Freshly flush with cash after a successful launch of the Taurus in 1985, Ford decided to aim at the Pontiac Fiero and build an affordable mid-engine sports car. That didn’t happen.
While the sports car never materialized, its engine did, and it became the foundation for America’s very own sport sedan: the 1989 Ford Taurus SHO.
Work began on the Super High Output program (SHO) inside Carron & Company, an engineering firm Ford worked closely with at the time. The automaker wanted a Taurus sport sedan and coordinated with Japan’s Yamaha to massage the regular Taurus’ 12-valve V-6 engine, which made a measly 140 horsepower.
In 1986, engineers dropped the 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6 into a prototype for the Taurus SHO, but suddenly Ford had different plans. The automaker still wanted a Fiero rival and plunked the Yamaha V-6 into a mid-engine sports car prototype.
1989 Ford Taurus SHO
Fortunes shifted yet again when research and development had to make a choice between a low-volume sports car and a four-door version of the Bronco. Executives chose the latter, which became the Explorer. With the hot V-6 engine now sitting around, the SHO program was rebooted.
In 1988, the Taurus SHO graced the world with 220 hp on tap from the Yamaha-tuned V-6. Unlike the regular sedan’s related and lethargic V-6, this was a different animal.
It revved to 7,300 rpm, power moved through a 5-speed manual transmission to the front wheels, which held on as well as they could. Torque steer was a way of life, but the Taurus SHO was America’s first BMW M5 rival.
Consider the timeframe. In the late 1980s, the Chevrolet Corvette pushed around 250 hp and even Ford’s own Mustang made only 200 hp from its 302-cubic inch V-8. The Taurus SHO could keep up with the best from Germany for tens of thousands of dollars less.
1989 Ford Taurus SHO
It looked the part, too. Racier styling, 15-inch wheels, bolstered sport seats, and dual exhaust outlets pronounced the car’s arrival. Drivers were even treated to a properly tuned suspension.
This proposition intrigued buyers, and the Taurus SHO was a hit with 15,519 cars sold in the first year.
The SHO model wasn’t renewed when Ford released the fourth-generation Taurus for the 2000 model year, but that didn’t stop the high-powered sedan’s cult following in the decades to come.
The Taurus SHO returned again recently but it, too, has gone away as Ford shifts away from passenger cars. The original SHO will remain a testament to the world’s best accidental success stories.
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