Huw Evans
November 1, 2008
80-'82 Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar
Price Range: $100-$2,500
Pros: Quite possibly the cheapest car on our list; Fox chassis means many Mustang parts will fit, sleeper
Cons: Baroque styling hasn't aged well, not that many left, body, trim and interior replacement parts virtually non-existent

You probably think that we have lost our minds by including these blocky, ornate cars in our guide. The Thunderbird and Cougar of this vintage were the third iteration of the Fox platform, after the Fairmont/Zephyr and Mustang/Capri. Yes, the styling is an acquired taste, especially the 'Bird, but these cars are super cheap--$1,000 and under in many cases. They are Fox cars, so if you've been playing around with Mustangs, Fairmonts, and the like, you can have a bit of fun with one of these. A fuelie 302 and an AOD or T-5 trans swap? No problem. Upgraded springs and shocks, thick sway bars, you've got it. One of these cars shows up to our local cruise night. It has a 331 fuel-injected stroker under the hood, a built AOD and 8.8-inch rear, and a 150 shot of giggle gas. It rides on cast-off Mustang 15-inch wheels. The term sleeper doesn't get any better than this.

'83-'88 Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar
Price Range: $1,800-$3,500
Pros: Slick styling still looks good today, very affordable, great performance potential from turbo-fours and V-8s
Cons: Problematic factory turbochargers, no handbrake for stick shift cars

Compared to its predecessor, the '83 Thunderbird/Cougar was a dramatic change. Sleek aero styling allowed it to slip through the wind. The introduction of the turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder engine in the Turbo Coupe and Cougar XR7, along with a five-speed manual gearbox, marked a complete change of character for personal luxury American cars. The Cougar was slightly more ornate with its vertical back window and different quarter light treatment, but both cars were extremely road worthy by the standards of the day and also well built with very comfortable and user-friendly interiors. The '87s got slicker, even more Euro-inspired styling, four-wheel disc brakes, and a 190hp turbo-four on the 'Bird TC, while the Cougar XR7 got a 200hp 5.0L V-8 engine and a cool monochromatic exterior for '88. Great parts interchangeability between different versions and even other Fox platform cars (read Mustang) means that you can build a really nice cruiser for not a ton of dough. Good, solid Cougars and T-birds of this vintage can be found for as little as $1,500, though an original Turbo Coupe or Cougar XR7 will usually go for a bit more. A good buy, if you ask us.

'83-'86 Ford LTD/Mercury Marquis
Price Range: $1,000-$3,500
Pros: A four-door 5.0L Mustang, still very affordable, decent build quality
Cons: Few sheetmetal, trim, and interior parts available, getting rarer by the day

An unlikely Modified Mustangs & Fords project vehicle perhaps, but the '83-'86 LTDs and Marquis have a lot going for them. Decently built and equipped, they were better than most American family cars of the time and sold like hotcakes when new. They're also Fox platform cars, which means that most hardware designed for the Mustang will fit, especially suspension and driveline, but with four doors you can have seating for your family and friends. The '83s and '84-'85 LTD LX/Marquis LTS and police package vehicles came with 302 V-8s, so that should tell you something. Throw in a built short-block with a little giggle gas, some good lower control arms and tires, and you can have a high 12-/low 13-second car for very little money. Good, regular LTDs/Marquises can be found for as little as $1,200, even in mint condition, though surviving LXs are worth a little bit more.