By on November 16, 2020

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhen 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.

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, emblem - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsStrangely, 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.

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, gearshift - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAmericans 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.

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, HSC engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNearly 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.

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, HSC engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, pedals - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsOnce 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.

1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Ford Taurus MT-5 Sedan...”

  • avatar

    This one brings back a lot of memories.

    My dad bought one of these new in 1987, also in this red on red color combo. It was our family car until my second brother was born and we traded it in for a 1991 Caravan.

    I vividly remember sitting up front (in the pre-airbag, pre-child seat days) and asking him everything about the car, how it worked, why he was moving that lever on the floor, how fast it could go, etc.

  • avatar

    A friend almost bought one of these when we were in college. It was used and a couple years old by then. Manuals in sedans aren’t that unusual when you consider in that era a ton of Accords, 626’s, and others were also. I had a 97 Stratus with a manual. That car gets a lot of grief but it was surprisingly decent.

  • avatar

    88 horsepower?!? They should have called it the Tortoise.

  • avatar

    The MT-5 lived on when the SHO showed up. It was the only trans it offered. Except the MT-5 was no match for SHO, especially when shifting at above 5,000 RPM.

    That’s why I don’t understand the love for the SHO. Ford really went cheap there with a tiny Escort trans.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Ah, yes, the “Empty-Five”.

      My manager had the 89 SHO, which seemed like a really fun car at the time. But as you point out, Ford didn’t give it a transmission befitting the sweet Yamaha engine.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      The SHO engine would develop around 240 HP with some very minor modifications; 225 HP stock. Under no circumstances would the MT5, with a little more than 1/3 the output, be close to a match for a SHO. The SHO transmission and clutch was not from the Tempo; I believe it was sourced from Mazda. The transmission was fine; the clutch a weak point. The throw-out bearing in mine failed at about 40K miles and Ford went 50-50 with me on the cost of a replacement . . . after I pointed out to them that clutch “abuse” would produce failure of the clutch friction surface but not the throw out bearing.

      I bought a ’92 SHO, new, replacing my ’87 Mustang GT with the 5.0 V8. While nominally the same horsepower, the 5.0 was all low-end torque and ran out of breath at 4,000 rpm . . . when the SHO was just getting started. In real-world driving, especially over mountain roads, the SHO was faster. It had more predictable handling and better brakes. The ’87 GT had, believe it or not, drum/disc combination brakes. Over 80 mph, the GT’s braking was just about non-existent. The SHO’s brakes weren’t terrific, and it was necessary to replace the stock rotors with some of better quality metal that wouldn’t warp.

      For its time, the Yamaha-powered SHO was an impressive car.

      • 0 avatar

        Mazda made all of them. It was the same MT-5 from the Escort on up.

        At the time I couldn’t believe the reviews failed to mention such a glaring deficiency. Since I worked a Ford dealer (parts), I got to do the solo test drive. Of course I showed it no mercy.

        I settled on an ’89 Mustang LX notch 5.0 5-speed. There’s no need to wait for the power, it was immediate. Well you know, so I didn’t mind power dropping off on top, as long as there’s another gear for the upshift.

        Geeze 3rd would take you to over 100 MPH by 4,000 RPM. That’s with stock (rear end) gears, but that’s the easiest mod on a RWD.

        Except I really liked getting pulled deep into the seat, just on the daily commute when traffic cleared, without going much over 2,000 RPM or matting the throttle. Or going much over the speed limit.

      • 0 avatar

        The SHO, as you’d expect from a heavy FWD car with no LSD, was quite traction limited off the line and you would lose some surprising races from a dead stop. But, as I confirmed on several occasions, the SHO would beat a stock Fox Mustang GT decisively from a roll.

        Mine had questionable mufflers and made a beautiful howl above 5000 rpm. But everything that wasn’t the engine–including that Mazda transmission–broke at some point.

        • 0 avatar

          Everyone says they run out of wind and have no top end. Really? You actually could “shift” long before that happens, and once the power drops off at over 150 MPH (in 4th, stock), who cares?

          First, you got the 5.0 LX “notch”, not the goofy and heavy GT. Since they were RWD and Malaise Era, you would quickly swap the stock gears for something favorable, 3.55 and up.

          The “notch” Mustangs were mid 14 second cars right off the showroom. But you couldn’t take full advantage of the 300 lbs/ft of torque with the factory sandbag 2.73s (most) or “Performance” 3.08s.

  • avatar

    My friend’s wife had one of these in 1986. I think he cheaped out on buying her a new car. It was a dog, and they only keep it for one year. I bought a 1987 Sable wagon (had the 3.0) the next year. Although it wasn’t a rocket ship, I kept it for about 7 years until everything began to disintegrate. (One head gasket, 3 transmissions, one A/C compressor, heater core, etc………thank G-d for Ford’s extra cost extended warranty!!!)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A manual without a handbrake. Instead the regular floor mounted brake pedal, with what appears to be an extra long brake release pull handle.

    Do like the red interior.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, my 85 LeBaron GTS 5-spd was a 4-pedal car. It got pretty busy down there when trying to do an e-brake slide.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not a rare thing for manual transmissions not to have a hand-operated parking brake.

      If you have to start up a steep hill from a standing stop, you just learn to engage the parking brake with your left foot, and then reach forward and pull the release with your left hand once the clutch starts to engage….

