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.

SEDUCTION

Today, the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe remains a symbol of when Ford prov edit could build a world-class grand tourer with a decidedly true European flavor. For a number of people, the car remains just as seductive now as it did when new.

One of those who has fallen victim to the TC's charm is Staten Island,New York, native John Romanello. He owns the gorgeous '88 you see hereand fell in love with these cars back in 2001. "My good friend TommyTocco had an '86 {{{Mustang}}} SVO, which was how I got to learn about [TCs],"John said. "He was often doing work on the car and I'd help him out whenI could. The thing is, I became amazed at the performance of Tommy's SVOand I asked him to help me find a Turbo Ford of my own. One day he cameacross this '88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe for sale down in Baltimore. Iwas in love. I told the guy I was interested and went down on the train.I test drove the car and that was it. I paid the guy and drove it home.The [TC] was everything I imagined. It was fast, comfortable, and a lotof fun. It was also in excellent shape and had just 60,000 miles on theclock."

John drove his new toy daily for about a year, but due to its amazingcondition, began thinking about retiring it. "I put about 10,000 mileson it that first year, but I liked the car so much that I figured itwould be best to keep it as a weekend pleasure car." It was also at thistime that he caught the modifying bug.

CAREFULLY CHOSEN

"My goal was to take an already very capable car and build on it, addinga bit more power and improving the handling," John said. "I tried tostick to at least one upgrade per year or, as my budget would allow."

On the engine front, John removed the stock camshaft and installed aFord Motorsport A237 bumpstick, along with a Racer Walsh adjustable camsprocket. "This allowed me to fine-tune the engine's powerband to myliking. I currently have the timing advanced by 4 degrees," he said.

Next, it was time to play around with the plumbing--specifically, the turbo and intercooler. "Tommy donated the Garrett T-3 turbo from his SVO to replace the stock IHI unit in my car and we also got our hands on a Spearco intercooler, designed for the Mustang SVO," John said. "We were able to modify it and fit it to the T-bird's engine. I chose to do this because I wanted an increase in boost without any risk of problems, such as detonation. It's currently set at 21 psi."

To further compensate for the increase in airflow, John wisely decided to upgrade the fuel system, installing a Kirban fuel pressure regulator to precisely control the amount of juice going through the stock 36lb/hr injectors. He also ditched the factory in-tank fuel pump for astouter 255-l ph Walbro.

Other engine mods include a Melling high-pressure oil pump and an Esslinger windage tray mounted in the stock oil pan. "Besides fuel, I didn't want any risk of oil starvation," says Romanello. At the backend, flow was improved through a big-log header from 40bob.com with15/8-inch primaries that feed into a stainless (and cat less) 3-inch single exhaust produced by the now-defunct ATR Performance. (Keenob servers will notice the single tailpipe on John's car--five-speed Turbo Coupes sport duals.)

In addition to the engine mods, the car currently sports KYB struts and shocks, along with Cobra R-style five-spoke 17x9-inch chrome wheels and Falken P235/45ZR17 rubber in place of the original factory rolling stock. A set of Auto Meter gauges--air/fuel, boost, water temperature,and oil pressure, which enables John to monitor engine health and efficiency--have found their way into the mint interior, as has an Alpine In-Car-Entertainment system, for cranking the tunes on longer trips,like to the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals, where we first spotted the car and which John attends as often as he can. "This is a great event and I've formed many friendships, through forums like Turbo Ford.net, the SVOCA and Turbo Tbird.com. Carlisle is kind of a social gathering for all of us," he said.

As amazing as it might seem, the Silver Clear coat Metallic paint is the original finish and still glistens today, probably even more than it did as the car rolled off the Lorain, Ohio, assembly line. Complementing the car's super-clean exterior and interior is a spruced up engine bay. The long-block was pulled and given a thorough cleaning and some fresh silver paint (matching the exterior of the car), while much of the top-end stuff was sent out to Mad Adder.com for powder coating. Once back between the shock towers, the detailed engine became the icing on thes pectacular cake that is John Romanello's super-clean '88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe.

The Details

John Romanello's '88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe

Engine
Ford 2.3L
'Lima' four
Ford Motorsport SVO A237 roller camshaft
Racer Walsh adjustable cam sprocket
K&N cone-mounted high-performance filter
Garrett T-3 turbocharger from {{{Mustang}}} SVO
Spearco front-mounted intercooler kit
Custom intercooler piping
Melling high-pressure oil pump
Esslinger Engineering windage tray
Walbro 255 lph in-tank fuel pump

Transmission
Borg Warner T-5 five-speed manual
Steeda Tri-Ax shifter

RearEnd
8.8-inch rear
3.55 gears
Traction-Lok differential

Exhaust
40bob.com 2.3 big-log manifold with 15/8-inch primary
Stainless steel ART 3-inch single exhaust

Suspension'
Front: KYB gas-charged struts, variable rate springs, antiroll bar
Rear: KYB gas-charged shocks, variable rate springs, antiroll bar

Brakes
Front: 10.84-inch vented front disc brakes with sliding single-piston calipers
Rear: 10.25-inch disc brakes with single-piston calipers
TEVES II electro-hydraulic braking system with ABS

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Wheels
Front: Cobra R-style, 17x9-inch
Rear: Cobra R-style, 17x9-inch

Tires
Front: Falken, P235/45ZR17
Rear: Falken, P235/45ZR17

Interior
Auto Meter 21/16-inch pillar-mounted boost and air/fuel gauges, 21/16-inch center stack mounted oil and water temperature gauges; Alpine 7998 stereo head unit, component speaker and amplifier with 6-inch and 1-inch tweeter (front), 6x9-inch speakers; 10-inch Bazooka tube (rear)

Exterior
Original Silver Clearcoat Metallic paint, custom window tinting, Ford 2.3L fender badges