By on May 24, 2013

Ford-SVT-Contour. Photo courtesy

(The idea for this series based on the numerous emails sent between Derek and Doug, containing long forgotten cars that have fallen into a derelict state. While our intrepid authors would love to own these cars should they ever win the Powerball, they find it difficult to actually part with the funds required to take them home, especially given the significant reconditioning required. In addition, you’ll see the difference between a snow belt car and a clean car from the south, as both authors compare examples from their respective locales.)

Derek writes:

I remember the SVT Contour for two reasons. Car and Driver once named it as a contender for “Best Handling Car Under $30,000”, and BF Goodrich developed a special tire for it, the KD/W, and featured it prominently in full-page ad spreads.

Being partial to sedans, I have always had a soft spot for the SVT Contour. While it’s often dubbed the “poor man’s 4-door M3”, that’s little more than damming it with faint praise.  The front-drive layout and the Blue Oval badge doomed this car to forever being considered a second-tier sports car, but I have no innate bias against front-drive cars or Ford products. The one thing stopping me from buying one is that most local examples are crap.

The Ford badge is probably a big reason why these cars saw their values plummet like Rosie O’Donnell in a skydiving accident. Many of them ended up rotting in fields, suffering at the hands of incompetent “Performance 2NR types” or winding up as ChumpCar entrants. Even the relatively clean ones have weird red flags like mismatched wheels. If the road salt and wet climate wasn’t bad enough, then Toronto’s “auto enthusiasts” can always find a way to take degrade a once great car.

Then again, there is this one. Not my first choice of color, and a little more than I’d want to pay. But at least the ad is coherent.

Doug writes:

It’s easy to find a Contour SVT in the Atlanta area, provided you’re OK with driving to the kind of faraway suburb where people have addresses like “11467 State Highway 82” and the most common house pet is a pig.

That’s because the Contour SVT was highly popular down south among drivers who realized it would be hard to fit a car seat in a V6 Mustang.  Unfortunately, this means that every Atlanta-area Contour SVT has been through several owners, all of whom, at one point, posted a YouTube video of themselves driving the car that started with: “Watch this!”

But with a friendly climate and the car’s wide availability of parts, a lot of the local Contour SVTs are in reasonably nice shape.  This 1998 model, for example, looks absolutely pristine considering its list price of just $4,000.  And while the seller hasn’t posted the car’s mileage, he has provided his own personal guarantee of “drive anywhere,” which is really just as good.

This 2000 model, offered for just $2,999, also looks pristine, provided you’re OK with the facelift headlights.  This seller also hasn’t listed the mileage, but he did note the car got a new clutch and new brakes at 108,000.  He also says it “sounds great,” which is Georgia speak for “straight pipes” or possibly “hole in the exhaust that requires welding.”

There are a few more SVT Contours on Atlanta Craigslist, all of which boast similar condition and pricing.  (As a bonus, some listings even include the mileage.)  Down here, we sure know how to keep our SVT Contours.  And our pet pigs.


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72 Comments on “Derek And Doug’s Fantastic Crapwagons: Ford SVT Contour...”

  • avatar

    I didn’t have an SVT, but I bought a new Mercury Mystique that year, because it was the only v6 manual in the price range. The Dealer was unhappy with me because he had to trade with another dealer to get a manual (There were, count it, THREE in the NYC metro area !) Over time, it ended up with SVT suspension bits.

    Ford aggressively de-contented the car throughout the life of the car, and clearly (in the US) regarded it as a poor relation to the Taurus, which was about the same price. While there was no comparison if you actually drove the cars, we know most folks would care about the size first, especially in this price range.

    So, you have a car built as cheaply as Ford could possibly make, then owned by folks who rode hard, and put away wet….

    The Contour, properly kitted, had decent power and good suspension-I enjoyed mine till it basically fell apart at 125k miles.

    • 0 avatar

      My wife drove one from 2000 until 2008. It was a great car to drive, but like you, ours also fell apart around 125k. Plus the trunk developed an unlocateable leak around 2002 – whenever it would rain the trunk would somehow end up soaked. For the life of me I couldn’t find the source. Puzzling car.

      • 0 avatar

        Mine leaked in the trunk, too. I finally found the issue — tree detritus had collected around the tail lights and blocked the logical drainage path. You had to remove the tail light assembly to find it and it wasn’t obvious until my tail lights began to fill with water as well.

