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Ford Taurus (first generation)

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Ford Taurus (first generation)

Ford Taurus (first generation)
Manufacturer Ford
Production 1985–1991
Assembly United States
Chicago Assembly, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Designer Jack Telnack (1982)[1]
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door sedan
5-door station wagon
Layout FF Layout
Platform Ford D186 platform
Related Mercury Sable
Ford Taurus SHO
Lincoln Continental
Engine 2.5 L HSC I4
3.0 L Vulcan V6
3.8 L Essex V6
Transmission 3-speed ATX automatic
4-speed AXOD automatic
4-speed AXOD-E automatic
5-speed MTX manual
Wheelbase 106.0 in (2,692 mm)
Length 188.4 in (4,785 mm)
Station wagon: 191.9 in (4,874 mm)
Width 70.8 in (1,798 mm)
Height Sedan: 54.3 in (1,379 mm)
Wagon: 55.1 in (1,400 mm)
Curb weight 3,050 lb (1,380 kg)
Predecessor Ford LTD
Successor Ford Taurus (second generation)

The first-generation Ford Taurus is an automobile that was produced by Ford as the first of six generations of the Ford Taurus. Introduced in December 1985 as a 1986 model,[2] the front-wheel drive Taurus was a very influential design that is credited with saving Ford from bankruptcy,[2] bringing many innovations to the marketplace[2] and starting the trend towards aerodynamic design for the American automakers in the North American market.[2] Ford of Europe had launched the 1980s move to aerodynamic design for the company with the 1982 Ford Sierra.

Development for the first-generation Taurus started in the early 1980s to replace the Ford LTD,[2] at the cost of billions of dollars, with a team led by vice president in charge of car development Lewis Veraldi dubbed "Team Taurus." Ford was suffering from a lackluster product line from the late 1970s to the early 1980s and then-chairman Philip Caldwell staked much of the finances and future of the company on Veraldi and his team's success, giving them unprecedented leeway in developing what would become the Taurus. The Taurus' development employed a strategy of teamwork and customer communication that would prove very influential for the automotive industry,[2] as it consolidated all of Ford's designers, engineers, and marketing staff into a group who worked on the car collectively.[2] The Taurus' development was initially kept very secret by Ford,[2] and not much was revealed about the final Taurus until it was unveiled in 1985.[2]

After its release, the Taurus became a strong seller, as over 200,000 would be sold in the 1986 model year,[2] and over a million were sold by 1989.[2] This generation of Taurus garnered additional sales by its two variants: a Mercury version entitled the Sable, and a high-performance version entitled the SHO, and its engine and drivetrain would be used on the 1988 Lincoln Continental. This generation of Taurus continued with only minor changes until it was replaced in 1992 by the second-generation Ford Taurus. When production ended in 1991, more than 2,000,000 First-generation Tauruses had been sold.[3]

Development and release

1983 Taurus wagon clay model along with many of the original design sketches.

When Ford set out to develop the Taurus, they employed a strategy of teamwork that would prove revolutionary in the car development process.[2] Previously, at both Ford and General Motors, interior and exterior designers worked separately with no input from each other or from engineers. As a result, the interiors and exteriors of many American cars seemed "mismatched."[2] Taurus development started in 1981, using a method similar to that Ford used when developing the Escort, in which engineers from all Ford branches worldwide worked together.[4] Unlike the Escort, though, the Taurus was developed entirely by American engineers at Ford's headquarters.[2] The new engineering team was assembled by designer Jack Telnack, and was dubbed "Team Taurus".[2]

The Taurus went through many revisions throughout its development. Original prototypes contained a full glass roof similar to that of the Subaru SVX, though it was deemed "too radical" and abandoned.[2] Applying lessons learned from the Edsel, customer input played an instrumental role in the Taurus' development, as many components including radios, steering wheels, seats, wheels, and entire suspension setups were selected by large numbers of average people though a series of surveys conducted by Ford.[2] In addition, Ford disassembled many competing cars such as the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord, and the more luxurious BMW 5 Series[5] in order to examine their parts and components.[2]

