Turbo 5-Speed: 1988 Ford Thunderbird

For a short time, I was dead set on owning a Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. These are handsome cars, and of course, they are peak 80s when it comes to buying a vehicle that will always draw a crowd at your local Radwood gathering. The powertrain is proven, and responds well to additional tweaks should you be chasing more horsepower – now, the trick is finding a nice one. Fortunately, we see survivors like this 1988 Turbo Coupe listed here on eBay fairly often, wearing low miles and remaining in stock condition. This is a later production example that made maximum boost in all five gears, and it has the preferred manual transmission with a price of $10,800 and the option to submit a best offer.

The Turbo Coupe stood apart from lesser models both under the hood and in the looks department. Some of the cosmetic tweaks included the blacked-out taillights out back and the Marchal driving lamps in the front air dam that seemingly every performance-oriented Ford and Mercury product left the factory within the middle-to-late ’80s. Red and black/gray striping was seemingly required to appear somewhere on the car if it had some speed under the hood, as it was used by imports like the 16 valve Volkswagens and the Fox-body Mustang GT. Cosmetically-speaking, this Turbo Coupe looks quite clean, and you don’t see these in white all that often.

I briefly considered acquiring one of these off of my friend’s property in Georgia, as it was bone-stock mechanically but needing all the usual deferred maintenance items addressed. My bigger concern was the adjustable electronic suspension – there’s no direct swap in from the aftermarket if the trick adjustable suspension stops working. I ran into this with the horrible Subaru XT6 project I bought years ago, which featured an obsolete air suspension with no off-the-shelf parts that would work. This Turbo Coupe likely doesn’t need any immediate work done to the chassis, but having gone through the nightmare of trying to re-create what engineers get paid a bunch of money to do, it cured me of any interest in owning one.

The turbocharged 2.3L featured a top mount intercooler and dual exhaust to push out a respectable 190 b.h.p. and 240 lb-ft of torque. The earlier Turbo Coupes were a bit more restrictive in comparison to later cars like these, as the ECU didn’t allow for maximum boost beyond the first two forward gears. This 1988 model doesn’t have this problem, with an updated ECU that allows for all 190 horses to be unleased regardless of the gear you’re in. Finding a Turbo Coupe in stock condition has been a hard car to track down for a while and it’s only going to get harder; best to buy one now before they disappear entirely. Which turbocharged Ford product from the 80s is your favorite?

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Comments

  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    For the Fox Body fans, Mustangs of this era rightfully garner the collector attention. But these Turbo Coupes are a great second choice. I think the overall styling has aged very well; they still look good. Just the right amount of sporty touches. The turbo 4 powertrain was well-sorted by this time. This particular example looks like it has had good care and has the preferred manual transmission.

    Ebay posting already taken down. I thought the price was reasonable; perhaps someone already got it. Jeff is right; now is the time to find a nice one, the prices haven’t picked up much yet, but I suspect they will.

    Like 13
    • Al_Bundy Member

      Had my eye on the listing as well. Would love to have it ! I think what is missed here is that this is one of the most durable turbocharged engines of it’s time. The 79-80 2.3 was a blow through carb and not very reliable. It came back in 1983 with EFI, continued refinements, intercooling for the SVO Mustang and TC. Archaiac motor but solid. This bird was amazing for it’s day in terms of comfort, performance and appearance. Even if you didn’t opt for the TC you could do well with a 232 V6 or 302 V8 and look pretty good.

      Like 6
  2. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    I loves these cars as an 80’s kid. My uncle had a black 86 turbo coupe and that was one neat car (wrecked in a snow bank in 88) the 87 update made these even better both mechanically and cosmetically. In this body style I prefer white or black with a burgundy interior, but this cars blue interior is just fine also. This one looks pristine and someone will have a blast with it.

    Like 3
  3. Christopher Gentry

    In 1988 , I was 18 and thought this was about the coolest NEW car around. Always wanted one. Friend of mine in the 90s had a good one like this. I was envious. Wish I could afford one and my wife didn’t hate them

    Like 9
    • Ike Onick

      Sounds like decision time Christopher.

      Like 12
  4. gyates

    Very nice T’Bird. My aunt and uncle had one. There’s was white like this one and had the automatic, grey leather, the oh-so-cool graphic equalizer, and basically every option except a moonroof. Nice vehicle. The automatic did cut power some, but it was still a very quick car. Fun times..

    Like 3
  5. Stephen Miklos

    Finally a Bird in my backyard to buy! And it’s gone!! Ahhhh😩 Dang it!! That was quick! I would went there with cash in hand and drove it home. 20 mins away.. oh well next time.. before King Cuomo close🔐 the state!! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! 🦃🇺🇸🐻🇺🇸

    Like 9
  6. Don Page

    When these came out, I loved the way they looked and still do. It amazes me how modern it looks. If a young person saw it today, they would probably think it was a new car. White would not be my first color choice.

    Like 4
  7. Brian

    I’ll sell mine if I can get something near that ask from someone out there. 83 original owner under 80.000 mi 5 spd silver over red , garage kept ,dusty with a new replacement gas tank in the box on the rear seat,and one full of all kinds of crud under the car . Think it was the first one in Cincinnati ,G.M at Kerry Ford was demo it when I bought it, it still even talks to ya,headlight are on,door is ajar,lol.

    Like 2
  8. JoeNYWF64

    I don’t see any springs, struts or prop rod – wonder how that hood stays up & why don’t most modern cars have that setup.
    No front grill at all or numbers on the temp gage – i would think these things run hotter than other cars, especially with the turbo under there.
    One of the last cars with a “man’s” trunk lid that does not go down to the bumper (for loading of items by weaklings).
    Would a car like this(with automatic) not sell well today?

    Like 1
    • Steve

      The hinges have springs on them. New cars are cheap and disposable, and use prop rods.

    • Lc

      I have a 90 Mustang LX hatchback, 5spd, with a 2.3 turbo swap (originally 2.3 aspirated). Engine came out of 84 TC; VAM, injectors, and cpu out of 88 TC. Engine temperature good; however, the engine temp gauge may read a little higher if it is ran very hard like constantly putting the pedal to the medal.

  9. Christopher Gentry

    I wish. Apparently all that sales well today is really BIG trucks with more creature comforts than a rolls Royce from my child hood. Or Really big “SUVs” with again more electronic gadgets than the bridge of the starship Enterprise. I hate em

    Like 3
  10. Rick Vinson

    Beautiful car. I’m glad it’s sold. I would have been tempted to pull the engine and transmission and put them in my ’78 Pinto. And that would be a shame.

    Like 2
  11. Steve Bush Member

    Good to see an apparently very nice car like this go for a very reasonable price. Don’t quite understand why more people don’t buy something like this instead of spending the same or more on some rusty POS that will require a huge investment of time and money to get right.

    Like 2
  12. RH FACTOR

    Worked on these when new at dealer. You’re not gonna like this, but they were a much nicer car with the automatic. I say this because the boost remains high on accel because of the torque convertor keeping the RPM’s fairly constant. Nice car, regardless!

    Like 3
  13. MLM

    I wanted one of these so bad when they first came out and I still think they look good after 30 plus years along with the Buick Grand National/GNX.

    Like 2
  14. Triton54

    Also Motortrends 1988 car of the year!

  15. David Miraglia

    Even without the stick shift and no V8 these were great cars to drive. Quintessential 1980’s personal luxury car.

    Like 2

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