    • 0 avatar

      I realize I have posted before about my 1995 Mystique V6 5 speed, but I need to say again that I have a fantastic example. Now with 348,400 miles. Engine never touched except water pump once, and alternator at 301,000 miles. Othwerwise just normal maintenance: brakes, oil, tires, minor suspension items replaced. Clutch at 250,000 miles.
      Wish I could buy another one. In a second.
      And harsh New York City / Long Island miles.
      Mine was an early ’95, so it was before all the decontenting. Interior is still high quality, and in great shape. Just the leather driver’s seat showing some wear close to the door.
      This car even outlasted my 2004 Cadillac CTS, in which the engine died last month.

      • 0 avatar

        I actually considered a V6 manual Contour when I was car shopping as an alternative to buying a Probe because I figured the Contour would be more practical, but still offer good handling. It did feel good behind the wheel, but the shift was not that great. I’m glad I chose the Probe GT instead. Considering all the negativity, I don’t know if I would still have it today.

    • 0 avatar

      I hate this car with a vengeance. I bought the 4-banger version used = 1998 model in 1999 with 12K miles. The car basically imploded on me. The transmission crapped out at 39K miles, the radiator failed at 50K… and the suspenssion squared out more tires than anything else. I was a very naive and poor 22 year old guy recently married with a kid and I kept repairing the damn car until it almost caused my divorce – I can’t say it caused my divorce, but it sure did help it.

      This car scarred me so deeply, that will not consider a Ford automobile ever again in my life. Ford – at that time – not sure now… had te worst dealerships and customer service ever. Back in my home country, all my family ever owned were Fords… I wouldn’t touch a Ford today with a 10-foot pole.

      For you guys to understand how much I hate the contour and Ford itself after what that car did to me. I loved the idea of buying the new Focus ST – great horsepower, affordable… I was trading in my 2006 E90 so I test drove one and love the ride… couldn’t close the deal as i was too concerned the car would self-implode like the Contour – I know it is incredibly unreasonable to connect the two, but I couldn’t get myself to do it.

      Ended up buying a W204.

      4 banger or SVT – you would be smoking crack to buy this piece of crap car.

  • avatar

    I too remember them being a hot commodity when new and have recently realized that they shared the same fate as 5.0L Mustangs from 10 years go. The few that have past through the hands of friends, they had a hard time keeping engines in them. The popular swap is the 3.0L Duratec engine which really makes these things run.

  • avatar

    I was a member of an F1 forum for several years. One time the SVT Contour came up in discussion and someone launched an impassioned defense to what he considered an unfair dismissal of his beloved old SVT. I had to remind him that a few years earlier he had solicited help in committing insurance fraud in order to be rid of it.

  • avatar

    When these were new, I checked one out but never drove one. I cannot understand why anybody would ever want to buy one, for to me, they were a terrible design.

    Just like the Tempo/Topaz models, their size was just off, and I couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to be from an ergonomic point of view; compact, sub-compact, mid-size? What? How they were powered never entered into the picture.

    All I remember was the terrible back seat room, or lack of it. Not suitable or even near the ballpark as far as a family-hauler was concerned, and that’s what I looked at in those days.

    Driving dynamics? I didn’t care, as I had other obligations in those years, and these were too ugly for my attention. Probably the lack of “bright window reveal” turned me off… ;-)

    • 0 avatar

      Bingo. It was a brilliant car if you were the only one in it.

      My guess is that people started wanting extra doors for some reason on coupes, so then they built them. Either that, or many people are half my size and can actually fit back there.

      From a performance standpoint, it’s another car that’s been deemed unimpressive thanks to progress.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t really understand that — I hauled by family of four around comfortably for eight years in an SVT Contour. I am 6’3″ and the seat behind me, while not exceptionally roomy, was still sufficient for my kids even as they grew into hulking teenagers. I also frequently took four adults out for lunch during weekdays and not one complaint from anyone about the lack of room like they did (vociferously) when we tried to squeeze into my co-worker’s SVT Cobra.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the Contour overall suffered from poor planning and bad timing. It seems by 1992-3 the Tempo was reaching end of life and a sedan in between Escort and Taurus was needed fast. So apparently the development budget was $47 and no new US model could be created, and Dearborn decided to develop the car with Ford Europe as the next Mondeo. Good idea on paper, bad idea for the time period since Americans were enjoying cheap gas, widening waists, and the “cool” family haulers of the time were SUVs, not Euro-spec cars. Ironically fifteen years later, Ford reintroduced a Euro spec Fusion which is selling very well, which is the bad timing part of my argument. If Contour had been introduced today as opposed to 1994 I’d be it would do moderately, if not very, well.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Ford supposedly spent so much money Americanizing the design that they would have saved money by simply shipping them over from Europe. Might have been more reliable, too.

