By on February 24, 2016

1998 Ford Contour SVT

The appeal of the hot family sedan should be obvious. A car offering both family hauling utility and apex-hunting ability means, in theory, that the sports sedan should be the ideal cool dad car. BMW has been the king of this market for decades.

In practice, though, there are often too many compromises between comfort and performance that doom the sports sedan in the eyes of buyers.

Today’s feature, a 1998 Ford Contour SVT, is a great example of this compromise. One would think that taking the best selling family sedan in the UK, adding power and a firmer suspension, and turning it loose on American enthusiasts would be a recipe for a great car.

Over two decades, however, the SVT has become an unloved old Ford, just as likely to grace a buy-here, pay-here lot as a cone-filled parking lot. I see a Contour SVT on my commute, sitting curbside with a busted rear window, dragging side skirt, and rotted exhaust, and it’s not the only one I’ve seen neglected in such a manner.

The Contour, SVT or not, wasn’t a great car simply due to compromise. It was a bit too small compared to the competition, with a cramped rear seat becoming too tight for teenagers. I owned a first-generation Focus, and felt more comfortable in the rear than the nominally-larger Contour.

There are plenty of red flags on this Contour SVT. If perfect, $6,500 might be an acceptable price, though I wouldn’t spend more than $4,000. I’m wary of the poor photographs, combined with the seller’s description of “all works” and “well maintain.” I’ve a feeling that any transaction with this particular seller will lead to headaches.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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113 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: 1998 Ford Contour SVT...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Actually the Contour is more of a case of “good product, wrong time” – the car itself was pretty good with the exception of lack of interior room (even for its class). Combine that with the fact that it was far more expensive than the Tempo it replaced and customers ignored it in droves.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Contour ironically set the Taurus off on its downward spiral. Had they kept the Taurus in line with the Camry/Accord it wouldn’t be dying its slow death right now. Though I guess Ford is selling more overall with the Focus + Fusion + Taurus than it would have with just the Focus + Fusion

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        The opposite actually happened; what started the Taurus on it’s downward spiral was trying to match the 1991–1996 Camry in terms of build quality and raising the price accordingly for the 1996-1999 Taurus, at the same time the Japanese were de-contenting the Camry and Accord and lowering their prices. Along with the catfish styling, that is what started the Taurus on it’s downward spiral; Ford offered the de-contented GL and de-contented the entire line slightly in 1997; but the damage was already done.

        At the same time, the Explorer was taking off, and as Jack described, the “Taurus Truck” (1997–2003 F-150) also replaced the sedan as the family car for many families. Both had higher profit margins; so Ford basically stopped trying with the Taurus, and it replaced the Contour as the car for discount buyers starting in 2001.

        The Contour/Mystique was supposed to be the European Mondeo adapted for the North American market; but by the time Dearborn was finished messing with it; it basically only had the doors and windshield in common with the Mondeo. It’s biggest competition was right next to it on the showroom floor; it was too close to the Taurus/Sable in terms of both size and price, so most buyers went with the Taurus/Sable; especially with the cramped back seat. If they wanted a sports sedan, they bought the SHO.

        • 0 avatar
          ericb91

          Ah, the 1996 Taurus redesign.. I always liked that generation of Taurus. My first car was a 1998 Taurus sedan that was 9 years old at the time. Beat to hell but I loved that thing.

          Check out “Car: A Drama of the American Workplace”. A thrilling read about the designing of the 1996 Taurus. I couldn’t put it down.

          • 0 avatar
            jhefner

            Ericb91; that book is in my personal library, along with “Taurus, the Car That Saved Ford.”

            Some of it is too “gossipy” for my taste, but it is a good read. The insight into the design decisions is great; particularly how they were going to graft the new nose onto the existing 91-95 Taurus wagon until someone in upper management commented it looked like a refrigerator; already over budget, they went ahead and redesigned the station wagon as well. I would like to have seen what that original clay for the 1996 wagon looked like.

            Also good was the insight into the design of the side view mirrors; it helps to understand why most mirrors are designed the way they are nowadays.

            As controversial as the styling was, it was still a good car; I still see lots of them on the road; along with the ’90s Camry.

