Photography Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
Here we are folks, at the last installment of our trilogy. During the course of our adventure, in our February and March issues, we’ve had a look at a selection of Ford Motor Company vehicles from the ’60s – cars that still stir passion among enthusiasts and vehicles from the ’70s, a decade that despite starting out with a bang and ending with a whimper, still managed to give us some interesting automotive offerings from the Blue Oval.
Now, we move on to the ’80s. For Ford fans of a certain generation, there was a bit of magic to the cars of this era. Thanks to advancing technologies such as aerodynamics, electronics and safety, along with a new spirit of optimism in North America, things began to get better. By the mid-’80s, sluggish economic growth, high unemployment and gas prices were all but a distant memory and this was reflected in a growing number of sport-oriented cars being peddled by the domestic automakers. In Ford’s case the reborn Mustang 5.0 GT and slick Thunderbird Turbo Coupe led the way, cars that combined the best American and European know-how to deliver tantalizing levels of performance at a reasonable price.
But unlike the ’60s, this new era was more about balance – delivering the right blend of acceleration, handling and braking, while also resulting in cars that were not only exciting, but more reliable and fuel efficient. Spurned by the growing popularity of European sport sedans like the BMW 5-Series and Saab 900, Ford and others began to introduce a host of performance-oriented offerings, not only based on “halo” offerings like Mustang and T-Bird but everything from the smallest economy hatchback to the most mainstream family sedan. That in turn helped stimulate a market that had been starved for real performance cars for more than a decade, as well as spurring the creation of a new hot-rodding culture that persists to this day.
Although it is unlikely that many cars on our list will ever match their ’60s and early ’70s ancestors in terms of appeal or even market value, a lot of them are becoming increasingly desired by Generation X members who love automobiles. And not only are they vastly superior to ’60s cars in terms of handling, braking and reliability, they also possess a level of character and charm missing from today’s cars. Throw in a high degree of parts interchangeability for many of them – as well as reasonable asking prices in many cases – and you’ve got a recipe for some serious motoring fun without breaking the bank.
1. 1983½-1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe
Price new: $16,805 (1987)
Value now: $1,500 - $15,000
Plus: Slick ’80s styling, great handling and ride.
Minus: Exterior trim and body pieces are hard to find, many need turbo rebuilding.
Ford’s original personal luxury car had fallen on hard times in the early ’80s. Although considerably downsized, the boxy, ornate 1980-1982 Thunderbirds offered little appeal and sales plummeted. However, hope was just around the corner. For 1983, although still based on a version of the then ubiquitous rear-drive Fox platform, the T-bird emerged as a swoopy, European inspired coupe. In fact, at the time of its introduction it was one of the most aerodynamic cars on the market in North America, boasting a drag coefficient of just .35 at a time when most Detroit boxes struggled to reach less than .45. It also made just about everything else on the road look old fashioned. Inside was a driver-oriented cockpit, with available sports bucket seats and full instrumentation.
Under the skin it was purely conventional, with a standard 3.8-liter “Essex” V-6 or optional 302 (5.0-liter) V-8, three- and four-speed automatic transmissions and coil sprung suspension with a live rear axle. However, later in the model year, a hot Turbo Coupe version was introduced, packing a firmed up suspension with specific damping and spring rates, 14-inch road wheels and P205/70R14 blackwall tires, plus a standard 2.3-liter turborcharged four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual gearbox. The turbo four used Bosch electronic fuel injection and an electronic wastegate to bleed off excess boost. As a draw through design, it allowed for relatively quick spool up time and enabled this little engine to generate 145 hp at 5,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 on 6 lbs of boost. It also made this slick new T-Bird a serious road car in its day. Testers applauded the five-speed gearbox and capable handling and yet this new blown ’Bird sacrificed little of the personal luxury comfort buyers expected.
Although somewhat pricey, the Turbo Coupe proved to be a great traffic builder for dealer showrooms and helped Ford sell more than 121,000 T-birds for the 1983 model year, more than double the previous season. As time went on, the Turbo Coupe became faster and better performing – it got a larger wheel and tire package for 1985 along with new paint and minor trim shuffles. For the 1987 model year it was given a facelift with a new aero nose and an intercooler was fitted to the turbo four, resulting in 190 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with this engine the T-Bird T-C could scurry to 60 mph in under 7 seconds and top out at more than 130 mph. New four-wheel disc brakes with standard anti-lock helped it stop better than before too. Motor Trend magazine was quick to recognize the improvements and garnered the ’87 T-C with “Car of the Year” honors. Although it gave way to the more sophisticated (and heavier) Thunderbird Super Coupe for the ’89 model year, today the T-C is still coveted by a loyal band of enthusiasts who appreciate its still potent performance, good road manners and surprising refinement for an ’80s Detroit car.
