(first posted 4/21/2015) After a very safe mid-cycle enhancement of the first Taurus in 1992, Dick Landgraff and his team were seeking to recreate the excitement the inaugural Taurus’s design generated for the new 1996 Taurus. Of course, we know how many reacted to Doug Gaffka’s design. The challenging design, coupled with higher list prices, meant the Taurus would quickly lose its sales leadership. Still, the Taurus’s design proved to be somewhat ahead of its time, with its sculpted sides and, on the sedan, a short rear deck. The wagon, though, was an interesting combination of an almost futuristic exterior on a body style that was fast falling out of favor with the buying public.
The writing had been on the wall for station wagons as early as the 1980s. The Mopar minivans had blazed a new trail, offering van practicality in a convenient, garageable size. Rival automakers rushed to release rivals, with Ford offering the truck-derived Aerostar, a modest commercial success. Ford made hay when the market started clamouring for sport-utility vehicles, by launching the enormously successful 1990 Explorer. SUVs became popular with families, and further marginalized station wagon market share.
Quite quickly, the number of station wagons on sale in North America started dwindling. Wagon market share had toppled from a high of 15% in the early 1960s to just 5% by the 1990s. Long-roof versions of the best-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord died after 1996, the same year Mitsubishi’s Diamante and GM’s Caprice and Roadmaster wagons shuffled off this mortal coil. The GM-10 mid-sizers, ostensibly replacements for the aged A-Bodies, never received wagon variants.
The fleet-fodder Buick Century and Oldsmobile Ciera that carried the torch for the 1982-vintage A platform were gone by 1996, and their replacements lacked a wagon variant. These followed the death of the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant wagons and Nissan Maxima wagon (1988), and Ford LTD Country Squire and Mercury Colony Park (1990). Ford seemed to stay true to its old Wagonmaster advertising; by the ’96 Taurus and Sable’s second year on the market, they were the only mainstream mid-size wagons remaining. Ford’s Escort wagon also held down the fort in the compact wagon segment, which had also experienced a similarly large exodus.
Although the Sable sedan received a considerably different rear end treatment from the Taurus, both Taurus and Sable wagons were visually identical from the firewall back. The new mid-sizers employed “complex sculpture” design language, characterized by contours and ripples. Of course, the Ford oval inspired the heavy use of ovals, from the two ovoid front bumper openings to the grille, headlights and, on the Taurus sedan and the wagons, even the rear window. Ford was determined to wrest design leadership from Chrysler, whose LH sedans had created so much buzz in 1993.
The wagons were originally intended to mate the new front end to the outgoing, boxier wagon rear. CEO Alexander Trotman had taken one look at a clay design of this lazy wagon design and rejected it outright; the 1986 wagon was a slick design in its day, but time had moved on. The wagon would be an all-new design, just like the sedans. The wagon would also be able to seat up to eight people, if optioned with first- and third- row benches.
Both Taurus and Sable featured the same interior except for different colour and trim selections; the much ballyhooed integrated control panel, grouping everything onto a single, ergonomic, ovoid pod, was the centrepiece of an intriguing new interior. Interior colours included a greyish purple, green, blue and saddle/grey; Ford had attempted to use more interesting fabric selections, although reaction was mixed. Greater attention had been paid to quality, though: Landgraff’s mission had been to “Beat Camry”.
Indeed, Landgraff had driven the ’92 Camry extensively and come away extremely impressed by its quality, refinement and finish. When the ’96 Taurus first entered development, the key target was the Honda Accord, which had rocketed up the sales charts and overtaken the Taurus as best-selling car in America for 1991 by a margin of 100,000 units.
The Accord’s success had Ford executives bristling: not only had it outsold the Taurus, it had a median buyer age a decade younger, a median buyer income almost $10k higher, greater buyer loyalty and a lower fleet sales percentage. America’s sweetheart, the Taurus, was getting squeezed by two immensely popular Japanese sedans. Somehow, the Accord was selling gangbusters without even offering a V6, and the bulk of its sales were sedans: an Accord wagon wouldn’t even appear until 1990. But it was the thoroughly American-sized and high-quality Camry that had the DN101 team shifting targets.
The DN101 team may have spent a lot of time deconstructing the Accord and Camry, but they looked at precious little else. Automotive juggernaut GM’s mid-size offerings were in a sales tailspin, and although the Chevrolet Lumina would beat the new Taurus/Sable to market by a year, it was a non-entity selling mostly on price and brand loyalty.
The interior and exterior changes may have been revolutionary, but some parts remained, namely the floorpan and the base powertrain. The venerable Vulcan 3.0 saw base model duty; it pumped out 145 horsepower. The new, modular Duratec 3.0 V6, with an impressive 200 horsepower, was the optional engine, replacing the old Essex 3.8.
As Mary Walton explains in her excellent book “Car”, Landgraff and his team’s analysis of the slick ’92 Camry led to an additional $790 variable cost per vehicle. That figure encompassed higher quality fabrics and stronger door hinges, among other thoughtful changes. Landgraff believed the Taurus would sell with fewer incentives, despite the Taurus’ quite recent history of heavy incentives, as well as surveys of import owners who argued the Taurus should have a lower list price than the Camry for them to even consider it.
The station wagon debuted a month after the sedan, at the Chicago Auto Show of 1995; the SHO would follow in April’s New York show. Cars started to appear on dealer lots by August.
Critical reception was positive. The Taurus and Sable were praised for their competent dynamics – particularly their smooth ride, balanced handling and stability–as well as their quality feel and yes, even their styling. Michelle Krebs of the New York Times said, “the Taurus’s smooth, flowing lines make everything else look staid and boxy.” The Detroit Free Press compared the Taurus to the Camry and Lumina and called the Ford the “winner by a knockout.”
The Taurus range featured two trim levels for both body styles: GL and LX, the latter featuring standard bucket seats. The Sable came in GS and LS trims. Prices started at $19,150 for the Taurus GL sedan and $19,545 for the Sable GS sedan, with wagons carrying a premium of approximately $1000. This represented a not-insignificant $500 increase in list price, not to mention the outgoing Taurus’s incentives had recently increased from $1000 to $2000. Ford wanted to push the Taurus heavily on retail buyers, and change the product mix to 40% LX (from $25%) and 24% station wagon (from 12%).
