Junkyard Classic: 1999 Ford Taurus SHO – The Plain Wrapper

Yes, we are back with another installment of my junkyard chronicles.  And today, we feature a guest that squeaks in just over our informal (informal to the point of often being ignored) twenty-year cut-off.  It also almost didn’t make the cut as I walked past it several times before noticing it’s not just another run of the mill Baby-Fish-Mouth Taurus, that least desired generation that pretty much ruined everything by dint of its polarizing looks.  No, while this Taurus is sporting the plainest of wrappers, it does have those three magic initials on its rump: S H O

Of course there is much more to the SHO than just the name, originally standing for Super High Output; the first generation sported a powerful V-6 built by Yamaha, was only available with a stick shift, had a slight bodykit and distinctive alloy wheels with a sumptuous (for a Ford) interior and became a bit of an ’80’s legend, then the second generation carried on into the 90’s and offered an automatic as well from 1993 on.  So after those first two generations of that Taurus, it was obvious that there needed to be an SHO for the third generation as well, but this time things were dialed up even more.  Sort of.

Yes, this generation sported a V8!  The only V8 ever in a Taurus for that matter.  The engine was still built by Yamaha, but this time the aluminum block was manufactured by Ford using a method patented by Cosworth in their Windsor, Ontario, plant.  The bare blocks were then shipped to Yamaha in Japan and then shipped back as complete engines for installation in Atlanta for something of a true international effort and likely great expense.  I’ve never understood why nobody at Ford was capable of assembling the engine even if Yamaha did develop the aluminum heads, it certainly wasn’t intended to be an extremely low volume powerplant but I suppose if nothing else, it adds to the “magic”.

The engine, displacing 3.4l and distantly related to the Duratec 25, produced 235hp and 230lb-ft of torque, featuring 32 valves and a DOHC design.  The transmission (the only transmission) was the Ford AX4N 4-speed automatic unit.  Yes, sadly no manual was available with the V8, which probably didn’t help sales, the Europeans still offered stick shifts for most of their performance cars back then, an automatic would likely not be a consideration for many of those buyers that Ford was hoping to sway.

And a looker the engine is.  Barring the fact of the transverse installation, that’s a very attractive presentation and obviously helped sell the car.  I remember being at the Monterey Historics in 1995 where Ford brought a new 1996 SHO out of a trailer and started it up for the crowd, it made a lovely sound.  That one was a metallic red, and while a pretty color, didn’t look very different from a normal Taurus with the exception of the rear spoiler, my friends and I were thinking it looked a little odd and was perhaps too subtle about its performance pedigree.

Nevertheless, here we are now with this 1999 model, the last year of production for this generation, finished in Vibrant White, an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one. Sales of the SHO peaked around 9,000 units in 1997 but by 1999 had dwindled to around 3,300 for a take rate of quite a bit less than 1% of overall Taurus sales that year.  On the plus side, likely none were fleet.

From the front, there really isn’t anything to distinguish it, the bumper is perhaps slightly different, likely at the bottom, and the side has a slight little skirt hanging down (Note the newer Taurus to the right for a good view of what changed for 2000).  The wheels are 16″ aluminum alloys, and the tires were a meaty for the day 225/55-ZR16.  So far this all looks correct, I wonder what stopped the SHO?

I was a little taken aback when I opened the door, sure it’s fairly clean and not trashed, but it’s so…sterile.  If Euro-stark is what they were going for, then the Medium Graphite interior color missed the mark.  It’s just so gray!  And plasticky.  Not just the leather (and they are leather seats as well as of a different, more bolstered design than the run of the mill models), but also everything else.  Yes I know it’s built on the same line as the rental-spec Taurus, but there could (should) be a little more pizzazz.  The other interior color option was Medium Prairie Tan, but the Denim Blue for example was not offered.

Wow!  I looked at this, blinked, and stepped back out.  Then I rubbed my eyes and looked again.  SHO-nuff, that is 360,988 miles.  I’d be impressed with that out of a regular Taurus, but especially an SHO.  This is one of the highest mileages that I’ve seen in these junkyards, but I don’t look into most cars.  These cars did have camshaft issues that could ruin an engine, but most of those were at significantly lower miles, and even if that was the problem, at this mileage it’d be hard to complain.  Another possibility would be the timing chain, also not unknown to have issues in these cars and with that mileage even it had been changed/serviced it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine.

It’s twenty years old, which makes for an average of 18,000 per year, and it’s in Wyoming, so that’s not implausible at all, it’s likely most miles were long steady-state highway miles, it doesn’t give the impression of being a multi-owner car either.  At least there’s no blanks on the gauge faces, but for a performance car they could have added a couple more, no?

It’s got that sort of weird oval-theme stereo and HVAC combo panel, and the passenger has vents that seem to sit in their lap.  I just can’t get over how drab this looks, sorry, for a car that cost $29,115 (equivalent to $44,871 in 2019 dollars).

The back seat is positively taxi-spec although at least there are two map pockets as well as HVAC vents.  And I guess I can’t complain about the durability, actually this is probably the best Ford leather I’ve seen in some time as far as durability goes, usually it’s cracked and worn-looking within about five years, let alone twenty and this many miles.

The trunk space is decently spacious, and the rear seats fold down.  This one was a bit of a mess, and no longer latched, likely due to the junkyard personnel and protocol, thus all the pictures are with it open.  I was too lazy to lift something heavy onto it.  Mustn’t scratch the paint, etc.

I still remember when this front end first saw the light of day.  It wasn’t a happy day.  And it hasn’t really gotten better with time either.  In fact I recall this actually coming up in conversation with people at the office, and we weren’t really a car-talking group at that time either, but this, this was worthy of general conversation.  At least it got the Taurus noticed, but not necessarily in a good way.  The midcycle significant refresh did wonders for it, if it had been originally offered with the looks of the 2000 year model, I don’t think it would have suffered the way it did and the later Fusion may even have been named the Taurus all along.

What else? Well, let’s see, here’s the VIN tag showing it was built in May of 1999, which is right at the end of the line for this car as the last 3rd gen Taurus SHO was built on June 18, 1999, a month and maybe 250 cars later.

That reminds me, no power antenna on the SHO either.  But someone took the regular one from this one.  So far no takers for the alloys or the engine, although that’d be quite a gamble.  This may well be its best angle, and while time has blunted the impact of its looks somewhat, it’s still not accurate to say they’ve grown on me.  I vastly prefer the one after this, although sadly it wasn’t offered with this engine.

This last picture likely shows the actual reason it’s here, it suffered from hail damage, an increasingly common phenomenon here on the Front Range.  The windshield is broken which was visible before, and there the moonroof is destroyed.  Along with likely numerous dimples in the metal that are difficult to see on a dusty white car, coupled with the miles, this was likely claimed by the insurance company or the owner didn’t see it worthwhile to fix.