2. 1983-1985 Ford Escort GT
Price new: $7,593 (1984)
Value now: $500 - $3,500
Plus: Peppy performance, something different, surprising speed parts availability.
Minus: Almost forgotten today (United States), good examples very hard to find.
It seems that the concept of a mass-market world car is something very difficult to achieve. Ford tried it with the tiny Fiesta (sold Stateside from 1978-1980) and then with the Escort, which replaced the much-maligned Pinto for the ’81 model year. Originally conceived as part of the “Erika” project where both Ford’s European and North American operations planned to jointly develop a new, front-drive subcompact, the U.S./Canadian market Escort ended up sharing precious few sheetmetal and interior parts with its European cousin.
Although most Escorts were hardly the stuff enthusiasts craved, they were dependable and sold in huge numbers. However, for the 1983 model year, Ford decided to take a leaf out of its European subsidiary’s book and turn the Escort GT appearance package into a real performance-oriented model (equivalent to that market’s XR3). Powered by a fuel-injected 1.6-liter single overhead cam CVH (Compound Valve Hemi head) four-cylinder engine, it sported a five-speed manual gearbox, beefed up suspension and outside, special black-out exterior trim, metric alloy wheels and foglights. Thanks to 88 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque, plus a fairly low final drive (3.73:1), it could reach 60 mph in around 10 seconds, which wasn’t bad for the day (remember the 1982 Mustang GT 5.0 could only do it in about 7.6). However Ford wasn’t done. In Europe it introduced a turbocharged version of the 1.6 CVH engine for 1984, resulting in the Escort RS Turbo. On this side of the pond, it chose to make a version of that engine an option in the same model year Escort GT. Sporting a lower compression ratio (8.0:1 versus 9.0:1), plus a higher lift camshaft and up to 8 psi of boost, it cranked out a credible 120 horsepower and an equal amount of torque. As a result, the blown Escort GT was considerably quicker (0-60 in around 8.7 seconds) and more fun to drive – fully independent suspension and nicely boosted power steering were simply the icing on the cake. However the turbocharged fun was short-lived – Ford gave its hot selling subcompact a facelift halfway through the 1985 model year and dropped the GT temporarily. When it did return for 1986 proper, it sported a new, larger 1.9-liter normally aspirated four that cranked out 108 horsepower.
Although this version of the Escort GT would last all the way through the end of first-generation U.S. production in 1990, it didn’t quite have the same pizzazz or intriguing engineering the 1984-1985 turbo versions did. In Europe, Escorts of this era, particularly the XR3i and RS Turbo are now bona-fide collectibles. Though sadly, stateside the turbo Escorts are almost forgotten. That’s a great shame, because many of the performance upgrades available on the Euro cars work on these too and if you’re lucky to find an Escort GT, you can build yourself a fast, unique little car that will give plenty of Honda drivers fits.
3. 1984-1985 Ford EXP Turbo
Price new: $9,997 (1985)
Value now: $300 - $5,000
Plus: Truly different, two-seater exclusivity, quick little car.
Minus: Love it or leave it styling, torque-steer, not many survivors.
Ford attempted to try something different with the EXP, an Escort based two-seater hatchback coupe, first revealed at the ’81 Chicago Auto Show and launched for the ’82 model year (sister division Mercury also got a version – the 1982-1983 LN7). Priced considerably more than Escort (base was $7,387 versus $5,462 for ’82) the EXP was the first two-seat Ford since the 1957 Thunderbird. Its bug-eye nose was quite controversial at launch and early models, although equipped with bucket seats and a four-on-the-floor, it didn’t exactly scream performance. That changed with the 1984 model year, when Ford dropped in a turbocharged version of the 1.6-liter CVH overhead cam four. Rated at 120 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 120 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 revs, it came standard with a five-speed manual transaxle and got specific suspension hardware, which included Premium Koni shocks, unique alloy wheels and Michelin TRX 185/65R365 metric tires. Simply known as the EXP turbo, this new performance version sported a different, more aggressive front air dam, rocker panel extension and bumper cover, plus black lower body trim with the word “Turbo” emblazoned on the lower portion of each door.
