1990 Ford Thunderbird

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Asking Price Range
$2,977–$11,457
Estimated MPG

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Expert Reviews

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chicagotribune.com
A 35th anniversary is a lot like having a sweet 17 party, marking the 26th year of marriage or running into a bar and ordering a beer on your 22nd birthday.

Be that as it may, at Ford Motor Co., it`s celebration time again. Last year, Ford celebrated the silver anniversary of a winner, the Mustang.

Now the company, for the second year in a row marking the introduction of one of the most successful vehicles in automotive history, is placing Thunderbird in the spotlight, to commemorate its 35 years on the market.

And because only a handful of models have survived 3 1/2 decades of grueling automotive competition, kudos to the Bird.

By calling attention to the just-off-the-line anniversary edition Thunderbird, Ford brings up memories and a comparison to the original Bird, which is a bit unfair, because the `55 still makes eyes bulge and jaws drop, while the `90 anniversary edition is good for an admiring smile.

The big difference, of course, is that the modern version is a 5- passenger hardtop coupe, while the original was a 2-seater with a convertible top and a detachable plastic hardtop, which just goes to prove that Mazda, with its Miata, wasn`t the first automaker with such a notion. Thunderbird became a 4-passenger model in 1958.

In bringing out an anniversary model, Ford took the Thunderbird Super Coupe and added lots of gingerbread, such as a black and silver paint treatment with blue accent stripes, black road wheels, commemorative fender and door trim panel badges, Thunderbird emblems on the taillights and hood, suede seats with leather side bolsters and split fold-down rear seats. That package runs an extra $1,863.

The anniversary car is a midsize model built on a 108-inch wheelbase. It`s powered by a 210-horsepower,supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 engine teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission as standard or a 4-speed automatic with overdrive as optional. Curb weight is 3,581 pounds.

The `55 was a compact built on a 102-inch wheelbase. It was powered by a 292-cubic-inch, 160-horsepower V-8 teamed with a 3-speed manual transmission as standard or a 3-speed Ford-O-Matic as optional. Curb weight was 2,833 pounds.

We drove the anniversary model, with the optional ($563) automatic rather than the cumbersome 5-speed manual. The supercharged V-6 packs a punch even with the automatic. To enjoy maximum power, you should keep the gear selector in regular ``D,`` not the one with the circle around it that denotes overdrive and its economy shift patterns.

With a supercharger, power is directly linked to engine speed. Essentially, a supercharger features a belt-driven engine compressor that uses two counter turning rotors to trap air within the supercharger body, compressing it and forcing it under pressure into the intake manifold and ultimately the combustion chambers. There, the increased density of the fuel charge produces increased engin e power.

A turbocharger, in contrast, simply redirects exhaust gases back against a turbine wheel to provide a power boost. There`s a brief lag from the time you accelerate and the process forces the compressed fuel mix back into the engine to provide that boost.

With the supercharged Bird, there`s virtually no lag when you kick the accelerator and noticeably more quickness from a standing start than with a turbo.

Once cruising on the open road, or when the desire to conserve fuel is more important than racing from the light, you`ll want to move into overdrive. The federal fuel economy rating for the engine is 17 miles per gallon city and 23 highway, with automatic.

The car comes with an adjustable ride-control suspension. A button on the console gives you the choice of ``firm`` ride or an ``automatic`` setting, which adjusts to firm or soft on its own, based on road surface and vehicle speed. We found automatic the preferred setting. Firm wa s a bit too stiff, and too much road harshness came back through the wheel.

Considering the nearly 3,900-pound curb weight, the speed-sensitive power steering requires little effort. Just don`t expect to maneuver the machine with your fingertips.

To bring the car under control, the anniversary model comes with antilock brakes as standard.

Though the `90 is no styling match for the `55, with its timeless design, the rounded aero look is clean and crisp. The Thunderbird emblems on the wheel covers add a luxury touch.

Inside, you`ll encounter a few annoyances, such as inflatable side seat bolsters that are too confining and are best left in the wide-open position. There also is a driver`s door armrest that`s a bit too bulky, robbing the car of some leg room.

Head room is a bit tight in back. The rear seat backs fold down to expose entry to the trunk and allow you to carry such items as skis. However, the compact disc hardware in the trunk takes up a lot of space.

On the plus side, there`s a warning system in the instrument panel to let you know when fluids-from oil to coolant-run low or need changing. And to avoid the possibility of vehicle acceleration on its own, you must depress the brake pedal first to start the car and move the lever out of park.

Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, dual remote outside mirrors, body side moldings, cast aluminum wheels, full carpeting, instrument panel storage compartment with a sliding door, power seats/windows/ door locks, side-window defoggers, cruise control, air conditioning, heavy- duty battery, AM/FM stereo with digital clock, tinted glass, 16-inch performance tires and intermittent wipers.

Base price of the Super Coupe is $20,390. The anniversary package brings it to $22,253. The original Bird cost $2,695.

The car we drove added a power moonroof at $741, keyless entry at $137, compact disc player at $491, upgraded JBL sound system at $488 and preferred equipment and light convenience packages that ran the total to $25,343. Add $475 for freight.

Ford will only build about 5,000 anniversary models. The anniversary model looks good and performs above average. As nice as the `90 model is, though, it would be nicer to have about a dozen `55s in the family garage beside it.

>> 1990 Ford Thunderbird
Wheelbase: 113.0 inches. Length: 198.7 inches. Engine: 3.8 liter, 210 h.p. supercharged V-6. Transmission: 5-speed manual standard; 4-speed automatic optional. Fuel economy: 17/24m.p.g. 5-speed: 17/23 automatic. Base price: $22.453. Strong point: Plenty of pep, pleasant styling. Weak point: Not a `55. >>


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