Curbside Classic: 1990 Ford Taurus Wagon – Redefining the Station Wagon

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I remember clearly the first time I saw the new-for-1986 Ford Taurus. It was around the time I turned 18, late in the summer before the Taurus arrived in showrooms. A new sedan and wagon had been placed on display at the civic center downtown, and my parents and I came upon them there when we were on hand for some event.  I don’t remember the event, but I remember the Taurus. I noticed the sedan, of course, but dismissed it as an upsized Tempo. I’m sure I dismissed it too easily, but oh my goodness, there stood the wagon, and it was mesmerizing.

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The Taurus wagon upended everything I ever knew about wagons. This was a wagon. The next-door neighbor had one, all beat up and rusty.

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And this was a wagon. My dad’s best friend owned one and I rode around in its wayback a lot. It sure got blisteringly hot under those see-through roof panels.

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And especially this was a wagon, in all of its ridiculous, bloated excess. My first real wagon memory is of one of these. It was 1972, and some new neighbors drove up in one with their three kids in the back. It somehow seemed to be twice the size of Dad’s ’71 Impala, even though the two cars shared a body from the B pillar forward.

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Could it be that these over-the-top GM wagons were much like the ’59 Cadillac with its stupefying fins, sobering up an entire industry? Oh, I know that fuel economy had much more to do with the wagon’s downsizing.

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Midsize wagons had always existed, but they were starting to shrink to what had previously been considered compact. And square styling was very in by the mid-1980s.

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It’s not that any of these wagons was especially bad-looking. But there was still a wagon idiom (that involved slathering plastic wood down the body sides) and nearly every wagon spoke it. Overworked idiom becomes cliché. I don’t like cliché, and I hardly ever looked at wagons.

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Yet there I stood at 18 years old, astonished by the sleek form that stood before me. The sloping hood. The big composite headlights. The flowing roof. The integrated bumpers. The Euro-styled flat-top wheel arch.

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Even the tail was delightful. “Holy crap,” my 18-year-old self thought, “this wagon is actually sexy! And I badly want to drive it!” It was the first time I felt wagon lust.

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It would not be the last, thanks to the influence the Taurus had on American automobile design. More and more wagons would become lustworthy in the years to come. And I find it remarkable how well the Taurus wagon’s design holds up after 28 years. When this ’90 Taurus was new, a 24-year-old wagon in a suburban parking lot would have stuck out like a Frank Sinatra fan at a Mötley Crüe concert. But this aging Taurus blends in. Only its snout seems dull in this age of tall, aggressive front ends.

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To this particular Taurus, then: time has not been kind. This dent is the least of the car’s body woes.

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Oh, the rot. The dealer sticker on the back bumper says that this car was purchased new here in Rustopia, so it’s remarkable that this car isn’t even rustier.

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The interior has held up all right, but clearly shows the accumulated schmutz of a quarter-century’s use.

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I swoon for this Taurus. I’d probably lust mightily if I came upon one with fewer cosmetic problems. Some good examples still lurk about, as this eBay find we wrote up late last year proves.