Junkyard Find: 1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 Sedan
When I visit a car graveyard, I’m always on the lookout for three things: puzzling examples of badge engineering, crazy high odometer readings, and manual transmissions in unexpected cars. One of the rarest of all is a non-SHO Ford Taurus with three pedals, sold under the MT-5 designation for the 1986 through 1988 model years. After a decade of searching, I found my first discarded Taurus MT-5 in Phoenix, three years back. Now a junkyard near Pikes Peak has provided the second example of this extraordinarily rare Junkyard Find.
Strangely, the MT-5 wasn’t the very cheapest 1986 Taurus you could buy. The Taurus L that year had a three-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment and cost a mere $9,645 versus the MT-5’s $10,276 (that’s about $22,915 and $24,415 in 2020 dollars, respectively). The MT-5 had the same four-cylinder engine as the L, but came with bucket seats, better gauges, and a nicer steering wheel.
Americans were accustomed to automatic transmissions as costly upgrades by 1986, and so few bargain-seeking car shoppers felt that paying more for a manual transmission in an ordinary midsize sedan with a two-digit-horsepower engine made much sense. MT-5s gathered dust in the showrooms. Never mind that the overdrive gear in the five-speed gave the MT-5 much better fuel economy than the L— gas prices were in a screaming power dive around this time.
Nearly all first-gen Taurus buyers opted for the V6 engine, anyway, because the base 2.3 four-banger made just 88 horsepower. That was miserable stuff in a car that scaled in at 2,759 (sedan) or 2,957 (wagon) pounds. Yes, Ford sold— or at least tried to sell— MT-5 wagons, though I’ve never seen one in person. Four-cylinder engines were available throughout the 1986-1991 first generation of Taurus, but you won’t find many.
The HSC engine has an interesting story. Originally designed for the Tempo, it was two-thirds of the old early-1960s “Thriftpower” 200-cubic-inch straight-six engine that powered millions of Fords through 1984.
Once the Taurus SHO became available for the 1989 model year, the MT-5 got the axe; drivers who preferred manual shifting also tended to prefer lots of horsepower.
The car seems to be in pretty decent condition, with no rust and a reasonably nice Bordello Red™ interior. Since the Taurus MT-5 falls firmly into the “rare but not valuable” category, however, few cared when it took that final tow-truck ride to this place.
“Now there’s an American car that has exactly what we’ve been looking for.”
For links to 2,000+ additional Junkyard Finds, Junkyard Gems, and Junkyard Treasures, head over to the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.
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Interesting about the HSC engine, I didn’t know it was derived from the old 200 I6. I worked on a few of those, one in a 67 Fairlane and one in a Fox body Mercury Capri. They had integral intake manifolds and one barrel carbs. My 67 Plymouth had the 225 slant 6, which I rebuilt. They didn’t even give the HSC motor a cross flow cylinder head. That’s getting the most out of your ancient iron. I miss having a car with a straight 6, those things were buttery smooth.
Does anyone know why the MT5 here has different window surround colors (like the SHO) and black trim, vs. regular Taurii with chrome brightwork? I've also seen an '88 MT5 that had chrome brightwork. It looked like a GL from 500 feet away.