Tag: Hemmings#

One man’s quest to gather the lowest-mileage Mustangs of the ’80s and beyond – Terry McGean

One man’s quest to gather the lowest-mileage Mustangs of the ’80s and beyond – Terry McGean

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We humans have an odd tendency to collect things: coins, stamps, shot glasses… When we find some object that appeals to us, we seem to want to multiply the joy it brings by finding more of that thing, and in whatever variations may exist. Chasing down those variations often becomes the continuing challenge that makes the collecting exciting — the thrill of the hunt and the conquest of capture.

Following that logic, if desirable items that bring joy and that come in many variations are the basis for a fulfilling collection, cars are a natural focus, and car collecting has been going on since the time the earliest automobiles were deemed “classics,” once they’d become old enough to be somewhat scarce. Traditionally, that has meant at least a few decades beyond manufacture, but a shift seemed to occur in the early 1980s as the muscle cars of the ’60s and early ’70s started to become sought by enthusiasts. In most cases, the favored models weren’t even 20 years old yet, but a couple things happened to hasten the movement: The muscle car era ended rather abruptly in the early ’70s, and the original buyers of those cars started to feel the tug of nostalgia.

We’ve been celebrating those same cars ever since, but what about the second coming of Detroit’s performance wars? That next wave of factory-built hot rods began right around the time the earlier muscle cars first began to climb in value thanks to enthusiast interest. Shouldn’t those later models have followed suit?

1992 SAAC MK1

The 1992 SAAC Mk 1 was a special edition produced to honor the efforts of Carroll Shelby during his Ford period while also yielding a Mustang that outperformed standard 5.0 models. Only 62 were produced, and this one has just 13 miles.

“A good friend is into ’40 Fords; he used to make fun of these cars,” Dave W. says, standing in the building that houses his gathering of Mustangs from Ford’s Fox era. That sort of sentiment was not unusual from traditional auto enthusiasts, who still tend to view cars of the ’80s as “late models” that don’t warrant collector interest. Perspective plays a role — some people may not recognize that an ’83 Mustang is about to turn 40. To others, these cars were produced in numbers too great to be considered “rare.” But to Dave, there’s a vast performance history to highlight from this period of Ford’s past. Plus, a whole new generation of fans are now getting nostalgic.

“I have such fond memories of these cars — that’s a big part of their appeal,” he explains, but we couldn’t help but wonder why a Mustang fan had nothing from the model’s earliest days. “I’m not as into the early cars because I didn’t grow up with them; I grew up with the Fox cars — those were the years I followed them.”

Dave started out on the path to the Blue Oval camp early. “My grandfather worked for Ford and took me to the Metuchen [New Jersey] plant a few times when I was young. They weren’t building Mustangs anymore — it was Ranger trucks then — but the Ford influence set in.” Like so many car-crazed kids, Dave saved up his money and was able to buy a 1985 Mustang GT in 1987, citing reasons beyond the Dearborn connection. “The 5-liters were accessible and affordable; the IROCs and Trans Ams seemed expensive.

From there, the hook was set. He bought an ’89 Mustang LX 5.0 later, but when he started a business, the fun cars had to go for a while. Once the business grew, he was able to get back into it. “At first, I focused on ’85s and ’86s, since those were the cars I got started with,” Dave says, but it was just the spark for what he would soon pursue. When a friend and fellow Mustang enthusiast showed him some of the extremely low-mileage examples of the same-era cars, Dave was fascinated by their “Day One” time-capsule quality. It changed the course of his own collecting.

“Then I said, I really want to have a great collection of the best cars of this era. I want people to be able to see what they were like when they were brand new. I often call these ‘no-mileage’ cars, because a ‘low-mileage’ car can have 15-20,000 miles in most people’s view. The cars I am interested in usually have less than 100.”

