Console Installation (1985-88)

For All 1985-88 Cougars / Thunderbirds With Consolette

Page Revised: 10 May 2019


Article by
Eric Dess

If you're not one of the lucky ones that had a factory console in your 1985-88 Cougar, don't sweat it. Installing a console one of the easiest installs you can do to your interior. However, you do have some challenges ahead of you, as finding a console is tougher due to the age of these cars. The salvage yards are getting picked clean of hot-item parts like consoles, and yards are crushing older cars at a much higher rate due to the price of scrap metal soaring recently. Plus people can be ignorant and totally break the console parts while trying to get to something else.

Still, that shouldn't deter you from wanting to put one in. If you're shopping for one, you can get the donor console and all related parts (panels, metal brackets, etc.) from these cars:

  • 1985-88 XR7 (all)
  • 1985-88 Thunderbird Turbo Coupe (all)
  • 1987-88 Thunderbird Sport V8 (all)
  • Optioned base and LS Cougars
  • Optioned base and LX Thunderbirds

While you can theoretically use a 1983-84 Cougar/Thunderbird console in a 1985-88 car, it doesn't quite line up at the dashboard perfectly, although it could possibly be made to work with some trimming. No other Fox chassis console is a direct fit in our cars. Seems that just like floor shifters, Ford made sure that each Fox car had its own console.

Here is a complete shopping list of all parts needed:

  • Console itself
  • Back metal support bracket
  • Middle metal support bracket
  • Dash metal support bracket
  • Lighter panel
  • Storage tray (see below)
  • Switch panel
  • Console liner
  • Console lid and hinge
  • Console wiring (*NOTE: this should be attached to the underside of the console)
  • Wiring for the light (green/yellow and black wires)
  • Radio panel bezel for a console car
  • All related screws and bolts

Not only is finding a console sometimes a hassle, but finding one in the color you need can be even worse. Good news is, it can easily be painted using interior spray paint (see here for more details).

Then there's the problem of the console lid. It's not a secret about these cars that the latches on the lid break easily (and likewise, the console liner latch area). That's what happens when people just let the lid slam shut, instead of gently pushing the lid down, or better yet, pushing the button on the latch in while closing then letting go. There are no more replacement parts for the latch or liner either. So finding a good latch and liner is a challenge; you may need to get them from several different cars to mix-and-match yourself all the good parts.

Left: 1983-84 Cougar Console Lid; Right: 1985-88 Cougar Console Lid

There were two different style console lids used from 1983 through 1988 and fortunately you can use either style on your new console. The earlier one (1983-84 for sure, sometimes later) is taller and padded, usually colored, with a pronounced indented line down the middle. The latch button is located on the front edge, hidden from top view.

The later lid (1985-88) is usually charcoal grey in color and is much flatter. There is no padding on it, and it's covered in leather. The latch is on the top.

From the factory Ford seemed to have no rhyme or reason in using either lid. Some people have reported the earlier lid in brand-new 1987 cars, while others have said their lid was flat on their '85. Basically it's potluck as to which one you'll find, and one is not really more "correct" than the other. Be aware that the latch parts do not interchange between the two styles.

1985-88 Cougar Console Lid, Side Profile 1983-84 Cougar Console Lid, Side Profile

A view of both lids in a side profile. The first photo shows the later (1985-88) thin console lid, while the second photo shows the earlier (1983-84) taller console lid. Most people seem to prefer the taller lid due to the padding and the variety of colors. If you find a taller lid that is cracked, it is possible to buy a console lid cover in plastic that can be painted to match (see below).

Console Lid Cover

If your padded (thicker) console lid is cracked, you can buy an overlay from vendors such as and Accu-Form Plastics Inc., as well as on eBay. The overlay can be painted to match or contrast your interior, and simply applies using double-stick tap on the underside. It's a slick, efficient way to save a console lid while beautifying and protecting it.

1983-88 Cougar Console Storage Tray #1 1983-88 Cougar Console Storage Tray #2

Another area of concern is the storage tray. For all cars without a floor shifter, the area between the switch panel and the console had a storage tray with a rubber liner. This is great for putting your drink, or your CD/MP3 player, or your change. Some cars had a separator in the middle (left top), while others had a completely flat open area (left bottom). If you have the column shifter and are planning on keeping your car that way, you'll need a storage tray for your console. Floor shifters had their own unique cover (different for automatic and manual cars). Also, you really cannot use a 1983-84 tray as the angles are too different to fit a 1985-88 dash.

One important part to find is the correct console switch panel. This is where your factory window, seat and mirror switches will go. Bad news is, there were about 8 different configurations of these panels between 1985-88. Good news is, the most popular configuration (power mirror, power windows, and power driver's seat switch) is going to be easier to find. Plus you can easily make your own switch if need be, out of thin aluminum. But with any luck you'll find the one you need without too much hassle.

