Ford Taurus SHO: America’s Unlikely Winner
When you think of a car that embodies America, it’s likely that your mind wanders to pumped-up Ford Mustangs laying rubber across this great country, at least that’s what we imagine. In all reality, the Mustang is America, but lest we forget one of the Blue Oval’s other fine products. Yes, we’re talking about the Ford Taurus SHO (Super High Output), not the full-size flagship that Ford builds today, but instead the first generation barnstormer that finally gave Americans in the late '80s a reason to grin in a domestic four-door.
In its own right, the base-model Taurus that debuted in 1986 was a crowd pleaser (as long as it was the V6 model). The Taurus marked a major success for Ford by selling 998,702 examples in its first three years, and compared to the boxy features of its competition, its bold and aerodynamic form redefined the look of ‘90s autos. Heck, it was even futuristic enough to star in Robocop.
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In 1989, the SHO just turned the knob up higher. Instead of the plebian 90-horsepower four-cylinder or Ford’s Vulcan engine, the company dropped a potent Yamaha 3.0-liter V6 into the Taurus. A good move at that. The 220-horsepower six-cylinder screamed to a redline of 7,000rpm, shot the family sedan from nil to 60mph in 6.6 seconds, and hit a top speed of 143 miles per hour. Best of all, the SHO backed up exclusively to a Mazda-built five-speed manual gearbox. They’re pretty good at building five-speeds, no?
Back in the day, the SHO cost less than $20,000 and nothing in its mid-size segment could touch it. BMW M5 you say? Sure, but in 1989 you could have bought two SHOs and a jet ski before reaching the Bimmer’s price. Dressed in black, it also looked cooler than sin.
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Ironically, Ford had only intended to offer the SHO for one model year, but after selling 15,519 SHOs in 1989, the automaker quickly ordered enough engines and gearboxes to keep the wheels turning through 1993.
The second generation Taurus ran from 1992 to 1995 and debuted an automatic option for the high performance SHO, as well as torquier 3.2-liter engine. But the state of affairs began to spiral downward from there. The 1996-1999 third generation Taurus pioneered the fishbowl look and although it added a 235hp 3.4-liter V8, it tooketh away the manual transmission. Then it disappeared altogether for 2000 due to crashing sales and wouldn’t reappear until 2010.
The SHO does not pretend to be a Mustang, in the least. However, the early Taurus did give Americans a reason to question their recently purchased Honda Accords, and the SHO promptly blew all their doors off.
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Photos: Car and Driver