Suddenly a college grad commuter car had become a capable road machine and in the right hands, one of these little hatchbacks could reach 0-60 mph in well under 9 seconds. However, unlike Escort, after fairly high initial demand in ’82 (some 98,256 units were sold during its debut season), EXP sales dropped like a rock and by 1985 they’d skidded to just over 26,000 units. The Turbo model was in its last season that year, unchanged from ’84. Ford suspended production of the little two-seater and re-launched it as a 1986.5 model with the standard Escort nose, but sales barely budged, and by 1988 it was gone altogether. Why the EXP was such a commercial flop remains a mystery – perhaps it was the styling, perhaps it was the price, but one thing is for certain, the 1984-1985 Turbo represented a brave attempt at trying something different. Like its sibling the Escort GT, the EXP is largely forgotten today, but commonality with European Escorts means that with a little ingenuity and some hot rodding tricks – you can have yourself a very unique car, with great performance, decent handling and fuel economy that’s still rather impressive by 21st century standards. And considering how dull most small cars truly are today, the EXP makes for an interesting and still relevant alternative.
4. 1984 Ford Mustang G.T.350
Price new: $10,072 (1984)
Value now: $2,000 - $9,000
Plus: Strong performance, intriguing turbo four, limited production ensures collector status, good parts availability.
Minus: Cheaply built, convertibles flex prone, replacement metric tires hard to find.
Third generation Fox chassis Mustangs rank fairly high on a collectible list of ’80s Detroit cars and one of the most significant are the limited run 20th anniversary G.T.350s released for the 1984 model year. Based on the regular Mustang GT, which came with a 175 horsepower 302 ci (5.0-liter) V-8 and five-speed manual gearbox, or a 145 hp 2.3-liter turbo four and five-speed, they came as either a hatchback or convertible. They also featured a standard handling suspension with 14-inch wheels or could be spec’d with the TRX setup that included special forged metric wheels and P220/55R390 Michelin rubber. G.T.350s sported special Oxford white, monochromatic exterior paint with a maroon insert around the belt line and canyon red interiors, with a special “20th Anniversary” plaque affixed to the passenger side dash above the glove box. Special maroon rocker panel stripes with “G.T.350” callouts ran along the rocker panel on each side.
Ford ended up building 5,261 of these cars, but one person not too happy about it was Carroll Shelby. Having worked with Ford back in the ’60s to create the original G.T.350 road racer, he claimed he owned the rights to “G.T.350” and was miffed at Ford for not asking him to use it – hitting the company with a copyright infringement suit. Because gas prices were beginning to drop in 1984, the V-8 Mustang GTs outsold the turbo fours by almost 10 to 1 so an original 2.3 car, especially a G.T.350 is quite a rare find today. Although subsequent Fox Mustangs became more powerful and better performing, the G.T.350s were among the first of the third generation cars to gain collector status and are already being restored.
The V-8 versions have a fairly high survival rate, which means it shouldn’t take much to find a good one and prices are still very reasonable. And despite the factory braking system, these cars still provide robust performance and lively handling, which can be further improved via the huge speed part aftermarket that caters to these cars. Also, unlike many others on the list there’s also a sizeable and growing list of restoration parts for Fox Mustangs, which makes it much easier to fix up a scruffy one than say, car Number 6 on our list.
5. 1984-1986 Ford Mustang SVO
Price new: $15,596 (1984)
Value now: $3,000 - $15,000
Plus: Capable all-around performer, exclusivity, loyal enthusiast following.
Minus: Many parts still hard to find, uninspiring exhaust note.
Just as they are today, fuel economy and emissions were driving forces in the automotive industry during the early ’80s. In an attempt to achieve what was seen as ever tightening mileage and smog standards, while maintaining some semblance of performance, automakers looked to turbocharging as a solution. In Ford’s case it began with the 2.3-liter blown four, first introduced in the Mustang Cobra for 1979. This early engine was trouble prone from the start, but fearing that gas prices would get even higher during the ’80s, the folks in Dearborn developed a more advanced version, using electronic fuel injection and ultimately an intercooler. In conjunction with this, the company had also gotten back into racing, forming a new skunkworks called SVO (Special Vehicle Operations), to create programs for road racing, drag racing and NASCAR, plus spawn a range of performance parts and limited edition street cars.