          • 0 avatar
            dolorean

            The 1996 Taurus was the ovoid design primarily for women in mind. I even remember a C&D article quoting an engineer bragging about how even the door pulls on the inside were deep-welled for a women’s long fingernails.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          1996 saw what to me was the decline…and the most controversial OVAL design.
          I am not positive, but I will bet this was the beginning of the end.
          That horrible concave side. The weirdly oval wagon windows only my strange brother purchased.

          I did like the Fivehundred. I liked the car and the solid build and room. And I liked the Fivehundred name…it brought back memories of the ’63 rocket rear black convertible with red seats my relatives had!!!

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          jhefner, you nailed it exactly. No way were loyal Toyota buyers going to pony up for the Ford when Toyota’s new model was cheaper. Little did they know how much of the Toyota they loved had been “value engineered” out. At least Toyota managed to keep the reliability..

        • 0 avatar

          Exactly. I had one, the Mystique/Contour site was a shrine to “re contenting” the car, as the early ones had full kit, like heated mirrors, and later ones were stripped-at some point ford even yanked the bulb in the glove box…4 cents ?. To the mass buyer, the Taurus was bigger and the same price, pretty much. The base versions were pointless. I had the V6 manual, which was rare-there were three stick cars in the NY tri state area… eventually I installed SVT suspension, which was just really stiffer shocks and the fancy wheels. The car was tight when newer, handled well. The six was fine, minimal torque steer.

          At 120k, I had to get rid of it, as things began to break with regularity-the cheap construction just won over good design.

          I liked the car, but it was starved on the vine by Ford USA, due to Not Invented Here.

        • 0 avatar
          quasimondo

          Ovals. Ovals is what started the Taurus’ downfall.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s funny that people mention the size of the Contour as being too small, when it was slightly larger than the BMW 3 series at the time. Even if the Contour was RWD it would have been overlooked because it was an expensive Ford.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        But at that point in history there were still a significant amount of American buyers who were buying by the pound. When the price of a Contour is close to the price of a Taurus or that guy trading in a 10 year old Tempo comes in to look at the Contour he’s going to turn around and go buy a Cavalier or a Neon.

        • 0 avatar
          slance66

          Maybe, but when I bought mine lightly used, and my boss at the time compared it with her new Cadillac Catera, there was no contest. The Contour was a better car in every way. The build quality was superb really. She was quite annoyed by her Catera after that.

        • 0 avatar
          Whatnext

          You make it sound as though “buying by the pound” doesn’t still exist in the USA. Of course it does, witnessed by the success of full-sized pickups.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Just too much money. Why not just Taurus instead? This thing was too small.

        • 0 avatar
          dolorean

          I disagree. My 6′ 1″ frame fit very well inside and for a while, my wife and two daughters before the third showed up, fit in it perfectly well. The Taurus to me, was too big. And ovoid. And guppy-moufed.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I shall rephrase. “Too small for the money.”

          • 0 avatar
            dolorean

            In 1998, the SVT Contour stickered for $23,5k, but with cash on the hood (Contour incentives applied) you got it for a thousand less. For that price, you got 195 HP high-output 2.5L Mazda V6, 5 spd GETRAG, full sport suspension, ground effects, and special 17″ wheels, full leather seating, power everything and sunroof, and a host of other formally European features that made it a steal when looking at the bloated Taurus. She ran 0-60 in a little under 7 secs, which wasn’t screaming fast, but quick for the time. I wanted a Mustang but the wife wanted a four door, it was the perfect compromise.

          • 0 avatar
            SVT6357

            Actually, dolorean, the SVT came with a DURATEC V6 that was primarily engineered and designed by Porsche. And the trans was not a Getrag, but an MTX-75. And also came with 16″ wheels, not 17″. Ive owned 2 of these low production number specialty vehicles and i absolutely love them. I still own one (1998.5 Black/MNB #6357/6535), as my second was involved in an accident and was not repairable (1999 Tropic Green/Prairie Tan #1394/2760). Most fun I’ve had driving a car in a long time! Had a 1994 Probe GT with a lot of modification done, especially to the suspension, and the SVT Contour would out-handle it on a stock suspenion.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I agree about it being a “good product, wrong time”. People couldn’t accept higher quality, smaller, domestics. The Saturn Astra had the same problem.

