1990 Ford Taurus SHO
1990 Ford Taurus SHO. Click image to enlarge

By Bill Vance

The 1986 Ford Taurus – there was also a Mercury Sable sibling – was a bold move by the Ford Motor Company which took the courageous step of offering an innovative, aerodynamic shape in the mid-priced, family car market.

Previously, Audi had introduced its daringly aero 1984 5000 model, but it was in the upscale, lower volume segment. And Citroen had long been an advocate of sleek cars. But the mom-and-pop Taurus was a $3 billion, bet-the-farm, mass market gamble that Ford hoped would not meet the same fate as the 1930s streamlined Chrysler and DeSoto Airflows.

As it turned out, buyers were ready for something more exciting than a squared-up LTD or Grand Marquis. The smooth front-wheel drive Taurus with an aerodynamic drag coefficient of just 0.32 became a runaway sales success, one that would set a trend toward slipperier popular priced family sedans and wagons.

A new car deserved a new engine and the Taurus got a transversely mounted, 12-valve, 3.0-litre (182 cu in.), overhead valve “Vulcan” V6 (there initially was also an economy special 2.5-litre four). The six provided reasonable but not earth shattering performance; Car and Driver recorded zero to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 10.9 seconds, and a top speed of 153 km/h (95 mph), adequate for its purpose. The Taurus was, after all, a family car, a commuter and grocery getter not a sports car.

1990 Ford Taurus SHO; photo courtesy CarDomain.com user SHOorGTFO
1990 Ford Taurus SHO; photo courtesy CarDomain.com user SHOorGTFO. Click image to enlarge

But it wasn’t long before Ford’s management decided that a performance version would polish the Taurus’ image, thus the 1989 Taurus SHO (Super High Output) model was born. The SHO’s heart was under the hood. Recognizing Japan’s strong reputation for high speed, high output engines, Ford went to famed motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha. Yamaha engineers produced a V6 with the same 89 by 80 mm (3.50 X 3.15 in.) bore and stroke and 60-degree cylinder bank angle as the Vulcan, but the similarity ended there.

The Vulcan’s mundane pushrods were replaced by twin, chain-driven overhead camshafts activating four valves per cylinder. They breathed through a two-stage induction system that combined low speed tractability with high speed performance, and produced 220 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. compared with the Vulcan’s 140 at 4,800. It was fitted with an oil cooler for engine durability.

As would be expected, the performance of this four-door family sedan was dazzling, especially for one priced in the $25,000 range. The smooth-revving Yamaha V6 propelled the 1,520 kg (3,350 lb.) SHO to 96 km/h (60 mph) in 6.7 seconds, and reached a 230 km/h (143 mph) top speed. The engine was reportedly safe to 8,500 rpm, but was limited to 7,500 by the serpentine belt accessory drive.

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