(This actually my *first* piece for Curbside Classic. I had originally intended to write this piece finding a 1986 Sable wagon. But I could never actually catch the one running 1986 Sable I’ve seen all year. I found a 1989(?) wagon, then the owner garaged it. My educated guess as a now unloved (and sometimes troublesome) 25 year old car, it’s beginning to become harder and harder to find the first generation Mercury Sable).
Being an only child sucks for the automobile lover. Growing up your family doesn’t need to adjust to the pressures of a growing family, and doesn’t need to embrace, weigh and consider the virtues and detractions of various motor vehicle styles. Your parents can get stuck in an Automotive rut of their preference. My parents fell into the rut of Personal Coupes almost immediately. My father traded his 1960 Corvair 500 sedan for a Dodge Lancer GT and never looked back until he came to a Oldsmobile lot 35 years later and found no large coupes and bought a lease returned Eighty Eight Sedan.
My mother started off settling on a 1973 Cougar when she was told she wasn’t responsible enough for a 1971 Sting Ray. A 1978 Camaro and 1985 944 came and went before she settled into middle age and on rental return white Tauruii. But, for the large part of my youth I was stuck tripping over seatbelts affixed to B-pillars and entrapped in Sport Vinyl or Rich Corinthian leather hell, and once out of a car seat, unable to see the world around me.
I had a strong case of envy for all the people that had Sedans and Wagons. And in the Spring of 1986 it became more monumental when the first Taurus/Sable Twin wagon appeared on our block.
Mrs. Duncan’s eldest daughter had two kids that bookended me in age. A son that was five, a daughter that was three, and that all new midsize Mercury proved a perfect step up for her growing family. It replaced her Datsun B210 she had since college. Beyond the practicality, it was like the future arrived on our block. The San Francisco peninsula was still a place overrun by a lot of baroque chrome and wire wheels in 1986. Every other garage had a half padded vinyl roof, the other ones had standing hood ornaments. More often than not it was a “G” Body Cutlass Supreme or one of its siblings.
You can understand how someone who barely learned his ABCs could be blown away by a station wagon with a Lightbar, And curves that seemed, so, rich, so much like that Audi that never ran my uncle had. How could this be a car in *my* neighborhood, affordable by someone who worked at the Post Office?
In the press at the time it was called “the car that came from the moon.” It definitely felt like it was out of this world. Turn the key and that other-wordly hooverboard burble exhaust note from the Vulcan V6 said warp drive capabilities in ways the carb fed 307 Oldses of my families couldn’t possibly demure to do. It was the perfect family car for the geeky only child that would soon become addicted to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I would have had so much space to play with my “Action Figures“ in this shuttlecraft of a Station Wagon.
It’s like the half vinyl roofed G body Cutlasses of the block turned their noses at the new arrivals, like a bunch of society wives on a social lunch.
“How RUDE not to show up with the proper accessories that show breeding, like whitewalls and lightbars are only for the chrome band that separates Vinyl from the steel on the roof.”
“HOW VULGAR to have a full light bar on your face! You’re supposed to eat your air through a grille! What’s with all of this glass area? Rotary dial Climate Controls?!?!? *Where’s my fainting couch?!?*”
Little did these “Cutlass ladies” know how society was changing, and how much they might have been fearing the change. A lot of their details and designs were decidedly passe. It still took more than a half decade for The Taurus/Sable Wagon to become the UnMinivan family hauler of choice around these parts though. People loved (understandably) the many virtues of late 1980s B-body wagons and the future so soon is something that has to be taken in doses. But eventually, and after the B-Bodies tried on those curves (depending on what you think, not too successfully) people defected to the Sables and Taurus, or if you had *real* money you moved to the 300TE.
It’s funny now to think I wouldn’t dare be overcome with passion for a 1986 Sable like I was as a Child, if I were to go FWD wagon, I’d go for the scatterbrained approach of a 3.8L equipped Cutlass Ciera Cruiser with the FE3 Suspension and Console shift with alloys but Wood Paneling, because I’m pretty sure you could order that absurdity from my uncle’s Olds dealership.