      I disagree about it being too expensive. In 2000, I picked up a 2000 Mercury Mystique LS (Mercury version of the Contour). When I went to the Honda dealer, the sales guy was upset that I was cross shopping it with the Civic EX. He thought I should be cross shopping it with the Accord. I told him that it’s priced alongside the Civic (similarity equipped). If he could bring the price of the Accord down to the same range, I’d consider it. He didn’t even try.

      I definitely agree with r129’s claim that it’s hard to find a well maintained one. I maintained mine properly. I sold it to my neighbor a couple of years ago and he’s taking care of it. It still looks and drives great. I’m very hard pressed to see another on the road that doesn’t look like crap. It’s too bad, these cars weren’t treated very well.

      • 0 avatar

        They began life, most of them, at the lowest tier, sold mostly the 4 cyl/autobox, with a few sixes. Unless you got the Mercury most were strippers. The owners had no money to start with, so most just got used up….

        SVT was super rare. I used to look for the sixes, and those were super rare. Six – Manual ? almost unicorn.

    • 0 avatar
      Exfordtech

      Said the man that never wrenched on them. Along with a vast array of recalls that began within moments of job 1, these were beset with a host of substandard parts from cheap interior plastics to a Mexican supplied engine compartment wiring harness whose insulation was not of sufficient durability to withstand the heat within the engine compartment. Technicians would hide from the dispatcher if one of these were the next repair order to be handed out. Line one would be for an LOF, and I personally witnessed one with a subsequent 6 safety recalls and 2 owner notification programs. I wanted to like these cars when they came out, finally a long overdue replacement for the Tempo/Topaz, but they earned the Common/Mystake nickname for a multitude of reasons. Thanks Jack Nasser, if only that money you spent buying up luxury brands and auto recyclers was spent on improving the product …..

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        NAAAAAAAAAASSER!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Exfordtech: “Said the man that never wrenched on them.”

        Says a man who has no idea what others have done. I worked some on the car. I also worked for a dealership group and would swap favors with the techs. They weren’t all that fond of the 2.0, but no one had any issues with the 2.5.

        • 0 avatar
          Kevin Jaeger

          The 2.5 V6 in the Contour was certainly a good engine. It was pretty much the only component on the car I never had a problem with.

          But the engine bay was packed very tight with the V6 in there and it certainly wasn’t pleasant to work on. The tight packaging caused heat problems and things like alternator failures were frequent and they were annoying to replace.

          The Contour handled well and was nice in ways, but only a fool would deny their many shortcomings.

        • 0 avatar
          Exfordtech

          Ever do a cat recall on a V6? How about an alternator? Ever get stuck doing an engine wiring harness on a V6 with ABS? Front crash sensor recall? Fuel tank recall? Headlamp switch and pigtail harness recall? Front seatbelt buckle recall? Rear brake hose recall? Instrument panel recall? There’s more that I can’t remember. The cars were beancounted to death when they could been contendas.

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            Exfordtech, only recall I had on that car was for the airbag warning sticker. Apparently, the glue could fail and the sticker could come loose.

      • 0 avatar

        I had one recall, where my dash began to migrate away from the front of the windshield. The dealer replaced the whole dashboard with a notably better part. The Service Manager said they got two hours for a six hour job.

        Later ford figured out new grommets, not a new dash.

        The controller for the two stage intake failed, and was replaced under the NY/CA extended warranty.

        The six was decent….

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I still like these. I had a few Maximas and aside from the cavernous back seat and better build quality this seemed like a much better car all around. That small size is a boon for the driving experience and curb weight. Also has an IRS which is key too.

    Great thing is you can swap the 3.0L short block in under the heads and instantly get 20% more HP. Those 3.0s were in everything from Tauruses to Escapes so they are cheap and plentiful.

    End of the day though it’s still an 18 year old Ford. Down where I am it’s not hard to find a cleanish one, but meh. I think the same money gets you a same vintage E36/E46… which is probably just as much of a crap shoot, but is RWD and a BMW at least.