The precedent established by muscle car collecting helped to create some real gems among the cars that came later — enthusiasts were more aware of the collector appeal of examples that were hardly used, as opposed to those that had been restored to that state. But many of the cars now in Dave’s collection take the “it’s only original once” mantra to the extreme, presenting not simply as they might have been in the showroom, but as they were rolling off the transport truck. An early addition to this gathering exemplifies this and came from Dave’s friend — the one who’d first piqued his interest in essentially untouched cars.

“The ’90 LX notchback is one my friend bought years ago from a Ford dealer’s personal collection. The car had never been prepped and was still on MSO [Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin]. It was in their warehouse, and when the dealer finally decided to part with it, my friend got it — there are still only around 81 miles on it now,” Dave explains. Looking at this specimen will trigger a memory jog for anyone who ever paid attention to Fox Mustangs when they were new. The details of the factory paint surface quality, the single narrow pinstripe, the finish on the “10-hole” wheels, which have never had their center caps installed. It really is a trip, particularly on a model that was not typically saved on speculation of future value — these cars were bought to be driven, yet this one still has the factory crayon markings in the windows.

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Corvette as a luxury car? One 1964 ad suggested it – Jeff Koch @Hemmimgs

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America’s personal-luxury car scene exploded in the late ’50s. Studebaker’s Golden Hawk was among the first, back in ’56. Ford’s Thunderbird helped prove the market when the four-seat Squarebird came out in ’58. By 1963, Buick’s Riviera had eased onto the scene, and suddenly most car brands wanted in on this new niche. Chevrolet naturally sought a way to capitalize on the near-luxury-car game, but the Impala was too big (and the ritzy Caprice was coming for ’65 anyway), the Nova was too small, the Chevelle was brand new for the year and just finding its feet, and the Monte Carlo was half a dozen years away.

Why not try it with the Corvette? This ad is trying to convince people to see the Corvette’s softer side. It’s printed in color, but the image is a study in black-and-white contrasts. Black suit, white dress. Black pavement, white Corvette. Black tires with whitewalls. And maybe the ultimate contrast: presenting the Corvette as a luxurious proposition.

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This 1929 Durant speedster is nearly perfect, but I’d still make a few changes. Here’s how I’d build it. – David Conwill @Hemmings

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I noticed recently that baquets like this 1929 Durant Rugby were starting to show up in the Hemmings Classifieds. I’ve been aware of them for a few years now and it’s exciting they seem to finally be showing up in the U.S. market.

That enormous, brass fuel tank—plus all the rivets—evokes racing cars of an earlier era than the late ‘20s. This seems to a blend of several eras of pre-war motorsport into one romantic whole capable of going long distances through inhospitable Patagonia.

What’s a baquet, you say? Well, it literally means “bucket” or “tub” in a few different romance languages, but the connotation is pretty far from the kinds of cars those words conjure in English. Near as I can determine, the baquet style comes from Argentina (not coincidentally, home of those top-notch Pur Sang replicas of pre-war Bugatti and Alfa Romeo icons) and emulates the kind of rough-and-ready speedster build that was popular there in the 1930s, about the time that Grand Prix legend Juan Manuel Fangio was getting his start in a Model A baquet temporarily built from a borrowed Buenos Aries taxi.

The modern baquets are in exactly that spirit of making something glamorous and romantic out of something decidedly utilitarian. That’s fitting, as the Rugby line was actually the export nameplate for the car known in the United States as the Star—a mass-produced, low-priced competitor to the Ford Model T from 1922 to 1927. It never built the kind of volume it needed to go head to head with Ford but was a moderate success most notable for being part of GM-founder Billy Durant’s third (and final) venture into automaking.

Somebody else owned the Star brand in Great Britain, so suitable “Rugby” radiator badges were worked up and the product went forth under an assumed name. There was a Star Six (and corresponding Rugby Six), starting in 1926, when the Star was advertised as “the world’s lowest-price six,” and it looked a lot like the Four but with a 40-hp flathead six and accompanying longer hood. In the final two years of production, 1928 and 1929, there was no Star to use as a basis, so instead Durant’s Star replacement the Durant 4 was slipped behind the Rugby badge.

