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Garage Find: 1987 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

Some people have asked why I  drag vehicles out of the woods and proceed to nurse them back to health. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one is because I find it incredibly boring to just buy the best one I can find. Sure, it makes way more sense financially, but what kind of story is that to tell your grand kids? “Oh, I just went out and bought it” versus “I dragged it out of the muck and breathed new life into its rotting carcass.” I don’t know – one of those gives me goosebumps, the other doesn’t. Still, considering I want to rescue a Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe from my pal’s property in Georgia and this one just showed up here on craigslist about 45 minutes away from me for $5,999, I can sometimes question my own logic.

Keep in mind, some of the cars I acquire aren’t destined for anything other than sitting around for a few more years until I get to them. That’s what any Thunderbird acquisition would consist of, especially since it can reside 800 miles away and out of my line of sight. Seeing one of them in cherry condition, however, makes me want to dive in and restore it immediately because my God, these are handsome machines. This one also has just 57,000 original miles on it, and comes with the preferred manual transmission. The seller claims it’s been sitting in a garage since 1999.

So, the lack of use and low mileage means you get a pretty damn minty interior, and the driver’s bucket doesn’t suffer from the bolster separation that so many higher use cars tend to. The color combination is excellent, with the more subdued gray cloth versus the Bordeaux red some of these Thunderbirds came with. The seller notes that due to sitting, the gas tank should probably be cleaned before it gets used (ironically, I just sent off a junkyard tank for cleaning and re-sealing for my junkyard rescue Isuzu Trooper project) but it still starts up and runs on command.

I love the slightly European undertones the Thunderbird and Mustang SVO had, what with its turbocharged four-cylinder that also did duty in the Merkur XR4Ti. Plus, the engine was actually a legit performer, dolling out some decent horsepower, at least enough to give 5.0L V8 shoppers some pause. These cars will undoubtedly come back into vogue as the resurgence of 80s classics continue to make appearances at big auction houses as part of the new “Youngtimer” class, and while the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe will never be worth six-figures, plenty of people will still get in line for a good one – and I imagine this garage find won’t be for sale long. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Peter B. for the find.


  1. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Good looking car and a 5 speed too! Only negative I can note is the Rusty Jones coating. I had a truck done by the dealer IIRC that was Rusty Jones and it rusted out bad in only a few years.
    The car itself looks good and for the right person would be a good driver.

    Like 3
  2. CanuckCarGuy

    Beautiful car, at a very reasonable price for the presentation…having previously owned one, this seems undervalued for the fun and exclusivity that they offer.

    Like 2
  3. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    The styling on these was clean yet interesting, sporty and classy at the same time. The way the Turbo Coupes specifically were trimmed out was just right. That’s why these cars have, in my opinion, aged better than just about any contemporary vehicle.

    Like 6
  4. Don Page

    Jeff Lavery If I were you, I’d hook up the trailer & go. It won’t last long for that price & condition. You’ll still have some work to do on it but you could driving it soon. Always loved the look of these. If I was in the market for a car & it was closer, I’d be making a road trip !!!!!

    Like 1
    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Don, you are a wise man. I have two temptations at the moment (this being one of them): Need to see which one can be bought for the better price….both have needs.

      Like 0
  5. JBD

    Great car! Great find! I really want one like this!

    Like 1
  6. Imperialist1960

    Season 7 Episode 79 recently released episode of Hot Rod Garage (I get mine on Motor Trend On Demand for $5 a month or something like that) has the guys putting modern boost on one of these cars with BIG results. Turbos have come a long way since this car was made. If it’s your thing, could be a hot car to boot around town.


    Like 2
  7. Ted

    AARGHH!! Yet again the Gods Of Buy Another Car have laughed at me, this couldn’t be farther away from me and still be in North America……..darn this living on the west coast of Canada……..I’d punt my LX notch out the door for this car if it was closer, great price, no sunroof, and crying for a Jon Kaase type transfusion. Sigh……….

    Like 0
  8. Randy Mccumber

    A guy i worked with had one of these T birds, couldn’t keep a turbo in it. I know for sure that he had 3 replaced under warranty

    Like 0
  9. LastCJ

    This was my second car after a Jeep CJ7, and these still look great. Got it used with about 60,000 miles. Drove it for the last couple years of college and a couple years after. The turbo made driving a lot of fun, maybe too much fun. It could have been my driving but I think the 4-cylinder engine relied on the turbo a little too extensively. The turbo went completely out at around 80,000 miles. I’m not sure what the curb weight of these versus the SVO or XR4Ti but maybe the T-bird was too heavy of a car (or my foot was too heavy on the turbo). It was having electrical problems, too. I remember my little-first-job paycheck kept going to the repair shop. Outside of the turbo, neat features for 1987 were the automatic headlights and the Ford keypad to unlock the door.

    Like 1
  10. Bill

    Be Afraid, be very Afraid. One of the least reliable cars I ever owned. Bought the 87 in 93 with 55K miles. Following happened in 4 years of ownership:
    failed Catalytic converter 55k
    Broken timing belt 56k
    failed ignition module – 60K
    failed alternator
    clutch and transmission rebuild
    intermittent stalling issue that dealers could not diagnose

    It looked great while it was running however…

    Like 0
    • W9BAG

      Unfortunately, there always seems to be someone that had a “lemon”.
      With comments made of previous owners not mentioning issues of reliability, sounds like you had a “Monday” car. I had a buddy that had one of these. Surprising that he was a die hard bow tie guy. He stopped by on a sunny Sunday morning with his Gold Turbo Coupe. After all of the oohs and ahhs, we went for a spin on the interstate. I was totally blown away how much “oomph” the turbo 2.3 had. Very well appointed, handled very well, and had all of the available accoutrements. I really liked that car.

      Like 0
  11. JBD

    I was thinking with minor mods this car could be making modern Ecoboost numbers and still run reliable.

    Like 0
  12. Bakyrdhero

    Still a beautiful look 30+ years later.

    Like 1
  13. Joe Haska

    I had a friend who worked for Ford when these were new. He let me drive before he told me what it was. I was stunned ,I kept looking under the hood studdering this can’t be true.

    Like 0

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