Huw Evans
September 19, 2008

These days, it seems you can't go far in new cardom without hearing theterm "European" or "Euro-inspired" bandied about in marketing hype. Inmost cases, automakers pedaling cars in our part of the world havelittle validity, except the true European brands and Saturn, whichbrings over modified Opels, like the new Astra. There was a time,however, when Detroit automakers actually made a real stab atengineering true European-flavored machinery. In Ford's case, a Europeancitizen--a German, in fact--had a lot to do with it.

Back in 1980, as Ford was struggling financially, newly appointed President Donald Petersen announced the creation of a revitalized motorsport and performance skunk works division called Special Vehicle Operations (SVO), headed up by Michael Krane fuss (the German we mentioned). SVO's job was to get Ford back into racing and produce a number of high-performance street cars. Even though the division only ended up producing one specific vehicle, the Mustang SVO, its activities ended up trickling down to other Ford vehicles in the lineup.

Take the Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Introduced part-way through the'83 model year, this machine marked a complete change of direction for Dearborn's personal luxury car. Besides the ultra-sleek styling, it boasted excellent build quality, a true European-inspired interior with bucket seats and center console, plus a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual gearbox--in a Thunderbird!

With gas-pressurized struts and shocks, 14-inch aluminum wheels shod inperformance blackwall tires and 142 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque, it was adecent performer, too (remember, this was 1983, folks!--Ed.).

Outwardly, the TC was distinguished from other '83 T-birds by black-outwindow trim and a pair of Marchal driving lights in the front valance.As time wore on, the Turbo Coupe proved a very useful tool in generatingshowroom sales, especially of the base, Elan, and Sport T-birds,steadily morphing into serious performance cars. By 1986, the TC wore15-inch wheels and tires, with the little 2.3L turbo engine cranking out155 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. The best, however, was still to come.

ULTIMATE GRAND TOURER

For 1987, the TC was given a slick facelift, with a very FordEurope-inspired nose, incorporating flush headlamps, a hood with twinscoops and slicker side window treatment and larger taillights, plus anupdated interior. Although the Mustang SVO had departed by this point,its legacy lived on in the '87 T-bird Turbo Coupe, which, despite theadoption of a smaller IHI turbo (to improve spool-up time), received aversion of the SVO's air-to-air intercooler for the blown four-bangerengine.

The result, along with changes to the engine's EEC-IV brain and exhaust system, resulted in 190 hp and a stout 240 lb-ft of torque (cars equipped with the optional four-speed automatic had tamer engine tuning,yielding 155 hp). Other important upgrades were handsome 16-inch aluminum wheels and beefy performance tires, four-wheel disc brakes with electro-hydraulic activation and ABS (an update of that first used on the Lincoln Mk VII), plus a Programmed Ride Control function, which allowed the driver to adjust the damping rates through a cockpit-mounted switch. Another dash-mounted switch allowed the driver to alter between regular and premium fuel calibrations. Capable of 0-60 mph in 8.5seconds and a top speed of 145 mph, plus generating 0.82 lateral g on the skid pad, the latest Turbo Coupe was a fast, well-built, and tremendously fun-to-drive grand tourer. Good enough, in fact, for Motor Trend magazine to select it as its Car of the Year in 1987.

The Turbo Coupe returned in this form for one more season, after whichit paved the way for the MN12 Super Coupe, which ultimately emerged as arather different animal.