Jeep people aren’t the only ones who get to drive around with no doors in nice weather. This is more like a giant motorcycle than a car. Note the floor shifter setup—indicative of a side-shift transmission from a ‘40s-or-later car.

That brings us to this “1929” Rugby for sale in the Netherlands (but, says the ad, shipped “to our New Jersey warehouse” for $1,800 plus a 3-percent import duty). They don’t say it, but I virtually guarantee this car came from Argentina where it ran or was constructed to emulate the cars that run in that country’s Mille Miglia Rally through the rugged landscape of Patagonia. I put 1929 in quotes because it’s a speedster and perhaps does a good emulating of what a Rugby-based speedster built in 1929 might have looked like, but from the start (literally, the radiator) it looks more like a the original, 1924-‘27 Star-based Rugbies, rather than the Durant-based Rugby of 1928-‘29.

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Terrible Swift Sword – Jim Donnelly @Hemmings

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The Ford Motor Company’s transformation under fire

Family affair: Arrayed outside Willow Run bomber plant are Ford products ranging from B-24 Liberators and gliders to Jeeps, trucks and modified Fordson tractors

The two titans hated each other.

It wasn’t a matter of upbringing or pedigree, either, because at first, Henry Ford had actually admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt, considering his sonorous reassurances to be good for a country mired in self-doubt over the fallout from a decade of reckless extravagance. What he proposed, however, government intervention in the economy and the social contract on an unprecedented scale, turned Ford into a fountainhead of venom for Roosevelt and his policies. The New Deal, in the form of its public works projects and business regulation, infuriated the Michigan farm boy turned mogul. At the same time, Ford’s intransigence and detestation of organized labor would rankle the New York patrician who occupied the White House.

The forces that whipsawed at the two American giants would eventually form the history of the Ford Motor Company in the early and middle 1940s, as it groaned to align itself with the massive World War II production torrent, and with its own future. Those years were a three-act play that would mold Ford into vibrancy, reversing its long skid toward oblivion and forging the business that would outlive its founder.

Team of “Whiz Kids” executives joined sclerotic Ford en masse, reversed its slide

In 1938, Henry Ford turned 75, and he had accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, bestowed on the orders of Adolf Hitler himself. Perhaps he was the only person to express surprise at the uproar that followed, particularly given his own status as a former pacifist dating back to his ill-starred Peace Ship foray that failed to prevent or halt the First World War. Ford the elder had already given his public blessing to the “America First” movement founded by another American icon who would accept a bauble from the Third Reich, Charles A. Lindbergh. Meanwhile, Germany was “annexing” territory across Europe, and would invade Poland outright in late 1939. Ford and Lindbergh then openly opposed U.S. aid to either Britain or France, both of which were clearly in Germany’s sights.

Nevertheless, Ford declared in 1940, when the Reich had goose-stepped through France and Benelux, and its bombs were shattering residential blocks in Britain, that his workers were prepared to “swing into production of a thousand airplanes of standard design a day,” as Robert Lacey recounted in Ford: The Men and the Machine. Lacey believed that Ford became miffed at his onetime executive William S. “Big Bill” Knudsen, who had departed for the presidency of General Motors and was now commissioned as an Army general, in charge of Washington’s war-production effort, whom he apparently believed had steered an unfair percentage of governmental booty toward GM. For the record, Ford would ultimately rank third in wartime production, behind GM and Curtiss-Wright, the aircraft giant. Following Ford’s boast, Knudsen sent a relatively simple pursuit plane for Dearborn to evaluate, and the old man agreed to send his only son, Edsel, the company’s president, increasingly sickened by the intrigues of Ford’s tough guy, Harry Bennett, to meet with Knudsen and discuss a possible production plan.

