3rd Generation Turból Centurion (1979-1989)
In the wake of the oil crisis, Turból was in a very troubling place. With the entire American car industry in dire straights, the Turból seemed a brand particularly in trouble with a lineup of large, luxury cars with poor fuel mileage and an ageing customer base. Like the rest of the American manufacturers, Turból began downsizing it’s models, but the decision was made to take this opportunity to push the brand in a new direction, with more exciting models that could attract younger buyers, and could, possibly, make successful sales in international markets, where Turból’s reputation was less geriatric.
With power outputs increasingly robbed by the tightening of emissions and fuel economy standards, Turból threw immense money at a pair of new engines; both all-aluminum, overhead cam V8s. Turból gambled on the light weight of aluminum construction and the improved efficiency of overhead cam heads, with the eventual goal of multi-valve heads as well, to power their new models. The first V8 was a medium displacement V8 in 5.0 and 5.2 liters, and the second was a small displacement 60° V8, in 4.0 and 4.2 liters.
Showcasing the latter of the two new motors was the 3rd generation Centurion in 1979. It was downsized considerably, with a 3" reduction in wheelbase and more than a foot shorter in overall length. It was also considerably lighter and better handling, moving to unibody construction, and Turból’s newly developed independent rear suspension seen before only on sports cars. It also featured Turból’s new corporate design language, eschewing massive, square chrome grills for crisp, geometric, and aerodynamic designs. It’s wide, boxy fender flares were inspired by those of contemporary IMSA GT racecars and similar silhouette series found around the world.
The sporty trim of the new model was the ZR. Sporting the 4.2 liter version of the new V8, dual exhaust, and a four barrel carburetor, it produced a respectable 185 hp and either a 4 speed manual or 3 speed automatic. With the 4 speed, it could hit 60 mph in 7 seconds flat.
Backing up this perfomance was sporty styling. While the whole Centurion line featured boxy, aggressive fender flares and a rear spoiler integrated into the trunklid, the ZR turned up the heat with a deep chin spoiler, deep-dish two-tone alloy wheels, quad exits for the dual exhaust, black hood stripes, and door callouts.
While the empahsis was on excitement, Turból did not want to forsake it’s traditional buyers, so sedate, luxurious trim models were produced as well. Top among them was the Brougham Signature.
The Centurion Brougham was a sub-model range that featured a longer tail section with a more traditionally styled rear fascia. Chrome trim abound, with an incredibly cushy interior, and vinyl trim on roof and c pillar, and adorned with the classic Turból crest badge on the c pillar on Signature models.
1982 brought the first major changes. The aging 3 speed automatic was replaced with the new corporate electronically controlled 4 speed automatic. Rear disc brakes were introduced as an optional extra. In global markets, a 4 door sedan version was released. North American did not get the 4 door sedan, instead getting the similarly-sized, more traditional, body-on-frame Preveza. Also new for 1982 was the introduction of the 3 valve per cylinder head. Applied only on the 4.0 liter variant and with forged internals, it became the flagship performance engine of the Centurion line, and provided Turból with a strong basis to compete in newly adopted Group A regulations in various touring car series. The 4.2 and 4.0 liter 2v engines carried on as lesser engine options for US models and global models, respectively, and global models were available with smaller engine options (TBD, I don’t have that part of the canon down yet).
The Centurion received a minor facelift in 1985, with larger, fender-mounted turn signals, and more integrated, body-color bumpers. The big news, however, was the introduction of optional multi-point fuel injection. Also, the 4 speed manual was replaced by a 5 speed. The ZR model received a few tweaks to improve it’s Group A competitiveness; improved performance from the 4 liter, 24 valve V8 thanks to the new fuel injection, (234 hp in US-spec street trim), functional brake cooling ducts and a larger, adjustable element on the rear spoiler.
While the square fender flares were designed with inspiration from IMSA GT Championship and other similar racing series, the Centurion was initially not campaigned outside of showroom stock type touring car classes, as there were a pair of better suited models in the Turból stable already; the front engined Cutela and the brand new rear engined LCm79. But the Centurion III would find it’s way into top level motorsports soon, thanks to changing regulations.
In 1981, changes in NASCAR rules greatly decreased the size of vehicles in the Winston Cup Grand National Series, and the long-tail Centurion Brougham found itself just barely within the size allowance. It’s slippery shape proved popular on the banked ovals, but the new engine was not; Centurion-bodied NASCARs retained older pushrod V8s. Many of the Centurion road car’s advancements were not carried onto the NASCAR ovals, since tube-frame chassis and solid rear axles were mandatory.
With the 24v 4.0 liter V8 introduced in 1982, Turból was quick to homologate the more powerful engine in the 4.0 ZR Coupe for the FIA’s brand new Group A. The boxy flares and relatively narrow engine provided plenty of space for the wide tires allowed in the 4,000 cc class, and the compact aluminum V8 kept weight distribution solid. The 1985 update brought welcome improvements with a better gearbox, better braking, a more effective rear spoiler, and more power, which helped the Turból remain competitive against the steadily improving competitors from Jaguar, Rover, BMW, and Volvo. 1987 caught Turból (and everyone else) off guard with the incredible performance of the turbocharged Ford Sierra, especially in RS500 spec. To try to keep up, in 1988 Turból produced an Evolution model.
Like the Sierra RS500, the Centurion Evolution utilized un-used mounting points on the stock suspension for more adjustable suspension geometry on the race track. To improve weight distribution, all panels forward of the A-pillar were now made of aluminium or fiberglass. To try to keep up with the turbo power of the Sierra, the V8 was further tuned with individual throttle bodies and short tubular headers. The adjustable element of the rear spoiler was greatly increased in size. The required 500 Evolution models for homologation were all barebones models, with no side trim, manual windows, manual locks, basic interiors with minimal sound deadening and no radio. Produced in black, white, silver, and blue, 280 of the 500 were sold in the united states, and the remaining 220 sold in continental Europe.
Despite the changes, the Centurion Evolution, like many other Group A machines of the time, was still only barely able keep up with the massive pace of the Sierras, and with this generation of the Centurion reaching the end of it’s shelf life, Turból engineers turned their focus elsewhere for the time being.