        • 0 avatar

          Ironically Ford did a good job of attracting import “intenders” to come look at the car, but 2 separate issues involving the fuel filler/fuel tank that could cause a fire put an immediate stop sale on the car. Dealers could not allow prosepective customers to test drive the cars, and parts to fix the issue were unavailable and slow to trickle in when they did become available.

          I recall that they comissioned Polk to do a study after the disasterous launch to see what became of the “prospects” that came in to look at the car. The majority of them bought Altimas and Corollas, so they did in fact attract an import customer with both the car and the ad campaign.

          The one irony I always felt about the car was that they “Americanized” the styling of it when they were really trying to go after import buyers – why not just leave the Mondeo styling alone and do what was required to federalize it?

  • avatar

    Nice article, I wanted one of these bad when I was 19 and it was one of those cars that was almost reasonable for a 19 year old to actually own.

  • avatar

    I had one from 1999-2004. I sought out a low mileage 1998 because I am all too familiar with Ford’s decontenting regimen that Speedlaw describes in his post. Screw the 5 extra HP in the later models; I’d rather have a dash that doesn’t warp and discolor. I added an open K&N type cone filter, more for the induction sound than anything else.

    Best Ford I’ve ever owned. Amazing handler. Wonderful transmission. My wife and I took lots of trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway during those years. Coincidence?

    I still see nice examples being driven by adults when I visit suburban Detroit. Ford engineers? That’s my guess.

  • avatar

    I remember the first Contour I saw as a kid in 1995 in Chicago. It was a brown SE V6 MT with polished aluminum wheels. Even in that weird brown color, it was a nice looking car. Friend of mine had an identical car some years later during our college years.

    Problem with the Contour was that they fell apart, literally. The SVTs have all been used up, at least all the examples I’ve seen as of lately.

  • avatar

    I had a 1998 Contour SVT that I bought new. I loved it. The best part was the exhaust note. I’d blip the throttle just to hear it, and winding it out always brought a smile to my face. I put over 80k on it in 3 years, then got raped at an Acura dealer trading it on a new RSX-s.

    Just looked out my front window and noticed my neighbor now has 2 Lincoln LSs in the drive way, one plated, one not (parts?). We could easily get a similar article on the LS – another valiant sport sedan attempt from Ford during the same timeframe.

  • avatar

    I owned one from 2003-2008, an early 98 model. Snappy handler, especially with a mild spring/strut upgrade. Fantastic sounds. Awful build quality. Mine started a rapid decline at 100k miles. I hung on to 150k ish. Parts sourcing is impossible. Part designs and numbers were changed consistently throughout it’s life and by the mid 2000s, stuff was flat out discontinued. You know, minor stuff like the main engine wiring harness which corrodes by 100k miles.

    Forget this SVT. Go for an E36 325i or 328i BMW for a similar cost of entry, a better driving experience, better reliability, infinitely better parts and service support and similar costs of ownership.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ve always liked these. I enjoy when manufacturers take a boring car and make it exciting. And for the time these were out, they were pretty exciting. And then 4 years passed. That’s when the prices came down too much. Now when I think of them, I only think of “bro” owners.
    And it’s a shame, because now whenever I look to see ones for sale all I ever see are ones that were obviously at one time owned by bros.

  • avatar

    I still see a number of these (or at least regular contours with the body kit) around the metro-Detroit area. I think about 90% of them have lost some of the portions of the side-skirts that needed to be removed to reach the jacking points on the frame, if not the whole side-skirt. There are a few in very good shape though, as well as some very clean 1st gen Focus SVTs around.