    • 0 avatar
      r129

      Having just had a brief fling last May-September with an 18 year old E39 528i, I’d gladly take the Contour if I had to do things over again.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      I’d gladly take the BMW also. My brother in law just sold a e46 convertible last year, but I drove it on a number of occasions over the past couple years. It was a blast to drive and always seemed so engaging and simple compared to the 335 I owned at the time. Good HP, balanced, and pure. I don’t think ever did anything to it beyond normal wear and tear. I almost thought about buying it from him. He ended up selling it for less than the price of this Contour.

      • 0 avatar
        pbr

        +1. $6500 would buy a pretty nice e46, if you just had to spend that much.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        335i seems like a perfect car on paper and it doesn’t help that my boss has one, but I just could not see myself pulling the trigger. How was the ownership experience? I’m guessing not great as you talk about it in the past tense?

        I feel like peak 3 series is either the E46 ZHP or one of the naturally aspirated E90s.

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      I traded a 89 Maxima SE in on a 95 Contour SE with a stick. Besides the large backseat area on the Maxima that you mentioned the Contour was a better car; certainly more fun on the backroads, the handling was a class higher.

  • avatar
    r129

    As the former owner of a non-SVT Contour, I sometimes recall the car fondly and think about buying a Contour SVT for fun. It seems that there are very few unmolested, well-maintained examples out there. Believe it or not, there is (was?) a very active community of Contour enthusiasts, and I wonder how many decent SVTs exist in their garages.

    I purchased my Contour when I was 20 years old because I wanted to learn how to drive a manual, and figured that buying a car with a manual is the only way I would ever learn. Once I learned, and eventually drove other manuals, I came to realize that the Contour had a terrible shifter. Other than that, it was a pretty good car compared to many of its contemporaries. I could definitely tell that it had roots in Europe, both by the way it drove compared to other Fords, and some of the interior switchgear that was very familiar to me, having also appeared in my Merkur Scorpio.

    Perhaps my favorite memory of the Contour occurred 2 years after I sold it to a friend. By this time, she decided it was time to buy a new car. We were on the thruway doing about 70 in the left lane, on the way to the dealership to trade it in. Suddenly, the hood flew open! She managed to calmly pull over to the right lane, despite my screaming.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      I’m afraid I don’t agree, as my SVT Contour’s shifter was pretty competent and lasted all 100,000 miles on the original clutch. You want a bad shifter? The ’92 SHO I replaced with the Contour had a dreadful manual transmission. My left leg is still a half-size larger due to the excessive force required to operate it.

      • 0 avatar
        r129

        I wonder if the SVT’s shifter was differentiated from the shifter in lesser Contours, or if the shifter was improved in later years. Mine was a 1997 (pre-refresh). I did find this in an Edmunds review:
        “Nobody at Ford was willing to own up to it, but we are fairly certain that the Contour’s gearbox was improved for 1998 as well. Gone is the slushiness that made the critical 2nd to 3rd gear change a challenge in previous models, the shift lever in the 1998 Contour feels tight and accurate.”

        • 0 avatar
          LeeK

          That is very possible. I know there was a lot of discussion on the Contour forums (on AOL!) about the poor cable shifter feel on non-SVTs. I don’t know if the SVT had a rod attachment but I do remember it being quite smooth and comparable to a Honda Accord and a BMW 318’s manual transmissions in cars I also owned in the mid 90s.

          • 0 avatar
            Kevin Jaeger

            I had a ’98 with the V6 and I thought the shifter felt fine. I believe I did change to a synthetic gear oil early on due to the extreme cold weather we get in my part of Canada, but I always thought it shifted and handled very well.

            I do remember this was the first car I had with a very annoying rev hang while shifting.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        The shifter on my ’98 was a 5 spd GETRAG and was simply brilliant. Over 100k miles and no issues.

    • 0 avatar
      maestromario

      The shifter on my ’98 Mystique V6 was fine, and the gear ratio of the transmission was excellent. I always had a good gear for any driving condition, 3rd was very effective to merge on the highway. Like a Jaguar, when it worked it was fun car to drive… That’s probably why they used the Mondeo for the base of the X type, maintaining the brand’s reliability reputation lol!

