Premium sporty/performance car; Built in USA
  • 2-door coupe
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,000 – $2,300*


1990 Ford Thunderbird


1990 Ford Thunderbird


1994 Ford Thunderbird LX


1994 Ford Thunderbird interior


1990 Ford Thunderbird SC V-6 engine

Pros:
  • Acceleration (SC and V8)
  • Antilock brakes (optional)
  • Handling/roadholding
  • Ride
Cons:
  • Acceleration (V6)
  • Entry/exit
  • Fuel economy (SC and V8)

Standard Thunderbirds are pretty and pleasant compared to front-drive GM coupes, such as the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Pontiac Grand Prix. You get a solid feel, quiet ride, and modern appearance.

Overview

Thunderbird was restyled in 1989 and became trimmer in its overall dimensions but rides on a wheelbase nine inches longer than before. Also new at that time was a fully independent suspension. Mercury’s Cougar is similar, but with different appearance touches. Base and LX editions had a 3.8-liter V6 and 4-speed overdrive automatic. Performance fans had a particularly tempting choice: a supercharged, intercooled variant of the V6 that churned out 210 horsepower in the Super Coupe (SC), which featured dual exhausts, 16-inch tires, and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes. Four-wheel disc brakes came standard on the SC, but were optional on the LX.

Yearly Updates

1991 Thunderbird
For 1991, a V8 option was back: a 5.0-liter engine rated at 200 horsepower.
1992 Thunderbird
Sport models had a standard V8, making four models in all: base, Sport, LX, and SC. LX/Sport front ends got the SC’s faired air intakes and aero skirting. All models wore new full-width taillights.
1993 Thunderbird
Base and Sport models were gone, leaving only the LX and Super Coupe. Thunderbirds still had no airbag at all.
1994 Thunderbird
An overhead-cam 4.6-liter V8 arrived for ’94, along with driver- and passenger-side airbags and optional traction control. T-Birds featured new front/rear fascias, a new hood, and headlights. Motorized seatbelts were gone.
1995 Thunderbird
Variable-assist power steering no longer was standard on the LX, except with V8 power.
1996 Thunderbird
No more Super Coupes went to dealerships, but Thunderbird continued in LX guise. Extensive styling changes included new fascias, clear-lens headlights, and a new grille with larger opening. Color-keyed body moldings were integrated with door panels.
1997 Thunderbird
Revisions to the dash and interior layout were the major change for ’97. The simplified instrument cluster featured new gauges with orange needles, while warning lights replaced the oil pressure gauge and ammeter. The center console was redesigned to provide dual cupholders, a coin holder, and larger storage bin. Ford also made four-wheel disc brakes standard. At the end of the model year, Ford announced the end of Thunderbird production.

Engines

longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

Base engine for 1990 Thunderbirds was a 3.8-liter V6 that developed 140 horsepower. The supercharged, intercooled V6 engine in the Super Coupe could mate with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or 4-speed overdrive automatic transmission, but all other T-Birds were automatic-only. For 1994, a two-valve-per-cylinder version of Ford’s overhead-cam 4.6-liter V8 replaced the 5.0-liter. In 1996, the supercharged engine was gone, the substantially revised V6 gained 5 horsepower, and engines adopted platinum-tipped plugs.

ohv V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.8/232
Engine HP 140-145
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 215
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic

19/26

ohv V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 5.0/302
Engine HP 200
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 275
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
4-speed automatic

17/24

15.1

ohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 4.6/281
Engine HP 203-205
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 265-280
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
17/25
17/24
18.2
15.1
Supercharged ohv V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.8/232
Engine HP 210-230
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 315-330
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
18/26
18/24
15.8
15.2

Road Test

Substantially heavier than prior T-Birds, the stylish but portly ’90s edition is roomier inside. Three can fit into the rear, but head room is limited and the center occupant straddles a wide driveline tunnel. Controls are clear and easy to reach, analog gauges easy to read on a cockpit-style dash. The optional electronic dashboard isn’t so easy. As with most coupes of this size, the big, heavy doors are a chore to open and demand a lot of room.

Though smooth-running and capable, the base V6 sets no acceleration records. The Super Coupe, on the other hand, is one swift cruiser. Unfortunately, the 5-speed manual gearshift gets balky, making automatic the better choice for an SC.