  • avatar

    “Being partial to sedans, I have always had a soft spot for the SVT Contour. While it’s often dubbed the “poor man’s 4-door M3″, that’s little more than damming it with faint praise. The front-drive layout and the Blue Oval badge probably doomed this car to forever being considered a second-tier sports car”

    Sports cars do not have 4 doors. That is all.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I owned (from new) a ’92 SHO, to which I added some strategic frame reinforcement, bigger brakes and slightly modified induction and exhaust. The SVT contour never tempted me. I viewed it as a consolation prize for those who had wanted an SHO, but could not longer get a new one.

    The big difference being the wonderful Yamaha V-6, which was leagues better than the “Duratec” of the same displacement, not to mention the smaller Duratec fitted to the SVT Contour.

    • 0 avatar

      I replaced a 92 SHO with a brand new 98 SVT Contour, which I ordered sight unseen from my dealer. I was not happy with the SHO — it was big and ponderous and the manual transmission (derived from a Mazda truck) was abominable. Wonderful, wonderful motor though. I still enjoy looking at pictures of that Yamaha “bucket of snakes” intake manifold.

      The Contour was everything the SHO was not: refined, better-handling, and much lighter in weight. Or at least I thought so.

  • avatar

    I remember driving a few of these back in my valet days in late 90s. One thing I remember vividly about them was thinking “OMG! A Ford that doesn’t completely suck!”. Most of the other Fords I drove sucked badly. This one – not so much.

    Just for fun I checked local Boston CL for SVT cars. There is one, count it, ONE SVT Contour listed. Everything else is Mustangs, Raptors and Focii. I guess they long fell apart or rusted here.

    • 0 avatar

      I rented a 4 cylinder Contour. The Zetec-R engine was the smoothest of any 4 cylinder domestic I’ve ever driven. Naturally, Ford dropped it in favor of the Mazda sourced Duratec, which is nothing special.

      I rented a Plymouth Breeze for a few weeks. It had a roomy interior, excellent ride, handling, and seats for a mass-market car, and essentially no engine. Put the Zetec-R in the Plymouth(or Cirrus or Stratus) with a stick, and you’d have had a great, if short lived, car. The Contour wasn’t packaged well. It didn’t excel at the utilitarian reasons that drive people into four door sedans. It also had a comedic level of body roll in its non-sporting variants.

      • 0 avatar

        “I rented a Plymouth Breeze for a few weeks. It had a roomy interior, excellent ride, handling, and seats for a mass-market car, and essentially no engine. Put the Zetec-R in the Plymouth(or Cirrus or Stratus) with a stick, and you’d have had a great, if short lived, car.”

        You are completely right about this. We did just that for the basis of our Lemons road racer. 5 speed manual transmission with the 2.4L opened up a bit. The car boogeys pretty well around a track. The first gen Chrysler cloud cars had great suspensions.

        • 0 avatar

          The Breeze I rented was a 1996 with the 2.0 SOHC engine and an automatic. The 2.4 DOHC engine would have been a useful upgrade. I later drove a Stratus with the 2.4/auto combination, and any lack of power wasn’t painful. The 2.0 was about as quick as a Volvo 240 wagon.

          Right after I rented the very nice handling Breeze, I was issued a 1996 Buick Century, the last of the recognizable A-cars. It had a V6 that was pretty smooth and felt like a Top Fuel dragster after the Breeze, but it handled like some prankster had drained the struts and shocks. It also had time-traveler spec skinny tires, brakes that went from fade to warp in no time at all, bench seats designed by someone only vaguely familiar with the human race, and any number of other glaring faults. That engine in a Breeze would have been my dream rental at the time, and I spent way too much of my time in rentals those years.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        Reading your comment, it just hit me how few Cirrus and Stratus I see on the road now. They used to be everywhere. You weren’t kidding when you said “short-lived”.

        Shame, too. Great looking cars.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m more of a first gen Intrepid kind of guy. My friend’s mom had a sweet ’93 and I was amazed by how good it looked and how comfortable it was.

          But I haven’t seen that friend in a long time, that Intrepid is probably gone.

  • avatar

    My co-worker had an SVT Contour w/ 5-spd. I drove it and found it be to be a nice car for the era. He got married and the Contour became his wife’s daily commuter. She is a terrible driver and the SVT’s condition spiralled downhill rapidly. Sad.

