While there’s some debate about when the personal luxury car came into being, it is generally agreed upon that the 1958 Ford Thunderbird is the car that set the standard for all to follow. The standard being a mass produced coupe with an emphasis on comfort and amenities over performance. That doesn’t always need to ring true though.
Ask any owner of a supercharged Studebaker Avanti, Pontiac Grand Prix SJ, or Monte Carlo SS 454, and they will tell you just how a car can be luxurious and quick at the same time. Personal luxury is perhaps one of the most affordable ways to get into a sporty classic without breaking the bank. They are often overlooked in favor of more performance-specific models they already share many components with.
Here are four examples of how much car you can get in Good condition (or far better) for less than $12,000 ...
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Riviera T-Type was supremely pimpalicious right off the lot--no mods, lights, tint, or drops needed. It would be the perfect neck-twisting foil in any high-end collection.
You folks missed listing the Cadillac Allante. Loaded with amenities and most are senior owned and well kept. Comfy Recaro seating, plenty of trunk room - even with the convertible top down, and very minimal road noise when driving with the top down.
All of these cars are great until something goes wrong with them. Nobody now knows how to diagnose their problems and even if they do, the parts can be difficult if not almost impossible to find. And EXPENSIVE!
I sold a 1991 Cadillac Allante and a '93 Cadillac Sixty Special for just those reasons.
Wow, what a bunch of haters, for a car website which caters to car people I’m disappointed at the close mindedness of the comment section period
I bet most of the people have never driven any of these cars, the Thunderbird in the Lincoln are quite good vehicles, not great vehicles but they represent 80’s styling
But I’m also the guy that bought a 1975 308GT4 Dino, in factory gold with lobster red interior in 1997 when nobody wanted those cars, it takes a real car person to love them all.
I had a silver 1990 LSC and very much enjoyed all aspects of it. Tight, responsive very comfortable car. I thought it was a great compromise for the Mustang GT owner looking to buy a luxury car but not quite ready for their “fathers Eldorado”.
I used to own a 77 Mark V, which had the longest doors of any production car made. Talk about a land yacht! But I think the pinnacle of the Mark series was the last generation, the Mark VIII, based on the newer T-bird platform, starting in 93, but specifically the 97-98 with the facelift. It came standard with HID headlights (the first of their kind), and a cool neon trunk 3rd brake light. You can still find some with the original air springs, if they haven't been converted. They also had the "InTech" 32-valve V8 (basically a Cobra engine). Very smooth personal luxury car. I tried for years to find a deal on the Toreador Red one I wanted (had to have a sunroof) with tan interior, but still don't have one. Maybe someday before the prices go up....
Not to split hairs, but the 1996 LSC had HIDs too. That was the first American car with HIDs (some early 90s 7-series BMWs had them too) The Mark HIDs were supposed to be there since 1995, but production snafus meant only a few got them and it was pushed back to 1996.
I'm speaking as a 1995 LSC owner (with HIDs added) that loves to split hairs. 🙂 😉
As a young kid in the 70s and 80s, I gotta admit the Grand Am looks cool to me. I also loved the Laguna S3. 10-12k for the above pictured Grand Am would be a deal in my eyes.
Yes the examples shown are nice, and yes they reman stylish and priced right. However let us not lose sight that these are 20+ year old cars, and unless you happened across a low mileage barn find, they will be worn out. That means $$$ just to make them road worthy and safe (not counting cosmetics). That $5,000.00 Lincoln all of a sudden could easily double with necessary items such as brakes, suspension, engine work, etc.
This is an interesting article. I own an '88 Mercedes W124 coupe, which might qualify to be on the list. But the Lincoln and the Thunderbird are cars of note.
The 1970's were a very bad decade for the American auto industry, but Ford made some good attempts to produce new designs with higher quality. The Fords of the late '80's and '90's were pretty good vehicles. The body styles of the Lincoln Mark VII, Thunderbird, Mustang and Taurus were ground breaking. The sharp edges and boxy body styles of the 1970's gave way to the rounded "Jellybean" curves that Ford introduced. I love the looks of both the Lincoln and the Tbird.