The first tangible result of those efforts emerged for 1984 as the Mustang SVO. Based on the GT hatchback, this was a highly specialized machine with a standard air-to-air intercooler on the turbo four that allowed it to produce 175 horsepower and 210 lb-ft of torque. The turbo itself featured an electronic wastegate to bleed off excess boost, which could be dialed up to 14 psi in factory tune – high by the standards of the day. A standard five-speed manual gearbox with Hurst shifter and a handling suspension with adjustable Koni shocks were also part of the package along with four-wheel disc brakes (the SVO was the only factory Mustang of the ’80s to feature them). In addition it rode on massive (for the time) 16x7-inch alloy wheels and P225/50VR16 Goodyear NCT tires. On the outside, the SVO sported a unique, Euro inspired fascia, with set back single headlights, below bumper grille and a hood with an offset scoop for the intercooler.
Further aiding aerodynamics were spats ahead of the rear wheels and bi-level spoiler on the hatch lid. In terms of performance, the SVO was a sensation – the enthusiast press loved it and in testing the ’84 model produced 0-60 mph runs in around 7.5 seconds and more than .080 lateral g on the skidpad – some serious numbers at the time. However, the SVO was expensive – base price was close to $16,000, when a V-8 GT, which delivered similar performance, could be had for under $10,000. Plus with gas prices dropping, more people were inclined to buy a traditional style V-8 performance machine than a high-winding, high-priced Euro contender and buyers stayed away. Ford elected to give the Mustang SVO more appeal by dropping the price and adding flush headlights halfway through 1985, along with minor trim changes and a more powerful 205 hp engine. It even introduced a stripped-down Comp Prep version aimed at showroom stock racers. But in the end it did little good. Sales struggled to reach more than 4,500 units for 1984 and dipped to just 1,951 for ’85. As a result, like the Mercury Capri, the SVO was gone after 1986, by which time only 9,844 had been sold in three years. Although, like the Capri it failed commercially, today, the SVO represents a historically significant car. It’s a unique performance machine with a loyal following and far more fun to drive than many cars, past or present. That’s why it’s listed here.
6. 1984-85 Ford LTD LX
Price new: $11,421 (1985)
Value now: $300 - $5,000
Plus: V-8 performance, a real sleeper, mechanical upgrades for Mustangs work just as well here, cheap to buy.
Minus: Scarce, body and interior parts are very hard to find now.
In the early ’80s it seemed Ford was using the rear-drive Fox chassis for just about everything shy of its sub-compact and full-size cars. In the intermediate segment it began with the 1981-1982 Ford Granada/Mercury Cougar. When these cars were retired, Ford elected to reskin them with sleeker sheetmetal and a sloping nose and tail, resulting in a “junior” Ford LTD and Mercury Marquis. In their debut season these cars could be equipped with either a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, 3.3-liter straight six, 3.8-liter V-6 or 302 (5.0-liter V-8), but were seen as little more than run of the mill family cars. Bob Bondurant, a former racecar driver, instructor and driving school owner saw greater potential. Because the LTD shared its Fox chassis with the Mustang, a few performance enhancements were all that were needed to transform it from a tepid transportation device into a fun to drive performance sedan – in essence a four-door Mustang GT. Bondurant was able to procure a fleet of hopped up LTDs, for his police driver-training program, which sported tuned 5-liter V-8s, handling suspension and five-speed manual gearboxes. Ford senior management, including then-CEO Donald Petersen, were suitably impressed after evaluating them and as a result, Petersen green-lighted the LTD LX for production – a car that really was a Mustang GT with seating for all the family, right down to the driveline and upholstery.
Introduced during the 1984 model year, the LTD LX featured a 5.0-liter throttle-body fuel injected V-8 engine, which cranked out 165 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque, standard four-speed automatic transmission, handling suspension, quick ratio rack and pinion steering (15:1), performance exhaust with dual tips, plus 14 inch alloy road wheels and P205/70R14 tires. On the outside it was distinguished from regular LTDs by black, instead of bright metal window trim moldings and a body colored grille, plus a small LTD LX emblem on the trunk lid. Inside, in place of a split bench were standard front bucket seats, a unique instrument cluster with a more sporting speedometer and tach, plus a standard floor mounted shifter and console. Priced comparably with the Mustang GT, the LTD LX was a peppy car in its day, offering a great blend of gutsy acceleration and predictable rear-drive handling. However, despite a fairly extensive initial marketing program, sales never took off and although some 200,000 LTDs were produced for the ’84 model year, just a fraction of those were LXs.