Ford premiered the Taurus in a resounding way. In mid-1985, Ford gathered executives and the press for the unveiling of the Taurus and Mercury Sable. The event took place at the MGM Studios Soundstage 85, where Gone with the Wind had been filmed.[2] The studio was decorated in a space theme, with stars on the walls, flying saucer decorations, and refreshments served in flying saucer shaped coolers.[2] For the unveiling, "space" music started playing, as projected stars floated around the room in dance floor fashion. The outlines of the cars glowed green through the curtain; as the curtain flew up, strobe lights flashed, highlighting the cars.[2]

Many industry journalists, as well as executives at Ford and Chrysler, believed the Taurus was going to be a failure.[2] Chrysler executives believed customers would instead embrace their more conventional Dodge Dynasty and Chrysler New Yorker.[2] Executives at Ford knew producing the Taurus was a gamble, as they ran the risk of the car being so advanced it would turn off potential customers, as was the case with the Edsel. As a result, Ford continued to produce the LTD, which the Taurus was designed to replace in 1986.[2] If the Taurus failed, Ford would have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.[2] The Taurus, however, ended up being a resounding success, selling over a million units in its first generation alone.[2]


After being unveiled in 1985, the Taurus quickly became one of the most anticipated new cars of 1986.[2] Before going on sale, Motor Trend tested a few Taurus prototypes, and praised the cars extensively, even calling them "the shape of tomorrow."[6] Popular Mechanics also tested pre-production Tauruses, and praised them as well, describing them as a "totally new breed of car."[7] When the Taurus was released in 1985, it garnered unanimous critical praise from automotive publications. It went on to win many awards, most notably being named Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 1986,[8] as well as being named on Car and Driver's Ten Best List for 1986.

A 1986 Taurus LX in the Henry Ford Museum's Showroom of Automotive History exhibit

It was also received very well by the public, as over 200,000 Tauruses were sold for the 1986 model year.[2] Its radical design was noticed by film makers as well, as it was chosen for use in the 1987 film RoboCop. The film, which takes place in a "near future" in Detroit, uses Tauruses extensively as the city's police cars, with a Taurus LX dressed up as a police car being used extensively by the titular character. The film was a large box office success, and helped to give the car publicity. Ford introduced a police package (known as the 55A special service option) during the 1989-91 model year which had a modified front grille with 8 slots which continued with the 1992-95 model years. In 1989, the millionth Taurus was sold[2] after three years in production.

Although it was initially released nearly 30 years ago, the 1986 Taurus continues to receive positive press to this day. It was number 6 on USA Today's 2007 list of "25 Cars That Made a Difference",[9] and was named a "Future Classic" by Autoblog.[10] A 1986 Taurus is also currently featured in the Henry Ford Museum's Showroom of Automotive History exhibit, in which it is touted as "one of the two most significant American automobiles of the 1980s", the other being the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager.[11]

In 1988, the Taurus was exported to Japan in limited numbers, and sold at Japanese auto dealerships called Autorama (a joint venture with Mazda), where the Taurus LX and the SHO were available in both sedan and wagon versions with left-hand driving positions until 1991. To Japanese buyers, it was regarded as a luxury vehicle as the exterior dimensions and engine displacement exceeded Japanese government regulations, and buyers in Japan were liable for additional taxes. The engines offered to Japanese customers, both the 2.5 litre four cylinder and the 3.0 litre V6, also obligated Japanese driver to pay more annual road tax which affected sales.



The exterior of the Taurus used an aerodynamic design, often likened to a 'jelly bean' or 'flying potato',[12] inspired by the design of the Audi 100 and Ford's own Tempo.[2] The aerodynamic design of the Taurus also made the car more fuel efficient, allowing Ford to meet the more stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards applied by the United States government.[2] The Taurus' success ultimately led to an American automobile design revolution; Chrysler and General Motors developed aerodynamic cars in order to capitalize on the Taurus' success.[2]

1986–1988 Taurus GL sedan
1989–1991 Ford Taurus. Note the changes to the front end.

