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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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.