The “four-door” Mustang GT returned for the 1985 model year, adopting different wheels and a revised grille, but was otherwise unchanged. With Ford getting ready to launch its new front-drive mid-sized Taurus for the ’86 model year, the “junior” LTD was living on borrowed time – the LX version was gone by the end of the ’85 model year – by which time just 3,260 in total had been sold.
Although it remains very much in the shadow of the Mustang today, astute Fox-body enthusiasts recognize the LTD LX as perhaps the ultimate sleeper. It easily responds to the same performance upgrades as 5.0 Mustangs and thanks to its relative obscurity, survivors can be had for a fraction of the cost, yet it can be just as wickedly fast with the right motivation. Which is why this short-lived sport sedan makes our list.
7. 1985-1986 Mercury Capri RS/5.0L
Price new: $10,950 (1986)
Value now: $1,500 - $10,000
Plus: Strong factory performance, fun to drive, not a Mustang.
Minus: Many survivors in rough shape, replacement sheetmetal and trim hard to find.
Mustang might have gotten nearly all the pony car glory, but in the ’80s at Ford Motor Company, it didn’t get all the performance. Mercury’s domestic Mustang twin, which replaced the European sourced Capri as the division’s sporty offering for the 1979 model year, garnered all the mechanical and performance improvements the Mustang did, but came in only one body style, versus two (later three) for the Ford.
However, with a stand up nose and bulging fenders, it was more aggressive looking than the Mustang and considerably rarer – some 79,000 found owners in 1980 versus more than 270,000 Mustangs (demand for the Capri would only get worse as time passed). The Capri RS was roughly equivalent to the performance oriented Mustang Cobra (and from 1982 onwards, the GT). Drivetrain choices mirrored the Fords, with 2.3-liter turbo power early on and the 302/255 V-8. For 1982, the Capri RS got the same 157 horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 as the Mustang GT, along with the four-speed single-rail overdrive gearbox, handling suspension and optional TRX wheel and tire package, so it was every bit as potent a performer, but it just didn’t resonate with the public the same way. Both cars got a mild facelift for 1983, but where the Mustang added a sleek new nose and convertible body style, the Capri just got a sloped rear fascia and a pronounced bubble-back window. By 1985 it was a rather handsome beast – particularly in RS trim with new, beefy 225/60VR15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires and 15x7 cast aluminum wheels, plus a large front airdam with dual driving lights and cleaner belt moldings finished in charcoal gray, but barely registered on the sales radar, which was a great shame. Cranking out 210 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, equipped with a five-speed manual it was a serious road rocket – 0-60 mph in nearly six seconds flat, quarter-mile times in the low 15s and a top speed of more than 130 mph. It also sported Lear Siegler multi adjustable sport bucket seats and driver oriented cockpit. Yet just 18,657 Capris in total were sold for ’85, versus more than 156,000 Mustangs. Part of the problem was that Lincoln-Mercury dealers, more used to selling big cruisers like the Grand Marquis, simply didn’t understand a car like the Capri. To make matters worse, after 1981 it wasn’t exactly well promoted and the Mustang offered more choices.
Nevertheless the Fox chassis Capri soldiered on for another season – V-8 cars gaining the new 200 hp sequential fuel injected V-8, a stronger clutch and stouter rear end, plus a true-dual exhaust system. Interestingly in the U.S., the V-8 car was simply renamed 5.0L for its final season, though in Canada the RS moniker continued. To make matters even more confusing, you could also order the V-8 driveline and handling suspension on the base GS, which made for some unusual combinations. With sales down to such paltry levels, Ford pulled the plug on the Capri in 1986, though the last cars were still reaching dealers as late as September, resulting in an extra long model year and a slight demand bump to 20,869 units. Although it might not rank as a commercial success, the Capri RS/5.0L was most definitely a performance one and today, the survivors are increasingly cherished by enthusiasts that want Fox Mustang performance and tuneability, but wrapped in a package that’s distinctly different.