What Ford found, though, was that the Taurus/Sable were sales disappointments. Nineteen ninety-six would be the last year of Taurus’ sales dominance: never again would it be America’s best-selling car. Automotive journalists blamed this change in fortune mostly on higher list prices. Perhaps an American mid-sizer couldn’t sell at the same price level as a Japanese one. After all, the disappointing Lumina was selling quite briskly and it cost around $2500 less than a Taurus. What was particularly upsetting for the development team was that retail buyers only accounted for 49% of 1996 Taurus sales. Their strikingly styled, high-quality family car didn’t even seem to be luring in the younger, more affluent families they’d hoped to attract, despite a prominent advertising campaign.
Ford, concerned about profits, took to cost-cutting. Cheaper door hinges, plastic mouldings, fewer screw caps, vinyl inserts on leather seats… Bit by bit, Ford tried to bring down the cost of their mid-sizer. Rebates were put on the hood. In April 1996, Ford even launched a price-leader G, around $600 cheaper than the previous base GL; Mercury also briefly received a Sable G. It wasn’t enough to keep Taurus from slipping to number three. The Camry and Accord had bested it. Not even the now-unique availability of a wagon could spare it the bronze.
Work had already started on a heavily revised Taurus/Sable duo for 2000, but there would be minor changes before then. The Taurus would receive a redesigned, more conventional front bumper, as well as a new grille for 1998; amber rear turn signals were also changed to red. More cost-cutting was evident in 1999, with the deletion of various interior lamps.
For 2000, Taurus and Sable sedans would receive new sheetmetal but for carryover doors; this included a higher, more conventional trunk. Wagon sheetmetal, however, would remain the same from the firewall back. Unlike the clumsy clay Alex Trotman had rejected several years ago, this time using carryover wagon sheetmetal wouldn’t be unfortunate looking.
The interior would retain the Integrated Control Panel, but it was now squared off and no longer angled towards the driver. Overall, the cars were much more conservative looking, although their “complex sculpture” doors would remain a distinctive feature. Something gone from the Taurus and Sable, though, were rear disc brakes on the sedans.
The $3 billion Taurus and Sable had been slashed at by executives desperate to bring costs down and to stop the bleeding of profits and sales. No meaningful improvements were made to the Taurus after 2000; instead, it would be left to wither on the vine.
The final, sad note: wagons and the Duratec V6 would be axed after 2005, leaving just lowly Vulcan-powered sedans with rear drum brakes for 2006. After that, the Taurus and Sable were dead. Their nameplates may have been resurrected a few years later by an intrepid new CEO, Alan Mulally, who was bemused they would be left to die so foolishly, but there would never be a conventional Taurus station wagon again. For that matter, there would never be another conventional, mid-size, mainstream, American station wagon again.
Those roundish 90s shapes were not good car design at all. The exact opposite of “timeless”.
Agreed. “Hot” for a very short time, and in less than a decade those drip candle-designs look ridiculous and outdated.
Just a look at the dashboard makes you wanna vomit.
Ford went overboard with it the most. Thinking about the last generation Scorpio or the KA makes me shudder.
“Ford went overboard with it the most.” How about “ovalboard”?
Joining the above views. The styling seemed to have been inspired by certain types of fish (and the same was repeated for the Aussie Falcon of the same time, which also was a flop I believe). It was just too much aero. How to do this is shown (in my opinion) by the same period Audi A6. I remember looking at cars with my father when the time came to replace his Peugeot 405; after a couple of Peugeots and a Mitsubishi he considered returning to buying US-made cars. He liked the car’s performance and comfort but the styling was not something he could stomach. For the rest of his life, he had nothing but Toyota Avensis (avensi?)…
Personally I like this design, but it’s a niche design not supposed to sell in a big number. Mark VIII was quite a success in ’93 and ’94 but sales dropped in ’95 and ’96, probably it was too late to change Taurus by then, and by that time Ford was making every future model round like a fish except Crown Vic and Grand Marquis.
The Mark VIII just pulls it off on account of the front and side aspects which contain some straight lines to break the ovoid-ness. I could live with that but not with the Taurus…
I think this was a coherent and well resolved design, full disclosure – we had a 96 DN Ghia which we loved. Too bad the dealer network didn’t, parts were scarce and their disinterest couldn’t be disguised. The car was of its time and looks it. This is not necessarily a failing. A polarising appearance is probably not the best approach in the volume market but it beats the other extreme. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the sales figures as the only measure of the design’s success, Cord 810/812s didn’t fly from the showrooms and it is now acknowledged as an icon. See also Panhard Dynamic, Voisin Aerodyne, Chrysler Airflow and even the Edsel.
Edit: No vomit from me. The dash layout and console shift colour matched interiors were a large part of the appeal amid a sea of grey dullness, literally. All pretty heroic on Ford’s part and I applaud them for it. I’m not a shareholder so I’m all for making cars before money!
I appreciate your standing up for this design. The Landgraff team had a huge hurdle to jump. Going the safe, conservative look would have not come close to appear innovative, even daring. Going from LTD to Taurus in ’85 was daring. The LTD was a much lower bar to jump in ’85 than the Taurus was in ’96. On the other hand a cosmetic nip and tuck was out of the question: that happened in ’92 already and brought about the best looking Taurus/Sable. but what happened? The ’92 Taurus/Sable was no longer daring. It was mainstream and really pretty.
In the end the ’96 was daring in introducing a new design language. But it was polarizing. Unfortunately, it was alienating to many potential buyers.
I vividly recall seeing the first time I saw a ’96 Taurus sedan in a dark green color. It happened to get in front of me driving the Aerostar. It gave me a really good look at the oval rear window and my reaction was befuddlement. I noticed there was “form over function” going on. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the AMC Pacer of yore, but enough to cause a pause.
The 2000 plastic surgery was making things much better. In fact I find the 2000 and up Mercury Sable sedan the best looking model after ’96. The grille has a friendly smile, the sides are clean for the lack of a C-pillar window and the rounded rear makes it appear smaller than it really is. It has a wide stance too when viewed from the back, almost sporty.
