Home » From The Same Year As Synchronicity: 1983 Nissan Sentra vs 1983 Ford Thunderbird

From The Same Year As Synchronicity: 1983 Nissan Sentra vs 1983 Ford Thunderbird

Sbsd 6 17 2024
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Good morning! This week, we’re going to look at pairs of cars from the same year, and each year will also be the same as the release year of an album I love. Hey, they didn’t tell me I couldn’t write a little about music as well as cars, so let’s push the envelope a bit. Today’s choices both hail from 1983, the same year as The Police’s fifth and final studio album, Synchronicity.

On Friday, we looked at a pair of Corvettes for a hypothetical cross-country purchase and flip. I originally meant to find a C3 and a C4, but I couldn’t find a C3 that I liked, so we wound up with two C4s. Worse, two white C4s. Given the similarity of the cars, it came down to condition and transmission type, and the automatic convertible’s $1500 price discount wasn’t enough to recommend it over the stickshift coupe, which really is in lovely condition for the price.

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For what it’s worth, I agree with the majority here. The Doug Nash 4+3 gearbox is a little weird to operate, but at its heart it is a good old H-pattern four-speed, the manual transmission of choice for Corvettes dating all the way back to 1957. The later ZF six-speed is undoubtedly better, but only if you get rid of that dumb skip-shift thingy.

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Now then: The old adage “you have to suffer to write” isn’t necessarily always true, but it seems to be the case that the really good stuff in any artistic field comes from a place of friction. Conflict creates passion, which fuels creativity, and in a collaborative medium like a record album, the members of a band hating each other a little bit often leads to some brilliant music. When everybody is having fun and getting along, you get Hanson. When all the parts are recorded separately because nobody can stand to be in the same room as one another, you get Let It Be. Or Rumours. Or Synchronicity.

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If all you remember are “Every Breath You Take,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” and “King Of Pain,” do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing again, straight through, in order. It’s 40 minutes of musical genius, and the big hits actually make more sense in the context of the rest of the album. From the bouncy 6/4 time signature of “Synchronicity I” to the jazzy and sinister “Murder By Numbers,” allegedly recorded in one take with no prior rehearsal, it’s excellent. (Yes, even that weird Stewart Copeland song on side 1.)

And while you’re listening, here are a couple of cars to check out.

1983 Datsun/Nissan Sentra – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6-liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Folsom, PA

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Odometer reading: 52,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well, has been in storage

In the early 1980s, while small Japanese cars were slowly taking over the suburbs, one automaker was busy trying to get buyers to call it by a different name: Nissan. Along with the new name came a massive ad campaign, and a bunch of new models, including the all-new front-wheel-drive Sentra, which replaced the popular RWD Datsun 210. “The Name Was Nissan,” but for a couple of years, the cars wore both badges until the market got used to it.

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This 1983 Sentra is practically a time capsule. It has only 52,000 miles to its name, and apart from some sun-bleaching, it could have been bought yesterday, and driven home in time to watch Cheers. it’s not the most desirable spec – a four-door sedan with an automatic transmission – but it’s probably representative of what rolled out of most Datsun, er, Nissan, dealerships back then.

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Nissan’s tagline may have been “Major Motion” back then, but don’t expect miracles from this little car. It has a carbureted 1.6 liter four that sends a meager 69 horsepower to the front wheels through the aforementioned automatic. I’ve driven a Pulsar from this era with the same engine and transmission, and it was leisurely, to say the least. The seller says it runs and drives well, but they also mention that it has been stored for sixteen years. Best be ready to replace some rubber parts.

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It appears to have escaped the rust that consumed so many cars of this era, but the paint is really dull and faded. It’s hard to say whether it would shine back up or not. But even as it sits, this car is neat to see. It has beaten (or rather, hidden from) the forces of time and attrition, and it serves as a clean example of the way economical cars used to be.

1983 Ford Thunderbird – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.0-liter overhead valve V8, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Columbia, MD

Odometer reading: 138,000 miles

Operational status: Not running; needs fuel pump “or something”

Meanwhile, over in Dearborn, Michigan, one of the oldest automotive names around – Ford – was trying like hell to claw its way out of the doldrums of the malaise era. Its versatile Fox platform made up the lion’s share of its midsize offerings, but while the platform was well-thought-out, the cars themselves were, with the exception of the Mustang, pretty uninspiring. The Thunderbird personal luxury coupe, in particular, seemed lost and awkward when it moved from the full-size LTD platform to the smaller Fox in 1980. It wasn’t until this aerodynamic new body style was introduced in 1983 that the Thunderbird started to get its mojo back.

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The coolest version of this generation Thunderbird was the Turbo Coupe, which featured a turbocharged version of Ford’s 2.3 liter four, often paired with a five-speed manual. It had blackout trim and really sharp-looking alloy wheels. This isn’t one of those. This is your grandma’s Thunderbird, with lots of chrome, fake woodgrain, a column-shifted automatic, and fake wire wheel covers. But at least this one has a 302 V8, not the lame 3.8 liter Essex V6.

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That V8, however, is the source of this car’s problems. It’s the first year for throttle-body fuel injection, which requires higher fuel line pressure than a carburetor, meaning the old engine-operated diaphragm fuel pumps won’t cut it. Fuel-injected cars have electric fuel pumps, and if I understand correctly, this car has two of them, one inside the fuel tank and one in-line under the car. One or the other – or maybe both – has failed, and the car won’t start. The seller can get it to run for a few seconds by dribbling fuel straight down the throttle body, but that’s it.

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In-tank fuel pumps are a colossal pain in the ass; just ask our buddy Stephen Walter Gossin, who has seen people resort to drastic measures to access them in the past. But if that’s really all this car needs, it could be worth the effort. It’s mighty clean otherwise, and these are comfy cars, among the last of the traditional personal luxury coupes.

And that takes care of 1983. the year when “Every Breath You Take” was on MTV constantly – along with some short film about dancing zombies. Tune in tomorrow for another musical journey, and two more crappy old cars. And no, they won’t all be from the ’80s, I promise.

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
1 month ago

I like the 9th gen Thunderbirds. I’d prefer a stick, or a 4 speed, but a C4 is at least a solid transmission and cheap to rebuild. The Sentra is just, meh.

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