I did spend a weekend behind the wheel of my Cousins beater 1992 Taurus 5 years ago though. I did find myself pleasantly surprised at how light and athletic it felt for an American family sedan. I can see how at one point, a quarter of a century ago these cars were a revelation to the American Buying public. I can still hear the exhaust note of that first Sable, and get the urge to chase that exhaust note down the block in awe like it was 1986 all over again.
The Cutlass Ciera never came with the 3800, for a few years you could get it with the 3300V6 (which I believe was the largest engine ever fitted installed in the A-body). My exwife was driving a 1995 Cutlass Ciera sedan when I met her in college and it had the 3300 and four speed auto. That car ate it’s transmission by 75,000 miles and then ate the replacement 75,000 miles later. Although if you look on the A-body forums apprently it’s not that hard to install a 3800V6, many have done it.
Back to the car at hand – I have loved the Taurus and Sable wagons in their many incarnations. The best Sables will always be the years that they actually had a few unique body pannels not shared with the Taurus.
Indeed it did, the 3.8 was offered from 1984-88.
Sonofagun, you’re right… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldsmobile_Cutlass_Ciera#1982.E2.80.931988 I guess I should have respected the “International Sieries” a little more.
I’ve seen a few ultra well preserved Cutlass Ciera Cruisers from 1985-88 that had the 3.8 (150hp) V6 and leather, console and wood paneling for sale , but I don’t know if they were officially offered with the FE3 handling package.
But a nicely preserved Sable wagon wouldn’t be all that much more troublesome. I forget that in 1986-87 the 440-T4 was equally as troublesome as an early ATX.
I liked these. When these came out, I thought that Ford was going to start pushing Mercury more. Although most people didn’t notice, the early Sable used completely unique sheetmetal from the Taurus. The smooth sides without the lengthwise crease was the biggest difference, as well as the C pillar on the sedans. The light bar was a cool touch. Unfortunately, the early 90s restyle shared Taurus sheetmetal again.
A friend’s dad (my car mentor Howard) bought a new black Sable in 1986. My mother had bought a new Crown Vic the year before, and as soon as I drove the Sable I thought “crap, Mom just bought the wrong car.” The Vulcan V6 and the 4 speed auto displayed none of the maddening shift characteristics of the 5.0/AOD, and was a tighter structure as well. It was the best driving new American car I had experienced in years.
The one thing I never understood about these wagons was Ford’s pricing. I recall that the Taurus/Sable wagon cost about $3k more than the sedans, which was a heckuva jump. It is possible that trim level and equipment made for some of that difference, but I don’t think all that much. I always had a thing for wagons and could have owned one of these, but when they came out, they made the previous Fox body Marquis wagon so cheap that I bought a used one of those instead.
The first generation Sable sedans were much more distinctive than the wagons, and could easily be mistaken for an Audi 5000. It was disappointing when the Sable went to the more conservative Taurus sheetmetal in the first redesign — an early indicator that Ford was not putting much effort into the Mercury brand.
Was there perhaps another missed opportunity? Imagine the Gen I Sable moved upmarket, with some kind of drivetrain upgrade, as a Lincoln Continental. If done right, might it have sold better than the Fox-body bustleback Continentals of 1986-87, and the very stodgy Continentals that Ford eventually did build on a stretched Taurus platform?
They did build a Taurus-based Continental, from 1988-94.
yes, but it was a boring looking thing that managed to have none of the style of the Sable or any other Lincoln.
One thing I do remember about the Taurus/Sable in general was they held their resale value pretty well for used American cars at the time. The only other American cars at the time that seemed to hold their value in any similar way was the mentioned above G-Body Cutlass Supreme.
Interesting how that panned out. The two opposite philosophies in American Sedan design both being equally highly regarded as used cars.
That white Sable wagon was my favorite Matchbox car when I was little.
I loved the Taurus/Sable wagons, especially the Mercury with that other-worldly light bar. Much cooler looking than the boxy family ’85 Camry. But I was an only child, so there was never a need for a wagon in our family, plus my father’s past experience with a Gran Torino wagon ensured that there wouldn’t be a Taurus or any other Ford in our future.
