New cars: Ford Thunderbird turbo, and 5-litre V8

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Many readers might find it a little strange to see an item about a product of the American Ford empire within the pages of Motor Sport, for although the 5-litre V8 Thunderbird has formed the basis of a successful NASCAR “stock racer” on the other side of the Atlantic, few people would expect the basic production car to appeal to European tastes. So when Ford’s PR spokesman Jackie Stewart invited as to sample the latest Thunderbird at the Company’s Dearborn test track near Detroit, we were intrigued to take up this opportunity. Over the years we have been assured on many occasions that American road cars were gradually developing a European appeal, but up until now we’ve seldom found that to be the case.

Well, we’re pleased to report that the situation has changed, at least so far as Ford’s ’83 Thunderbird models are concerned. We were given the opportunity of trying both the 5-litre V8 engined Thunderbird and the 2.3-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged model, fitted with a manual five-speed gearbox. Despite the fact that it was pouring with rain throughout the duration of our informal test run, the sure-footed quality of this aerodynamically attractive two-door coupe was particularly impressive.

The power steering was somewhat on the light side, but one never got the feeling that the front wheels were liable to lose all adhesion with the road surface — an impression all too firmly gained at the wheel of most American cars we’ve driven recently. With a low drag coefficient of 0.35, the Thunderbird underlines just how seriously Ford is approaching aerodynamics these days. Suspension is impressively taut and, although the turbocharged version emits a quite audible whine when the car is revving hard, it’s by no means obtrusive. The five speed manual gearchange is notchy, but pretty precise, even by established European standards.

With its two ’83 Thunderbird models, Ford is aiming firmly at the the market now occupied by some of the more exotic European coupes from manufacturers such as BMW, Porsches and Mercedes. With a price tag of just 11,790 dollars for the T-Bird turbo coupe, it is clearly going to undercut its foreign rivals quite considerably, even though it can hardly be deemed to be in the same class when it comes to refinement. However, this Thunderbird is a very definite step in the right direction, although it may well be too good for the somewhat staid tastes that prevail in the USA.

I’m reliably informed that retired New England lawyers will hold their hands up in horror when presented with the Thunderbird’s aerodynamic profile: it concerns Ford that it might be too European for their taste. In which case, we feel, the Ford Thunderbird forms part of a long overdue education process for the American motoring public, proving that they don’t have to drive round in mushy, sloppily suspended, lounges on wheels if they don’t want to. —AH.