and forth on if I like the 4 eye ones or the 87-88 best) or an 87-88 Cougar XR-7 with turbines, a nicely built small block and maybe a manual swap.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    And I thought this car couldn’t look any worse. I stand corrected.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Even as a lover of most 80’s Fords and the Fox platform, this is absolutely terrible looking. One of the few cars where chopping the roof off didn’t improve it at all.

    I mean, kudos in a way to the original owner for getting built what he couldn’t buy off the lot, but wow.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    As a drop top fan (but not of this), all I can think of is imagIne the cowl shake in this thing.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 1980 girlfriend’s stepmother bought a new 80 T-bird with the 255 V8. That car was so lame it couldn’t spin the tires in reverse, facing downhill.

    The girlfriend was far more interesting, but didn’t last as long. ;-)

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    These Fairmont Birds were only around from 80-82. The same Fox body platform evolved to the very good Aero birds and Cougar.
    This car has the optional vent windows which probably help to give it some structural support on the windshield bow.
    The plusher version of this bench seat with the armrest power seat controls lived on in the 83-87 Continental.
    The Mustang Fox based convertible wasn’t revived yet until 83 so they must have either used the same chassis components like the torque boxes or constructed them as the only other Fox drop top was the custom made ASC McClaren Capri.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    They are asking 10K too much for this heap.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Note that being a 1982 model this car’s top engine option was the 111 HP 255 V8 as the 302 was dropped this year from the lineup including the Cougar. So if this is a factory original car besides the convertible mod it’s engine choices were the 88 HP 200 six, optional 232 Essex 112 HP 3.8 V6 and the 255 was the top choice. The 3.8 and 4.2 were mated exclusively with the 4 speed AOD transmission and a 3.08 rear end which helped performance a bit but I imagine this heavier convertible is a pure dog no matter which engine it has unless somebody upgraded to a 302 of course.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    And there it is…of course…the word “Malaise”. I am so sick of seeing that word every single time 70s or early 80s cars are written about. Enough already. How did the use of that stupid word get started?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Paul Kersey drove one of these square Fox body T-Birds in Death Wish II.So at least it some cultural significance.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Sadly it doesn’t look attractive and there’s where the sales would have come from .

    Chopping tops and adding sun roofs was big business at that time .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I wonder what would happen if Ford introduced a 2020s Thunderbird–as an SUV with several “distinctive” styling touches. Oh, wait, they’re doing that already with the Mustang.

  • avatar
    graham64

    Turd polishing of the highest order.

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