Spreading Its Wings: 1985 Ford Thunderbird

By Jeff Bennett

At the dawn of the 1980s, design trends dictated that styling on most cars was boxy and linear.  While many cars looked good with this type of design, they weren’t very aerodynamic.  As the eighties progressed, and Corporate Average Fuel Standards requirements rose, engineers were looking for any way to increase fuel mileage.  While form usually follows function, Ford managed to hit it out of the park styling wise when they redesigned the Thunderbird for 1983 to make it more aerodynamic.  These beautiful “Birds were a success on both the sales floor and in NASCAR, and are considered one of the greatest generations of Thunderbirds.  If you feel you missed your chance to own one of these revolutionary cars when they were new, then today is your day.  This 1985 Ford Thunderbird, found here on eBay with a current bid of $3050, is fresh out of long term storage.  Having just 5,269 miles on its digital odometer, this near perfect survivor is currently waiting in Monaca, Pennsylvania for its new owner.

Often, it is hard to put your biases aside in this job.  Some cars I like and some I don’t, and sometimes I make no bones about it.  While I try to back up my opinion with evidence, emotion also plays a big part in what I write.  This car stirs up some emotions for me.  My mother had a maroon 1984 Thunderbird, and it was replaced by a slightly more luxurious Champagne colored 1986.  While I was in college when the 1986 showed up, I drove the 1984 a fair amount.  I couldn’t help but love the styling, and it was an enjoyable car to drive.  It was a base model, with cloth seats and the 3.8 liter V-6.  I remember how light it felt in comparison to the 1980 Chrysler Cordoba I drove at the time, and how responsive it was.  The car drove very well, handled like it was on rails (compared to my regular ride), and got great gas mileage.  Around 100,000 trouble free miles were racked up before an unfortunate wreck, and my father and brother walked away with nary a scratch.  R.I.P. one good Thunderbird.

The car we are looking at is probably one of the nicest ones left.  According to the seller, it was purchased new by an uncle who, unfortunately, died a year and a half later.  The widow then drove it to get inspected each year, only to put it back into a heated garage.  This game went on until 1997, when I imagine the gas turning into stinky dulce de leche in the tank made starting the car problematic.  In July of this year, the car was unearthed and put back on the road after basically replacing the entire fuel system from the gas tank to the injectors.  The engine is said to run smoothly, and the transmission shifts as if it were a new car.  This is great news, as automatic transmissions often have problems after sitting for extended periods of time.

Looking at the interior, everything appears to back up the 5,000 mile claim.  The seat bolster is in perfect condition, the steering wheel is not worn, and the pedals don’t appear to have any rubber worn off of them.  The owner also provides documentation to back up the claim, so you can be pretty confident with this purchase.  Looking deeper into the interior, this car is equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, stereo, power driver’s seat, and power windows.  While there were more upscale versions offered in 1985, including a special 30th anniversary model, a prospective buyer could be quite comfortable behind the wheel of this Thunderbird.

Nestled under the hood is Ford’s ubiquitous 3.8 liter V-6.  It was the base engine in Thunderbirds of this vintage and, for once, the base engine was totally up to the task.  The engine was pretty smooth for a V-6, and was more than enough engine to push the car past 100 miles per hour.  Or so I have heard.  As you can see, there is adequate room to work on the engine in these.  While you likely would travel a number of miles in this car before repairs are needed, parts are cheap and plentiful for these Thunderbirds.  They are built on the Fox chassis, which they shared with the Mustang.  Ford made a lot of money on that particular chassis design, and the cars they made on it have quite a following for a lot of good reasons.

While it is hard to think of the cars of your youth as collectible cars rather than just everyday cars, this Thunderbird is 32 years old.  We are a long way from these being common sights on the road, and that makes me feel old.  I guess it happens to everyone.  At any rate, these cars are now eligible for judging at Antique Automobile Club of America meets and tours.  At the last AACA meet I attended in Charlotte this year, I was amazed at the number of cars in the show field built after 1970.  Many of these later model cars were unrestored survivors, and it was fun to talk to the owners about them.  Most of these car caretakers didn’t seem to have a lot of money tied up in the cars, but they were proud to tell you the story of their car and of their trip to Charlotte in them.  Many of them had loaded up their families and turned the trip to the meet into a family vacation.  Half of the fun is in driving something different, and the other half is in talking to other enthusiasts about cars.  This particular Thunderbird is perfect for someone who wants to enjoy the hobby without spending a fortune.  With super low mileage, this car could last an enthusiast for a long time.

 

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Comments

  1. Miguel

    I had a Mercury Capri with the 3.8 V6. Never again.