  • avatar
    slance66

    I had a 1996 Countour SE…the baby brother of this one. Small V6, nice suspension firmer than the regular models, and heavily bolstered seats (into which I would no longer fit). Great little car. Drove it from San Jose to Boston, setting cruise at 102 except around cities until we got to the KC area. It did that easily, with great stability.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    One of the stupidest-looking Fords next to the fishy blob Taurus. Thank goodness they’ve gone in a completely different design direction.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    The Contour for me was the downfall of the car mags. Until the Contour, I figured that if C/D, R&T and MT loved a car, then people would listen and it would sell.
    They all loved the Contour, but the American buying public had other ideas. From then on, I no longer took the car mags seriously.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    IIRC, car mags were warning people away from used SVT Contours in 2004, as apparently they have a reputation for being driven hard and then dumped.

    I wouldn’t touch it in 2016 with a $650 pole, much less a $6,500 check.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Agreed, especially with 200+ HP being beyond common these days, along with amazing automatic transmissions. After reading this month’s “Automobile” I happily realized that my stripped 320i is as fast as the Magnum PI Ferrari I lusted after back-in-the-day. Neato.

      I also hate, hate, hate the SVT wheels on the Contour. They look just like after market cheapies to me. I also never met anyone who owned a Contour or a Mystique that actually LIKED them, or drove them for any other reason that they were cheap and the person was poor or had a second job delivering pizza and needed a dirty 4-banger to do that with.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        I don’t know Colonel, I found my ’98 SVT Contour’s alloy wheels to be okay in looks. They certainly were easy to clean. The ’99 and later variants went for a slightly more angular five spoke which I thought was a bit more attractive.

        Hate? Let’s talk about those godawful cutouts for the jack points in the side skirts that always came loose and were simply a pain in the neck to get put back on properly aligned after rotating the tires.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        200HP is common… a ~3000lb 200HP 5 seater with 6 cylinders, not so much. Even just for 4 cylinders, all I can think of are the Fiesta ST, Civic Si and GTI. Your 320i is over 3300lbs and is only a 4 banger. That’s enough weight to feel.

        • 0 avatar
          SVT6357

          I’ve owned 2 SVT Contours. A 1998.5 Ebony Black/MNB And a Tropic Green/PT. Ive always liked them when they first came out and when I had chance to buy one, I pounced! Best $1300 I’ve spent! That was 5 years ago at 138K and I still have it at 193K. Its been upgraded as well. Stock suspension has been replaced with BAT INC European struts and 1.7″ B&G lowering springs, polyurethane bushings where I could, 04 Escape DOHC 3L swap (220 whp/ 210 wtq) (spun rod bearing in SVT engine), custom built intake and center exit exhaust, short-shifter, Mystique front end (hood/lights/grille) and dash. Im also building a trans gor it as well. But this is the most fun I’ve had driving a car! My old Probe GT had a lot of suspension upgrades and the SVTC out-handles it on the stock suspenion! Just like any car, there are good ones and bad ones, and I got a great one! The community is still strong for these cars. The online forums (contour.org) is kind of a dead scene, but the same group of people are still active on the FB pages for these cars. My biggest gripe with the car is the lack of space in the engine bay, followed by the lack of aftermarket following which is to be expected. The only (used) car I would sell my car for is the Mustang SVO!

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I remember this car coming out on the tails of the Tempo if I remember right (and I think mentioned above). I never had a problem with the size of the car. I just never had an emotional connection to it. It just never connected with all my car buddies. I always heard the resale on these was very poor, but cannot validate that.

    At this time I was watching a Mazda MX-6 V-6/Ford Probe V-6 closer. Ended up with the MX-6, which was a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      mazdaman007

      Had a 1988 626 Turbo which was rated at *145 HP*. Everybody knew Mazda was fibbing with that one. The quoted 190 lb/ft of torque seemed about right though. Awful torque steer but it was a real Q ship. Took more than a few V6 Maximas with it.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I feel like I’d be happier with a V6 SHO on the older side of the timeline and an X-type, Focus SVT/ST, or LS V6 on the newer side.