After all that, the edgy look of the Fusion/Milan was almost daring. It is amazing how a design’s acceptance depends on the background of previous designs and the looks of the competition.
Cant help it but it just reminds me of garbage like this
Excuse me, while I bust out a windmill and a few back spins.
Looking at that boom box… It’s 1983 all over again, yo. lol
I guess you´re 10 years too early my friend. that boombox as shown in the picture is rather early 90s trash.
speaking about timeless design…
BRAUN were the masters of the Bauhaus school of industrial design: form follows function.
I recall their pocket calculator. The buttons were designed like little mounds while all other calculators had little boxes with a dip. What’s the purpose of that, you might ask? It lowered the number of input errors dramatically.
Nice, I’ve never seen a Braun before. In college I browsed an industrial design periodical for cool stuff like that. Did you know Apple hired a German firm for their computer styling?
Space between the buttons is the “key” to reducing input errors, as HP knew back when they introduced the groundbreaking HP-35. I considered HP (back then) the “Mercedes” of calculators, on both engineering & price grounds. Still have an HP-12C & HP-16C.
Good point about a polarising appearance. Those cars stick in your memory. Who can recall the looks of the cars they sold against? Arguably you could include the sharknose Graham as well.
But a polarising appearance isn’t always a guarantee of future collectability though. There’s this…..
I owned a 1994 Accord LX Coupe. I still think that’s the best-looking Accord.
As different-looking as the 1996-1999 and then the 2000-2007 Taurus (for the wagons and the Sable, 2000-2005) were, the differences didn’t extend to the basic bones of the chassis. From underneath, my 2002 Taurus wagon looks very much the same as did my 1986 Taurus wagon.
The Taurus chassis/suspension design was the same for 21 years. After its innovative beginning so unlike the typical gestation of American cars, the Taurus settled into a “styling-first” mode for the rest of its life, while its main competition offered new cars that were actually new. The ultimate arbiter, the buyer, wasn’t fooled.
You make a good point. I think the Accord already had a double wishbone front suspension. Ford customers had to wait for the Fusion/Milan to get this improvement.
Yet Honda also “derated” to struts in later versions of Accord & Civic, probably on cost grounds. The Camry has always had struts.
We had the XV10 Camry Wagon, a bit underpowered with the twincam 5S-FE four. Not quite as high quality a car as the preceding versions, but still good. What Ford was really behind on was not suspensions, but engines; they couldn’t even offer a four by that time.
Neil, here in Europe people were also not fooled by this and it was much criticized by the press. There is a parallel with the Taurus in that the later models were very futuristic when they came out but were retrograde in so far as handling and raodholding was concerned (again, I do not have any magazine copies but I remember this well); the Civic Wagon R lost the edge it had overnight.
Fooled by what? Is it OK for BMW to use MacPherson struts, but not Honda or Toyota? I’m not crazy about struts, particularly maintenance & NVH, but not because they have inherently inferior road-holding.
Struts have certain intrinsic limitations, but the Porsche Boxster and Cayman both use struts all around and are nonetheless on most people’s short lists of the best-handling modern cars. So…
I meant when compared with the previous model, which was at the time considered to be one of the best in its class. The struts were a cheapening excercise and they did hurt the handling.
I don’t think these were ever sold new in NZ, but we do see a reasonable number that were new in Japan and have then made it over here. I remember being highly perplexed when I saw my first one, as it didn’t look like anything a rational mind would come up with. Since then the shape has grown on me, in a globular kind of way.
A friend had one as a family beater. It wasn’t very cheap to run and smelt of burnt electrics. However, he was always excited by how much junk he could get into it. He’s a guy with no shame when it comes to his vehicles and is often ridiculed for the ridiculously decrepit 1998 Corolla wagon that he somehow manages to keep on the road, but the Taurus didn’t stick around for long. Probably threw a monstrous big bill at him and went off to the scrapyard.
It looks a whole lot better than the sedan with it’s droopy rear
Seconded, although I just can’t deal with the dashboard design. I didn’t like it when these were new and time has not softened my feelings about it. By modern “soft touch plastic” standard, contemporary Japanese dashboards weren’t exactly top-drawer, but they were rarely offensive. The ovoid theme here just serves to drive home the shiny hardness of the dashboard plastics, giving the impression of those awful ’90s off-brand boom boxes that tried to be stylish.
From a design standpoint (not one of materials or content!), I thought the 2000 makeover was a big improvement both inside and out. The later cars aren’t what I’d call pretty, but they’re as inoffensive as one would expect for the class — if the ’96 had looked like that, the Taurus and Sable might have fared better. The later interior would look better than the original were it not for the dour colors and low-rent upholstery/materials.
I completely agree that if the ’00 redesign had been the original design, the Taurus/Sable would have done much better. FoMoCo went too far out on a limb with the ’96, especially for a fundamentally conservative segment. Even the first Taurus, hailed as radical in ’86, was actually a tasteful application of aerodynamic styling which was already appearing on leading edge automotive designs, so it wasn’t a complete shock. The ovoid monster, by contrast, looked like nothing that came before, or after (thank goodness).
The 86 Taurus took styling cues from Audi, so as forward as it was for American-centric buyers it was bringing to the mainstream a design language that was already known and liked by car enthusiasts. But the 96 was alien to everyone.
Good point. If only someone had pointed this out to Ford in the design stages for the ’96!
A couple of my mother’s friends had Sables and they constantly complained about hitting the wrong buttons on the “Oval dash”. I thought it was due to their being in their mid to late 70’s, but it was the same for me when I borrowed a neighbor’s Taurus for 4 days when my car was being fixed (No loaner the “third strike”, which guaranteed I wouldn’t buy there again),and I could’t get used to it either. It annoyed the crap out of me, I had to constantly look at the dash to do anything. Did Ford have anyone drive a mocked up dash like this for a few days? It would have told them all they needed to know.
You forgot to mention the exit of the Toyota Cressida wagon, also that left in 1988, with the Nissan Maxima wagon.
Also, the debut of the 1996/97 Subaru Outback. That only wagon, some feel is a better alternative to the clumsy SUVs.
“For that matter, there would never be another conventional, mid-size, mainstream, American station wagon again”.
