Saturday, July 7, 2018

Are 9th- and 10th-generation V8 Ford Thunderbirds underrated?

Red 1992 Ford Thunderbird parked in a crowded lot.
10th-Generation Ford Thunderbird. Photo by Charles01
(posted to WikiMedia Commons).
So yesterday I was making a quick stop at McDonald’s, to grab my daughter a couple of McChickens and myself an Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich and a coffee, when what I eventually realized was a 10th-generation Ford Thunderbird caught my eye.

Please don’t laugh at me or revoke my car-guy card for ordering something with “Artisan” in the name. For my daughter, it makes sense to indulge in the McChicken, a high-calorie sandwich consisting of a fried, breaded chicken patty doused with a copious quantity of mayo. She’s still growing and a little underweight, and needs about twice the calories I do.

I on the other hand am in the midst-of a weight-loss journey and have dropped 75 pounds so far, and I am just now inching back into what most doctors would consider a healthy weight range for my height. To accomplish something like this, making a habit of ordering the most frou-frou possible selection on the menu—which often, in turn, entails choosing something with “Artisan” in its name—can be a big help.

Anyway, I would have normally opted for the drive-through, but the line of cars was ridiculous. So I decided we would go inside and I pulled my Riviera into a parking space, leaving a courtesy one-space buffer zone between my Riv and the nearest other parked car, which was to the right. It wasn’t until I was about to get out of the Riv that I took much notice of the car on the right, when my eye was drawn magnetically to the chrome V8 badge on the front fender.

At first, I didn’t know what the car was. And in hindsight I’m a little embarrassed about that. But I saw that it was a coupe roughly the same size as my Riv—though maybe a little lighter—and of a roughly similar mid-to-late-90s-ish vintage.

“Wow, what is that,” I wondered out loud to my daughter. “Whatever it is, it has a V8, but I don’t recognize it.” My first thought was that it was another GM G platform of the era, maybe a Pontiac. But I was wrong.

There was no brand badging on the driver’s-side front or rear quarters—only the aforementioned V8 emblem.

“Are you going to take a picture of it?” my daughter asked as I started toward the mystery V8 coupe.

She’s onto my clandestine carspotting-for-Instagram habit. But I wasn’t going to go there this time—we were in a situation of a little too much visibility for a quick without-permission random-person’s-cool-car photo. And with dear daughter in my company, I didn’t want to risk a nasty confrontation with a pissed-off owner coming out of the McDonald’s. But I did walk around to check out the rear-end, and that’s when I saw the unmistakable blue Ford oval and the Thunderbird wings.

“Oh,” I said to myself. “I forgot all about those.”

This one was clearly a 10th-generation Thunderbird and, since it had a V8, it had to be a ‘91–’97. Since I don’t have a photograph, I can’t pin it down any more tightly than that.

When I tried to think back to the time when the 9th and 10th generation Ford Thunderbirds were in production, I completely drew a blank on whether I had any awareness that V8 options were available in most of the model years. My brother had owned a 1986 T-Bird with the 3.8L Essex V6, but I ended up being pretty unimpressed with it—especially because it died an early death when the camshaft took a crap right around 100,000 miles.

While I don’t recall any awareness of the 5.0 motor having been available in T-Birds of that era, I do remember the turbocharged 4-cylinder option in the 9th-generation and the supercharged V6 in the 10th-generation.

The 10th-gen Thunderbird V8 in the McDonald’s parking lot looked pretty good, if a bit ratted out. There were some fairly nasty dents on the bottom of the driver door. Clear-coat was decaying at various spots. But the flaws I could see were among those that many would classify as “character”—the “distressed look” today is as trendy in cars as it is in wood flooring and furniture.

Adorned with stickers from Flowmaster and some other performance brands, it was pretty clearly owned, or at least was once owned, by some form of enthusiast who felt that the car was something special—perhaps a youthful enthusiast drawing from a part-time Mickey D’s salary to finance a few performance upgrades.

So do the 9th and 10th generation Thunderbirds warrant a closer look among those looking for some contrarian vintage muscle or perhaps a nascent collectible or “emerging classic?” Let’s take a look at some numbers.

According to Automobile Catalog, the 1992 Ford Thunderbird Sport with the Windsor 5.0 motor netted 200 horsepower, with acceleration from 0–60 in 8.8 seconds. Those numbers are not overly impressive, especially considering the capabilities of some of the better V6 motors—most notably the supercharged versions—of the 90s.

Through some advances in engineering over the classic cast-iron small-block V8 architecture, the new Modular V8 that Thunderbird transitioned to for the 1994 model year, in spite of a lower displacement at 4.6L, gained some horsepower. But not much. It was a gain of only five horses to a net of 205 hp, also according to Automobile Catalog.

But the 90s were a different era in horsepower history and, with some tuning and other performance upgrades, perhaps the 10th-gen Thunderbird V8s could be worthy of at least a little fast-and-furious cred. And, certainly, you still have the benefit of the awesome V8 sound you can get with a nice exhaust system from a manufacturer like Flowmaster or Borla.

And let’s not underestimate the looks of the Thunderbirds of this era. Both the 9th and 10th-generations were nice-looking personal luxury coupes worthy of the Thunderbird name, although my personal preferences run toward the 10th. The front end of the 9th-gen Thunderbird still, to my eye, has a touch of a colonnade vibe, whereas the cleaner 10th-generation Thunderbird design is more ponton—a style for which I am a hopeless pushover in anything from a 1930s to a 2010s interpretation.

Reliability-wise, I would certainly gravitate toward the 5.0 Winsor V8, which, after all, was then the current generation of the old-school Windsor 3XX series. It’s hard to get much more bulletproof than that, and there are clear benefits of cost and availability when it comes to maintenance, replacement (either or parts or entire powertrains), and aftermarket upgrades.

With the 4.6, the cam phaser issues that have been most infamously associated with plaguing owners of F-150 pickups of a certain vintage may well be a concern with the Thunderbirds, as they have been with Mustangs. It’s not an insurmountable problem if corrected before major damage is done.

But if I were considering buying a 4.6 T-Bird, I would certainly want to have the motor thoroughly inspected to ensure that such damage has not been done and to have funds available to get the cam phaser fix done properly and preemptively. It essentially involves a rebuild of major components of the valve assembly—significant top-end surgery.

If I were to look into getting a 9th- or 10th-generation T-Bird—and based on the research I’ve done for this article I would probably lean at least mildly toward NOT doing so—I would probably look for a ’92, the last year (and apparently the only 10th-generation year) that the Windsor 5.0 was available—a limitation that might indeed make this variant somewhat of a rarity today.

What is the market telling us?

Here’s one interesting indicator. As of July 7, 2018, there is a 1992 Ford Thunderbird Sport for sale in Sioux Falls, South Dakota—remarkably with only 10,901 miles on the clock. The asking price, according to the listing on CarGurus, is $12,950.

If it’s as good as it looks in the ad, and if I currently happened to have that amount of cash burning a hole in my pocket, as well as a surplus space in my garage, this is one specific vehicle that I might give a serious look.

If nothing else, it's clear that the 9th- and 10th-generation T-Birds are well worth preserving. Let's hope enough enthusiasts take an interest in doing so.

No comments:

Post a Comment