At that point, Winston Churchill had approached Roosevelt with an urgent request for 6,000 license-built Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines, which he believed could tip the Battle of Britain irrevocably against Germany. Knudsen agreed, and believed Ford, the birthplace of the modern American industrial-production miracle, was right for the job. Edsel Ford and the old man’s production maven, Charles E. Sorensen, were eager to jump on the Merlin job. Then Lord Beaverbrook, Knudsen’s British counterpart, publicly proclaimed that Ford’s help would be invaluable to the United Kingdom’s war effort. That was all Ford needed to hear. He undercut his son by refusing to allow the Merlin engines to be built, enraging Knudsen over rejection of his goodwill gesture toward Ford and holding Edsel up to public humiliation. Within three years, Edsel would be dead and Sorensen out the door, nudged not too gently by Bennett.

Pearl Harbor, however, galvanized Ford as a defense contractor. The company’s everlasting fame would manifest itself in the form of the Willow Run plant, a production leviathan that, when opened in early 1942, dwarfed even Ford’s fabled River Rouge works. It was, by far, the world’s biggest industrial building under one roof, sprawling across some 2.5 million square feet, its frontal face 3,200 feet across. The legendary industrial architect Albert Kahn, father of the Rouge and Highland Park, had outdone himself with an edifice for the ages (after the war, Kaiser-Frazer would begin automobile production at Willow Run). Its signature product would be one of the war’s most famous bombers, the four-engine B-24 Liberator, which was designed by Consolidated Aircraft Corp. in San Diego, but built by Ford, since the Liberator’s creators could never hope to build it in the numbers that Washington demanded. The Liberator would eventually be mentioned just after the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress; its fame would be forged during lethal operations such as the massed bombing raids on the Nazi oil fields at Ploesti, Romania.

Willow Run managed to get into full production well past 1942, after overcoming some daunting logistical barriers, not the least of which was that the bulk of its workforce lived in Detroit–a good hour away. The plant was actually located in Washtenaw County, Michigan, then a collection of farming communities with no local workforce of their own. Edsel Ford and Sorenson were still at their posts, however defanged their roles may have been, and Henry Ford suffered a major, debilitating stroke in 1941. At the time Willow Run was moving toward reality, with the Liberator force hanging in the balance, the person with the most power at the Ford Motor Company was arguably the conspiratorial Harry Bennett.

No less a Ford sycophant than Lindbergh would memorably call Willow Run “a sort of Grand Canyon of a mechanized world.” Henry Ford had loudly proclaimed that Willow Run would turn bins of parts into a flying aircraft at the rate of one an hour, though by late 1942 had built a total of 56 Liberators, less than half Consolidated’s production of 169 the previous year. Editorial writers, however, blazed with praise for Ford’s plant. It didn’t help that a War Department spokesman fed unrealistic expectations by declaring in May 1942 that Willow Run had begun full bomber production when, in fact, the opposite was true. Neither did Sorenson’s subsequent claim that Willow Run constituted an open invitation for Hitler to commit suicide. Once news of Willow Run’s slower-than-bragged-about startup broke in earnest, most of the blame was shifted to Edsel Ford, who was by then dying of complications from ulcers. While Edsel went on to create a reliable Willow Run P.R. apparatus, the damage was done, and he died in May 1943 at age 49, by which time Sorensen was being actively hounded out of Dearborn. Thus ended Act One.

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Hemmings Auctions sets world record for a non-Wayne’s World AMC Pacer auction sale. Again. – Jeff Koch @Hemmings

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For years, AMC Pacers have suffered the brickbats and ignominy that only come with being a little too different, the marketplace having long ago decided which side of the intersection of daring and dopey the Pacer parked on. The airy greenhouse, the long doors, the last-minute change from GM’s aborted rotary engine to an inline-six out of the Rambler parts bin… it wasn’t an easy birth for the Pacer, and it wasn’t an easy life, either.

The previous record holder sold this past January for $31,000 plus the auction’s ten-percent fee.

