Ford made quite a splash in the automotive world when they introduced the Taurus in 1986. This midsize car was rounded, aerodynamic, and was powered at the front wheels. It received accolades from Car and Driver Magazine and won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award in 1986. And yet most Ford Taurus drivers never experienced the most exciting thing about these cars: The SHO model.
Most people would never guess from its “Clark Kent” appearance that this family sedan packs a real “Superman” punch under the hood! SHO was an abbreviation for Super High Output, which referred to the 24-valve, 220 HP Yamaha V6 engine. Paired with a 5-speed manual transmission, this car was the ultimate factory sleeper of its day.
The Taurus SHO boasted several upgrades over the base model including body-colored trim, fog lights, and 16-inch aluminum “slicer” wheels. It came well equipped with power windows and locks, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and cruise control. Options included black leather seats, a moonroof, and a premium JBL audio package. For a mid-size family sedan in the low $20,000 range, this car really surprised people. The story of how I came to own part of one was also a surprise, to me anyway.
The Big Purchase
For over a year, the guys and I had been bouncing around the idea of purchasing a project car together. Our plan was to find the largest and cheapest vehicle from the 1970s we could get our hands on and transform it into the scariest looking thing anyone has ever seen. We still plan to do that, but we had to put that project on hold for now because we ended up buying a 1991 Ford Taurus SHO instead.
After spending several months searching craigslist for the perfect car, we stumbled upon the Taurus in June of 2008. Some guy across town was selling one for $750 dollars or best offer and we gave him a call. We told him that the most we could afford was $600 dollars, and he said to come on by and take a look at the car. After a quick test drive, we decided to seal the deal. Me and two friends each chipped in $200 bucks and we bought the Taurus on the spot.
There was a sense of excitement in the air as we took the title and the keys. We purchased a battery from the closest AutoZone and drove it to the gas station to check it over. The car was running fine, but it had several issues which we needed to address. We added some water to the radiator and some air to the tires. It was also necessary to jam a piece of paper under the dash so that the brake lights would work. From there, we drove it home with smiles on our faces.
More Than a Few Surprises
Once we got it home, the magnitude of our purchase began to sink in. Outside, the car was in great shape. The front and rear wheels were mismatched, but the matching ones were in the trunk. The interior was stripped of all but the dash and the front seats, and the floor was covered in wires. Under the hood we discovered a disconnected ABS system, an oil leak above the exhaust manifold, and several other issues like missing bolts, missing hood struts, and a tangled mess of wires. The classified ad said the car had 92,000 miles, but the title told a different story: 192,000 miles. The air conditioner and the radio in the Taurus did not work. Almost every warning light on the instrument panel was illuminated.
In spite of all these problems, we discovered that our project car had several serious modifications already done to it! The shifter had been converted from a cable shifter to a rod shifter. All of the bushings in the front end had been replaced with heavy duty ones. The car had definitely been lowered; the suspension was extremely stiff when taking corners. Additionally, someone went to the trouble of welding a set of subframe connectors to the bottom of the car! They appear to be made of square steel tubing and they run the length of the chassis. What a surprise that the guy we bought it from didn’t mention that!
We made a quick trip to Wal-Mart where we picked up a few quarts of oil and had three sets of keys made. Over the next few weeks there was a lot of cleaning, several late-night repairs and a few wild test drives. Here is a timeline of what we have done to our SHO project car so far:
June 7th, 2008
Purchased the SHO and a new battery. Swapped in the backseat from a Mercury Sable.
June 8th, 2008
Removed the “Taurus” emblem from the trunk lid and painted the driver side door handles.
June 10th, 2008
Changed the spark plug wires and removed lots extra wiring from the previous owner’s stereo install.
June 12, 2008
Painted the passenger side door handles and touched up a few spots on the trunk.
June 14, 2008
Today we mounted a set of old tires on the 16-inch “Slicer” wheels, painted all four wheels white, and painted the black exterior trim light gray. The car is looking a lot better already!
June 16, 2008
Many of our donor parts (including the carpet) came from this Mercury Sable.
June 23, 2008
We used the high pressure sprayer at the car wash to clean the carpet before installing it in the Taurus. We also filled the empty space below the radio with these gauges.
July 25, 2008
Our joy ride came to an abrupt end tonight when the battery died. We ended up pushing the Taurus home with a more reliable car.
August 27, 2008
The Taurus did not come with a steering column cover when we bought it, so we yanked the one from the Sable and painted it flat black.
September 7, 2008
While it’s not a perfect match, the replacement steering column cover looks much better than nothing.
September 13, 2008
The Taurus came with an oil pressure and a voltage gauge in the glove box when we bought it. We picked up a universal triple gauge pod and started running wires for the dimmer switch.
September 27, 2008
We installed the plastic A-pillar covers from the Sable and painted them flat black. The gauges were wired into a switched 12-volt source in the fuse panel below the dash. We also installed a fog light switch that was purchased on eBay. We suspect the fuel pump is dead. Painted parts of engine bay gloss white.
October 12, 2008
Scored a set of hood struts from the local junkyard.
October 18, 2008
Started mocking up ideas for a center console out of scrap wood.
October 19, 2008
Cut out a custom switch panel from a sheet of aluminum with a jigsaw and a metal cutting blade.
October 26, 2008
Reinforced the center console with some additional pieces of wood. Wrapped the whole thing in automotive carpet using 3M spray adhesive and a staple gun.
December 7, 2008
Went to the trouble of dropping the gas tank and replacing the fuel pump, only to find out the pump was working fine all along. Another hard lesson learned (and $88 spent).
December 20, 2008
Decided to install the new fuel pump anyway. Also shown is the completed center console with the $20 leather shift boot I bought on eBay.
Although the Taurus SHO has a devoted fanbase, owning one is an exercise in tough love. A common joke is that you’ll spend more time working on your SHO than you will driving it. In fact, it’s surprisingly common to find die-hard enthusiast owners who have a second vehicle to pull parts from.
The first-generation Taurus SHO has a reputation for being unreliable, as we have come to learn. Over the past few months we have experienced dead batteries, complaints from the neighbors, and countless electrical problems.
The car stopped running one day and we never could get it going again. It wasn’t getting fuel and refused to turn over even after replacing the fuel pump, checking the fuses, the inertia switch, and everything else we could think of.
We sold the Taurus for $500 bucks on January 10th, 2009. The $425 I sunk into it was my own money and does not include the $400 the other guys put into the car when we purchased it in June. We certainly learned a lot in our short time with the car and hope to focus our time and energy on another project later this year.
Published: 11 October 2008
Revised: 15 January 2009, 21 February 2010, 12 February 2013