  • avatar

    a friend here in SoCal just sold his off recently – someone came all the way from Texas to get it, so I guess clean-ish examples hold some long distance attraction to a niche part of the enthusiast scene.

  • avatar

    I had a 95 Contour V6 5spd for 24 hours. I looked at this and a 95 Cougar at the same Ford dealer, both used with about 35k. I had just stupidly totaled a pristine 1989 Acura Legend, so I was OK with sedan ownership even though I loved two door large coupes. The Cougar had everything: V8, “leather” moonroof,etc. The Contour was an SE, but without the high-end stuff. Once I drove the Contour, there was no going back. It reminded me, on some level, of the Legend I had just killed and it was lots of fun, compared to the Cougar.

    I drove it home, enthusiastically. I noticed a ticking noise at idle that i hadn’t heard at first. Drove it to work, got worse. Drove home and had dealer come flatbed it away. Something let go in the valvetrain. They tried to argue it was my fault, that I had over-revved the engine. I know it’s not impossible to over-rev a rev limited engine, but I don’t remember hitting the limiter. Close to redline yes, not into the limiter.

    Went back and got the Cougar I had looked at for the same price as the Contour. I loved the Contour, especially after the redesign. I still have a poster for the SVT Contour in my garage. It’s a shame they were so poorly made.

    • 0 avatar

      If it was a manual transmission car as you indicated, it would be possible to force an over-rev of the engine by downshifting into too low a gear while at speed. Ask me how I know ;)

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        5-2 money shift.

      • 0 avatar

        It might have happened like that I had to guess. It was a shame either way. I really liked that Contour, but my Cougar gave me three trouble-free years before I couldn’t afford it. I was pretty sick of it anyway, my two door DD phase should have ended with the Eldorado.

        I did, after selling the Cougar on, pick-up an 88 Legend sedan with 5 spd. A great car and every bit as fun as the Contour, with much better quality.

  • avatar

    My then-girlfriend’s brother had a 2000 around the same time I had my ’95 SHO MTX. It was interesting comparing the bigger Yamahammer Taurus against the SVT. The 2.5 Duratec had some similarities to the 3.0L Yamaha, like the intake runner layout and the DOHCs, but that’s where the similarities ended. Different powerbands and completely different feels. The SVT would scoot around corners better than the big bull, but in a straight line the older car would walk its baby brother. I prefer the SHO over the SVT but I do like the styling on the Contour. Interesting cars for certain.

  • avatar
    LBJs Love Child

    I had a 2000 SVT for 12 years/120,000 miles. Loved it. The only thing that failed on it was the Bosch anti-lock brake computer at 80K. Ford replaced it N/C. Back seat was perfect for the rare times someone was put back there (mainly teen daughters). I’d probably still have it had I been able to dodge a semi’s thrown tire in 75mph dense traffic.

  • avatar

    I owned the standard 99 Contour with a V6, automatic transmission. I was coming out of a lemon car, and I basically just wanted the absolute cheapest new car with a warranty I could find. I thought I would end up with an Escort, I ended up with a Contour, loaded, with a V6 for around $13k. I thought it was a hell of a deal, basically the same price as a stripped down Escort.

    It was a great car in many ways, the 2.5L V6 had plenty of power, and the handling was indeed impressive. Also had a nice large trunk. The back seat was miniscule, it might as well have been a Mustang.

    I will say though, I had several reliability issues with the Contour, and despite still being under the factory warranty, I couldn’t give that car away. I would have financially been better off paying a bit more for something like a Civic, I would have gotten far more back in resale.

    I definitely lusted over the SVT Contour, but I would have rather have owned something like an Audi A4 for a few grand more. I want to say in ’99, you could have bough a new A4 for around $26k. My guess is a new Contour SVT was probably something like $23k.

  • avatar
    juicy sushi

    Every time I see these I have visions of the BTCC in my head. English build quality to go with its European roots?

  • avatar

    After getting over my mid life crisis 1991 Ford SHO, I opted for something more sane. I special ordered a 1995 V6 5 speed Contour in October 1994. The car arrived at the dealer in record time (about 3 weeks). This Kansas City produced car was very well assembled with the nicest paint job I have ever seen on a Ford. My car was lightly optioned but did include ABS/TC, and upgraded interior and stereo.