So the Ford Fusion (Mondeo in Europe) wagon is not available in the US ?
Correct. Neither is a VW Passat wagon.
Hmm – the tooling exists, it sells elsewhere. What would it cost for Ford to import some of these to test the market – or are there too many government hurdles to overcome?
I assume the reason they haven’t tried is that they projected likely sales versus the cost of crash testing, emissions certification, and other compliance measures plus the logistical expense of introducing a new model and decided it wasn’t worth it.
As long as the structure and mechanics of a US market wagon were the same as for the sedan I don’t think there would have been any compliance problems at all.
Actually, the Mondeo platform wagon did make a brief appearance in the US, dressed as a Jaguar X-Type.
That is gorgeous, I want that! I’m a nerdy, wagon-weirdo here in the Philly ‘burbs now and had great car experiences when I lived in the UK for 3 years and also Dubai for 3 years. Growing up here close to, but just outside Philadelphia our wagons were (oldest to newest), 1962 Chevy II wagon, white over red vinyl 6 passenger (no third row, I think). 1964 Pontiac Tempest wagon, aqua (?) over aqua vinyl, also no third row, I think (it had the ignition on the dash with that I found out I could turn and start the car with no key). Next, a 1966 Ford Country Sedan — my father, quite the Mad Men ad man — would not go for the fake wood (well, not just yet) so we got this gorgeous metallic midnight blue over light blue 9 passenger with the side facing third row seats, my siblings and I loved those seats! From Philadelphia our family of 8 with all that luggage up on the roof rack traveled to Cape Cod and the Outer Banks in that carriage! Our next family truckster was a 1968 Ford Torino Squire (yes he caved to the DiNoc that year). Even though I had a 67 Cougar, it was usually in the way of the wagon when mom needed to go to work early morning, so she drove the Cougar (she loved it!) to work and I drove the suburban wagon to school (I loved it!). Last wagon? With half their kids away at school, and a couple extra cars the other kids drove (another story for another post), they bought a 1976 Toyota Corolla wagon, 5mt, chocolate over caramel, the last wagon for this big, suburban, mid-20th century family who, by the time gas-crises of the 70s and their kids off to school and beyond, went onto several Accord sedans (also 5mt, yes! Mom!) and a coupla basic Dakotas for dad before they had to stop driving.
I remember when these came out. I had thought the ’92-’95 version was a nice refresh of the original design.
I first saw these on a trip to Williamsburg, Va. with my parents in August 1995. I think we all agreed they looked “frog-faced” and not attractive. The next car my parents bought was a 1998 Camry.
It’s strange how Taurus could be so cutting edge in 1986, then somehow miss the mark 10 years later, but not so strange looking back at auto history. The Caprice in ’77 and ’91 presents a similar contrast.
Anyway, I never much liked these and hoped it’d be the look that convinced us we’d taken “ovoid” too far. It sort of did, but did not lead back to a squarer look, instead, we inflated these with a bicycle pump until they had huge pillars and little tiny windows, and that’s what sedans look like now. So, the Taurus was less of a dud than it appears.
I always suspected Ford feared they’d erred too much on the side of caution with the 1992 revamp, which was very conservative and looked much like the earlier cars. Buyers seemed to like them, but I recall some of the car magazines muttering about how you couldn’t tell the new car from the old. Too many jibes like that when a car launches and the people working on the next generation start thinking it’s time to shake things up, not always to good end.
I still suspect that’s why BMW went with Chris Bangle’s radical new styling direction. BMW had been lambasted quite a bit in the automotive press for at least 20 years for ultra-cautious, evolutionary styling, so we got shock therapy (the only production examples of which I like at all are the E91/E92 3-Series two-doors and the Z4 — I still think the four-doors are all a mess).
I always thought the Bangle BMWs problems were that they were too conservative, not too revolutionary.
The radical sculpture would’ve worked much better without the carryover 1962 Neue Klasse design cues; if he had been allowed to design cars that you had to read the badge to identify the make, they’d have been cohesive and attractive. It was the same mistake Cadillac had made with downsizing 10 years earlier.
I grasp what you’re saying about having to preserve certain brand cues, but I see the Bangle-era designs, at least the sedans, as being hopelessly cluttered. It’s not simply trying to incorporate discordant elements into an aesthetic where they don’t fit — it’s a whole set of fussily executed detailing that doesn’t resolve except in some of the two-doors.
Returning to the point, the 1996 Taurus makes the opposite mistake, taking a single theme to extremes. The design spurns contrasts in favor of a sameness that’s nearly as exhausting to look at as the Bangle-led designs’ busy detailing.
Over the years I have driven oodles of this generation of Taurus, but never a wagon. In total, I’ve put over 100,000 miles on the ’96 to ’99 models.
The oval-ness was a little tough to swallow at first, but it quickly lost its unsavoriness. These were highly comfortable and durable cars. I was once ran off the road, into the median of the interstate, while driving one of these at 70 mph. All it did was bend a rim.
The cost cutting mentioned was considerable. Having been assigned a ’97 and driven a few ’96 models, being assigned a ’99 was a completely different experience. It reeked of cheap materials and was quite drab on the inside, prompting my disdain for black interiors.
I won’t even bother to talk about the ’01 I owned. It was in a much lesser league.
No, the U.S. (where the Fusion/Mondeo design originated) does NOT get the wagon or 5 door hatchback…nor does it get the diesel engine. When the latest Fusion was introduced here, there was a turbo engined version with an available manual transmission. The manual transmission is no longer available in the U.S. version, either.
The styling for the 96 Taurus was previewed by a few show cars that emphasized low weight bodies and low emissions engines. As a result, the styling was determined by a desire to reduce the drag co-efficient.
My father owned a few Tauruses over the years…ALL suffered from transmission failure at an early mileage. What bothered me about the 96-99 version was the dashboard layout was styled to be…different, but in execution it was the complete opposite of the very intuitive Japanese designs. (The design of the radio made upgrades difficult, for example.) I find it hard to believe Ford “benchmarked” the Camry and Accord yet they managed to make the “original” Taurus dashboard LESS user friendly in the name of style.