The Taurus is credited with bringing many new design features into the mainstream marketplace.[2] The Taurus used flush aerodynamic composite headlights, and was one of the first American sedans to do so. Originally, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required that all cars sold in the United States use standardized round or rectangular sealed beam headlights, and Ford had to convince them to change the rule to allow the headlights be any shape, as long as they met federal lighting standards.[2]

Also, instead of a grille, the Taurus had a front panel to adopt a grille-less 'bottom breather' nose, first pioneered by the Citroën DS in the 1950s.[13] The Taurus' doors flowed up into the roof, and were designed to make the interior airtight, as well as having the door handles and windows flush with the rest of the car.[2] The bumpers on the Taurus were designed to also be incorporated with the rest of the car's design, being flush with the rest of the body. The wheels were also pushed out to the ends of the frame, and were flush with the fender, instead of being recessed into the fender. This not only improved the car's aerodynamics, it improved handling as well.[2]

These design features helped to make the Taurus one of the most aerodynamic cars of its time, with an aerodynamic drag ratio of .32.[14] Many of the design features were adopted, and are still used today, on most cars.[2] Because of this, the exterior only received minor changes throughout the first-generation's production run.[15] The only major change came in 1988, when the Taurus received a new slimmer grille and headlights, with a full length chrome bar underneath for model year 1989.[15]


The interior of a 1986 Taurus LX equipped with the column-mounted shifter and front bench seat configuration.

Along with the exterior of the Taurus, its interior is credited with introducing many innovations that were later adopted onto all cars industry wide.[2] The interior was designed to be extremely user friendly, with all of its controls designed to be recognizable by touch, allowing the driver to operate them without taking their eyes off the road.[2] For example, the switches to the power windows and power locks were designed with one half of the switch raised up, with the other half recessed, in order for its function to be identified by touch (akin to the concept of Braille writing). To further enhance this "user friendliness", the dashboard was designed to have all of the controls in the central area, within reach of the driver. The left side of the dash also curved slightly around the driver, to make controls easily accessible as well as creating a "cockpit" feel.[2] However, it wasn't curved enough to prevent the passenger from easily identifying and using the vehicle's main controls as well.

The interior of the Taurus was highly customizable by the buyer to fit their needs, as it had a large number of options, as well as being available in three different configurations.[16] This meant that the interior of the Taurus could be spartan or luxurious, depending on the buyer's choice of options.[15] The interior equipment depended on model. The most basic model, the L (see below), came standard with just an AM radio and a front cloth bench seat,[15] while the LX, the highest model, came with a large amount of standard equipment.[15]

The interior received a few major upgrades during the first generation's production run. In 1988, the 1989 model year Taurus got new door panels that had built in armrests and side speakers for the stereo.[15] For the 1990 model year in 1989, it got a redesigned dashboard.[15] This dash was designed similar to the one it replaced, although it had a different placement for the radio, and was designed to be able to contain either cupholders or a CD player, depending on the customer's choice of options.[15] It also received a new steering wheel with an airbag, as Ford was making it standard in all of its cars.[15]

Models and Engines

1989 Ford Taurus wagon

At its launch, the Taurus was available in four models; the L, the MT-5, the GL, and the LX. The L was the base model, with only the most basic of equipment. The MT-5 was the second model, which was aimed at Japanese imports,[15] as it was only available with a 4-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission (hence the term MT-5).[15] The value model was the GL, which contained more equipment than the MT-5 and L, and had such interior upgrades like rear headrests and a folding rear armrest, electric windows and locks.[15] The LX was the top of the line model, which had the most standard equipment, as well as many features that were unique to this model, such as cornering lamps and side body cladding, as well as its own unique seat design, automatic climate control, light packages, luggage convenience kit, electronic cluster with onboard system scanner and fuel computer, autolamps with timer, premium amplified stereo with 6 speakers "Premium Sound", 6 way electric seats with inflatable lumbar support and other equipment options at an added price.[15] The wagon was offered in the same trim levels in the same order.

