Ford introduced the high-performance version of the Taurus sedan— the SHO— in the 1989 model year, and enthusiasts rejoiced over the cheap new factory hot rod that blew away far more expensive European sedans. I’ve documented quite a few discarded SHOs during my junkyard travels, but this is the first ’92 I’ve photographed. Why is 1992 special for the SHO? Simple: It’s the final year for the mandatory five-speed manual transmission. Here’s one of those rare cars in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.
Yamaha had been building organs and pianos for nearly a century when Ford hired the company to design a hot-rod version of the ho-hum Vulcan pushrod V6, though of course it was the screaming two-wheelers bearing the tuning-fork logo that interested Dearborn. Finally, an engine with a cooler-looking intake manifold than the Porsche 928, and 220 horsepower plus a 7,000-rpm redline from a naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter V6 was very impressive by the standards of the time (the 1989 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde’s 3.0-liter V6 made just 183 horses, though its exhaust note made all other V6s sound like ailing bovines).
By the time this car was built, the wearers of green eyeshades in the Ford Empire saw that many dollars were being left on the table due to the lack of an automatic transmission in the SHO. The Great Slushboxification of the American Road had been well underway for decades, and many American car shoppers absolutely refused to consider any car with three pedals. Something had to be done, and it was: for 1993, the Taurus SHO could be bought with an optional four-speed automatic coupled to an engine bored out to 3.2 liters (and tuned to make the same 220 horsepower as the 3.0 but with 15 extra pound-feet of torque).
The manual transmission remained available in the SHO through 1995; the 1996-1999 SHO had both a V8 engine and an automatic-only configuration and the 2010-2019 SHO epilogue had a twin-turbo V6 and six-speed automatic.
There had been a facelift for 1992, corresponding to the Mercury Sable‘s redesign (the 1989-1995 SHO used Sable front body parts), but the real change in SHO philosophy happened for the 1996 model year, when the car got softer and generally more about luxury than shredding tires.
In the early years of the 24 Hours of Lemons, we learned that the 1989-1995 Taurus SHO is a very quick car on a road-course race track (in stark contrast to the 1996-1999 SHO).
We also learned that the SHO V6 tends to explode in spectacular fashion when road-raced, and that SHO transaxles disintegrate more spectacularly— and more frequently— than any other gearbox in 24 Hours of Lemons history. Did I mention the constant failures of SHO hubs and axles on the track?
Either due to the word about the SHO’s racing blow-uppityness spreading or the fact that Lemons racers used up just about every junkyard engine and transmission on the continent, we don’t see many of these cars on Lemons tracks today.
Factory CD players were still considered high-end luxury items in 1992 cars, subject to constant theft danger on the street. This single-disc player with “Premium Sound” speakers added 502 bucks to the car’s $23,889 price tag (that’s about $997 on a $47,450 car in 2021 dollars), and it didn’t sound anywhere near as good as the audio rigs that come as standard equipment in the most miserable econoboxes today.
Rewards the driver like no other performance sedan (although the Dodge Spirit R/T had a higher top speed).
No Spirit R/T could have done this, though. In fact, the only Spirit R/T to have entered a Lemons race never managed to turn a single official lap.
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