The '89 Thunderbird Super Coupe and the '89 Turbo Grand Prix have emerged as premier examples of the great new American performance sedan. Hot rodders who yearn for the utility and convience of an intermediate or full-size performance sedan have had precious little to choose form in recent years. Those who can recall the days when 427 Galaxies and Impalas stalked the boulevard have found most current models grossly inadequate from a total-performance standpoint. While those early behemoths were ill equipped to handle the curves, they more than made up for their shortcomings with comfort, utility, and awesome acceleration. The big, dumb horsepower boosters of the '60s literally spoiled us with their smooth ride, cavernous interiors, and incredible power.
In contrast, the '70s and '80s become a lifeless void of dull, half-hearted cars that never lived up to our expectations. The Buick Grand National, and, to a lesser degree, the Turbo T-Bird, were notable exceptions, but great pretenders such as the underpowered Monte Carlo SS and Cutlass 442 fell far below our contemporary performance glide path.
Now Ford and Pontiac have charted a promising course out of these performance doldrums with two hot sedans that deliver world-class performance with a full complement of hot rod techniques and hardware. What hot rodder could have forseen that blown T-Birds and turbocharged Pontiacs would one day stalk the streets? Who would ever have believed it? But HOT ROD is here to tell you: We are in the midst of a performance renaissance that will one day be revered as a golden age of performance.
Thunder Bird Super Coupe
The Thunderbird Super Coupe may well become a landmark vehicle in the history of American-built performance luxury cars. With 14-second quarter mile capability and 6-second zero to 60 times, this supercharged Ford charmer is guaranteed to steal your wallet in a heartbeat. Perceptive hot rodders will immediately note that the Super Coupe is not as fast as the (out of production) Buick Grand National, but any comparison other than brute acceleration leaves the highly respected Buick far behind, and the Super Coupe in little need of apology. The Super Coupe's greatest appeal is its completeness and the high degree of execution at every level. While Buick continues to view the Grand National as a frivolous "boy racer" exercise that it would rather forget, Ford has deftly executed the next-generation performance sedan.
The Super Coupe has it all-styleing, performance, comfort, and more. With antilock braking and selective ride control complementing its ample power reserve, this Thunderbird truly delivers the kind of performance American auto enthusiasts and hot rodders can appreciate. While we disdain the idea of snob comparisons between then Thunderbird and offshore performance cars such as the BMW 635csi, the Super Coupe is clearly crafted from a superior mold that mkaes it formidable competition for these world-class performers while still maintaining its unique American-built character. Nearly as fast as contemporary musclecars and capable of generating enough lateral force to seriously elevate your pucker factor, the all-new Thunderbird is a total performance sedan that is currently unmatched by any domestically built car.
Pontiac Turbo Grand Prix
The new Turbo Grand Prix differs significantly from the Super Coupe in more ways than meets the eyes. First off, it's a limited-production car with only 2000 units scheduled for production. Unlike Ford, GM is unwilling to commit substantial resources to a market it perceives to be quite limited. Short sighted as this may be, Pontiac still has th best chance of pulling it off because it's the most aggressive division at GM and bears the company's performance mandate.
While the Thunderbird Super Coupe is so well execited that it seems certain to draw regular Thunderbird buyers upward to Super Coupe ownership, Pontiac's Turbo Grand Prix may prompt similar behavior if only there are enough to go around. Sinister and aggressive looking in turbo form, the repackagers at ASC/McLaren have done a terrific job of crafting a thoroughly evil-looking Grand Prix. In basic black the Turbo Grand Prix is flat scary, while the red version announces its arrival like a three-alarm fire.
One can only admire the results that McLaren's turbocharging wizards have wrought from GM's least inspiring powerplant-the 2.8L V6. At 3.1 liters and turbocharged, the McLaren version pumps out a hefty 205hp with 220lbs.-ft torque at 3200rpm. Unfortunately, it's not enough in a 240-hp/300lbs.-ft world. While the engine is smooth and efficient, it is simply a case of the wrong powerplant driving the wrong end of the car in a vehicle that would easily be as awesome as the Super Coupe, given more displacement, more power, and rear-wheel drive. As a front-driver the Turbo Grand Prix is all that it can be, which is quite good on its own merits, but it could have been so much more. Wrap this stunning hardbody around a good RWD chassis, slip in the same engine that powers the Pontiac Anniversary Trans Am, and watch it fly. McDonnell/ Douglas, eat your heart out!
Inside the Grand Prix you'll find a luxurious interior with individual buckets front and rear. The dash is excessively complicated by Super Coupe standards, but some items such as the Heds-up Display (HUD) for the speedometer and turn signal indicators are high tech enough to be enjoyable.
The Turbo Grand Prix is very civilized and easily capable of high 15-second quarter-mile times with zero to 60 numbers in the high sevens- admirable numbers for a very capable front-wheel drive automobile.
What we have here are America's two hottest high-performance sporty sedans; a front-driver and a rear-driver, a turbo and a supercharger, and most certainly the best choices we've had in years from either end of the scale. Because of the built-in limitations of front-wheel drive, the Grand Prix connot hope to generate the kind of acceleration numbers available from the Super Coupe, but that in itself isn't the reason enough to declare it inferior when, infact, it is superior on its own level. The most disappointing difference of all is the fact that Ford is willing to built the total performance Super Coupe package right up front, while GM continues to pigeon-hole its high-performance vehicles with low-volume, limited production runs that suggest only token acknowledgement of performance-car buyers instead of a healthy respect for their untapped purchasing power.