      I remember Consumer Reports made a big deal of it when they tested a base version of the then-new 1978 Ford Fairmont, with the 2.3 liter 4-cyl, 4 on the floor.

      But a few years earlier, when they tested “stripper compacts”, Nova, Dart, Hornet, Maverick, most of them had 3 on the tree and none of them had a hand-brake, but comments from CR.

      These MT5s had to be even slow. How did Ford manage to coax more hp out of 2.5 liters of 2/3 of that anemic six than the 3.3 liter six had?

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “How did Ford manage to coax more hp out of 2.5 liters of 2/3 of that anemic six than the 3.3 liter six had?”

        Throttle body fuel injection and better cam lift, I would guess, and likely larger exhaust.

  • avatar

    I am so sad now, thank you for ruining my week Murilee!!! (bitter tears)

  • avatar

    When I was growing up, a car didn’t even get considered for the family fleet unless it had three pedals.

    I goaded my mother into test driving an MT-5 wagon when these things first showed up on the lot based on relatively positive early C&D articles on the regular Taurus. It was as miserable as it sounds and we turned around after 5 miles in the thing. I think the sales guy was promised employee-of-the-month if he unloaded it, so we got phone calls for over a month offering super deals.

    We ended up with another manual wagon in the form of a lightly used Quattro Turbo which served us reliably for 22 years.

  • avatar

    I’ve only ever seen one MT-5 in person, and that was a loooooong time ago.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I like the tag line in the commercial The Best Built American Cars. That’s pretty much admitting the Japanese were eating their breakfast and lunch.

  • avatar

    4th picture in the ‘gallery’; 6th picture in the writeup:

    Note that the accelerator pedal and clutch pedal are relatively thin stamped steel members, while the brake pedal is a beam of solid steel. Ford understood this in 1986, GM understood it in 1995 and Toyota still knew about it in 2005 (based on the two vehicles currently in my driveway). [Take a look at your daily driver and see what you find there.]

    The 2020 Mustang team will now explain to the class why it might be a good idea to attach such a critical structural element to a bracket made of plastic.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “The 2020 Mustang team will now explain to the class why it might be a good idea to attach such a critical structural element to a bracket made of plastic.”

      It’s justifiable, but it must be done right. Metal isn’t always better.

      Cost, weight, and geometry flexibility are all good reasons to go plastic. And reducing the factor of safety from 10 to 3 (for example) still means it’s safe.

  • avatar

    “Nearly all first-gen Taurus buyers opted for the V6 engine, anyway, because the base 2.3 four-banger made just 88 horsepower. ”

    One correction—the Taurus engine was a 2.5L not the 2.3, which was the Tempo/Topaz motor. Same design, though.

    Either way, this car was painfully slow with the 3 speed auto. Never saw one with the manual.

  • avatar

    As far as power output, how did this stack up against its similarly equipped contemporaries?

    I remember my 93 Escort with 88 horsepressures was relatively spritely, but it was also fairly light. I constantly have to recalibrate my opinions about power output out of a given engine size. About 12 years ago, I had a 4 cylinder Accord with 161 horsepressures which I thought was a revelation; now I have 186 out of a 2.5. I also have to continue to remind myself that 4 cylinder engines do, in fact, work in vehicles larger than the compact class.

  • avatar

    I owned one of these. An ’87, black with the red interior. Everything broke. All the power windows stopped working. The throttle body would freeze open when the temp dropped below freezing (not great living where it is below freezing 5 months out of the year) and would red line rev on start up. Wheel studs broke off. Windshield seal leaked. The best was when the studs for the exhaust manifold broke off in the block and the engine had to be removed to drill and tap the for new studs. Took $1500 for trade on ’96 4Runner. Never went back to Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Interesting comment. My mother’s 90 Taurus’ power windows failed eventually, leaving her asphyxiating in the heat at red lights.

      She eventually traded it in 2010 for an 02 Altima, which was replaced with an 11 Altima after a crash last year.

      Her only fond memory of the Taurus was its light blue color.

  • avatar

    I test drove a used MT-5 wagon back in 1991. With myself at the wheel, my wife, and the current owner in the car it had a great deal of trouble accelerating onto the highway. We didn’t buy it.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      I can about image how nerve-wracking that would have been. I had similar experience as the devastated driver for a friend.

      At the time he had a 96ish Neon, the bog standard one with an automatic as the only option that I can recall. We were attempting to get on the freeway with him and his friend (both on the heavier side at the time), average me and his friend’s daughter. I had that car matted and acceleration was not happening. It was terrifying even though that car started out with a better to weight ratio (I would guess).
      Getting onto 494 at anything less than about 80 is asking to be rear-ended, I think I maybe managed 45 by the time I got to the roadway.

      • 0 avatar

        I know what you mean about the Neon/3spd combo. The engine was lifeless below like 3500rpm, which means a 3 forward gear transmission was probably the worst match for that motor they could’ve come up with.

        It pulled pretty hard for its day as you ran towards redline, though, which is why the 5 speed model was like 3-4 seconds quicker to 60. That’s just ridiculous.

        High 7s to 60 IIRC, with the standard SOHC engine with the 5 speed, and low 11s 0-60 with the horrid 3 speed auto.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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.

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