My father’s 2003 Taurus has nearly 210K miles on the engine and it has never been apart. Yes, it’s a Vulcan and yes, it smells (and has smelled for quite awhile) of melting electrics or oil.
Ford has “world cars” these days (One world, one Ford). The Fiesta, Focus, Fusion~Mondeo, Transit and Transit Connect are now available on both sides of the pond. The transmission-, body- and engine (gasoline or diesel) choice seems to be wider in Europe then.
The previous gen Mondeo (the Mk4, introduced in 2006) looked like this:
Yes, Ford finally lived up to the 1981 Escort “World Car” propaganda which I foolishly fell for. Except for SUVs & pickups, their whole range has been Europeanized. I’m curious to know which car models are actually profitable vs. SUVs & pickups, which have replaced the Yank Tank as the way to show off.
I suspect German Autobahnmaschinen are also merely for show rather than go.
Apparently “One Ford” hasn’t extended to dropping the pickup and chassis-cab variants of the Transit in Europe in favor of the F-Series.
Unthinkable. Ford would have to alienate one or the other continent’s light-truck buyers.
Certainly. Below a first gen (introduced in 1965) Ford Transit truck. That kind op setup has always been -and still is- the norm in Europe. That is, a flatbed truck with removable (drop) sideboards. Single or dual rear tires, single or double cab. And these days always with a diesel, around 2.0 to 3.0 liter displacement 4-cylinders (For quite some time Ford also has a 3.2 liter straight 5 diesel, BTW). Manual transmissions, although the (semi) automatics are getting more popular in vans and light trucks.
Is the Ford F-series still the best selling vehicle in the US these days ?
Yes the F-Series still ranks as the best seller in the US as it has for decades.
Anecdotally, Diesel pickups are getting very common here, but I don’t know the ratio. And of course they’re of much larger displacement; even 3L would be ridiculously small.
I’ll give you some numbers: the most powerful 3.0 liter FPT (Fiat) diesel engine -it’s in the Iveco Daily vans and light trucks- is good for 205 hp and 347 ft-lb of torque. Transmission is a 6 speed manual.
The Iveco Daily is often used as a tractor unit, towing a semi-trailer. GVW around 25,000 lbs or more. A comfortable and easy ride.
Yet most of them are light flatbed trucks (in a setup like the good old Ford Transit above) or vans.
A small engine -relatively, of course- doesn’t mean “underpowered” anymore.
People do buy what is called – in the US – mini pickups here (Austria), too. The Ranger (diesel, of course) is a catalogued model and you do see them but, as noted elsewhere, those are bought by tradesmen/construction company managers with families and similar people. A regular Josef would get a minivan – the thought of buying a pickup would not occur to him. Yes, there are the outdoor types, but they’re in a minority. Standard size US-made pickups are bought by, errr, ehmmm, posers and would be cowboys – they’re just too big. In fact, remembering my uncle’s 1970 International from when I was growing up in Israel, I don’t think the Ranger is any smaller (and the same applies to the 60-66 C-10 Chevy or any American pickup from the 60s)…
Johannes, while that sounds good & would probably have been acceptable in the past, check out the powertrain options for new full-sized pickups: over 300hp is typical. GM’s Duramax is over twice the displacement of the FPT. Bigger is still better to American light truck buyers; sadly, the last compact, the domestic Ranger, was discontinued for lack of sufficient demand. Its “world” replacement is larger, per Turtle’s post.
Neil, because a picture says more than 1,000 words here’s an example. As you can see it looks like a downscaled (class 8) 18-wheeler. This Iveco Daily (with the 3.0 liter turbo diesel) is clearly in the same class as the bigger RWD Ford Transit chassis.
Of course, those big displacement V8 300 hp diesels in a pickup are very impressive !
Light European commercials always suffered in the hp race when compared with their US equivalents – never understood why. Climbing the Alps in a fully-loaded VW T1, with its mighty 30-40 hp, could not have been fun. However, with something like the IVECO there would be chips to raise hp considerably.
Big trucks is another matter – after falling behind due to WWII I think Euro trucks are the most powerful (at least on paper) with some manufacturers offering highway trucks with more than 750 hp.
TT, yes, there’s a hp-race going on in Big Truck Country. With the Swedish truckmakers as the kings of the mountain. I met a driver a few years ago who claimed his Scania 16-liter V8 was chipped to 1,000 hp.
I remember during the 90’s and early 2000’s going through various Ford dealerships and seeing Taurus/Sables cars with the hood’s half open sitting on the side of the buildings with there trans axles removed. Our transmission mechanic friend said that Ford didn’t get these right until around the 2004 model year when they finally updated an internal piston from aluminum to steel. here is a good write up on how bad these units really were-
Please, no more Taurus wagons. I need these retinas to earn a living……..
Very nice tutorial on the story behind these cars. Like most, I was not really a fan of the new look. It was too bad that just as folks were starting to get used to the looks of these, the cost cutting started.
It was not just these that fell victim to cost cutting, but every line that Ford made. Their late 90s-early 00s stuff was positively grim.
+1 on across the board cost cutting. I’ve driven and have been a passenger in some early-00s FordMoCo products and their interiors were horrible. Door panels and switchgear especially stick out as being extremely cheap feeling.
Not just a Ford issue.
My parents had a 94 Camry then later a 97 Camry, which was a much lesser car in terms of refinement and interior plastics.
I know the Japanese did a lot of cost-cutting in the mid-90s when the yen soared and crushed profitability. I don’t know what would have been driving it at Ford, maybe just general MBA fast-buck corner-cutting. They did a lot of cheapening-out on sedans as they focused on SUVs.
I agree, the Japanese have cheapened, just not badly enough to drive me away from them. Yet.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the third or fourth generation Taurus/Sable. They took the oval theme way too far, making them look like something a cartoon character would have driven.
The wagons looked somewhat better than the sedans without their expansive rear winshield and droopy trunk. The fourth generations were even sadder, as trying to combine generic squared-off styling elements with the still very oval body seemed to say “we just give up”. Even the earlier 1996 and 1997 models seemed cheap to me, as I’ve ridden in several.
I see no redeeming aesthetic value in these. Even back then I thought they were ugly. Whatever benchmarking Fomoco were up to, this version of jellymold was completely off the mark. Nonetheless, this is a great piece of writing – drawing me in and keeping me until the end. Nice one William.