A V8 engine is the sensible choice for those who like performance, but don’t need the all-out muscle of the Super Coupe. The V8 delivers a smooth power flow, not neck-snapping takeoffs. A V8 Thunderbird reached 60 mph in 8.8 seconds. The 4.6-liter V6 is quieter, smoother than the older 5.0-liter, but yields unimpressive throttle response in the 30-50-mph range. Fuel economy is tempting only on base (V6) models. A late LX V8 got 18.2 mpg (just 15 in urban commuting). An automatic-transmission SC averaged 15.2 mpg.

All Thunderbirds have competent road manners. Base and LX models handle well and ride comfortably, but do tend to float and bound over dips as speed rises. SCs hug the road tightly, but heavy weight keeps even that Thunderbird from feeling truly agile, and the Super Coupe suffers from an overly firm ride. Even in its softest mode, the SC’s standard adjustable suspension is on the harsh side. The Sport model (available only briefly) gives you V8 power and a tauter ride than the base car. Thunderbirds can suffer poor traction on wet/slick pavement even with traction control.

Ratings

Model Tested: 1996 Ford Thunderbird LX 4.6-liter

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 6
60%
Fuel Economy - 3
30%
Ride Quality - 6
60%
Steering/Handling - 6
60%
Quietness - 4
40%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Front - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Rear - 3
30%
Cargo Room - 3
30%

Other

Value - 6
60%

Total: 49

Specifications

2-door coupe
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
113.0 200.3 72.7 52.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
15.1 18.0 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
38.1 37.5 42.5 35.8
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1997 Thunderbird 2-door coupe

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 5
100%
Front Passenger Injury - 5
100%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - 3
60%
Rear Passenger Injury - 1
20%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 90
Injury 89
Theft 90

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: Water drips onto the floor when the air conditioner is operated and may be due to over a half-dozen potential leak sources, including seals and bad seams in the evaporator case or heater core. (1990-96)
Alternator belt
Description: The drive belt tensioner pulley or idler pulley bearings are apt to make a squealing noise when the engine is started in cold weather. (1993-96)
Automatic transmission
Description: The automatic transmission is notorious for shuddering or vibrating under light acceleration or when shifting between third and fourth gear. It requires that the transmission fluid (including fluid in the torque converter) be changed and that only Mercon fluid be used. (1994)
Automatic transmission
Description: The transmission may slip and the engine may flare when shifting into fourth gear. This can often be traced to a bad TR/MLP sensor. (1994-95)
Blower motor
Description: Squeaking or chirping blower motors are the result of defective brush holders. (1993-94)
Coolant leak
Description: The intake manifold on 4.6L V8 engines is prone to breakage resulting in coolant loss and possible overheating. The manufacturer is reimbursing owners who paid for fixes up to $735 and extending the warranty for others (1996-97))
Heater core
Description: Installing a restrictor in the heater inlet hose may repair heater cores leaks. (1990-97)
Oil leak
Description: The oil filter balloons and leaks because the oil pump relief valve sticks. Higher than recommended viscosity oils cause wear to the valve bore. (1992-94)
Vehicle noise
Description: A chattering noise that can be felt coming from the rear during tight turns after highway driving is caused by a lack of friction modifier or over-shimming of the clutch packs in the Traction-Lok differential. (1990-96)

Recall History

1990-91
Description: Nuts that hold windshield-wiper motor may loosen or come off.
1990-93
Description: Ignition switch could suffer short circuit, which can cause overheating, smoke, and possibly fire in steering-column area.
1991
Description: Park-rod assembly of automatic overdrive transmission may contain a cam with inadequate surface hardness, which could lead to disengagement or nonengagement when lever is placed in “Park” position.
1992-93 w/foglights
Description: Headlights may go out for various intervals as a result of circuit breaker opening.
1992-93 cars in specified states
Description: Movement of fuel lines can result in leakage.
1996
Description: Driver’s door, when closed only to secondary latched position, may not sustain the specified 1000-pound transverse load.
1996 w/semiautomatic temperature-control
Description: Under certain conditions, blower does not operate as intended.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.