Cars of Futures Past 1986 Ford Taurus Hemmings Daily

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Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars

Cars of Futures Past 1986 Ford Taurus

Ford Taurus LX. Photo courtesy Alden Jewell .

Ask an automotive enthusiast to name the most important cars in Ford Motor Company history, and products like the Model T and Model A will surely make the list. The Mustang will be there as well, but one car that likely won t be included is the first generation Ford Taurus (and its fraternal twin, the Mercury Sable), despite the fact that it pioneered modern development methods, boasted (at the time) the largest development budget of any car in Ford s history, and ultimately prevented a bankruptcy that may have doomed the blue-oval brand. It s no exaggeration to call the original Taurus one of the most significant cars of the 1980s, and the advancements in design, styling and build quality it pioneered make it a truly forward-thinking automobile.

To understand the significance of the Taurus, it s necessary to go back in time to the early 1980s. Faced with an aging product line filled with family cars like the Fairmont, Granada and LTD, Ford found itself rapidly losing ground to both domestic and foreign brands. While its new front-drive Escort was selling well, a compact car is not sufficient to carry a brand, and in late 1983 Ford introduced the contemporary front-drive Tempo as a replacement for the outdated Fairmont.

While it had taken a step in the right direction, the automaker was far from out of the woods.

1986 Mercury Sable station wagon. Photo courtesy .

In 1981, Ford began work on an all-new midsize car to replace the Granada (and its interim successor, the Fox-platform LTD). Borrowing a page from the Escort, which had been developed globally, the Taurus introduced a new methodology for creating an American automobile: Instead of working in isolation toward distinct but separate goals, teams from design, engineering and marketing would work together to create the Taurus. Under the guidance of designer Jack Telnack, Team Taurus set to work with a clean sheet of paper.

In the past, Detroit had been accustomed to telling the American consumer what he wanted in a car. This time, Ford s marketing staff asked focus groups what they expected in a family sedan or station wagon, and the research into the car s development went so far as to examine variables like insurance cost, ease of repair and even advanced ergonomics for the driver. Engineering teams ripped apart hundreds of cars from competitive brands, reverse engineering each one to determine the best practices employed by various manufacturers. What allowed for this extensive research and development was the budget set aside for the Taurus: At $3.5 billion, it was the largest in Ford s history.

For comparison, a mere $870 million had been allocated for the development of the Ford Fiesta subcompact.

1986 Ford Taurus LX, in the Henry Ford Museum. Photo credit resedabear .

Knowing that the car s launch would be as important as its development, Ford spared no expense in a mid-1985 Hollywood premiere (held at MGM Studios Soundstage 85) that featured space themes to highlight the futuristic nature of the car. Its ovoid shape was a huge departure from the norm of the day, and critics weren t sure how to react. Chrysler (and even some Ford executives) thought that the car s bold, grille-less styling had gone too far, and predicted that the Taurus would be a huge failure for the automaker when it hit the road at year end.

To hedge its bet, Ford continued to produce the Fox platform LTD, but the … had been cast: If the Taurus turned out to be a failure, the billions spent on its development would have dragged the company into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

As it turned out, the money invested in the development of the Taurus was well spent. Journalists almost universally praised the car for the handling and ride comfort of its fully independent suspension, and its aerodynamic shape (further aided by features like flush window glass) helped produce gains in both fuel economy and cabin noise reduction. Even in down-market variants such as the base L trim, the Taurus felt better-equipped and better put together than anything else in the segment, including cars costing significantly more money.

Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars

To no one s surprise, Motor Trend named the Taurus its Car of the Year for 1986, while Car and Driver appointed it to the 10 Best list the same year.

1986 Taurus LX. Photo credit resedabear .

Early production models all came with Ford s 3.0-liter ( V-6, rated at 140 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque and mated to a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. Late in the car s first model year, Ford also introduced a 2.5-liter ( four-cylinder engine, rated at 88 horsepower and 130 pound-feet of torque and mated to a three-speed automatic transmission. Initially used as the base engine in L-trim models, the four-cylinder would appear in a sport-themed 5MT MT-5 trim level that debuted in 1987; as the name implied, this was meant to be a driver s Taurus, equipped with a five-speed manual transmission and amenities comparable to the better-equipped GL trim level.

Though 88 horsepower was hardly sufficient to capture the enthusiast buyer market, it did foreshadow the 1989 appearance of a much more substantial Taurus sport sedan: the Yamaha-engined Ford Taurus SHO.

In its debut year, Ford sold a total of 178,737 Taurus sedans and an additional 57,625 Taurus station wagons, while Mercury sold 71,707 Sable sedans and 23,931 Sable station wagons. A year later, that number would jump to 278,562 sedans and 96,201 wagons for Ford, plus 91,001 sedans and 30,312 wagons for Mercury, proving that the American consumer had no trouble warming to the car s futuristic styling. For 1986, the Taurus and Sable helped Ford deliver pretax earnings that exceeded those of rival General Motors for the first time since 1924, and the demand for the cars helped boost Ford s stock price by 76 percent in 1987.

Ford s big roll of the dice had paid off, and the success of the Taurus helped propel the automaker into the 21st century.

Though it s easy to look at the Taurus as just another forgettable car of the 1980s from an enthusiast s standpoint, it s important to frame the car with a bit of history. Prior to the Taurus, Ford s family sedans were of the traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, saddled with outdated designs like live rear axles and often built (in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least) with a blind eye towards quality. The Taurus s front-wheel-drive layout allowed for less weight (and hence, better fuel economy) and increased interior room, and its independent suspension design yielded handling that few expected from an American family sedan. More importantly, the Taurus was among the first cars of its generation to demonstrate that American automakers were capable of meeting or exceeding the quality standards set by foreign automakers, including luxury brands.

While today s Taurus is no longer the same quantum leap forward as the original model, that car served as proof that sometimes a long shot does pay big dividends.

Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars
Ford Taurus FWD Electric Cars

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