What a lost opportunity. Going to a bigger heavier body instead of keeping the trim original size was a mistake. Also not offering a 4 cylinder. When I speced out our 93 Sable GS, I wondered why Ford didn’t at least give the option of the 2.2 engine from the 626 Mazda and Probe. A modern 2.2-2.4 of similar horsepower to the Vulcan would have attracted more import buyers. It is hard to see how the designers studied the Japanese designs and didn’t notice the modern efficient and smooth 4 cylinders under most of their hoods. The Japanese to their credit had seen American interest and offered 6 cylinders. The lower weight would have helped agility. The original Taurus was already heavier than the GM A body. To go further in that direction without adding any real room in the car repeated the mistake of the GM W body. Imagine a 1996 2.4 MT5. 8.5 second 0-60, 35mpg highway, 2750 pounds,a lot of import buyers coming home. Save the Vulcan for fleets, perhaps with a different grill, Torino style.
I had firsthand experience with a ’96 Taurus wagon, and liked it even less after using it. It was a pool car at the company where I worked at the time, so it got driven (hard) by a number of different people. Perhaps that accounted for some of the issues…uh no, it actually was a real dud. The car was white with the gray interior, and white was an especially bad color as it highlighted the blobby and strange styling in the worst way. The first time my wife saw it she started to laugh and said it looked like some horrible mutant. Then she got inside, and it was even worse. The ovoid cluster looked ridiculous, and was ergonomically unsound. Too many small buttons and confusingly arranged to boot. The car had the base V6, which was loud and course. Controls, like the transmission lever, felt sloppy and loose. The doors–thick and very plasticky–felt like tupperware closing. At this point, my extended family owned and enjoyed Camrys and Accords, and I thought both the Toyota and Honda were excellent cars. This generation Taurus was not even in the same ballpark with either design or refinement.
I rode in a red wagon through Toronto back in 2000, remember it fondly. The design was polarizing, though I was in the camp that liked it. Screams 90’s.
That’s not a car design, it’s a closeup of a petri dish.
The cargo-area side window has no formal relationship to the back-door window, nor to the window on the tailgate. The problem is not blobiness per se; it’s that the blobs just seem to be incidentally floating past one another.
That said, I spent some time in a ’97 Sable sedan, and it was nice enough. The same platform in a boring suit would probably have done just fine.
In late 1995 I was car shopping, and cross shopped the Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde, and new 1996 Taurus sedan.
I wanted to like the Taurus, and knew the new design was a make or break for Ford, but the oval theme was hard to take, and the car seemed a bit smaller than the Mopars. Also, the 3.5 V-6 Mopar engine was downright hot for the largish mid-size segment, a year end clearance deal on a 1995 Concorde 3.5 with the high end Infinity stereo proved irresistible.
Some years later, I had a dealer loaner, the revised 2000 plus Sable wagon. The new front end worked well with the body, and its utility was evident as I still only had sedans at home. It was sort of an electric blue color and actually drew compliments at a few family functions.
Still, the wagons never did lose that awful rear end design that the 1996-99 Taurus sedan and all the wagons always had. The back always made me think of a mask, and this guy still appears in my head every time I see one of these cars…….
Loved my 92. Then my brother bought a 96 and it was such a disappointment. Of all things, the radio broke. It also looked like a hovercraft.
Wouldn`t this look great with some Di Noc on the sides?
Yeah, no. But they make kits…
This is, IMHO, the least attractive generation Ford Taurus and the Mercury Sable. Neither the sedan, nor the station wagon, were very attractive.
As many of you already know, the story of the third gen Taurus/Sable is one I had a personal stake in for quite some time, and my overall fascination of the entire Taurus saga tends to gravitate towards this era for many reasons covered by William Stopford above.
To me, there are three main reasons why the Taurus lost the sales crown and fumbled through the rest of the 1990’s. The first was design considerations, most notably the headlights. Doug Gaffka was completely against “elongated peanuts” as a headlight design. This is pure speculation, but I think him and the rest of the designers wanted to distance their new creation so far from the second gen Taurus that anything remotely resembling the old car was thrown out. This was obviously a bad idea, which was course corrected for the next generation. The seat design was another issue, with the base cloth seats having one of the most hideous color schemes I’ve ever seen, although this was their suppliers fault. Lear really dropped the ball on that one.
The second was their complete misjudgment of the mid-size market. Toyota realized sometime during their development of the 1997 Camry that they could severely de-content their cars and lower the price of their mid size and largely get away with it. Honda essentially did the same. Look at the styling of those two cars as well. The 1997 Camry and 1998 Accord owe their appearance to the 1995 Taurus, and their success as well. Buyers who liked the second gen Taurus were faced with either this radical redesign that was up to 2,000 more dollars than the competition, or a more cheaper, familiar design awaiting them at a local Honda or Toyota dealer. The only other more recent example of such a failure to anticipate market changes was the 2012 Civic, which was a bit downmarket from the previous gen, uglier, and lacked the content of competitors, most notably (and ironically), the 2012 Focus. Honda was smart though, and quickly did an emergency refresh while quietly offering decent rebates on the maligned ’12. I wonder if Ford could have done the same thing.
Last but not least, The Ford Explorer was probably another reason why sales of the Taurus decreased so much as well. Explorer sales were their best ever during the late 90’s, and that jump did a lot to make up for lost Taurus units. SUVs were the “it” vehicle of the 90’s, and Ford had them. Toyota and Honda were still lagging behind in that regard.
It really wasn’t until this current generation of the Fusion that Ford had a midsize worthy of being called an excellent vehicle. In a lot of ways, the Fusion also mirrors the history of the Taurus as well. Well received first and second gen vehicle followed by a radically redesigned third gen, only this time Ford got it right.