    Granted all the stuff I listed will require some decent TLC to keep rolling, but I expect that would be true of the SVT Contour as well.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I had a, guess 1994/5, that looked just like this one as a company car. 3.0 SE, w grey leather interior.

    Had the worst chassis dynamics of any car I’ve driven. There wasn’t a crown or rut it didn’t find and try to wander of on, there wasn’t a bump it ever damped but seemed to make harsher.

    It was noisy and cramped inside and had a teetering left right feel when driving at speed.

    Less than 2 years old, the idler pulley on the serpentine assy drive belt sized and nearly caused an accident on the expressway due to the smoke generated (could use this as a tactical camouflage device!) and was burning by the time I made it off the exit ramp. From start to extinguishment was about 1/2 mile. was repaired but lease ended not long after. Wasn’t sad to see it go.

    Was replaced with a ’96 top of line dodge stratus that was substantially better in every way.

    Ps, I was one of a group of guys that developed a still-born (cancelled a few months before job 1) column shift assembly for this car to support a front bench seat option! LoL. Ford really had it head up its butt at that point in time thinking this car would be a good 6 passenger car (no hip room for a front middle passenger and no rear leg room either. And pricing nearly the same as Taurus!)

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      So, you had a 3.0, which was never offered, and your “94/5” (car was new for 1995) looked “just like” the 98, which had revised styling (especially in the front). One of the brightest spots in the Contour’s legacy was its often-praised handling and dynamics, which of course were the worst youve driven. Then it was replaced by a very-next-year Stratus, yet you still had it when it was nearly two years old.

      Okay then, just checking.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Either this guy’s car had a bent frame on delivery or his car wasn’t actually a Contour. The Contour can be criticized for many, many things but when they were new they certainly handled well for a FWD car.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    The spirit of the Contour SVT lived on in the 2002-2005 X-Type Sport with the manual transmission. I owned one and had driven a Contour SVT in years past. It was like the SVT, but better in every way. Same size, but more power, better interior, handled better, AWD.

    For $4k, you can find an X-Type, but you’ll have to spend a little more to find a Sport model with the manual.

  • avatar
    pb35

    I was living in Detroit in the 90s and always wanted one of these. We didn’t have kids yet so I went for the Probe GT instead. It was a good choice too.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I am trying to think of a more sensible modern alternative to this. 1st gen TSX?

  • avatar
    dwford

    I had one and loved it, especially the exhaust note.

  • avatar
    Funky

    Mine was a 1999 (red). I have no complaints about this car other than it too often needed new tires (maybe this was due to driving style; but I think it was due to the “sticky” tires). The 200 horsepower was good enough, the suspension never let me down on the twisty mountain roads on which I commuted at the time, and one of my kids, to this very day, talks foundly about riding with me in it. It was sold in lieu of a larger sedan when I moved, temporarily, to an area with more (a lot more) traffic which meant I could no longer enjoy driving it (since it was the vehicle I used only for commuting and running errands, I could no longer enjoy it; and, yes, it was too small for me to use for family trips).

  • avatar
    Snavehtrebor

    The wife had a ’96 SE with the 2.5 and it was a hoot to drive; excellent chassis dynamics and plenty of pickup from the 170hp V6. I agree with everyone else that the rear legroom was nonexistent, but we didn’t worry about that since we were/are childless. The driver’s seat was comfortable for me at 6’2″. The thing that drove me nuts was the squeaking and rattling. Literally every hard plastic surface rubbed against another and on rutted roads it sounded like it was coming apart, which I suppose it was. Eventually it started overheating and we traded it on a ’99 Accord LX V6- which turned out to be more of the same, i.e. fun motor & handling but terrible build quality.

    • 0 avatar
      Verbal

      The water pumps were a known problem area in the Contour. I drove a ’96 SE V6 for 200k miles and went through at least three water pumps. They were designed with a plastic impeller wheel that became brittle over time and would disintegrate. Luckily I do check my temperature gauges, other wise I would have friend the engine.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    SO MANY red flags. I make list.

    -Has front end accident on the history report.
    -Missing lower valance grille at front.
    -The fog lamps AREN’T THERE.
    -Bumper doesn’t line up with headlamp driver’s side.
    -Poor English
    -Not enough pictures to judge condition.
    -Not enough interior photos.