    Even thought it was not the fancy performance SE model, the car was really fun to drive. The new at the time Duratec V6 felt almost as strong as the Yamaha SHO. The German 5 speed was errific, synchromesh even in reverse. I believe my 2012 Focus uses a similar 5 speed.

    I drove the car hard until 2001 primarily as a long distance commuter car and put 165K on the clock. Yes, a number of recalls, but no major failures.

    Later in its life the car rattled a lot and things like locks froze as the seals deteriorated, but all major systems including the original clutch and AC worked fine. Execpt for a noisy timing chain tensioner and a water pump replacement, engine ran strong with no oil burning. At the end I put about 1K in the car to insure safe condition and gave it to my daughter as her high school commute car, She promptly wrapped the car around a tree and totaled it a couple months later. No one was hurt and I was impressed that airbags deployed and the passenger compartment remained intact.

    My take is the early years Contour production from Kansas City were well done vehicles. When Ford lost interest and shifted production to Mexico in the last few years it seems the quality unraveled.

    On my last trip to Europe I did see a few of these models (as Mondeos) still in service. The Contour in the USA was probably doomed at the start because of its small cabin and relatively high price. I found it appealing as a low price fun to drive Euro designed car.

  • avatar

    I had the kid brother, a 1996 Contour SE. Champagne and loaded. It was a reasonably quick little car for its day, and did handle better than any other FWD I’ve driven (including a Prelude). It effortlessly got me from San Jose to Boston, during which we routinely set the cruise at 100 (Nevada, Utah, Wyoming). Pretty good manual transmission too, with short quick throws. The 2.5L V6 was smooth if not blessed with much torque. It seemed a very well made car compared to others of the era, and it felt like much was borrowed from Europe.

    My boss at the time bought a Catera and cringed when she saw how much nicer the little Ford was than her car. Alas, some scumbag tried to steal it at a garage in Boston (must have interrupted them found their tools in the glovebox later) and it overheated on the Mass Pike and was never the same again.

  • avatar

    My 99 Contour V6 MT was so much fun to drive – when it ran – that I put WAY too much time and money into keeping it going befroe I gave up.

    One example: Neither dealer nor independent mechanics, not any repair manual was able to diagnose intermitent poor acceleration. Finally, a Contour club website lead me to somthing called the Intake Manifold Runner Control, which was prone to failure. I become an expert at replacing those, taking 8 hours the first time, down to around an hour the fourth (and last) time.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup. I had that fail at 60k, and the local dealer fixed it under warranty as NY had CA emissions regs. Two stage intake runners were a nice touch. Looking at Euro catalogs could make you sad, till you realized the car was $35k over there.

  • avatar

    The platform was indeed kind of fun. Even in my dad’s blue Mystique V6 with AT and fake leather was fun to drive hard every once in a while. The rear seats are ok for a 6 footer provided a kid or a small woman is riding in front. The car was traded in after about 5 years of ownership. At that point, something major electrical failed. Probably alternator. Seeing a good example on the road is getting pretty hard. Finding one with V6 is even harder.

  • avatar

    I had a ’97 V6 SE…a company car with an auto transmission. The seats were crap so I put a Recaro on the driver’s side which made the car quite comfy and a joy to toss around. It went like stink, was pretty nimble, and fun to drive. I turned it at 75K miles and a coworker bought it off lease…it promptly puked up the starter. I left the company shortly thereafter and didn’t keep up with the car but I always thought the SVT would be a hoot to own…if it didn’t fall apart on its own volition…

  • avatar

    When I lived near Detroit in the ’90s, my next-door neighbor worked for Ford’s ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, and my across-the-street neighbor worked for Mercury’s, Young & Rubicam. They both had ironclad orders to drive what they were selling, but they were both total gearheads and knew that they were selling absolute crap cars. They each did the best they could to find something bearable. The Mercury guy drove an XR4Ti, and the Ford guy drove a Contour SVT. Both cars were ugly as sin and parts fell off them all the time, but I do have to say, as I recall they both really drove pretty great, at least for the times.

  • avatar

    Fed up with the truck-like 92 SHO I was driving, I ordered a 98 SVT Contour from my dealer on just a handshake based on the enthusiastic reviews from the buff-books. First time I ever saw one in real life was when my salesman pulled up around the building with my new Silver Frost SVT Contour. I liked it immediately. It was far more refined than the piggish SHO and had snappy handling, killer tires from BF Goodrich, a decent audio system, a great exhaust note, and a very smooth manual transmission.

