Junkyard Find: 1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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™.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Josh Josh on Jun 01, 2021

    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.

    • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Jun 02, 2021

      All the '86 and '87 MT5s had the body color surrounds. I expect it was Ford's half-a$s attempt to make a "Euro" product, kind of like Chevy replacing chrome with red on the Celebrity.

  • David David on Sep 07, 2023

    I had one of these for my first car. My parents bought it new in 1986 and I started driving it in 1991. Unfortunately, it began showing shines of a cracked head gasket in early 1993 and that summer my brother took it on a road trip that would prove to be its demise. I learned how to drive in that 5 speed Taurus and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)
  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh WHAT !?
  • Jeff Matt--I think this is a good move for Mitsubishi to expand their presence with satellite dealers. I had a 85 MItsubishi Mighty Max and my sister had a 83 MItsubishi Starion. MItsubishi needs to add a compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and the Santa Cruz but offer it for less. A smaller more affordable truck will sell. I believe MItsubishi should still offer an inexpensive subcompact like the Mirage it will sell in a slowing car market with high msrps. Yes I know the Mirage is probably going to be canceled but I believe in these times it is a mistake and they should reconsider cancelling the Mirage. Toyota is having problems selling the new redesigned Tacomas and Tundras with the turbo 4s and 6s. Most Tacomas have MSRPs of well over 40k. There is room for MItsubishi to grow their market share with more affordable vehicles. I am not saying Mitsubishi is going to overtake Toyota, Honda, or Nissan but they should take advantage of the more affordable market segment that these companies for the most part have abandoned. MItsubishi doesn't have to be the biggest just increase sales and become more profitable.