Time heals all wounds, it seems. Yesterday’s wackadoo freakshow is today’s individualistic outlier. The ’70s weirdo is the ’20s’ brave choice. For the second time in just two years, Hemmings Auctions has set a world-record sale price for a non-Wayne’s-World Pacer: a stunning $37,275 inclusive of buyer’s fees (a modest 5 percent, it’s worth noting). Showing less than 27,000 miles on its odometer, this first-year Pacer X spent its first dozen years as a showroom attraction in Pennsylvania and has a complete history from new. The result was only $125 shy of the movie car’s 2016 sale price, but well shy of the Mirthmobile’s most recent result of $71,500 at the 2022 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction.

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Matchless Model AAs – Ford built Model AA trucks in a variety of configurations – Richard Lentinello @Hemmings

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1931 Ford Model AA tanker. Photography by author.

Ford’s handsome little Model A was one of the most successful and popular automobiles of all time. It had the right look, was the perfect size, and priced so the majority of American could afford one.

Although the Model A was only in production for a little more than four short years starting in late 1927 and ending in 1932, nearly five million had been built. What’s more amazing is the amount of different body styles it was available in, including two- and four-door sedans, coupes, phaetons, roadsters and cabriolets, most of which could be had in either standard or deluxe trim. Then there were the trucks.

1931 Ford Model AA fire truck.

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Could an Obscure Fifties Fiberglass Roadster Have Been the First Electric Car Inspired by Nikola Tesla? – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings

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The mid-Fifties weren’t much of a boom time for electric vehicles here in the United States. Gas was cheap, the chrome was thick, and conformity was high. Despite all the advancements in aerospace and pushbutton gizmos, the state of electric drivetrains at the time wasn’t that much more advanced than 25 years prior, when the first wave of electric vehicles sparked their last. Of the half-dozen or so American EVs that one can count from that time, one stood out partly for making the effort in the first place and partly for proposing a novel means of propulsion that has otherwise dwelt only in the realm of myth.

1955 Electronic. Press handout photo via Alden Jewell.

When the Electronic debuted in June 1955, it brought along with it a bevy of dubious claims. F.B. Malouf, president of the Salt Lake City-based Electronic Motor Car Corporation, boasted that it was a multimillion-dollar company with two manufacturing facilities already in operation (in Detroit and in Oxford, Michigan) and a third forthcoming in the Utah capital city with production expected to reach 400 cars per day within the year. The car itself Malouf described in terms bordering on technobabble: It had a “turbo-electric” drivetrain with a “dual-torque” electric motor capable of propelling it to 100 miles per hour. If the press release didn’t come with a photo, it would’ve been simple to write the Electronic off as a pipe dream

The press release did come with a photo, though, and from that photo it’s plain to see that the Electronic was merely a LaSaetta selling under a different name. As an August 1955 Motor Life article reported, the LaSaetta was the fiberglass sports car dream of two brothers, Cesare and Gino Testaguzza, who relocated from Italy to the Detroit area – specifically Oxford, Michigan – and worked for multiple carmakers before setting out to build their own car. Not a kit car, the LaSaetta was instead meant to be tailored to each customer’s specifications. Most had altered Ford chassis with Oldsmobile V-8 engines, though Motor Life reported on one that had a Hudson six-cylinder, and then there was the Electronic.

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The Demise of the Nash Metropolitan – Pat Foster @Hemmings

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What killed the Met?

Remember how you felt the first time you saw a Nash Metropolitan? Well of course you do — it would be almost impossible not to. Tiny, quirky… the little car seemed like a joke, right? But that’s not how it was viewed when it first arrived on the market. When it debuted in March of 1954, it was well-received by the motoring press, which praised its design, ride, and fuel economy, as well as its styling. It was also well-received by the public, who flocked to Nash showrooms and bought up every Met in stock. After May of that same year, the little Met was also available in a Hudson version, becoming the first Hudson model to be created from a rebadged Nash.

By the end of the year, the newly formed American Motors realized it had a minor hit on its hands (the company never expected it to be a major hit) and asked Austin in the U.K. to increase production to meet demand. In mid-1956, the debut of a new two-tone “zig/zag” paint job and larger 1,500-cc engine sparked renewed interest. In fact, that year the little Nash was America’s number-two selling imported car!

