The Ford Taurus SHO is our kind of car. Plain and simple. Take an otherwise unassuming family sedan, throw a high-revving Yamaha V6 under the hood, mate it to a Mazda-sourced 6-speed manual transmission, and you have the kind of strange that gives us warm fuzzies.
But what inspired such a strange decision? The Big Three aren’t always the big risk takers on fun cars, and the performance-sedan game wasn’t really a consideration outside of the M5 and E55 AMG. So what gives? It turns out those glorious-looking engines were never intended for mom’s grocery-getter; they were meant for a mid-engine sports car that never came to be.
Well…that’s one take.
See, there are conflicting stories as to how this car came about and the true original intention of that sweet Yamaha V6. Before we play whodunit with a cult classic, let us first take a look at the vehicle that actually came to fruition, and what makes it such a beloved car.
The car in question here is the 1989-1995 Taurus SHO, representing the first two generations of the car. We won’t get into the Third-gen because it was a jellybean-shaped piece of crap with an uninspired 3.4-liter V8. The current gen? They should have put that 365-hp twin-turbo V6 in the Fusion. The current Taurus is far too bloated to be any real fun.
The 1st and 2nd-gen Super High Output (SHO) models were great because the Taurus they were built upon was lighter, more-tossable vehicles. It featured a Yamaha 3.0-liter V6, tuned by Rousch. It featured four valves per cylinder and dual overhead cams. Typical engine tech by today’s standards, but remember- this is the era when half the gear heads out there thought that VTEC was some kidna turbo or something.
That engine was fitted to a Mazda-designed 6-speed manual transmission. It sent 200 horsepower to the front wheels, did the quarter mile in about 15 seconds, and topped out at 143 mph. Those may not seem like impressive numbers, but in 1989, that raised more than a few eyebrows. In its first year in production, the SHO sold 15,519 units. The only year that the SHO sold more units was the first year of the sharper second-gen SHO, moving 21,550 off lots. All told, more than 81,000 examples of the first and second generation SHO were sold. A little more than a cult classic.
So why the Taurus for this engine? One possible answer is that it was never meant for the Taurus. In the late 80’s, Ford was working on a competitor for not only the popular import mid-engined cars, but also something that could beat the Corvette in a zero-to sixty. The Fiero was about to come out, and that made the folks in Dearborn worried. They employed Roush, who tuned the Yamaha-sourced engine, and were planning on employing it in a mid-engine sports car code-named GN34. During development, it became aware that GM was not going to give the Fiero the power that it deserved. It is speculated that GM’s draconian “Corvette Can’t Be Beat” philosophy killed the Fiero- with the originally indented V6 the Fiero would have been faster than the Corvette to sixty from a standstill, and in General Motors’ universe, that just can’t happen. The Fiero finally got that V6 in its last year of production, but as history shows us, it was too little too late.
So, Ford’s main threat was going the way of the dodo, and it seemed that the light, nimble sports car craze was fading, (and would eventually be a niche, owned by the Miata). Combine that with the beginning of development on what would become the First-generation Ford explorer, and a car like the GN34 is just hard to justify if you are a board member.
It may have been hard to sell the development of an entirely new car, but with the Taurus already underway, a performance variant was an easier pitch. The rest, as they say, is gearhead history.
If you search the Wikipedia entry “Ford SHO V6” the following will display:
“There has been some confusion about the original intended use of the engine. It was thought this engine was first intended to power a mid-engine sports car, that project (known internally as GN34) was canceled. Patents have been found and pictures of prototype SHO powerplants installed in the Taurus show that the original intent was for the larger FWD setup and the GN34 would have come later. There were a few GN34 prototypes produced, most with standard Vulcan engines and a few other factory swaps, a SHO Ranger being one.”
Bent on trying to get the story right, I reached out to Ford and found a man named Bob Kreipke. Bob is basically Ford’s in-house historian, and his candid demeanor hinted to me that I might get the real story from him.
“The mid-engined theory makes a good story” said Bob in a phone interview, “but that engine was for the SHO all along.”
According to Kreipke, the decision to create the SHO was a pragmatic one, “It’s simple really- you have the best-selling car in the country- how do you keep momentum going? By offering a specialty model to drum up buzz.”
Bob also sheds some light on other modifications made, “We upgraded to four wheel disc brakes, beefed up the suspension, bigger stabilizer bars, and put on those famous 15-inch blade wheels”
So while many a conspiracy theorist will point to an elusive mid-engined car as the source of the SHO engine, rest assured that reality may not tell the sexiest story- just the right one.