Well-Maintained: 1986 Ford Thunderbird

While Thunderbirds of this generation aren’t many people’s first choice, it is a rarity to see one on the road these days let alone one in decent condition! Although the pictures aren’t super high quality, it is clear that this car has been cared for and from the pictures alone most people would not guess that this car has 173,000 miles on it! The Fox platform has been a fan favorite ever since it came out, but the Thunderbirds and Cougars of this era have only recently started to gain popularity with the cost of Fox-body Mustangs climbing. Though this car needs some minor repairs, the seller has maintenance records for the last 13 years. Find it here on craigslist in Nevada for $1,750.

Like many Thunderbirds and Cougars of the ’80s, this car is equipped with a 3.8 liter Ford V6. Though not known for power or reliability, this engine will get you where you want to go until it won’t! A 302 Ford V8 can be swapped into these cars and a friend of mine has done exactly that to his Cougar. The bigger engine really makes a difference in these cars! Though I would leave this Thunderbird alone until it needed a new engine, a bigger engine would be great fun as nobody would be expecting a “grandma car” to perform similarly to a Mustang. As it is, the seller really stresses that this car runs great.

Though the color scheme is less than exciting, the interior looks to be in near-mint condition. For approaching 200,000 miles, the seats and carpet are in better condition than anyone could possibly expect. Is it crazy of me to say that these seats look comfortable? For under $2,000, this would make someone a really nice daily and/or commuter. Though the paint needs help, the interior certainly doesn’t! This further reinforces a history of care.

Though not exactly a head-turner, this Thunderbird could look like new for the cost of a paint job and a set of tires. Still far from a collector vehicle, there is a realistic possibility that Cougars and Thunderbirds of this generation will see value appreciation in the future as many of them were discarded 10+ years ago. Though this is priced to become a beater, there is hope that someone will come along and appreciate this Thunderbird for how nice it is and give it the love and care it deserves! Would you keep the V6 until it breaks? Or replace it with something more interesting immediately?


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  1. John M.

    I’d jettison the 3.8 V6 for the 5.0 V8 after buying the car. The Ford 3.8 V6 is notorious for blowing head gaskets like crazy unless both gaskets were replaced earlier in the life of the engine.

  2. John M.

    If it was my call, I’d jettison the 3.8 V6 for the 5.0 V8 after buying the car. The Ford 3.8 V6 is notorious for blowing head gaskets like crazy unless both gaskets were replaced early given the the car’s 200k.

  3. Nathan Avots-Smith Member

    No knocking silver over blue on my watch—I think it’s a very classy combo! (Never mind that I own a car in those colors.) The cloth on the seats looks nice, but I doubt they’d actually be terribly comfortable. Ford seats were notorious for poor lower back comfort for many years. Still, this is indeed one of those cars that you just don’t see anymore; nice find!

  4. grant


  5. David Miraglia

    Rented a later model T bird at the end of the 1980’s. The car was pretty smooth with the six, no barnburner

  6. Dick in SoCal

    I had its corporate twin, an ’88 Cougar with stock FI V8 and it was great for getting around including the freeways but the vintage will never be among the great classics. I would do the minimum maintenance and drive it “as is”.

  7. Rustytech Member

    The 5.0 was optional on these, but rarely seen. I too would go for the 5.0l, but I’d also drop in the third pedal just to make it interesting.

  8. Wayne

    Nice car!

  9. Mike Williams

    I had the Turbo coupe with the 4 cyl turbo, loved that car. fast as the v8 and got the mileage of the v6, the only one to have.

  10. Al

    Looks like my car but mine is 1988

  11. Matt

    I am looking at this exact car in color combination. I plan on keeping the 3.8L til the end of the V6 life. Then, a 5.0 for sure. I do need to check the bolt pattern for more modern V8s versus the old school 5.0

  12. Wayne

    Matt, The 3.8 is the same bolt pattern as the 5.0/302. Also, it has been my experience that the 3.8 will go just about for ever (It is not very stressed in stock/factory trim) as long as it never overheats. So proper cooling system maintenance is required. (I’m an ex-Ford service manager form the ’80s) I told my uncle this and he received just over 500,000 miles on his until a heater hose broke and it overheated. (By the way rebuilt/exchange cylinder heads are available in the $200 and under price per each.) Which is always needed when one has been overheated. (And is almost guaranteed to contaminate the oil with coolant.) So any rebuild should always include cylinder heads.

    • Matthew C Gallagher

      Well, I dove in the ’86 T-Bird. So far doing a once over in maintenance and Tune-Up. The car was in a PA barn for 5 years and not serviced for at least 10. Fortunately, there is only 90K on the 3.8 L and I drove it home with my figers crossed.

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