I have owned a number of Fords from the 1980's through 2005. Many commenters give these cars a bad rap, but my wife and I have driven many hundreds of thousands of miles in these Fords with little trouble. The key is good preventive maintenance.
We own the Lincoln Town Car, one of the best and longest lasting cars ever made, love that all stainless steel exhaust and other, timeless thru' the ages. Panther one of the best platforms ever.
some oldies but goodies. I all ways hear 'em say the "80s malaise" but these prove 'not so'. Mine would be the '83/6 LTD/Marquis wagons. Even down sized that's what I seek as this column also had a 'daily driver' heading. I see 'em but no sales.
For the age and history challenged, the Chrysler 300s, starting in 1955 defined luxury performance. The Squarebirds with their 430 ci engines were never close in performance. For that matter, Chryslers and Dodges up to '83, had models that would certainly qualify for luxury and performance.
For the rock thrower trolls, styling reflects the times. Unless YOU actually have designed anything automotive produced in the thousands, you might want to temper your insults with an actual critique!
Almost spit my morning coffee out when a Grand Am popped up in the email. The saddest moment of my 12 year old life was when my dad traded in his '68 GTO (in dark green) for a '73 Grand Am, in the same brown as one in the photo. I can distinctly remember being despondent in the dealership as the deal was finalized, especially with the louvered rear windows, and the general lack of cool- even at that age I could tell the difference between a shark and a whale. True to the story, it was pretty luxurious by the standards of the time. I never drove either (due to a distinct lack of age), but I rode thousands of miles in each. The GTO was fast, loud, and had a sporty ride. The Grand Am was typical slush box gentle off the line, rode quite nicely, and was cone-of-silence quiet. When he died suddenly four years later, as I was just about to get my first drivers license, we sold the car, and I never had a moments regret. I still wish I had one of his two Corvairs (his cars before the GTO) or that wonderful, menacing GTO.
I have owned 2 Lexus SC300's and have found them to be the best built personal luxury coupes with just the right blend of power, handling and tech to satisfy the most discerning auto enthusiast.
I purchased a 1983 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe brand new after my also new 1983 Toyota Celica GTS was stolen off the street in NY. I paid about 12-13 thousand new, as I recall, after getting around 10 from insurance on the Toyota, which was a great car with 22RE 4 cylinder, 5 speed manual, nice seats and independent rear suspension. The T-bird was a little bigger and pretty nice, too, despite the Turbo Pinto engine, heavier 5 speed and solid rear axle. The only problem I had with the Ford was the famous Ignition module breakdown/no start at 3 AM, along with two other different Fords with the same issue years later. I think, if I remember correctly, it was also one of the first to use EFI by Ford, which had some problems with detonation on a previous Mustang design, and we take for granted now. I sold the car to a former co-worker in '88/'89 for less than half what I paid, but last I talked to the guy, the car had 200 thousand miles on it and was still going strong. Also, Ford marketing took full advantage of the aero tweaks that gained a competitive edge in NASCAR by Bill Elliott and others with the win on Sunday, sell on Monday mantra, in the tradition of US automakers...even Toyota got in on it now.
Great story! The 1983 Turbo Coupe was probably the first Ford with their EEC-IV Fuel Injection system. There were a few other Fords running EFI that same year, but using the last generation's processor.
Your comment regarding the Thunderbird....."After failing to dethrone the Corvette as America’s sports car, Ford shifted gears and reimagined the Thunderbird into the 'luxury car with a sporty flare' that it became for the remainder of its production run.".... This isn't true. The Thunderbird was designed from the start to be a personal luxury car, placing it in a different segment than the Corvette. The original T-bird is often seen as a competitor to Corvette only because it had 2 seats (actually, 1 bench), but it was never considered a sports car. Furthermore, it outsold the Corvette in each of its first 3 years. Ford didn't change the design because it couldn't compete with Corvette; they changed the design because they wanted the larger customer base that comes with 4 seats.