8. 1984-1988 Mercury Cougar XR7
Price new: $14,377 (1986)
Value now: $1000 - $7,000
Plus: Interesting styling, nicely built, good performance (especially V-8).
Minus: Turbo fours need love, body and interior parts are hard to find.
Since 1974, the Mercury Cougar had become essentially a Thunderbird twin and where that car went the “Cat” followed closely behind. For the 1983 model year, the Thunderbird was transformed into a swoopy, European inspired coupe and the Cougar, although riding on the same 104.3-inch wheelbase Fox “S” chassis, adopted a slightly different look. Although you could tell both cars were related, the Cougar had a blockier front grille, while at the back, instead of a sloping rear window it had an almost vertical backlight and quarter-windows that swept upwards in dramatic fashion. The XR7 was equivalent to the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe, though made its debut slightly later – beginning with the “true” 1984 model year. It packed the same 145 horsepower turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual gearbox as the Turbo Coupe, so performance was every bit as good, but the XR7 carried a more formal and distinctive image. When both the T-Bird and Cougar got a makeover for 1987, with smoother noses, windows and moldings, the Turbo Coupe received an intercooler, selective ride control damping and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The Cougar XR7, although still retaining its distinctive silhouette, ditched the blown four-cylinder/five-speed driveline for a fuel-injected, 200 hp 5.0-liter V-8 and standard four-speed automatic. This gave it a more “traditional American” performance flavor, helping better differentiate the two cars. For the 1988 season, power on the fuelie V-8 was increased to 220 horses and the XR7 adopted a distinctive monochromatic look along with 15-inch cast aluminum “turbine” wheels from the then-current Mustang GT.
Although it never achieved the sales volumes of the Thunderbird, the 1983-1988 Cougar sold respectably during its lifespan and was a handsome car, well put together and nice to drive, particularly in XR7 V-8 form. Thanks to its Fox chassis underpinnings it is yet another ’80s machine that can benefit from the Mustang’s huge performance aftermarket support and is becoming increasingly sought after by Generation X car enthusiasts today.
9. 1987-1988 Ford Mustang GT/LX 5.0L
Price new: $11,835 (1987)
Value now: $2,000 - $15,000
Plus: Ford’s performance mascot of the ’80s, huge following, aftermarket support, bang for the buck value unparalleled.
Minus: Many survivors in rough shape, spotty build quality, factory brakes leave a lot to be desired.
This is it, the undisputed king of Ford’s American performance offerings during the ’80s. The original 5.0-liter Mustang had its origins back in 1982, but it is the 1987 and later cars that resonate most with enthusiasts today and for good reason. Ford adopted sequential fuel injection for the venerable 302 cubic inch High Output V-8 beginning with the 1986 model year, along with a stronger 10.5-inch diameter clutch on manual transmission cars, the availability of an automatic with the H.O engine for the first time, plus a true dual exhaust system and larger rear axle ring gear and pinion. However the 1986 engine was somewhat choked by its high swirl cylinder heads, which restricted top end breathing. So, for the 1987 model year, Ford adapted a 1985 light truck cylinder head and installed a revised upper intake with larger runners and a slightly bigger throttle body (60 mm versus 58). It then dropped this updated 5.0-liter driveline in a heavily facelifted Mustang, which looked very European, both outside and in. Flush mounted headlights, smoother glass treatment (particularly around the quarter-windows) and a very Ford of Europe inspired interior with a new instrument pod, dash, console and door and sail panels, considerably modernized the then eight year-old basic Fox design.
However for the first time, GT models looked quite different from LXs. The latter, available in either notchback coupe, hatchback or convertible body styles, was clean, almost demure looking, while the GT went for the full boy-racer look – adopting a grilleless nose, circular driving lights in the bumper and prominent rocker panel extensions with scoops ahead of the front and rear wheels, plus a massive deck spoiler on the hatchback (convertible GTs had a trunk rack instead). But the most controversial aspect were the so-called “cheesegrater” taillights which quickly become a love it or hate it affair, causing many GT owners to swap them for the cleaner LX units.