So, what happened? How did a car that was doing so well become a failure? Its best sales year was 1959, when 14,959 were retailed in the U.S. But sales turned downward in 1960 and from there dropped like a stone. The final model year was 1962 and many (probably most) of the units sold were leftovers from 1961 or earlier.

American Motors had an unusual system for determining the Metropolitan’s model year. On whatever date the new models were announced each year, any new, unsold Mets still in stock at dealerships or in factory inventory automatically became the new year’s model. That’s why you sometimes find Metropolitans that are registered as, say “1961” models with a lower serial number than a 1959 or 1960 model, simply because that particular car sat on a dealer’s lot for a while, a couple of years or more in some cases. The situation does cause some confusion with collectors, but it was designed to avoid having to discount the prior year’s inventory. This policy was maintained even when fairly significant product changes took place, such as 1956 when the new two-tone color scheme and large engine debuted, and 1959 when the vent windows and opening trunk first appeared

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From the Cover of Road & Track to Decades of Languishing, One of the Few Remaining Strother MacMinn LeMans Coupes To Be Resurrected – @Hemmings

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Editor’s Note: We recently heard from Dennis Kazmerowski, who has decided to resurrect a never-finished fiberglass body based on Strother MacMinn’s concept for an American coupe to compete at Le Mans. He’s making headway and wanted to share with us exactly how he got started with the project in the first place.]

It started in August 2021, still in COVID-19 lockdown with much time to think about the past, present and future. I was talking with my good friend Geoff Hacker (founder of Undiscovered Classics and auto archaeologist) and shared with him a dream of my youth: the car on the August 1960 cover of Road & Track, the LeMans Coupe. While the car may have been beautifully designed and was ahead of its time in styling (that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it back in 1960), the LeMans Coupe is far more than a design study. The original project was the brainchild of John Bond, the publisher of Road & Track magazine.

Bond was not just a publisher, he was also a designer and engineer. For years he penned a column in his own magazine, Sports Car Design, where he talked about independent and production sports car development. It was toward the late 1950s where he challenged himself and his readers to design and build a car that would win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, something his friend Briggs Cunningham had nearly done in the early 1950s. Bond pulled together a team which specialized in design and engineering, and over a series of articles in 1957 and 1958, the LeMans Coupe project emerged. The lead designer of the shape of the car was the legendary teacher, mentor, and stylist from the Art Center in California, Strother MacMinn. Looking back in history, this makes the LeMans Coupe one of the talked about and recognized “specials” back in the 1950s.

While the design and history of the car is significant, it was always the visual impact that the car made on those seeing it that, too, caused me to remember the car for nearly 60 years. Sadly, Geoff, who has tracked down the surviving coupes built from MacMinn’s design, shared that the car shown on the cover of Road & Track magazine had been destroyed early on in an accident. But he knew where a virgin body was that was produced from the original molds. He shared the contact information with me and the wheels started to turn. I talked with the owner and after a few phone calls we agreed on a price, and my project began. Little did I know what I would be getting into.

So the project began when the body arrived at my New Jersey home in July 2021. I immediately re-read the Road & Track LeMans coupe articles, and I noted that one of the articles shared that production bodies were made very thin to keep weight down for racing purposes. This may have been good 60 years ago but over the years, with no inner structure, the sun had taken its toll and weakened the body. What I started with was a body shell with no doors, windows, wheelwells, or hood cut out. Just a shell. This project was and is going to take a lot of work

As I read the articles, I tried to hold true to the original chassis ideas but even they changed by the time I read the last article, so I went with the original dimensions and worked around what I had. It’s a long, thin car built for a V-8 engine. Could it have won at LeMans? That’s the subject for a different story. With Geoff’s guidance and my persistence, the car started to come together. Everything has to be made for it and when you think you have a problem solved – it’s not. The car is a work in progress and should be very fulfilling in the end, and I imagine that’s how Alton Johnson felt when he was building the first LeMans Coupe at Victress in North Hollywood, California.

