Automotive History: The Ford 3.0 Liter “Vulcan” V6

When the Taurus development team started to solidify plans for the car that was supposed to save Ford, it was smaller than the production model that would arrive at dealerships in late 1985. But the requirements that the Taurus fulfill the company’s vision for a bread-and-butter family car demanded that the dimensions be enlarged. The end result was the truly mid-size Taurus. There was one major problem with the team’s decision though: the company immediately realized their new platform didn’t have an adequate V6 engine to propel it. Ford’s other V6 engines were either too heavy, too big, or unsuited for front-wheel drive applications altogether. Ford needed a durable, lightweight, and easy to manufacture six cylinder powerplant that was also reasonably powerful and efficient. And that’s precisely what they got with the 3.0 liter “Vulcan” V6, an engine that would see duty in four generations of Taurus and a multitude of other vehicles from 1986-2008.

Despite being an all-new engine for 1985, the Vulcan V6 didn’t push any technological boundaries. It was a conventional pushrod design with cast iron blocks and heads. While not technically innovative, Ford designed the engine around a set of specific requirements. In terms of performance, it needed to propel the Taurus from 0-60 mph in 11.5 seconds and generate at least 130 horsepower. The team also wanted an engine that would conform to the expectations of customers who wanted a car that was easy to own. As a result, they designed the Vulcan with a 7,500 mile oil change interval and the ability to accrue 100,000 miles without needing any major maintenance. Additionally, the engine contained a limp home mode and could run five minutes without its cooling system before encountering major issues. Ford’s EEC-IV on board computer was a major reason why a limp home mode was possible.

For the owners that wanted to check the fluid levels in their Taurus, Ford created easy to find dipsticks and clearly labeled reservoirs for windshield wiper fluid and engine coolant, among other things. They also wanted the engine to look good too. The team redesigned the engine manifold so it looked more attractive, a move that led to improved air flow as well. All of these features were irrelevant if the engine wasn’t durable, so the company extensively tested the engine. It was installed in the LTD, the predecessor to the Taurus, and driven around in various cold and hot weather environments around the country for about 100,000 miles. That figure was double the mileage Ford typically used for their evaluations. The team also equipped about thirty trucks with the Vulcan. They ran between 100,000 and 200,000 miles before the test was finished. Ford used the results from those vehicles to redesign the components that showed the most wear and conducted the same exact test one additional time to make sure the Vulcan was as durable as the team wanted.

When the Taurus debuted in production form, the Vulcan made 140 horsepower and 160 Ib-ft of torque. That was ten more horsepower than the team originally planned. Paired with the new four-speed AXOD automatic transmission, Car And Driver was able to get the Taurus from 0-60 mph in 9.8 seconds, which was significantly faster than the original 11.5 time that the engineers desired.

Despite those accomplishments, Ford did encounter some early issues with the Vulcan. Headgaskets were a common problem and water pumps were prone to failure. The Taurus also had problems related to its idle. All three of those issues were apparently fixed by the 1989 refresh. As for the Sable, the Vulcan was the only engine available on the Mercury until Ford adapted the 3.8 liter “Essex” V6 for both it and the Taurus in 1988.

With Ford lacking another modern V6 engine, the Vulcan soon found itself in other vehicles. Although it didn’t launch with the Vulcan, the 1986 Aerostar received the engine soon after its launch, which made the van the first rear-wheel drive Ford to receive it. It immediately replaced the aging 2.8 liter “Cologne” V6. Taurus engineers rejected that engine for being too heavy. Compared to the Cologne, the Vulcan made thirty more horsepower in the Aerostar. The Aerostar’s Vulcan also received a boost in output, which brought the V6 to 145 horsepower and 165 Ib-ft of torque. For the 1988 and 1989 model years, the Vulcan was the sole engine available on the Aerostar, as Ford rightfully dropped the 100 horsepower “Lima” 2.3 liter four cylinder from the lineup. The 4.0 liter Cologne V6 slotted above the Vulcan in 1990 and both engines were with the van until its demise in 1997.