I had one too! I always hope that someone will get me a replacement one for a birthday or Christmas each year. Maybe I should just go on eBay and get one for myself.
I have that same Matchbox Sable. I got it in Florida in I think late 1990. The white paint starting peeling off not that long after I got it, so I figured out how to take it apart and I painted it a lovely dark blue with a lower silver tu-tone to make it look like one in the 1991 Sable brochure. It turned out rather good, though it shows a good bit of wear now.
It too is one of my all time favorites in my collection 🙂
I had a few of these too – although I must confess to wrecking one of them in a fit of childhood destruction! I still have one or two nice ones. It’s weird that Matchbox didn’t do any reissues in other colors-all I remember is the white over dark gray.
Actually, they did briefly. For a limited time they offered in a rather tacky green with woodgrain as a Brady Bunch collector’s car. I thought about getting it, but it was too well, tacky for me.
I really liked these cars. Ford really had something with the Taurus/Sable, Tempo and T-bird.
My first experience with the 86 Taurus should have tainted me from Ford products for life but it didnt. I went on to own a superb 89 Sable wagon, 3.8, loaded to the gills, dark blue with blue leather interior (remember when interiors came in actual COLORS??).
A first gen SHO is still on my hot list as a must have..
This generation of Sables was a looker for sure and now that you mention it getting quite scarce. I actually owned a 1988 Taurus wagon which I bought for $400. It had a little body due to the previous owner working on it with it up on jack stands. Somehow it went into drive, fell off the jack stands and took off down the street. Apparently was stopped by a chain link fence down the street. It drove very well however even if it had the double trouble combination of head gasket blowing 3.8L V6 and failure prone automatic. Sadly the wife refused to drive it and we ended up getting a Jeep Cherokee instead.
Love the Lego street plate. I had those too, and now my son uses them all the time.
And I had similar warm feelings about my dad’s plush-yet-modern 88 Sable sedan. Compared to that car a Camry of the era felt vaguely Soviet, everything as mean and dull as possible. They caught up pretty quick, though, unlike GM.
I bought a new ’87 Sable sedan and just loved it. Great car, solid handling, strong power, lots of room and brilliant sleek styling. The lightbar was fun. In the sedan it matches up with a red lightbar across the tail. Aerodynamic, futuristic, clean. Quiet inside thanks to the wind-cheating shape.
Another Sable-only styling feature is the wrap-around rear glass. Blacked out and glassed-over rear pillars, with body color coming up the A-pillars to the roof. I liked that look so much I also owned the ’87 Celica, which did the exact same thing.
The Sable was best riding American car ever up to that time, the first one that could match a Peugeot. My hypochondriac (now ex-)wife demanded a perfectly smooth, level ride and a firm seat for her tender neck and back. No bumpy Japanese or German cars, no wallowy American plushmobiles either.
I sold my beloved ’77 5-speed Civic and we drove a ’78 Peugeot 504 just for her. Wonderful car when it ran. What a money pit. Wet sleeved engine with paper gaskets at the bottom, water in the oil, rebuild at age 4. Down a full month waiting for a new ZF automatic to be shipped out from Paris. Electric fan clutch, with exposed contacts just below the weepy water pump, frequent failures and near-overheats. That Sable saved my sanity. (Sorry, Paul.)
Ford was so foolish to let that first Sable succumb to the Mercury disease, especially the frog-faced ’96 nightmare. So dumb to let the Explorer kill off those great Taurus/Sable wagons. Thanks for shining the spotlight on one of the best Detroit cars ever.
Photo from: http://www.motortopia.com/cars/13352
Hah. The picture of the blue Sable was taken in Sunnyvale. I recognize that building!
Recognize these people?