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The Sophisticated, High-performance Thunderbird Turbo Coupe Is a Surprisingly Durable and Affordable Collector Car – Mark J McCourt @Hemmings

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Photo by Ford Motor Company.

The Eighties were when American automakers affected European accents. A new generation of consumers appreciated the understated styling, buttoned-down road manners, and real or imagined prestige that vehicles from Germany, England, Sweden, Italy, and France offered. Even true-blue American icons like Ford’s personal luxury car, the Thunderbird, looked overseas for inspiration, the result being the Turbo Coupe that the company hailed as “A World Class Touring Car.” This popular flagship forever changed buyers’ perceptions of the Thunderbird, and nearly 40 years later, its surprisingly contemporary driving characteristics make it a modern classic worth owning.

The ninth-generation Thunderbird, which still shared Fairmont-derived Fox-platform underpinnings with the Mustang, rocked the market upon its 1983 debut. Adding fuel to the fire was the unprecedented Turbo Coupe. Introduced midyear, this top-of-the-line, forced-induction variant attracted well-heeled enthusiast buyers, those to whom its advanced appearance and technical innovations strongly appealed, to Ford showrooms.

While the 1983 Mustang looked trim, even the hatchback version of that pony car was a brick (0.44 Cd) against the new Thunderbird. Surprisingly, its smooth lines were a development of a Lincoln design proposal from Ford’s Luxury and Intermediate Studio. Gone were the 1980-’82 model’s formal lines, padded vinyl roofs, opera windows, and stand-up hood ornaments. Now we had a downsized two-door whose careful detailing resulted in a 0.35 coefficient of drag, in Turbo Coupe form accented with Euro-style blackout trim and sporting a thrifty four-cylinder making more horsepower on demand than the traditional V-8 more than double its displacement.

While it would retain exposed quad sealed-beam headlamps through 1986, the Thunderbird featured hidden windshield wipers and wrap-over doors concealing the rain gutters, these working in concert with the high rear deck and subtle lip that managed the wind. Turbo Coupes were further distinguished with dark headlamp housings, a front bumper with integral Marchal fog lamps and deep chin spoiler, and bold 14-inch alloy wheels. Inside, special fascia finishes, comprehensive gauges and diagnostic lamps, articulated front sport seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob set the high-performance variant apart.

The Thunderbird Turbo Coupe evolved steadily, gaining an available automatic transmission in 1984 and a color-keyed grille, redesigned instrument panel, larger wheels, and a more powerful engine in 1985. This model took a major leap for 1987, when Motor Trend named it Car of the Year. A planned mid-cycle facelift ended up much more, the Turbo Coupe gaining flush-mounted window glass, a ducted hood, composite front lighting, a “bottom-breather” front bumper, and a smoother rear end. Mechanical updates included an intercooled engine, Programmed Ride Control electronic suspension, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch wheels, and more. A 22-gallon fuel tank ensured impressive high-speed-cruising range.

Ford’s premium two-door was a hot property in its ninth generation, selling nearly 884,000 examples. The North American Turbocoupe Organization (“NATO,” online at turbotbird.com) distills the Turbo Coupe from that total, suggesting 128,533 units were built over six model years, the final two selling the most copies. This Thunderbird benefits from its mechanical relationship to the Fox Mustang, but its unique body and sophisticated electronics pose more challenges for today’s restorers. Thankfully, these well-engineered sports-luxury cars are notably tough and enjoy a passionate, engaged enthusiast following that help each other with parts and information. Values are starting to tick up, with classic.com listing average sale prices nearing $12,500 and rising, so if you’ve always wanted a Turbo Coupe, now is your time to soar.

The dashboard of 1983 and ‘84 Turbo Coupes was held over from the 1982 Thunderbird, albeit enhanced with a different finish and instrumentation.
Thunderbirds received an updated dashboard for 1985 that was retained through the major 1987 revamp. The electronic systems in Turbo Coupes are largely reliable, but replacements are rare.

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