Happy 10th Anniversary of Your Death, Ford Taurus

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
happy 10th anniversary of your death ford taurus

Exactly a decade ago today, Ford ended production of the legendary Ford Taurus.

Along with Dodge’s Caravan, the Taurus is absolutely one of the most influential and important cars of the 1980s. It ushered in a new era of automotive design in North America and created a wholly new template for the modern sedan — and Ford turned its back on it.

Launched in 1985, the initial Taurus replaced the conservative LTD as Ford’s midsize offering. Borrowing a great deal from Ford Europe’s Sierra and Audi’s 5000, it was highly praised for its modern, aerodynamic design and immediately became a sales leader. Over two million first-generation cars had been sold by 1991.

The car received a subtle and familiar redesign in its second generation before Ford decided to make the car unrecognizable in 1996. Jack Telnack’s controversial ovoid redesign of the Taurus led to diminished interest from the public, although rental fleets kept figures high enough to keep pace with Japanese midsize imports like the Camry and Accord. Telnack left Ford the following year.

As interest in the Taurus declined, Ford began seeking ways to cut costs in order to keep the model competitive. In its 2000 redesign, Ford eliminated premium features on higher-end models and dropped the SHO performance variant.

Ford’s decision to eliminate the Taurus is difficult one to understand. Sales of the fourth-generation car remained relatively stable until the company began cutting back on production, only selling to fleets by 2006. While the terrible cast iron Vulcan V6 stretched itself to its absolute limit to compensate for the model’s continually growing mass, the Duratec 30 provided better-than-tepid power. Ford was facing very public financial troubles at the time and was losing the sedan war to the Japanese, but it could still be argued that the demise of the Taurus was premature. Honda sold 369,293 Accords in 2005, while Ford managed 304,851 as production began to slow.

When the last Taurus finally left the line in Hapeville, Georgia, it took 1,950 jobs with it. One of those jobs belonged to John Rape from Zebulon, GA. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. Wait until Monday morning when I wake up and don’t have anywhere to go,” he told USA Today in an interview.

Rape and the other workers could select among eight different separation, educational and retirement packages offered by Ford. At the time, the company was undergoing its massive The Way Forward restructuring plan aimed at reshaping the company and reducing expenses as hard times approached.

The last fourth-generation Taurus went to Chick-fil-A restaurant chain founder Truett Cathy, who credited the success of his first restaurant in Hapeville to repeat business from Ford workers across the street.

The Taurus’ death was short lived, however. Rumors of the Five Hundred being renamed as the Taurus were confirmed in 2007. That year, revamped Five Hundred and Freestyle models were unveiled as the Taurus and Taurus X at the Chicago Auto Show. Ford’s CEO at the time, Alan Mulally, said that he believed the Taurus’ initial discontinuation was a mistake, asserting that the Five Hundred should have been named Taurus from the very start.

Despite the revived Taurus name, later models haven’t come close to the sales successes of the “failing” model years of the early 2000s. Ford only sold 48,816 units of the full-size current incarnation of the Taurus in 2015. Shrinking passenger car sales aside, it’s probably partly because it’s not the Taurus North America remembers anymore. That car died ten years ago.

[Images: Ford Motor Company]

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  • Kendahl Kendahl on Oct 28, 2016

    My reaction on seeing my first Taurus was that it reminded me of the Audi 5000 but wasn't as sleek or elegant. Never owned one so I can't talk about reliability. I do remember a few things from driving them. I had several Taurus rentals on business trips. The soft suspension led me to underestimate the car's handling. Even driving as hard as I dared in an unfamiliar car, I had the feeling on exiting a corner that I could have taken it 10 mph faster. During a test drive of an early SHO, I found the transmission impossible to shift quickly. I suspect it would have loosened up in time the way my Infiniti G37S did. The later, ovoid models were fugly and the aerodynamics were screwed up. Above 85 mph, they became unstable so that you constantly had to correct for weaving.

  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Nov 01, 2016

    I rented loads of Taurus sedans during the late 90's and early 2000's mostly basic SE or LX models and the vast majority had the clunky bat style column shifter which I always hated. Finding a bucket seat floor shifter rental Taurus was next to impossible. Several things always stood out to me. The Taurus transmissions never shifted as well as the GM 4T60/4T65 units in my W-body cars. They were slow and dim witted and the Vulcan 3.0, while being a good durable engine, was a bit noisy and sluggish and never got the mileage that my 3100 and 3800 W-bodies did. They were much slower too, especially on the low end. The seats were fairly comfortable and the 90's version had sharper handling than the 2000 on up models which felt a little softer and had more numb steering. They were competent highway cruisers but I usually preferred my 1996 Lumina or 1998 Grand Prix more overall due to the better power train combos, sportier interiors with floor shifter/bucket seat combos and the GP handled and steered better.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)