Ford never let any escape NA but its very obvious where the EA series Falcon got its styling from, a car that was so bad Ford threatened its Australian branch with closure over warranty costs Dearborn was going to send its best selling car downunder the Taurus unfortunately the one sent was the round version and it was rubbish it looked wierd drove and handled horribly and failed dramaticly Ford OZ lifted its game and we got no more Tauri. No body could understand why anyone would actually choose a Taurus but this article does explain it some what the early models must have been a revelation in the US compared to the awful junk usually on offer these seem modern with Euro Ford styling straight from the Sierra the no grille look came here with the 83 Falcon but fwd was never considered viable What a shame Ford even bothered with the awful Explorer it made ill handling ugly big suvs popular yuck.
Yes, as Bryce notes, we never got this model Taurus/Sable new in New Zealand, but I have seen a few of them on the road here – all sedans, never a wagon. I always thought they looked great though – sort of like bigger blobbier versions of the Ford Sierra wagons my parents and I drove.
We did get the ’96 on Taurus here new, but it wasn’t successful – ours/Australia’s/Japan’s was actually the ’96 Taurus body with the Sable front clip. Looked interesting, and we got the wagons too, which were even more interesting looking, sadly just not in a good way. I guess that’s what makes the original Taurus/Sable so attractive to me: yes they too looked unusual, but in a very good way.
Fully resigned to the fact I’ll never see a real one, I too bought that Matchbox model a few years back – a handy reminder of that time that Ford was doing great styling! Great article, thanks!
It was the best driving new American car I had experienced in years.
My sister had bought a new ’86 Taurus LX; we took a quick road trip down to Atlantic City. I remember being very impressed with how well it drove – very similar to my ’81 Audi 5000.
In ’91 my mom bought a Sable….very serviceable except for the perpetual peeling gray paint and dissatisfied a/c compressor.
I found myself drawn to the first-gen Sable, but only after I’d been deprived of their quirky US domestic market-only styling while abroad. I also grew up a complete TNG obsessive, but I don’t know if that helped foster my Mercury appreciation. Read my article here: http://autofrei.wordpress.com/2011/02/27/1986-1991-mercury-sable/
I got to drive an early Taurus 86 or was 85 first year? Around in NJ/NY area RENTAL @ Thanksgiving. My Sister Had An Audi & She was tired of people asking her if her car was a Taurus… or Sable? Its an Audi Wagon, I’m sure cost her more than a Ford Considerably. Same car roughly?
And yes, I was Impressed with this large sedan that seemed all new, I almost swung the tail on an icy offramp, but it was solid & easy to straighten out. I wonder if the previous Ford Would have been? It was a Huge Step up from The Ford LTD2 or was it Granada ?
By the time , 5 years , it took GM 2 b influenced by Taurus Design , They released the tepid LUMINA, whose brilliant idea was that rather limp name?
I Collected a couple of the Matchbox Taurus Wagons…… Wasn’t there Erroneously a Matchbox edition of this wagon that had Wood Paneling…. purported 2 b from some movie or family, perhaps even National Lampoons Vacation I Dunno. I Liked The real wood look BUT Dont remember it ever offered on Taurus, SQUIRE ….Awww
i just love your short , on the sable. my father got one in 1986 , when he passed in 2010 i got the car. i drive this same wagen 20 to 30 k every year and love this car. i have made some changes to the car , but it is rust free and one of the best cars i have ever hade.
Add me to the “one of my favorite Matchbox cars” group. I tried to push my parents to get one, but of course they paid me no mind (and they were cheap used car people anyway…) Seemed worlds away from our family cars, a Malibu and an Escort. Interesting how a mainstream sedan captured the imagination of so many gearheads, if only because of how far ahead of its time it was. Even if the rest of the world caught up in a year or three.
Of course, the bitter postscript to the story is how rare 1st gen Taurii and especially Sables are today. I haven’t seen a Sable in who knows how long, and every Taurus I see seems to be a multicolored beater held together with duct tape. Those G-body Cutlasses and Regals displaced by the Taurus have, somewhat ironically, a much higher survival rate.
Theres one on a back road in Howell NJ with wood panelling on the sides. Looks like the Griswolds station wagon from “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation”.Maybe it was done on purpose, but its a good job that looks pretty neat. Also, not too far away is a 4 door PT convertible, but thats another story.