Last, you will have to figure out what you want to do with your seats. Sometimes people upgrade to bucket seats at the same time as the console install, and that makes things a lot easier. But if you really like your current seats, you have two options:

1. You can use a reciprocating saw and cut off the factory consolette from the driver's seat. Yes, the consolette is welded onto the driver's seat frame. Cutting it off will make sort of a bucket seat for you. You'll have to sew the material together where the consolette was. It's not a perfect solution but it works fine, and you'll most likely never see it anyway. Of course, you can always have an upholstery shop sew in a new piece if you wish.

2. You can find a similar seat bottom and transfer your material over. Since all Mustangs had consoles, we've discovered that 4-cylinder Mustang LX seats are perfect donors. Their seat bottoms are the same dimensions as our consolette seats. Simply remove the seat bottom (frame and material) from the Mustang seat and yours, swap material, and replace. No cutting of anything is necessary. You will still have the same material imperfection as mentioned above, so you'll have to do some sewing. Of course, if the Mustang seat fabric is a different color than that used in your car, it's not going to look all that great, so shop wisely.


Once you have all your parts, here's how to install them.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Begin by removing the consolette switch panel. Unscrew all of your switches from the underside, and save the screws—you'll reuse them later.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

It also helps immensely to remove the seats now. The factory used a combination of bolts and nuts to hold the seats down. You will use 13mm, 15mm and 18mm sockets to remove them.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Before you go yanking the seat out without discretion, be aware that you have to disconnect all harnesses under the power seat. In particular, this brown one (refer to arrow) is the power seat harness. If you have power lumbar or power recline, those will have harnesses too.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

This is what the car should now look like. You can also remove the radio trim panel at this point.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Next is the removal of the factory sliding ash tray. Yes, you'll be losing it in favor of a fixed lighter panel and separate ash tray on the console. That's the price you pay for having a console. But you'll get used to it very quickly.

Pop out the ash tray and using a screwdriver, push down on the retaining tab as shown here.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

The ash tray simply slides all the way out of its housing. There are 4 ball bearings that might also pop out at this point. You will need to reach under and disconnect the wiring for the lighter.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Next, take out the ash tray retainer housing by removing these screws. The housing will then completely slide out.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Time for a test fit of the console. Place the console in the approximate area and let it sit for a moment.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Pay particular attention to the alignment of the console to the dash. The tips of the console should be flush with the back edge of the dash, as shown here. From here on in, it's got to be this way or your alignment will be way off.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Install the dash-to-console metal bracket. It will serve as an alignment gauge from here on in.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Next up is cutting the carpeting...but you have to know where to cut first. Bolt the rear metal support bracket to the console as shown. This isn't permanent; you're just going to use it to mark the carpeting for the cut.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Do the same for the middle metal support bracket. The arrow shows the area where the cut will be made. Now simply trace around the brackets (all four sides) with a permanent marker or grease pencil. Trace as close to the brackets as possible. If your carpeting is dark colored then you might have to get creative.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Once the marks are made...

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

...remove the console and make the cuts. Be aware that it's okay to miss on the cut front-to-back. But side-to-side, if you take too much carpeting out, it will show when the console is in. Precision is very important here.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

WARNING: Be EXTREMELY careful on the front cut. There is a main wiring harness directly underneath the carpeting in this area. Use scissors or pull the carpeting up before making this cut.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

This is what the floor should look like when you're all through cutting. The left side of the picture faces the front of the car.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Put the console in place again, with the brackets still attached. The rear bracket will have no interference. Up in the middle, though, you will have to make sure all the wiring is out of the way. There should be a hole in the floorpan's raised section that will accept the tang from the bracket (see arrow). This lets you know you're in the right place.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Now you get to attach the brackets to the floor. Using a 1/8" (or slightly smaller) drill bit, drill out holes in the floorpan at the spots indicated. Then screw the brackets to the floor. When this is done, remove the screws at the top of the brackets (on the console), but leave the console in place.

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

All the hard work is now pretty much done. You can begin assembly by attaching the console wiring harness to the factory harness coming through the carpeting. Also, you can drop the console liner in and wire the light switch to the bulb, and place the bulb inside the holder on the liner. Then bolt the lid's hinge to the console; note that the holes go through the rear support bracket. When done, put the screws in the console liner (and don't forget the three screws in the bottom).

1985-88 Cougar/Thunderbird Console Installation

Then you can attach your switches to the console switch panel. Bolt the top of the middle support bracket to the console, then fully attach the switch panel to the console. You should be able to close the console lid fully at this point. Note also how rock-solid the console is with the brackets attached. Now it's just a matter of the small details (storage tray, lighter panel, radio panel, seat reinstallation, etc.) and before you know it, you're all finished. Enjoy the new console!