    This is an absolute avoid even at $3500.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Neither you nor I are constitutionally capable of buying or owning a car in beater condition. But if the buyer really wants a beater (and pays $2000 or less for it) none of those things really matter.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    There is one for sale in Seattle area for $2,600. The only sin appears to be missing a side skirt, otherwise this looks VERY clean.

    http://seattle.craigslist.org/sno/cto/5458466533.html

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      That side skirt is probably going to cost the buyer weeks of time and at least several hundred dollars to find, retrieve, ship, paint, and attach.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        And RE: side skirt, I really don’t like the jack points integration as separate little cut-outs. Very cheap looking. On lighter colored cars you’d end up with dirt outlines in those areas.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I was looking for an SVT Contour as my first new car in 1999 but they weren’t easy to find. I found a dealer that had one manual six cylinder (with a dead battery) and was so turned off by the shifting (and me driving an 85 Accord at the time) I gave up. Plus $24k for the SVT at the time was still more than I wanted to pay for a new car.

    I think it’s just one of those well kept secrets, like my father’s SE-R.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    There is just one thing about this car that is extraordinary, and that is the sound. This is the only car where the Duratec has ever sounded good. One of the best-sounding cars of its time.

    But not worth it to put up with the ’90s Ford interior (they’ve aged SO badly!), decomposing trim, and total parts unavailability. Yes, it’s a good handler for a FWD sedan, but other cars are too.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    I purchased a ’98 SVT Contour sight-unseen based on car magazine buzz and drove it daily for seven years and 100,000 miles before moving onto an Evo VIII.

    Good: decent power, wonderful exhaust note, smooth-shifting manual transmission that retained its original clutch, factory sound system, brakes, HVAC system, leather upholstery, reasonably good front-wheel drive dynamics, cult car community

    Not so good: dealing with those stupid jack point cutouts in the side skirts, rear bumper sag, not much rear seat legroom

    Not good: plastic water pump water impeller, wheel bearings, alternator — all of which failed

    Of all the cars I personally have owned over the past 35 years, this Ford was the least reliable with nagging issues every six months. Five VWs (!) were all better than this, reliability-wise. I liked the car, but never loved it. It filled a niche of American sports sedans, but its execution missed the mark established by the far better 3-series. It was better than the SHO it replaced, but that’s about all I can remember about it with any sort of fondness.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Based on my own SHO ownership experience, I can’t quite believe you signed up for another performance Ford after owning a SHO.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        LOL! I really, really disliked the SHO so much that it was a relief to get into the Contour. I guess it’s all about relative merits. Good god that SHO was crude. Great exhaust note though, and the “bucket of snakes” intake manifold of the Yamaha motor was fun to look at.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I liked driving the SHO, crudeness and all. But almost every part on the car broke during my ownership, some multiple times. I was a Ford fanboy but the SHO soured me on the company a bit.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That mid 90s SHO looked legit in silver though. Always liked that one, especially the wheels and grille.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            The ’94-’95 silver was a great color.

            Mine was a cherry red ’89, complete with basketweave wheels and bumper-mounted cornering lights. The concept of that car was utterly fantastic. The execution was the problem.

            Not my car, but looked identical except for the cheesy window trim:
            http://www.oocities.org/sho_off_1993/pix/89pix/red3.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Too many specific-o bits and engine?

            Edit: Those are very close to lace wheels, yay!

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Too many non-specific bits, IMO. Brakes were ’88 Conti parts front and regular Taurus parts rear, and weren’t up to the SHO’s performance. Engine accessories didn’t like being spun as fast as the SHO engine could spin; I replaced all of them at least once. Transmission was the old Mazda box previously used in the MT-5 and lunched itself at around 85k. And ’80s Ford interior quality was ’80s Ford interior quality. I think the only electrical bit in the interior that didn’t fail was, strangely, the sunroof. I got to know window, lock, and seat mechanicals very well.

            Edit: Oh, and those wheels? Straight off the ’86 Taurus LX. The SHO got specific center caps for ’90 but didn’t get specific 16″ wheels until late in the ’91 MY.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Holy parts bin, Batman!

