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Underrated Lookers: The ’87-’88 Ford T-Bird

October 4, 2011 by Matt

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Turbo Coupe Super

Coming down off the dreadnought-sized Thunderbirds of the ’70s, in ’83 Ford took the opportunity to foreshadow the introduction of their mold-breaking Taurus with the unveiling of the T-Bird’s smaller, sleeker ninth generation. Then, after the Taurus was introduced, Ford further whittled the T-Bird shape in response, lopping off the upright grille and honing the profile to create the most downright aquiline of all T-Bird generations, and a very pleasing shape: The car’s ’87-’88 refresh.

The front-end styling was offered in a couple of variations for those two years of goodness: The LX and Sport trim levels received an integrated chrome grille, while my favorite, the Turbo Coupe (shown at top), forsook a grille entirely in favor of a smoothly aerodynamic nose. It’s a remarkably cohesive shape harkening back to the beautiful restraint of the original T-Bird; not only that, there’s bite to match the visual bark: Ford fitted the Mustang SVO’s very tunable 190 hp turbocharged 4-cyl and specified a 5-speed manual as standard equipment. The power wasn’t much out of the box for the big coupe, but as with the contemporary Buick Grand National—though to a much lesser degree—there was more to be had with a few simple mods. And, if all else failed, the ’87-’88 T-Bird was built on the contemporary Mustang’s Fox platform and would accept virtually the full range of Mustang performance goodies, including the Windsor V8, also known as the 5.0, or 302.

1987 1988 Ford Thunderbird T-bird Tbird Rear Taillights

Here’s an excellent example of what can occur when an owner is committed to preserving the purity of the factory lines, but decides to go for a bit more oomph. I applaud his effort, one of the few to see the car for what it is. It’s a shame the car’s tasteful lines aren’t more widely appreciated, a fault perhaps of the short two-year model run of the refresh, and the fact that the infinitely more boring tenth generation T-Bird and shameless nostalgia exercise eleventh generation immediately followed, and in addition to the original car, define “Ford Thunderbird” in the minds of many.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Aesthetics, Ford, Underrated Lookers


  1. Mike B. says:

    I forgot about this car. Most likely it is because I rarely see one and if I do it is beat.

    I would prefer a fox body 5.0 Mustang, but a decent example seems to be quite expensive now-a-days.

    • Matt says:

      Foxbody Mustangs are expensive? Huh. I’d always heard they were the best cheap performance value out there, given that they were made in the hundreds of thousands.

      The Turbo Coupe T-Birds always catch my eye when I see them. Not quite the ultimate performance potential of the ‘Stang, but an extra helping of style and rarity.

      • Mike B says:

        Perhaps it is just the area that I live in. If a car is older and not beat from the winter and all rusty is commands a premium. Recently I saw an 1986 5.0 being offered for sale for $7k. I don’t know about the miles, but my 540i looked in better shape and I highly doubt I could get $7k for my car.

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