You bring up a couple of good points that most people ignore about the fate of this era Taurus. That is the Taurusification of the Camry and to a lesser extent the Accord and the fact that market had shifted to the SUV. Fact is Ford didn’t loose the title of best selling “car” in the US the Explorer just took it away from the Taurus. Fact is that in much of the mid to late 90’s the Explorer was the 3rd best selling vehicle in the US right behind the F series and the C/K. The Explorer was way more profitable for Ford than the Taurus had ever been. The cost less to produce and sold for more and more importantly they had a much higher take rate on the higher trim levels. That is a big reason that Ford went the decontenting route with the Taurus. Despite that they did rush a de-ovaled design to the market sooner than they had originally planed. Yes it got worse but the reality was that the 500 was supposed to replace the Taurus and it was soldiered on for longer than they had intended. They kept soldering it on because the fleets were still buying them and they were not interested in paying the premium for the 500. Since it had not lived up to the original sales expectations it probably helped them finish amortizing the development costs as well.
I don’t disagree with your points, but every car line Ford made got a decontenting in the later 90s. The Mustang got it in 96 (I believe), Club Wagon got it in 97, Panther cars in 98. The Windstar got it somewhere in there too. I had understood that after some big budget overruns in new vehicle development, Nasser went on a cost cutting binge. The Club Wagon was my little area of interest back then, and after the 96 models, I lost all interest in newer ones because so many features from my 94 went away, as well as material and trim quality.
I don’t see a particular second-generation Taurus influence in the ’97 Camry or ’98 Accord. Both read more as enlarged, updated iterations of their predecessors one generation removed (the 1988–91 SV20 Camry and 1990–1992 CB Accord respectively). It’s not like the first- or second-generation Taurus was a strikingly original design — it was groundbreaking for the U.S. industry, but it was really borrowing a lot of European design cues, principally from Audi.
I don’t doubt that Toyota and Honda were closely watching the Taurus in planning their content and pricing strategies — all automakers do that. However, a lot of the de-contenting was driven primarily by the unfavorable exchange rates and the generally dismal state of the Japanese domestic economy. There was probably some “what the market will bear” thinking going on, but the yen going from 150 to the dollar to 100 meant something had to give, particularly considering that the U.S.-market Accord and Camry were sold mostly in North America. (Some U.S. Accords and Camrys were sold in Japan, but not in very large numbers.)
US spec Camrys and Accords sold in large numbers in Japan at least judging by the numbers of used ones that turn up here Toyota built the narrow Camry and the widebody world Camry simultaneously with both the small 2,5L 6 and the revised 3L.
They did sell some, but we’re talking something like a tenth of their U.S. sales volume.
One of the big visual issues with the “complex sculpture” was the unfortunate way the plastic rear bumper covers joined into it on the sides. The prominent seam, right in a dip of the “sculpture” made them look incredibly awkward and tacked-on. It was worse in the sedan, but also bad on the wagons, and was something I focused on when these first appeared and could not stop noticing it from then on. There had to have been a better place to make the join that would prevent it from looking so much like an afterthought. They always looked like the might come loose. Toning down the sides in the 2000 revision made it all blend more successfully.
A “polarizing design,” someone said aptly.
I still think the early Gen3 (’96-97) wagons will at some point have a modest cult status (albeit nothing like “Chevy Nomad”). My ’99 is like an old friend whose companionship outshines the flaws; I’m hoping to write a CC story if/when it (“she?”) turns twenty.
FWIW, Taurus wagons have had a bit of a following among rural mail carriers for the big, flat loadspace.
[Paul: would you consider a column sometime on “cars that photograph great from any angle” vs those less so (I’ll nominate Taurus wagon for the latter).]
My wife’s 98 would be like that only the flaws, in my opinion, aren’t that bad. There are maintenance quirks which don’t bother me. Personally working on the car is fairly easy to do and I know her well. The car rides smoothly, is quiet with competent handling and a comfortable interior.
Can’t complain about the looks as it was the entire back half of the 96-99 sedans that so assaulted my eyes. When I first saw one all I could say was Holy Crap. I still do although there are few around and I still try not to look at them. The wagons I will look at and there are actually more of them around my area on the road than sedans. Fortunate for my eyes.
Always hit post before browse and half the time the edit option doesn’t show up like now.
In nice color ( I think it’s metallic paint ) and comes with good options ( rims and key pad shows ) your Taurus looks very nice.
And I found one character it shares with my cat, it looks very squeezable: roundish and cute plus a the color ( pink for the nose of my cat, and red color for your Taurus )
Thanks for sharing your cat with us…so cuddly looking. One of ours is cuddly looking like that, but pick her up and try to cuddle her, and EEEWWWW, (strugglestrugglestruggle) LET ME GO (writhe-jump-run away).
I don’t think that any slide in car sales has ever been reversed by decontenting the vehicle in question….
By the time that this era Taurus made it to market the torch had been passed on to the Explorer so the decontenting was to make it more or at least profitable. The big profit was in the Explorer and they were starting to add content to it and increase the profits there by doing so. So no they weren’t all that worried about trying to reverse the slide in Taurus sales.
I didn’t see anyone mention it, but the shape of the doors meant that the most outward portion was too high for most other cars’ body side moldings, leading to a rash of door dings in strange places on other cars…
I can’t remember the last time I saw one of these generation cars that didn’t have loads of dings and dents along the upper most portion of the doors in that dang crease.
I always thought the more sparing facelift the wagons got worked better than the sedan one.
In the summer of 2001, I drove a rented 2001 sedan from Pennsylvania to Arkansas, Louisiana and back. It was a very comfortable, competent long-distance cruiser.
When the 1996 models first debuted, I thought that the Sable looked better than the Taurus. The Sable was acceptable – I wouldn’t call it beautiful – but the Taurus looked awkward. That included the wagon version. The 2000 facelift brought the car into the mainstream, but it was so dull, that no one paid much attention to it.
I know one person that owned one of these and guess what? He was a fisherman, always had his pole inside. I always thought it might scare the fish away.
I once rode in a rental 2004 Taurus. It was nowhere near as good as the contemporary Accord, slightly worse than the Camry, but way better than the Malibu “Classic” I rented a few month after.