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  2. Oingo

    Something this old with some sort of failure that there are no parts for can make it an ornament. Take the 03 Honda Pilot for example, the seat drivers power seat design allows for the lowering and raising mechanism to break thus freeing the seat from the frame and making it inoperable from a safety aspect. In my area most all of seats from wrecked ones have already been pillaged for the seat. As a bonus Honda doesn’t sell the frame but won’t tell you that after waiting for 3 months I bought the last seat that was close enough to be picked up a fluke it matched my interior color and material.

    1+
    • DrinkinGasoline

      Something this old ? No parts ? Interior seat parts can be cross referenced at any wrecking yard. Upholstery and padding can also be sourced through numerous vendors. I wonder how you would source parts for something “really old”…like, say a 38 Ford Standard Sedan ? I can…

      6+
  3. Rustytech

    Now that’s how to advertise a car on eBay, one picture of it as found, then lots of nice pictures showing its condition. Sellers take note. This is a gorgeous car. I always wanted one of these, but was looking for a 5.0l with the bucket seats and console. They are hard to find. I’ve found lots of bucket seat cars, but they were turbo 4cyl ( yuck). I would have no problem with this V6 though. I had one in an 84 Mustang, it was easy to work on and I put over 180k on it commuting to work and for weekend trips with the top down. This does have an unmet reserve at over $4800 now, It will be interesting to see if it reaches the reserve, and how high that # is.

    5+
    • Mike H

      In the early 1990’s I had a first year (1983-1/2) Turbo Coupe; non-intercooled and with a 5-speed, the car wasn’t anyone’s idea of a rocket ship but it had respectable performance for the time, and with well over 150k miles on it the car was surprisingly reliable. In this respect I guess I don’t understand the (yuck) comment, but I agree with the rest of your comments.

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  4. Jay Hicks

    Looks like it could be built on the Mustang “fox body” chassis.

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    • Mike H

      I believe it actually is. There was a lot of parts commonality between this vintage of Thunderbird and the Mustang.

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  5. Craig MacDonald

    I saw one of these years ago in champagne, stripped of trim and emblems, dropped just a bit, and with some nice wheels. Looked sharp. Told myself, “some day….” So I look at this and wish it were today.

    1+
  6. DrinkinGasoline

    Like you Jeff, I had the mis-fortune of owning an ’80 Cordoba.
    I would have liked to seen Ricardo Montalban take a ride with me in that POS. Cheap squeaky interior trim, premature rust, and rattles everywhere. And yes, I test drove it….tight at first. By 1983, the bottom of the door skins flapped in the breeze at highway speeds allowing rain water to infiltrate, not to mention snow and salt. It spent more time at the local Chrysler Plymouth dealer than in my own garage.
    Compared….the T-Bird must have felt like a Lincoln.
    I would certainly DD this ’84. Before all of the naysayers claim cheap overseas metal….my wife was driving an ’81 T-Bird that was 10 times the vehicle that the Crapdoba was and held it’s metal. I’m glad she had the better vehicle as i was left stranded many times. Better me than her.

    3+
  7. Al D

    My first new car was a 1983 5.0L version of this car. Excellent, comfortable car and very reliable. That being said, the 3.8 V6 cars had chronic head gasket problems until Ford redesigned the gaskets. If this has the originals (likely, due to the mileage) they wiil need to be replaced. We did tons of them in the 80s at the dealership.

    1+
  8. W9BAG

    I really like Thunderbirds. I have had 2: a ’76 (last of the barges), and a ’97 with independent rear suspension (!). They both were very dependable, comfortable, and stylish. I kept the ’97 longer than any car I’ve ever owned: 12 years. Always had it serviced at the local Ford dealership. Those guys were pro’s.

    I really like the color of this one. VERY nice car. Thanks for sharing !

    1+
  9. Joe Haska

    I had a T-Bird of this vintage, can’t remember exact year, I am sure someone will know. It came from the factory, with 141/2 inch wheels and tires. At that time, the tires were still available, you just couldn’t afford them. It was cheaper to replace the tires and the wheels. Fun fact, wish I had known before I bought the car!

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    • Mike H

      Would those have been TRX wheels/tires? Offered on Mustangs of this vintage they were Ø390mm, or approximately 15.35″. Michelin also offered the TRX in a Ø365mm (14.37″), but I don’t think those were ever fitted to any Ford products.

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  10. Dan D

    I always liked a car with a column shifter and bucket seats. Nice car.

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  11. Mike Williams

    Wait and buy a v8 or the Turbo coupe with 4 cyl turbo for a good handling car.

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  12. Al

    Bought from new a black w/red pinstrip 5.0 ’85 and loved it. The dealer pushed it on me as I was looking at Mustangs, but strangely, they were more expensive. One test drive and I was sold. Half sports car, half luxury car. It was a head turner also. Had no trouble selling it 3yrs on when I moved overseas. Only trouble I had was the trans went at 60k miles. I don’t think that was too unusual back in those days.

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  13. Dan L
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