In 1987, the MT-5 wagon was dropped due to poor sales, and the MT-5 was dropped altogether in 1988. 1988 also saw the introduction of the SHO, although it was generally marketed as and considered a separate model, as opposed to part of the Taurus line.

The MT-5 and L came with a 90 horsepower (67 kW) 2.5-litre HSC four-cylinder, although the 140 horsepower (104 kW) 3.0-litre Vulcan V6 was optional on the L and standard on the GL and LX models. The MT-5 was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, while Vulcan models used a newly designed four-speed AXOD automatic, while HSC-equipped cars used the 3-speed ATX automatic. Ford's 3.8-litre Essex V6 was added to the lineup in 1988 as the top of the line engine optional on the LX and GL. Although the power output was rated at the same 140 horsepower (104 kW) as the 3.0-litre engine, this V6 produced 215 ft·lbf (291 N·m) of torque. The 2.5-litre was dropped in early 1991.


Mercury Sable

First-generation Mercury Sable

The Mercury Sable was the mechanical counterpart of the Taurus sold under Ford's near-luxury Mercury brand. Developed jointly with the first-generation Taurus, it shared its mechanicals with the Sable, albeit little else.[2] The Sable contained mostly unique cosmetic parts, the most notable being a full width "lightbar" across the front clip, and rear windows that wrapped around the rear quarter panel, as well as the Sable being a few inches longer than the Taurus.[2] Despite being developed with the Taurus, the Sable was intended for a more upscale market,[2] and sold for a higher price. The Sable, like the Taurus, was available in both sedan and station wagon models. However, it was only offered in two models; the GS and LS. A high-performance model was planned, and it was to be a mechanical counterpart of the Ford Taurus SHO and to be called the LTS[17] However, it was later shelved due to the success of the Taurus SHO.[17] A 50th anniversary edition of Mercury was introduced on the Sable that used the suspension set up for the LTS, but only 50 were built.[17] This generation Sable was produced from 1985 until 1991, when a second-generation Sable was launched with the second-generation Taurus.

Ford Taurus SHO

1991 Ford Taurus SHO

The Ford Taurus SHO (Super High Output[15]) was a high-performance variant of the Taurus that was introduced in 1989. Although it shared the same basic design of the Taurus, it had a different drivetrain,[15] a different engine developed by Yamaha,[15] as well as many cosmetic differences on both the exterior and interior. The SHO was not initially intended to be produced when the Taurus was first developed;[18] it was produced after Ford shelved a vehicle in development that was intended to compete with the Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR2 replacing the Ford EXP, and needed to use up engines that were developed for this car by Yamaha, which Ford was under contract to use.[18] Because of this, the SHO was initially intended to be a limited production model to be produced only in 1989, of which Ford advertised it as.[19] However, the SHO proved to be surprisingly popular, convincing Ford to order more engines and make the SHO a series production model.[18] The SHO was sold until 1991, when it was replaced by a second generation of Taurus SHO.

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Taurus was not intended to compete with the BMW 5 Series. However, it was disassembled and examined in order to be able to emulate the seat and interior design predominant in many German cars at the time.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ This feature was first objected to by Phillip Caldwell, and as a result, a few Taurus prototypes were built with a black grille in place of the front panel. Jack Telnack eventually convinced Ford's board of directors to vote on whether or not to use the grill-less nose, on which they eventually decided to use on the production version. Despite this, many initial publicity shots of the Taurus showed it with the black front grille.
  14. ^
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p
  16. ^ The First generation's interior could be ordered with a traditional column-mounted shifter and front bench seat, with bucket seats and a center console with a floor-mounted shifter, or with buckets seats and a console with a column-mounted shifter. However, models available with a manual transmission were only available in one configuration: bucket seats with a center console and floor-mounted shifter.
  17. ^ a b c
  18. ^ a b c
  19. ^

External links

  • Taurus Car Club of America
  • First Generation Ford Taurus, Taurus/Sable encyclopedia
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