The Probe received the Vulcan in 1990. It slotted between the naturally aspirated 2.2 liter four cylinder and the turbocharged version of that same engine. The Vulcan offered Probe LX shoppers a thirty horsepower bump over the base four, which would be increased to 35 in 1992. The turbo four boasted comparable horsepower but beat the Vulcan with its 190 torque figure. Ford offered buyers the chance to order a Vulcan-equipped Probe with a five-speed manual, the first time the engine could be had with anything other than a four-speed automatic. The second generation Probe dropped the Vulcan for Mazda’s 2.5 liter V6, which made 164 horsepower.

Towards the end of its first generation, Ford saw fit to equip the Ranger with the Vulcan, which saw duty on the truck for the final two years before its 1993 redesign. Like other Ford vehicles of the time, the Vulcan made 140 horsepower in this particular application. It was only offered in two-wheel drive models. With the 1993 redesign, Ford offered the Ranger as a mid-tier engine, and the Vulcan became available with four-wheel drive for the first time in its history. Like the Probe, the Ranger paired Mazda’s five-speed manual to the Vulcan. The Ranger and the Vulcan would actually become quite acquainted with one another for the next fifteen years. With the 1998 redesign, it once again served as a mid-tier engine option, slotting underneath the 4.0 liter Cologne V6. In 2001, the Vulcan became paired to Ford’s 5R55E five-speed automatic transmission, which gave the Ranger the distinction of being the only Ford vehicle to pair the Vulcan with an automatic with five forward gears. The Ranger also became the last Ford to feature the Vulcan after Ford cancelled the Taurus in 2007. The 2008 Ranger, which was the last model to feature the engine, offered the Vulcan with an output of 148 horsepower and 180 Ib-ft of torque. The closely related Mazda B-Series offered the Vulcan from 1994-2007.

In 1992, Ford extended the Vulcan’s reach to the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz. It became tied to the GLS performance trimmed Tempo in its last year, which was also 1992. Otherwise, buyers could opt for the Vulcan if they went for the GL or LX trims. On the Topaz, Mercury paired the Vulcan to the XR5 performance trim, which was basically equivalent to the Tempo’s GLS trim. The 1992 XR5 was only available as a coupe and was discontinued after that model year. In both vehicles, the Vulcan made 135 horsepower and was paired to Ford’s ATX three-speed automatic. Aside from the short-lived performance trims, buyers could also opt for the Mazda five-speed manual in limited circumstances, although production figures were probably quite low.

The Windstar, which debuted in 1994 for the 1995 model year, sat on the same platform as the Taurus. Naturally, that meant at least some trim levels came equipped with the Vulcan. The Windstar didn’t initially launch with the Vulcan, but Ford opted to include it late into the 1995 model year. It made 150 horsepower and 172 Ib-ft of torque, which wasn’t substantially more than the Taurus, a fact that likely contributed to Ford relegating it to the lower trim levels. Ford dropped the Vulcan from the Windstar lineup two years into the second generation. As a result, the 2001 model solely offered the 3.8 liter Essex, which by that time boasted 200 horsepower. The Mercury Villager, while similar in appearance to the Windstar, was actually a rebadged Nissan Quest. It exclusively used Nissan’s powertrains.

Despite seeing duty in many other Ford vehicles, the Vulcan is best known as the workhorse engine for the first four generations of the Taurus and Sable. By 2007, Ford had increased output to 155 horsepower and 185 Ib-ft or torque. With extensive experience with the Vulcan in my 1989 Taurus wagon, 1997 Sable, and dad’s 2006 Taurus, it is an excellent highway cruiser and overall a very smooth engine. It is not the fastest or most thrilling engine but it gets the job done. The Vulcan doesn’t seem to have any major issues and a fair number of them have passed the 200,000 miles mark with relative ease.

When Ford originally conceived of the Vulcan, they envisioned a powerplant that could please middle America. Over its twenty two year lifespan, it essentially accomplished that goal in every vehicle that offered it. It wasn’t technologically sophisticated in 1986 and by 2008 it was pretty outdated. But technical accomplishments took a back seat to durability and the need for Ford to offer an engine that allowed owners to live with a car that could be as unobtrusive to own as anything made by the Japanese automakers. By the late 2000s Ford was using the Vulcan as a crutch. But that’s only a testament to the team that engineered the Vulcan with clear objectives in mind.

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Automotive History: 1986 Ford Taurus – Good Role Models And Clear Objectives Create A Breakthrough Car

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