I'm a die-hard Corvette fan, but it's hard to substantiate the statement that the T-Bird: "failed to dethrone the Corvette as America’s sports car."
From its introduction in 1953, to the demise of the two-seat T-Bird in 1957, Chevy managed to sell only 14,466 'Vettes--a five-year sales slug. Ford, on the other hand, rolled out 53,166 'Birds--almost 4 times the Chevy's total production and sales--and did it in only three years.
For my part, I never understood why Ford gave up the two-seater market it had all but completely taken from Chevrolet. Had Ford answered the killer '57 'fuelie 'Vette with a similarly spec'd drive train/chassis, a prettier bodied car, and a trip to the track, it might have maintained it's quadruple sales lead--maybe even been a player to this day.
Worked on every one of them... including what I would consider the REAL Grand Am. The Pontiac and the T-bird S/C could easily be made roadworthy today, but the Riviera was a really nice car and the best of this group to run and drive dependably (although I personally never saw it with the "T" type motor upgrade). Seems GM did a "similar" deal with the Supercharged FWD Bonneville SSEi. If not, you can rip me in an angry rebuttal.
My buddy was one of the highest rated techs in the Lincoln-Mercury Dealer world here in Southern NJ and we worked back and forth for many years. The Mark VII was an electrical nightmare from the jump, which includes the suspension. The ride when new was "luxury solid" and performance was really good too, but the warranty problems and related stories were some of the worst I have ever heard. I am sure any Lincoln-Mercury factory trained tech from that era could confirm that. Remember that electronics at the time were generally very rudimentary and even undependable with many production cars.
I’d have to differ with you on the T-bird article. T-birds actually outsold the Corvette in the early years but Ford went the personal luxury route (imagine if they hadn’t what the ‘Bird might be today, think GT) instead and let the Corvette become The American sports car.
I used to rent these Mark's from Hertz and Budget and they were such comfortable and mildly sporty rides... The LSC with a moonroof is a winner... Not many are left in nice shape as they seemed to live outdoors and the interiors suffer. The fuelie 5.0 is a winner in terms of decent performance with okay fuel mileage...
If you’re going to throw FWD in there, might as well include the 97-02 Grand Prix GTP coupe. Fast, luxurious, and sharply styled. Plus with a few minor bolt ons, they were VERY fast. All while enjoying heated leather seat comfort and watching the heads up display.
I have driven all four of these cars and can heartily recommend them all. They represent some of the better options from the "malaise" era, albeit with a greater emphasis on comfort rather than sport.
My 1985 Turbo Coupe Thunderbird was one of the best cars I ever owned. Stir for the right gear, let go of the clutch, and heroic acceleration was only a right foot application away. And, with relatively light weight four cylinder turbo in the front, lateral acceleration was very happy. As I said, one of the best cars I ever owned.
The Mark VII was loaded with Heavy. The air suspensions were constant leakers. The BMW turbo L6 was a cylinder head snapping joke right out of the factory. The Turbo Coup Bird's 2.3 were a constant over heating night mare. The 2.3 were incapable of handling turbo charging and the Merkur XR4TI were not much better. There were coil spring conversion kits for the Lincolns a few years after owners found out about the small fortune for air spring replacements they'd be hammered for. Those suspension systems were awful and the coil spring conversions should have been standard at the factory and air suspensions shelved.
I thought the most distinctive new & refreshing design look for the 80's was the Ford T-Bird 2dr coupe - I had a 88 turbo coupe & even as an automatic, it was a blast to drive. The turbo gave a pretty good kick & the car had a solid tight construction feel & the entire interior, especially the seats, were real quality. The front buckets were loaded with unique functionality & much sought after in later years at car fleas markets as upgrades to other hobbyist's resto-mods.
The picture that you have of the Buick Riviera is not a T-Type. The picture is of a limited amount of Riviera's that were modified by American Sun Roof and then leased back to Buick for resale. This car sold for nearly $28,000 in 1982.