My best friend has a 2002 version of this Taurus wagon in SEL leather seat trim with the rather rare floor shifter. He bought it from an elderly lady that took really good care of it with 80K miles on the clock about 5 years ago. It now has 156k miles and this car redefines the term Found On Road Dead sadly. The first thing to go wrong was the rear defogger which quit working a week after purchase. Apparently the rear wire broke away from the fitting. The next thing to go were the front struts which started clunking badly even over the smallest of bumps. He picked up two loaded struts from Ebay and had a local garage put them on. That cured the clunks but soon after it started rattling on the passenger side. That turned out to be the sway bar link. With 100k the trans axle started acting up with a big delay going into reverse and rather long delayed shifts. We serviced the tranny which helped some but on the way home from his traveling job one day the transmission just gave up and wouldn’t move the car any longer. Our mechanic at our dealership pulled the transaxle and was able to fix it for about 500 bucks. Next was the alternator which was a reman unit from one of the parts stores. That left him stranded an hour from home but as luck would have it he was able to walk about a mile into town and buy an alternator and swap it out himself. He was very thankful for my advice to always carry a toolbox in the car at all times!
The next problem occurred late last year. The 3 liter Duratec started using anti-freeze and was running rough and smoking out the tail pipe when his wife used the car to ferry around the kids. She called me up and I said to not start the car back up until I came and looked at it. Turns out the intake gasket blew along with the upper plenum gasket and oil was spewing everywhere. Our mechanic put in a new intake gasket set along with the valve covers and plenum and thankfully that cured that issue.
Now with 156K miles the Taurus has developed a random stalling issue which has scared his wife several times while pulling away from a stop light. We are going to put it on the mechanic’s scanner to try and work out the issue so currently the wagon is down again. Also of note he has had all 4 door inserts fall off, the dash vents have broken, the center floor console wobbles as if it was held in with one screw and the tailgate area has numerous rattles and squeaks which drives them nuts. He now wants to sell it after this last issue is fixed and get back into a minivan, preferably not from Ford.
FOMOCO may have long ago abandoned the traditional wagon market in the US, but not in the Eurozone, where wagons still matter. Behold the new Fusion…er…Vignale Mondeo wagon. Of course, we’ll never see it here.
Nice. Given its color I assume it has a diesel and a manual.
Note that ALL automakers offer a wagon in the Eurozone D-segment. Some of them sell better than the sedan versions, the Toyota Avensis comes to mind.
I had one of the original Tauruses in 1986. A MT-5. It was a real breakthrough design. When I heard about the 96 redesign I was excited. By then I had a 90 Mustang 5.0 5 speed LX convertible. A V8 SHO sounded terrific!
But I could never embrace the ovoid look. I ended up getting a used 95 SHO with a manual 5 speed. I remember C&D making a one-off SHO wagon, loved it.
I did like the refresh in 99, even the wagon with the “old” top hat, sadly no SHO or manuals.
HLucky you. The Yamaha V8 in the later SHO was a risky affair which, if it failed, did so very expensively. But I’m sure you know that.
I forgot how good looking the later Gen II Sable wagon was – that silver one is gorgeous!
I always thought the facelifted wagons were the only post-1996 Tauruses to get the balance of ovoid vs. conservative just about right, the sedans had been pulled back a bit too far from their original droopy-butted awfulness.
Among other things the Taurus wagon was the last car with a true, designed-in, no weight restriction, foldaway rear-facing 3rd row seat (not counting the bolt-in accessory ones explicitly rated for children only offered by Volvo and Mercedes).
My 98 Peugeot 406 wagon had a factory fold out rear facing way back seat it was on offer untill the end of 406 wagon production this century
Good point about a polarising appearance. Those cars stick in your memory. Who can recall the looks of the cars they sold against? Arguably you could include the sharknose Graham as well.
But a polarising appearance isn’t always a guarantee of future collectability though. There’s this…..
Sorry for the double post – please ignore this one.
According to NADA a ’51 Triumph Mayflower had an original MSRP of $1750 in the US (presumably at an East Coast port of entry) $948 for a ’51 Ford Anglia. A ’51 Chevy Styleline Deluxe 2-door cost $1,629.
The Mayflower was simply overpriced. There was a little more there than in an Anglia but they both had similar upright styling, similar 1200cc flathead fours and 3-on-the-floor transmissions and similar dimensions and interior room.
Neighbor friend of mine had a Ford like this. Wife had a ’91 Sable. Preferred the Sable greatly for looks. Familiar with this neighborhood. Haven’t tried Manolo Tapas yet. Looked it up after seeing it here. Interesting.
I’ll happily be the Last CC Man Standing as a fan of Gen3 Taurus/Sable (wagons in particular). I owned one for 19 years, and almost none of the maintenance was “undue,” as far as I was concerned. (That 200hp is nothing special today, but still quite potent.)
The 1940s-50s-60s wagons seem to have found a following in the old car hobby, and I’d like to think that, around 2040 or so, there’ll be a bit of a market for the Taurus/Sable wagons……we’ll see!
I’ll bet yours had the Vulcan engine as our ’91 Sable did. All around good car and the ’91 looked neat too.
No, his would have had the 24v Duratech. The Vulcan did not have much more then 150 hp!
Taurus have all but disappeared from NZ roads I havent seen one in ages Falcons are getting thinner on the ground from that era too and those outsold the Taurus,
I’d buy the Camry in preference, easier to look at and better mechanically better screwed together as well plenty of those survive.
Sadly, with the exception of a few niche vehicles, the typical station wagon’s days were numbered when the first T-115 minivan rolled off the line in 1983. The final nail was the Explorer 4-door.
A great example is the recent demise of the Buick TourX. A capable vehicle that got good reviews, no one was interested.
I wish the Crossover SUV would die. Bring back wagons.
I’ve picked up a rust free 93 Camry wagon with 125k, and it is awesome!
May I add?
I STILL (after all these years) can’t get over the DRAMATIC – negative remarks over the 96-99 Gen 3 Taurus!! I am STILL the proud owner of a 1997 SHO, and I have owned this car for 21 years now. Just think, next year, it will be 25 yrs. old Only 57k on the OD.
People are not laughing so much at this model now, because there aren’t many left.
Back to the car shows and cruise nights next year (2022) with my state’s antique plates on ‘er (O:
Photo from how the SHO still looks today. OEM ‘ZR’ tires in tact.
Photo from the rear quarter. Dealer plate was borrowed, as on this day, I was moving the car from this storage site to my new home which accompanies the photo in the previous post.
Thanks for viewing (O: