1991 Ford Thunderbird Base 3.8 V6
Reliable, comfortable, cheap fun with a little TLC
Blown head gaskets - Aware at purchase, was given the car for free because of it.
Fully rebuilt and decked cylinder heads - $250.
Factory radio was junk - bought a newer Ford OEM cassette deck from a Lincoln - $30 from eBay.
Missing driver's side dew wipe - fixed - $30 from eBay.
Flasher relay - $15.
Turn signal/wiper MFS - $30 - thought it was the reason the turn signals were not working; it was the flasher.
Heater hose - $15.
Transmission grommet - $8.
Headlight bulbs - $10.
New tires (old ones were dry-rotted) - $350 - set.
Alignment - $50.
Plasti-dipped factory rims - $20.
Paint is in OK condition with some small dings, good 10 footer. Could use a repaint someday.
Minor rust starting on driver's side rocker - fixed for now, free (had the materials).
Some interior rattles - fixed for free.
Needed a good cleaning in/out & waxing - $10.
Dash is cracked (typical for 89-93), I have a dash cover for it not installed.
I saved this car from the scrapper back in March of this year. I knew the previous owner (and warned them of the 3.8's issues) so when the head gaskets started to go, I offered to fix it for them. Instead they decided to give me the car for free.
I bought the Fel-pro HG kit, a set of ARP head studs, a new t-stat, some tune-up items, and scored a set of fully rebuilt and decked cylinder heads from a machine shop that turned out to be cheaper than having the stock heads tested and decked. Took about 3 weeks working on it maybe 5-8 hours a week, and it was back running again like new. I worked on it in the cold out in the street with basic tools; this car was very easy to work on and I'm not a mechanic by trade.
When driving this car, you can tell that it's a bit out of its element style-wise in 2015. People take notice, whether positive or negative, probably more negative due to the age of the vehicle. The upside I've noticed is I very rarely get tailgated in this car, likely because it screams "poor" to an unsuspecting motorist.
Headlights are a weak point; throughly cleaning the headlight housings does wonders though. Body parts/trim are getting scarcer though since these vehicles have been out of production since 1997.
The 3.8 does have 140 HP stock, and because of the weight of the car, it's slow by today's standards. It has very good pickup off the line until 30-35mph, and it performs well on the highway. Really, the low horsepower isn't noticeable and it performs very well in daily-driver conditions; my only complaint is 3rd gear is a bit tall in the AOD, which is noticeable sometimes on hilly rural roads. Passing power is good and it'll cruise happily at 80mph all day if you need it too. Gas mileage is OK around town (18-22 MPG), but great on the highway (26-28 MPG). The only modification I did was remove the factory air silencer box, which seemed to make it a bit peppier overall.
Overall though, it's a very smooth engine and a smooth-shifting transmission, making your commute pleasant.
The handling of this car is excellent for even modern standards, which is largely why I love the car. It basically feels like it's on rails, the steering feel is light but very precise, and it's smooth and controlled even at high speeds. You can drive at very high speeds and this car barely bats an eye.
The ride quality is excellent as well. Even large bumps are absorbed well, and it rides smooth even on rough roads. Wouldn't recommend this car for somewhere that gets snow though, I know they don't fair well in it, and even the 3.8 models are a chore to drive in snow/ice. I don't mind though because I have a newer 4WD vehicle as well.
The brakes are under-sized for this vehicle IMO. It stops adequately, but I can see this being an issue for the V8 models. It does not stop as well as I would prefer under hard braking.
The MN12 interior is very comfortable; the seats are great even at this age; PW/PL and the trunk release is nice too. However, the interior has that typically 90's plastic and the dash on mine is cracked in two places below the windshield. The 89-91 instruments are pretty nice, but I would have liked the LX interior better sans the digital dash/climate controls.
The best thing though is the interior is very quiet as well, even at higher speeds. When I first got it running, it had some rattles, but within an afternoon, it's quiet now.
Why bother with this car?
Overall, this is a great value if you're willing. Yes, the head gaskets are a weak point, but fix it right and you'll have a reliable vehicle going forward; already put 2,000 miles on mine without a problem. Parts are cheap and it's very easy to work on as well.
I also own a beautiful 2006 Jeep Wrangler in mint condition/low mileage with some upgrades (was my DD until the T-bird, now I alternate) and also a 2013 Toyota Corolla LE, both of which run/drive excellent and are great vehicles in their own right. However, the T-bird offers great comfort, better handling, sometimes better gas mileage, and a piece of mind (cheap car = less worries around idiot drivers) that sometimes can be priceless compared to the other two vehicles.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 22nd May, 2015