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I like a good parts bin special, but that’s not a good one…

            Also, I love how Ford had two Mazda 5-speeds, a FWD one AND a RWD one. I don’t love how they put the RWD one into cars like the Thunderbird instead of the T-5 though…

  • avatar
    LJD

    After high school I worked at a Ford dealer as a lot attendant and we had a few Contours, one might have been an SVT since it had a stick. I was probably the only person who liked it. I would always bring it back to the wash area just for an excuse to drive it around the lot. Too bad I never got to take it out for a spin. Also we had an Escort ZX2 with a stick as well. Everyone thought I was dumb for liking the small cars. The dealer sold mostly trucks so not many people came by looking for cars to buy so I think the Contours sat on the lot for a long time. We had Saleen Mustangs too, but I never got to touch one.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I suppose the Fusion V6 Sport would be the modern equivalent of this.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I almost bought the last new SVT Contour that was available in Ontario but it got sold the day before I was going to put in an offer on it.

    I ended up buying a V6 manual transmission Contour with leather and sunroof – just a step below the SVT.

    I quite liked it for about 8 years and 125K, and then it appears that was its intended design life and it comprehensively fell apart almost overnight – AC, ABS brakes, Airbag, sunroof, trunk release, door locks, windows, interior trim, etc. The engine was still 100% but practically everything else fell apart.

    I can’t recommend these things as old cars, cool as they were when they were new. They just don’t age well at all. Spend your time and money on that BMW E39 or almost anything else with more durable components.

  • avatar
    iamcanjim

    Have a 1998 in British Racing green with a 5 speed manual. I loved that car. First time I did a 4 wheel drift on a public street. With the wife in the car.

  • avatar
    Erikstrawn

    For $6500 it better be the Ken Block edition Contour.
    http://www.murileemartin.com/UG/LAL16/382-DSC_4909.jpg

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    I bleed Ford blue and had a chance to purchase one of these or an Escort. Because the Contour had less actual usable space than the Escort, I saved money and have never regretted it in 169,000 miles and consistent tanks of 43 mpgs. It cost me $10k new and I may end up being one of those 90 year olds driving a 50 year old car – unless its totalled, I’ll keep it. Love no car payments.

    I liked the Contour but it wasn’t a good car even in Europe. Ford tried to get more rear seat room by carving out the backs of the front seats (a trick that Total Recall Motors had to employ when its Malibore couldn’t hold adults with legs attached). Both instances really didn’t solve anything.

  • avatar
    modemjunki

    Not one mention of the connecting rod bearings, Best and Brightest. The 2.5 Duratec did not keep them in place very well when stressed as in the SVT.

    I had a ’98 SVT and it was a fun drive, a sleeper because not many people knew what the little commuter sedan was up to. I had some suspicions about the electrical work – the connectors all started to corrode badly and I would clean them with some electronics cleaner when I spotted it. Based on changing life needs I ended up trading the car for something that could carry a slobbering dog.

    I would not buy the car linked in the article with free money. It looks like it has been rode hard and put away wet too many times.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    I traded in my well loved MY86 300ZX 2+2 in 2000 for an off-lease MY98 SVT Contour. She was beautiful; completely black, full-tinted windows, with the sunroof and rear spoiler option and that gorgeous but weird, blueberry-leather seating. Was one of the most comfortable cars I’ve ever owned. I took her to Germany while stationed in Friedberg, north of Frankfurt, for three years and she performed admirably on the Germany Abahns and Federal roads. Top speed was 156 mph before the “Ford” kicked in and I gave up trying to push her faster. I finally sold her for $6500 on Ft Riley as I was heading off for my second deployment to Iraq and didn’t want to have her sit another year. Still regret selling her.

  • avatar
    slingshot

    I had a 2007 stripped model, no air or power windows, etc. that I bought for $9,999. I enjoyed driving it; was like a small German sports sedan. Handling was great at 80 mph. Major problems including the manual transmission. Got a $1,000 trade in when I purchased my 2002 Millenia S. My friend had the V-6 with a manual transmission and had much fewer problems.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    These were fun cars when new, but they didn’t stand the test of time and quickly turn to trash.


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