Welcome to another edition of our Throwback series. This is a segment where we discuss the classic Ford vehicles that have had an impact on the legacy of the brand we love most. Today’s Throwback: the 1986 Ford Taurus!
Now we know what you’re thinking, we’ve done Ford vehicles such as the SVT Lightning in past posts, and the plain daily driver Taurus doesn’t interest you. Well that’s where you need to think differently. You see, without the success of the Taurus, the exciting Ford products we have today wouldn’t exist.
Lets go back in time for a second. In the 1980s every car was extremely similar in terms of design. It was a box, with round things for wheels, and wood paneling if it was a station wagon. GM was horrible at this, as your box design for a Cadillac was the same as a box for a Chevy to most people. Honda had a box, Toyota had a box, and the worst part was they were selling. And in Ford showrooms were, as we hate to admit, more boxes known as the LTD. Something had to change at Ford. A change that would not only save the company from declining sales, but also let the world know what Ford does best, innovate some stuff. So in the early 80s, Ford’s then CEO – Phillip Caldwell, told Lewis Veraldi (Ford’s VP of Car Development) to assemble a development team and go to work. Oh, and he also threw in a budget of $3.2 Billion, which was most of the money Ford had at the time. “No pressure, just build the best car you can” he probably thought. This new vehicle not only marked the replacement of the aging LTD, but also a gamble that would either make or break the future of the company.
The development of the car was influential for the automotive industry as a whole as well. It created a strategy of in-house teamwork and customer input to fully design the best vehicle possible, a practice still used today. Jack Telnack, Ford’s then VP of Design, assembled “Team Taurus” to design the aesthetics of the new car. In order for this car to really be the homerun needed to save Ford, they almost threw out the pre-determined notion of a car from those days and started from scratch, which led to total creative freedom in design. Initial designs were done by Ford’s Turin, Italy design studio. Wild things were happening; the concepts were round and featured some really conceptual details, such as an all glass roof. That never made the final cut, but some aerodynamic innovations did which helped the car meet the CAFE standards being applied to U.S. cars. These innovations included flush aerodynamic composite headlights, doors that went all the way to the roof to make the interior airtight, flush windows and handles, a grille-less front end, a wider stance with the wheels pushed to the end of the frame, and flush bumpers. This created an aerodynamic drag ratio of .32.
The interior was meant to be user friendly, thanks to recognizable controls that were partially designed with the help of consumer test groups. Centralized controls from the driver’s viewpoint, a curved dashboard to give a cockpit feel, and buttons that are recognizable by touch were all part of the final design. Quality was improved as Ford took apart and re-assembled competitors from other brands, including a BMW 5-Series, to learn more about their components. The Taurus was also very customizable, with versions ranging from spartan to pure luxury depending on options. The new car was destined to be front-wheel drive and midsize from the start. This allowed for engine choices to include a 90 horsepower 2.5L-liter four cylinder standard on the base L and MT-5 models, with the option of a 3.0-liter 140 hp Vulvan V6 on L and standard on GL and LX models. The 2.5 was standard with a 5-speed manual or three-speed auto, and the V6 used a new four-speed automatic. Another fun fact about these engines, they were designed to look better when your open the hood. Clearly marked spaces for washer fluid, dipsticks, and intakes were created to make the internal bits more “aesthetically pleasing” while still looking like an engine.
Ford sank blood, sweat, and tears into this design, but kept the project under tight wraps. They couldn’t tell if it was too radical for buyers to like, or if it was another Edsel-like flop. Then came the moment of truth, the reveal. In January 1985, Ford held an over the top “Space” themed event at MGM Studios to show off the latest star on the Ford lineup. Once the laser light show unveiled the cars, the press went crazy. The reviews were positive, describing the Taurus as a new breed of car. It was Motor Trends “Car of the Year 1986”, on Car and Driver’s 10 Best in 1986, and so advanced that even RoboCop drove one. The only way for us to understand how groundbreaking this car was in 1986, is to compare it to owning an older flip phone, and then upgrading to a modern iPhone 6.
The risk paid off, Ford had a winner, GM was caught off guard, Chysler didn’t know what to do, and the Japanese competition was falling behind in style. Thanks to this car Ford sold over 200,000 in 1986 alone, followed by a cool 2,000,000 built by 1992. Oh and you’ve definitely heard of this car before you read this article too, as the Taurus is one of the best selling and most recognized nameplates in automotive history. So the next time you see an aerodynamic, sleek new Ford on the road, take a quick second to thank its almost 30 year old ancestor, because without it we’d still be driving boxes.