The cars we loved.
In 2018 Ford unceremoniously ended production of the Ford Taurus. In the 30 some years of the cars existence, it moved from mid to full-size. More room and power was not enough to save it as the market’s ongoing move from sedans to crossovers and SUVs made the Taurus an early casualty. To most people the outgoing car was an awkward expression of Ford’s big car design thinking. To a few others, the Taurus represented America’s nearly forgotten first true entry into the modern performance sedan arena with the SHO in 1989.
Sure there were American performance sedans before the SHO like the Lancer ES/LeBaron GTS or 6000STE but those cars were flawed by a mix of conventional old school engineering and budget/platform limits (to varying extents). None of them were really taken seriously by import car buyers who saw them for what they were, clones of more boring cars or dressed up econocar platforms.
All of that would change with the arrival of the Taurus SHO. The front wheel drive Taurus created quite a stir when it appeared in 1986. It’s futuristic design captured the imagination of the public who saw the aerodynamic bubble as the drivable future –
available now. That image was reinforced with the 1987 film Robocop which featured matte black ’86 Taurus sedans as futuristic police cars. The regular Taurus was available in a number of trims with four cylinder to V6 power. None of them were considered sporty, but could be luxurious in top LX trim. It was a substantial leap in quality and technology and slotted between the smaller Tempo below and Crown Victoria above in the North American market.
To spike sales against competitors like the Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport and Shelby Lancer, Ford created a new top of the line trim designed for performance enthusiasts. In fact the new SHO (Super High Output) would be a car built around a special engine that was said to be commissioned for an EXP replacement that would compete with the Pontiac Fiero. Ford commissioned Yamaha to develop the 3.0 liter V6 around it’s Vulcan engine architecture configured for transverse applications. The 220 hp naturally aspirated DOHC design was the most advanced in any Ford at the time, creating just 5 less horsepower than the 5.0 V8 in the contemporary Mustang. So much for the American concept of no replacement for displacement. Ford would have the best of both worlds.
Interestingly, early SHOs were only available with a 5 speed manual transmission. A manual transmission in the Taurus was not without precedent. Some lower trims had a 5 speed transmission coupled to 2.2 liter four cylinder engine. The manual gave the SHO a unique street cred, as many European sports sedans were already leaning towards automatics. By the time the first generation car was due for updating, a 5 speed automatic was available and quickly became the dominant choice. The transmission was not the slickest around, but the engine had a smooth power delivery and could rev up to 7,000 RPM. Not only was the Taurus quick with a 0 to 60 time of 7 seconds, it was fast with a top speed of 143 mph. Those were impressive numbers for sports cars, many of which cost considerably more and lacked the Taurus reputation for reliability and easy servicing.
Despite being fast, the SHO was not a one dimensional muscle car. It’s fully independent suspension was compliant and offered road manners the live axle Mustang could only dream about on rough roads. The plush leather interior placed it in BMW or Maserati territory but for considerably less money (and headaches). To look the part, Ford removed all of the brightwork and added subtle ground effects to the standard Taurus. Aside from the multi spoke style or directional Mustang-like 5 star 15in rims, the SHO could almost be mistaken for any other Taurus. This sleeper effect (betrayed by the embossed SHO badges) embarrassed more than a few BMW or even Camaro drivers in its day.
In what was initially supposed to be a limited edition car, based on the contract with Yamaha, the SHO caught on and became a big seller for Ford. A renewed deal with Yamaha saw the SHO become a regular production model that soon found itself in public service. A few police departments began using the SHO, which already had police like reinforcements to it’s suspension. Cars marked for patrol duty could be picked out by the air vents on the grille plate, added to facilitate extra cooling requirements. The look reminiscent of the Chevy Lumina Eurosport became a popular addition for some civilian SHOs.
The SHO offered the best of both worlds; Japanese reliability with the purpose built Yamaha engine and all the advancements offered by the Taurus as America’s favorite sedan. It wasn’t long before GM and Chrysler would polish up their mid-sized offerings and offer them too as performance variants. Even then, the Taurus was the better sports sedan. While the SHO was not sold in Europe, it resembled the European Ford Scorpio Cosworth and had similar performance. The SHO proved that American Ford could build a world beater (with a little help) and that the American sports sedan was more than a floaty highway cruiser.
All of that heritage of course is thrown away with Ford only offering the Fiesta and Fusion as it’s sole sedans in America. The Fusion is closer in size to the original Taurus than the outgoing car of 2018. The Fusion’s days itself are numbered, so maybe it will go out with it’s own SHO version as a fitting tribute to America’s first true sports sedan.