    I drove it for 8 years and 100K miles and for the most part enjoyed the experience. However in the later years small things began to break: front wheel bearing, alternator, water in the trunk, a sagging bumper, and a water pump with plastic impeller blades that disintegrated. It seemed like every three months that some little thing would go wrong, causing yet another trip to the dealer for repair. Jacking up the car was a pain because you had to remove the cutouts on the side skirts and woe be the person who forgot to attach them again securely. You see a lot of old SVT Contours driving around with notches on the side from the missing cutout.

    On the good side the clutch was strong when I sold it and I still had the original front brake pads. It wasn’t a poor man’s M3, but more like a poor man’s 325i. It was interesting that Ford actually produced a sports sedan that could compare favorable to a BMW for about $10,000 less in price. It came with perforated leather seats standard, and was reasonably quick for the time: 0-60 in 7.1 seconds, 15.4 1/4 mile.

    • 0 avatar

      When my company abandoned company cars and began providing a car allowance instead, I ran out and bought a 1 year old 98 Contour SVT. I loved the toreador red exterior with the navy blue leather. I loved the way the car sounded when I wanted to have some fun. As you said, it was a poor man’s 325i. In a Car And Driver comparo, they got an SVT Contour to 60 in 6.9 seconds. Back then, that was quick.

      I barely kept the Contour a year.

      The beautiful navy blue “leather” seats squeaked awfully. Guys were pouring talc down between the seats to try to quiet them down.

      The car, like many manual transmission Fords of the time, suffered from a horrible rev hang that would keep the tack sky high between shifts and make driving smoothly very difficult. A lot of guys got 3/4 inch copper pipe caps, drilled a hole for air in it, and stuffed it in the IAC pipe. This helped, but only a bit.

      The car was a hoot when you wanted to have fun and drive like an a-hole. The rest of the time, when just trying to get from point A to point B…the car sucked.

      I remember being angry when the Car And Driver article panned the SVT Contour for having too rough an edge, for having too aggressive an exhaust. But they were right, and when I traded it for a Montero Sport, I never looked back.

  • avatar

    +1 to those who said that this little platform could be fun. I had the cousin to the Contour/Mystique, a ’99 Cougar V6. First model-year of that version of the Cougar. Got a screaming deal on it in September 1999 — had only 2,000 miles on it and got it for like $15k. Some old man had bought it automatically as he’d had Cougars since the ’70s. He had the “new edge” Cougar a month and was like WTF is this, small, hard riding, heavy steering — traded it in. Yeah yeah, they tell all the suckers that about low-mileage trades, right? But it had Veterans plates on it that couldn’t transfer to me (plates stay with cars here in CA), and I had to get new plates. So I think it’s actually true.

    Anyway. Fun car. Really eye-catching at time. Like, comments non-stop. “That the new Audi? Is that a Jaguar?” etc. etc. The handling was truly world class. AT THE TIME. The ride quality, not so much. Harsh is an understatement.

    The thing was rough around the edges but fun to mob around corners in. I kept it until 2011 and about 115k miles, when, like others here have reported, it really fell apart. I’d had numerous problems leading up to the end, but for some reason I still miss that little go-kart.

    I do remember me and all the other geeks on the Cougar forums were waiting with baited breath for the rumored Cougar S…it never came.

    ^^ Avatar above is from said Cougar

  • avatar

    Two people have mentioned the water pump issue with its cheap plastic impeller blades, make that three. I loved the v6 in ours, but my wife insisted I get rid of the Contour after it stranded her because after the cooling system failure. Too bad, it was a better engine than the 10v Audi 5 in the 90 I also drove at the time, and the 90 was a great car.

