Modern Classics: Ford Taurus SHO, 1989   1999 modern classics
1989 Ford Taurus SHO. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site

Ford Motor Company of Canada

By Jeff Burry

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Ford Taurus SHO, 1989-1999

When one thinks of the Ford Taurus, typically what comes to mind is a mid-size, family sedan – a sedan with which the word “performance” is not generally associated. The first Taurus arrived in North American showrooms for the 1986 model year. The final one rolled off the assembly line on October 27, 2006: a production run of 20 solid years.

Sedans of the 1980s were not known to inspire excitement, but executives at the Ford Motor Company encountered a “market” situation which led to the merger of a lightweight, high-performance engine that would be wrapped in Taurus sheetmetal. For the 1989 model year, Ford introduced the Taurus SHO.

The letters SHO stood for “Super High Output”, and the source of this output was an advanced V6 power plant built by Yamaha. This combination of Yamaha engine and Ford body style would be “badged” Taurus SHO and would be available from 1989 through to 1999.

This unlikely partnership had its origins in the early to mid 1980s when Ford was considering its own version of a two-seater sports car to compete with the Toyota MR2, Pontiac Fiero and the Maxza RX7.

Modern Classics: Ford Taurus SHO, 1989   1999 modern classics
1992 Ford Taurus SHO. Click image to enlarge

Discussions had already begun with Yamaha to produce a light and powerful DOHC 3.0-litre V6 engine for this purpose. The code name of the car in which this engine was to be placed was the GN-34.

But things didn’t quite work out as planned. By the mid to late 1980s, sales volumes were decreasing rapidly for two-seater sports cars. As a result, Ford decided that the market for such vehicles had all but vanished – yet it still had a contract with Yamaha to produce the light weight engines.

So what to do with these special engines? Ford decided to produce a sport/luxury version of the Taurus that would host this Yamaha-built V6 power plant. And making it even more exclusive, it would only be sold with a manual transmission.

The engine itself was capable of producing 220 hp with 200 ft. lbs. of torque. In the 1980′s, an engine producing 220 horsepower was considered considerable for a mid-size family sedan (in fact, anything over 200 hp was something special).

When Ford announced the arrival of the Taurus in 1986, it had already been considered “ahead of its time” by the automotive industry in terms of styling cues and its front-wheel drive capability. Stuffing a light weight, performance-oriented V6 engine and a Mazda-built, Ford designed MTX-IV manual transmission into the Taurus suggested a force on the streets to be reckoned with. The term “wolf in sheep’s” clothing comes to mind.

The vehicle did have certain exterior and interior trim appointments that made it mildly distinguishable from the base Taurus, but it didn’t exactly advertise itself. The SHO performance package included ground effects mouldings, a stiffer suspension, alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, full power accessories, a dual exhaust, leather seats and a redesigned dash sporting a 7,000 rpm tachometer.

A special edition of the Taurus SHO was available in 1991. It was part of option package #212A and included a “Power Bulge” hood, chrome window trim, a plastic spoiler without brake light, “24V V6″ badges, body-coloured mouldings, non-painted mirrors and non-SHO slicer wheels.

Modern Classics: Ford Taurus SHO, 1989   1999 modern classics
1996 Ford Taurus SHO. Click image to enlarge

There were also two sub-options to the “Plus” package that were available. One could purchase a white Taurus SHO with white wheels, and an exclusive Deep Jade Green colour was also available for the 1991 model year. If one is now looking to purchase an early manual transmission Taurus SHO, then these are your preferred models.

A number of well-respected automotive journals and magazines praised Ford’s ingenuity with the introduction of the Taurus SHO. The car appeared on a number of “10 Best” lists and this certainly helped with its first year sales volumes. A total of 15,519 SHOs were sold in the 1989 introductory year.

However, as the years passed, the buying public would view the car as somewhat schizophrenic. Here was a mid-size family sedan with a mandatory five-speed manual transmission. Certainly not your average grocery-getter, but it could shuffle the kids back and forth to soccer practices pretty quick!

In 1993, the Taurus SHO became available with a four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic SHO had a slightly larger 3.2-litre V6 engine which resulted in more torque; it also had a slightly softer ride. It continued to produce 220 hp and retailed between $23,889 and $25,140.

Both manual and automatic transmission SHOs were available from 1989 through to 1995. In 1996, consumers could no longer choose an SHO with a manual transmission. Engine availability also changed with Ford now utilizing a Yahama-built 3.4-litre V8 producing 235 horsepower. Gone was its V6 predecessor.

The Ford Taurus also received a substantive face-lift in 1996 boasting a more aerodynamic design. The styling cues of the original SHOs were always minimal and this new design made them even less distinguishable from base models. Pricing for the SHO jumped significantly and ranged between $25,930 and $29,000.

Modern Classics: Ford Taurus SHO, 1989   1999 modern classics
1997 Ford Taurus SHO. Click image to enlarge

The 3.4-litre V8 engine was the only powerplant available for the remaining years (1996 – 1999). This car was known to have a harsher ride than previous versions and the styling was not generally accepted by the buying public.

Sales peaked in 1993 with a total volume of 21,550 units being sold throughout North America. However, sales figures fell to a dismal 3,368 units in 1999 for the final year of production. As a result, Ford Motor Company discontinued the SHO model brand.

Appreciation for these unique vehicles remains relatively strong today. A number of SHO special interest clubs have formed over the years. The following web sites provide ample information about this unique performance family sedan. For further information, view www.shoclub.com or www.shotimes.com

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