Of course the biggest appeal of the 1987 Mustang 5.0 LX or GT was its performance. With the V-8 cranking out 225 horsepower at 4,200 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 revs, these were seriously quick cars – 0-60 mph in around six seconds flat, the quarter-mile in around 14.4 seconds and a top speed of more than 140 mph in some cases (Road & Track magazine took a pre-production ’87 GT on a high speed test run, where it clocked more than 147 mph). Real speed freaks quickly discovered that with a few minor adjustments the lighter 5.0 LX, especially the notchback coupe, could turn 13 second ETs in the quarter-mile at the dragstrip, via simple tricks like advancing the ignition timing and installing a short accessory belt. Retailing for around $12,000 in 1987, the Mustang LX 5.0 offered the most bang for the buck on the market that year. Almost anybody could afford one and it ran just as good as if not better than many hallowed ’60s muscle cars. And because the engine and driveline responded so well to hot rodding tricks, a whole aftermarket industry sprung up, dedicated exclusively to this car, one that’s still going strong today. From 1988, Ford started playing with the Mustang 5.0 – adding mass air metering and changing the camshaft, making it not quite as fast, though even more adaptable to modification. It also started reducing options and in some cases feature content – as a result the 1987-1988 models represent the essence of the 5.0-liter Mustang in the purest sense. Although built in relatively large numbers between 1987-1993, many of these cars, like their ’60s predecessors, were driven hard and put away wet. Yet the survivors are now beginning to attract serious collector interest and a low-mileage, prime condition 1987-1993 Mustang GT or LX 5.0 might represent one of the best automotive investments in the coming years. More importantly however, they were (and still are) an absolute hoot to drive.
10. 1989 Ford Taurus SHO
Price new: $19,739 (1989)
Value now: $1,500 - $5,000
Plus: Good performer in its day, fun to drive, exclusivity.
Minus: Nice ones thin on the ground, engine not the easiest to work on.
Replacing the mid-size LTD for the 1986 model year (although the two cars were sold side by side for a few months), the Taurus was Ford’s most radical home market vehicle of the ’80s and sent many competitors back to the drawing board. The clean, Euro inspired styling was dramatic and futuristic in 1986 – the work of Ford Design Director John J. “Jack” Telnack and his team. Inside, considerable emphasis was placed on ergonomics with all controls placed readily to hand without the driver having to take their eyes off the road. Taurus was built on a unibody platform and like most Detroit mid-size cars of the time, adopted front-wheel drive and transverse mounted engines for optimal packaging. With its rack and pinion steering and all-strut suspension, the Taurus was a competent road car, but its standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.0-liter V-6 engines were hardly the stuff enthusiasts craved.
That changed for the 1989 model year, when Ford added a flagship performance model – the Taurus SHO or Super High Output. On the outside, it looked similar to the Taurus LX, but sported a deeper front air dam with driving lights, subtle wheel and rocker panel flares below the doors and the letters “SHO” embossed in the rear bumper. Inside the SHO boasted full instrumentation with a standard 140 mph speedometer and 8,000 rpm tach, multi-adjustable sport bucket seats with power controls, standard center console with cup holders, along with power windows, locks and mirrors. But it was under the hood where this car had its true party piece – a 3.0-liter V-6. This wasn’t the gruff, old pushrod “Vulcan” unit found in regular Taurus sedans, but an exotic high performance engine built by Yamaha in Japan for Ford. An iron-block engine, it sported quad cam heads and four valves per cylinder (two intake and two exhaust). Rated at 220 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at a fairly peaky 4,800 revs, it was teamed exclusively with a Mazda sourced five-speed manual transaxle.
Other special features of the Taurus SHO included standard four-wheel disc brakes, stainless steel dual exhaust, performance tuned suspension and P215/65VR15 performance tires. Not surprisingly the Taurus SHO quickly became a favorite with the automotive press and enthusiasts – most tests reported 0-60 mph times in around 6.6 seconds and Car & Driver magazine was able to wring one up to a credible top speed of 143 mph. However as fun as it was, there was no denying that the SHO was fully intended as a niche product and the lack of an automatic transmission limited appeal still further.
Nevertheless, this car was a fine way to end off the ’80s for Ford, a decade which saw the company outgrow General Motors in corporate earnings as well as usher in a whole new line of better built, fun to drive and unmistakable cars and trucks, many of which quickly became the top sellers in their segment. The original Taurus SHO actually lasted through the 1991 model year and would spawn two further generations before being binned in 1999. The fact that it was reborn for 2010 with V-6 power, indicates that not only do the older cars continue to be popular machines with enthusiasts, but that the spirit of the original 1989 model can still be felt in the corridors of Ford Corporate Headquarters.