  • avatar

    I’m still driving an unmolested example, bone stock and exactly like that shown above, minus the window tint, spoiler, and front license plate. It’s a ’99 and I only put on about 8k a year. It’s been driven on salty roads one or two times.
    Yea, it has its quirks, and the Nasser ear decontenting is annoying from time to time. It’s still flat-out fun to drive, great handling, and as someone mentioned above, a smile inducing exhaust note. It could only be ordered it with a stick. Amazing to think about today, when so many supposedly great cars don’t even offer the option. Back then, 200hp from 2.5 liters was nothing to sneeze at. No, it’s not ideal for schlepping around a family. That was priority number last when I bought it too.
    I’ve no illusions that it will ever become a collector car, but I’m keeping it as long as I can (our vehicles get driven into the ground). A guy in a local convenience store just remarked last week: “Do you know how rare that is”. Yup. Still looks great to me. Low beltline, clean lines, and lack of the odd bulges and gingerbread that seems prevalent today. If only it had some brightwork around the windows I’d be perfect. :-)

  • avatar

    I bet the emails between Doug and Derek went something like this…

    Derek: Hey Doug pls remember to send drafts of your articles, I promised Bertel I would proofread when you write about older stuff
    Doug: Sure no worries but I haven’t linked 2 unrelated cars in over 2 weeks!
    DK: That’s true. Maybe just send me a picture of the car so I can confirm what it is.
    DD: Right on
    DD: OK here it goes. This is a Contour right?
    DK: Yup
    DD: Cool I want to use it in a piece on the Celebrity
    DK: Doug that’s a FORD Contour
    DD: Wait, what? I thought Ford names all began with an F!
    DK: Nope. Between Ford and Mercury they’ve had plenty that begin with a C, like Capri.
    DD: You mean the one that looks like a Miata?
    DK: Well yes but I was thinking more of the one that looks like a Mustang. Sajeev showed us one once.
    DD: Oh I thought that was a Mustang RS ☹
    DK: Nope
    DK: Now, to really blow your mind, the Capri before that one came from Europe
    DD: Wow
    DK: And there was one from Lincoln before that, in the 1950s
    DD: You mean it was a big Lincoln, then came from Europe, then back to America and finally Australia???
    DK: Yup. So be careful making fun of how Capris all look the same ☺
    DD: K
    DD: Well what do I do with this “Ford” Contour?
    DK: I dunno but it’s a cool pic
    DD: I have another article where it doesn’t matter what the car is. I’ll send it.
    DK: Hahaha love the “watch this” and “sounds good” lines, OK with me! But let’s not mention anything about a Celebrity.
    DD: Done!

  • avatar

    derek, agree with you totally. Anyone who didn’t buy it ’cause thr badge…

    I don’t mind sedans either. In this cases, the sw wasn’t shabby. Shame they were so expensive here. One of the best modern cars. Looks, performance, the Mondeo had everything.

  • avatar

    Back when I worked for Ford I had a 1998 Mystique Sport with the V-6 and a manual trans as a company car. 1998 was the last good year before all the serious decontenting started – my car had full 10-way power seats on both the driver and passenger sides.

    Having owned several Fiestas and 2 Merkur Scorpios prior, I was inclinded to like the Contour and Mystique. They had that “familiar” feel that all Euro Fords have, and the cars (in SE or Sport form) rode and handled brilliantly.

    The only thing I hated about it was the clutch pedal (hair trigger and grabbed right on the floor) and the way the engine RPM would remain high when you pressed in on the clutch – this is known as “dashpot effect” in the calibration community and it is done to reduce snap-throttle emissions if the car has a cheap catalyst with a very light precious metal washcoat on it. Thanks to these two conditions, driving the car smoothly was virtually impossible.

    One of my dealers got in a then new SVT Contour and I asked if I could take it out for a spin. What a revelation! The clutch pedal was much better sorted and offered better feel for what the clutch disc was doing. Most of the dashpot effect was also gone and the engine dropped back to idle rapidly in between shifts. Not only was it easy to drive fast and smoothly, but the already excellent handling was dialed up several notches.

  • avatar

    My friends mom had one of these in 4 cylinder form until 2 years ago. Freaking destroyed the thing. To her and my friend it was just a pos ford. The one they owned wasn’t that bad to be honest. But, it was a smokers car which made is disgusting.

    Anyway they had the timing belt go. Which was an easy fix with the zetec and no damage was done. I guess the shop said the transmission was going. Seemed fine to me i can’t see it having changed in the few days since i had driven it.

    The inside though was small. But i fit.

    The plus side we finally have the mondeo again. Plus tons of the European flair has made it through to the us. For didn’t change too much. Except we get the traditional automatic and bigger engines than Europe. Fair enough.

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