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by Jon Mikelonis and Matt Wilder

Introduction
Most might not realize that the introduction of Ford Taurus for the 1986 model year kicked off a revolution in exterior styling which has influenced every automotive manufacturer targeting the general public to this date. The impact of the Taurus on domestic and foreign body design was so intense during the second half of the 1980's, that consumers were often heard mumbling, "It looks like a Taurus", on non-Ford showroom floors. In fact, Taurus styling cues still resonate in most four-door midsize sedans today and is recognized as one of the most ground-breaking models in Ford history. A fairly unrecognized Taurus that strayed far from the pack during the 90's was the performance-oriented Taurus SHO.

Origins of Taurus SHO
Undeniably one of the most successful cars of the 80's and 90's, the Taurus was and still is an unsuspecting family oriented mid-sized sedan. Unsuspecting until it was the subject of courageous improvisation for the 1989 model year. Improvisation that resulted in dropping a 220 hp Yamaha DOHC 3.0L V6 into the sedate Taurus and backing it up with the Mazda built, but Ford designed, MTX-IV manual transmission. Ford called it the Taurus SHO (Super High Output). There are several stories behind the conception of the SHO, all of which fall somewhere between fact and theory. The story that is most widely accepted among SHO owners is that Ford was developing a sports car in the early to mid-80's to compete with the Fiero, MR2, RX7, and 240/280/Z cars. The sports car was called the GN-34. Ford worked with Yamaha to produce a light yet powerful modern engine for the world class two seater. Unfortunately competition was going away and the market for 2 seater "fun" cars was gone before the project was completed. The contract with Yamaha remained and Ford needed a place to put these motors, so they decided to make a "sport" version of the Taurus. For introduction into the 1989 model year, engineers stuffed the chassis with the Yamaha V6 along with the MTX-IV transmission. In order to round out the SHO performance package the special submodel got a stiffer suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, alloy wheels, ground effects, full power accessories, side lumbar supported leather seats, and a redesigned dash with a 7000 RPM Tach. The SHO was complete.

Evolution and Curtain Call
The Yamaha V6 and the SHO made the cover of all enthusiast magazines in 1988 and occupied slots on many "10 Best" lists for at least the first few model years. Despite these facts, the general public was ambiguous with regard to the SHO. For most, the midsized four-door sedan was schizophrenic. With the "techno" Yamaha built 3.0L and a 5-speed mandatory, there was definitely a conflict between the practical body/chassis design and the performance drivetrain. Just how we like them, but not necessarily a good fit for Joe Average.

The Taurus SHO evolved from 1989 until it was discontinued after the 1999 model year. There were significant changes that affected the SHO's personality along the way, most notably being the availability of an automatic in 1993, the replacement of the 3.0L V6 with a 3.4L V8 in 1996, and the discontinuation of the 5-speed manual in 1996. As with most performance machines the first distinction owners make is between automatic cars and manual cars. SHO owners refer to their automatics as ATX's and manuals as MTX's. Additionally, there exist three generations of Taurus SHO. Generation I (1989-1991), Generation II (1992-1995), and Generation III (1996-1999). The classes are not necessarily honored by Ford, but among SHO people the delineations are logical and created for good reason.

SHO Classifications (According to SHO Aficionados)
Class
Model Year
Delineation
Generation I
1989-1991
The stealthiest of all Taurus SHOs, these model years were offered exclusively with the MTX-IV Mazda 5-speed transmission. Exterior SHO identification was minimal.
Generation II
1992-1995
Identified primarily by more prominent performance styling and the optional automatic with 3.2L which started in 1993.
Generation III
1996-1999
Characterized by overall Taurus redesign, introduction of 3.4L V8, and discontinuation of the manual transmission.

Similar to the differences between the owner of a 1969 Mach 1 and the owner of a 1974 Mach 1, there do exist subtle differences in attitude between owners of early model V6 manually shifted SHOs and owners of late model V8 automatic SHOs. One expert says the Taurus SHO evolved from relatively tougher origins into the automotive equivalent of a corporate jet before it was dropped in 1999. Another factor that may have lead to the eventual demise of the SHO was the high sticker price. For example, a 1990 SHO was over $24,000 which puts it in the low $30,000 range in today's standards.

Despite the differences and changes in model years, all SHOs are specialty cars that attract a unique enthusiast and collector determined to be different. As a bonus, the shear volume of standard Taurus and SHO parts cars at the wrecking yard have made the SHO a practical project for the experimental "hands-on" Ford freak.

The SHO Must Go On
As an indication that the SHO will be around for a long time to come, July
2005 celebrated SHO National Convention Number 14 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The convention is produced by Don Mallinson and the SHO Club. This years event drew more than 110 SHOs from over 40 states and Canada. Owners take their cars on a real road course, race tracks, and to major drag strips. SHO enthusiasts take great pride in driving their cars across the country, even with some having more than 200,000 miles on them. One owner that made a 5000 mile round trip from Nevada to Indiana for this year's convention in a 1990 SHO, was Matt Wilder.

 
(Matt Wilder's 1990 SHO)
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In This Article:
The Taurus SHO is not everybody's first choice in Ford muscle but the somewhat schizophrenic model has attracted a cult-like following of collectors and "hands-on" Ford enthusiasts eager to make a statement. FM covers SHO basics for the uninformed and one owner's unique ride.

   
 


Ford abandoned development of a Yamaha powered mid-engine roadster in the mid 80's called the GN-34. The contract with Yamaha to build a DOHC V6 for the sports car remained but Ford had no home for the motor. Designers and engineers improvised to produce a sporty Taurus called the SHO for the 1989 model year, the Yamaha 3.0L's new host.


There's more 90's era
Ford muscle than the Mustang GT and the Thunderbird Supercoupe. SHOs are gaining popularity because of an inexpensive entry fee. Early models, which were only available with the Mazda MTX-IV 5-speed transmission, are common in the $500 to $2500 range. SHOs are a practical bargain for most, including younger performance-minded enthusiasts like Matt Wilder, shown here.


Matt has performed a number of suspension, brake, and transmission mods on his 1990 SHO. Other than the machine work, the Yamaha 3.0L was built in his garage and to his specs.

SHO Production Numbers
Model Year
Units
1989
15,519
1990
8,302
1991
8,916
1992
7,801
1993
21,550
1994
13,280
1995
9,560
1996
4,730
1997
9,764
1998
3,675
1999
3,368

 

 

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