Michael Clark didn't think he'd have to do the de-icing himself
Michael Clark didn’t think he’d have to do the de-icing himself. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Michael Clark

Somewhere near the Colorado/New Mexico border – “I think I’m in trouble.”

That’s the knee-jerk reaction of any Canuck that just passed John Law doing 80. Not 80 klicks; 80 miles per hour. I felt that pit in my stomach start to swell, the kind that everyone feels when the light bar and headlamps of a Police Interceptor Crown Vic commence oscillation. Hmmm, he sure is taking his sweet time getting going. C’mon, lets get this over with. I’ll work on a good excuse; maybe even see if my AJAC press card will keep me out of the general population.

After about five more miles south on Interstate 25, I realized he wasn’t coming. Why should he? The posted limit was 75, about 120 of our blessed klicks. I was almost at 130. Actually, it was we; me and a 2007 Ford Taurus SE. A Hertz rental, headed from Denver, Colorado to San Antonio, Texas. 1400-odd miles: an awful lot of klicks.

It all started with the dig of my briefcase strap, as it nested into my shoulder blade at Denver International. The minute that we cleared the clouds, the situation looked grim; steady snow, with the odd evergreen barely visible as we touched down. The ‘On Time’ tags quickly changed to ‘Cancelled’ on the Departure screens. It gets better; today was Sunday. Nothing was moving till Tuesday. Blame it on the Killer Storm. Remember that ice storm that Quebec had a few years back? Imagine throwing that at the Texas Panhandle. A Killer Storm indeed.

2007 Ford Taurus
2007 Ford Taurus. Click image to enlarge

Apparently, Air Canada’s Star Alliance is more of a decal than a steadfast ideal of customer service. The good folks at United said it was up to AC, not them, to make the arrangements to get me home. I was stuck. 1400 miles away was the Ford Super Duty launch, also known as my paycheque. There was one thing at an airport that never gets cancelled: the car rental agencies. I dumped the line for the baggage claim.

While those that know me will confirm my delight at political incorrectness, I figured it was only fair to show up at a Ford event in a Ford. Maybe an Explorer, or possibly an all-wheel drive Freestyle. I even considered the Shelby GT from the Hertz Fun Collection. When I said, “one-way, to San Antonio,” the last thing I would be getting was fun. I would be getting a Taurus.

It almost seemed to snicker at me, as I chipped away the hunks of windshield ice with the 59-cent scraper. While it was an Oh-Seven, it screamed indifference to the current market trends. The mouse-fur interior. Heatless seats. Sirius? Are you serious? Even the plastic wheel covers exhibited no love at all. Production for the Taurus actually ceased in late 2006. The passion for this fleet purchase staple has been gone much longer.

1986 Ford Taurus
1986 Ford Taurus. Click image to enlarge

Think back to Taurus, circa 1986. It was the Un-Ford, with nary a hint of its squared-off stable. Remember what an ’86 Camry looked like? Taurus was fresh. It was the Un-Edsel. A firecracker at Boeing named Alan Mulally put the Taurus development principles to work, with impressive results. For those of you keeping score at home, Mulally is now running things at Ford.

In my professional opinion, Ford made some crucial mistakes with Taurus. Quality and reliability issues have been frequent, but the travesty here is the treatment of a once-pound nameplate. Ford simply backed away slowly; with less visits to facelifts and engineering. They farmed it out to the automotive retirement home. They figured that if they ignored it long enough, it would simply be forgotten. They were right.

The 1992 Taurus got a facelift
The 1992 Taurus got a facelift. Click image to enlarge

The blip of a news flash that spoke of the end-run seemed unworthy. Here was my chance to give Taurus a proper send-off. And besides, the Shelbys were booked solid.

A quick scan of the oversized maps at Hertz picked the simplest of routes; south through Colorado and New Mexico via Interstate 25, then east on Eye-Ten to San Antonio. Not the fastest route, though experience had taught that the Interstate systems tend to receive better snow grooming, as well as frequent travellers with hopefully Samaritan qualities. Stick to motels with national logos. The “T” was burned out on one hotel’s neon. H-O-E-L. Ho-el. Hole. Better try the next town.

I started to warm up to the Taurus as the miles elapsed. The 3.0-litre V6 had enough jam; the four-speed slushbox flexed its bands accordingly. The wheel turned; the tires tracked. The radio blared, with liberal use of the ‘Seek’ button as FM towers waxed and waned. The Dial-A-Lumber wheel adjustment found the right number. The halogens cut through the onset of night. The Taurus did what it was asked. All at a surprisingly acceptable 26.4 miles per gallon. US gallons, mind you, but still quite worthy for a throw-back front-drive barge, at an average speed of 80 miles per hour.

The controversial 1996 Taurus
The controversial 1996 Taurus. Click image to enlarge

There is an adrenaline boost that accompanies any such trip. Mine was good for about 12 hours before I hit Van Horn, Texas for a much-needed siesta. I will firmly admit that such a stretch isn’t high on the Smart List; the lane markers were taking on an ethereal glow as I pulled off Eye-Ten. I didn’t nod off, nor did I do the Rumble Strip Rumba. We all have our thresholds; log yours accordingly. An inch past them could mean a simple white marker, at the site where you checked out for good. There were plenty of those on both Eye’s.

If only I was visiting. This is the lament of many a make-time traveller. Historic markers from Route 66 beckoned. Ancient Navajo cliff-dwelling detours. Even that monstrous array of radio telescopes awaiting a message from my, uhm, some distant unknown planet. Just visiting.

The trip wasn’t without the odd white knuckle grip. Remembering the basics of black ice kept the Taurus on track; no brake, counter the slightest of skids with the slightest of correction. If I had a folding table, I could have taught roadside seminars. I came across three Texan rollovers awaiting removal from the medians; all trucks, all four-by-fours. Here’s hoping that there won’t be any more white crosses.

The car rides off into the sunset, but the name will live to see another day
The car rides off into the sunset, but the name will live to see another day. Click image to enlarge

The Taurus soldiered on. Not a tick, not a groan, not one obvious grunt that would make its retirement seem justified. It delivered what was asked, without fanfare, without heated seats, and without satellite radio. If you’re wondering about my new-found appreciation of music, blame it on West Texas. They’ve got both kinds: country and western.

Why did I bother? I could just have easily curled up on a Spine-Cruncher seat in Denver, tapping out another amusing auto-dote. Even with the Unknown waving its bony finger, the attraction was overwhelming. When was the last time you went for a drive? More importantly, an unfamiliar one. True, the next corner could return a list of dangers, but what about the unseen vista? A sky so broad that it strains your eyes to take it all in. Pulling over to the shoulder at midnight, to see stars bright as the cities twinkling in the distance. This was my drive. All 1400 miles of it. Feel free to make it yours.

Connect with Autos.ca