By on January 13, 2021

Rare Rides has covered earlier variants of the Taurus twice in prior entries, with a sparkling SHO from 1990 and the one-off Sable cabriolet from 1989.

Today we go further back in history, and look at an excellently preserved 1987 Taurus LX.

By the early Eighties, things were changing across the American automobile landscape. Japanese offerings were gaining traction, downsizing was de rigueur, and front-wheel drive platforms were a siren’s song from the future. Customers and the government also made a point to care about fuel economy, which meant the implementation of more aerodynamic styling. Specific to its case, Ford was also losing money big time. Losses of $3 billion accumulated between 1979 and 1982.

Given the above, Ford realized it needed an innovative, quality made, clean-sheet replacement for one of the most important segments of the era: the midsize family sedan. The Taurus project started in the early Eighties, and Ford shelled out billions of dollars on its new mainstream idea. By 1985 the Taurus was production-ready. LTD out, Taurus in!

The new car was kept almost fully under wraps until it was previewed in 1985. Curious Ford customers who visited the showroom to check out the new-for-’86 Taurus were delighted with the modern car presented to them. Taurus and its slightly more fancy (and lightbar) sibling the Mercury Sable were offered in sedan and wagon variants, and all shared the same 106-inch wheelbase. Powering all first-gen DN5 platform cars were three different engines. At the bottom end was a 2.5-liter inline-four, available only through 1990. A 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 was optional in sedans, but standard in wagons through 1990. Top of the line was the 3.8-liter Essex V6, but it was not available until 1988. The 3.8 became the standard engine for the wagon in ’88, but always remained an option for Taurus sedan. Separate for SHO only was the 3.0-liter SHO V6, by Yamaha. The vast majority of non-SHO Taurus models were equipped with a three- or four-speed automatic depending on model and year.

However, Ford intended Taurus to appeal to a wide price audience. A base MT-5 trim featured minimal equipment, mandatory four-cylinder engine, and a five-speed manual. That model proved very unpopular and was dropped after 1988. The lowest common trim Taurus was the L, while the midlevel GL garnered the largest share of sales. Top of the line was the LX, which was never offered with a four-cylinder engine.

Taurus was an instant hit and shifted over 236,000 examples in its first model year. That number was the lowest sales year, and by the end of the first model’s run in 1991, Ford racked up over 2,000,000 sales of the Taurus. The Sable chipped in with another 669,000 sales. An incredibly important car for Ford and the family car class, Taurus made a lasting impression on the car industry and set several precedents for the family sedan.

Today’s time machine Rare Ride was available for less than 24 hours on Craigslist in Detroit. Owned until very recently by its original owner (a Ford engineer), it has just 99,000 miles. In spectacular condition – especially considering its location – the LX asked $2,400. Pictures here.

H/t to former TTAC contributor Sajeev Mehta for posting this Rare Ride on Facebook.

[Images: Ford]

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55 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Spectacular Original Ford Taurus From 1987...”


  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    Robocop.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      My Taurus story, we drove one the 24hours to my uncles winter place in Florida. It was an 89 and the thermostat froze up in NC. We spent the night on the side of the road until the gas station across the way opened up. Owner called his buddy and he took my uncle on a 2-3 tour to find a thermostat, then helped put it in. When my uncle tried to give him money he wouldn’t accept it. Good times.

  • avatar
    Yankee

    My father had one of the first-year Tauruses (Tauri?) as a company car. I remember him looking over the bare bones level of equipment on the car when it arrived and wondering aloud if the “L” on the trunklid stood for “lights” (meaning if you got a lower trim level you didn’t get any).

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I was a small-town/rural kid in the 80’s, and when these came out it really did seem revolutionary and of-the-future. My only Taurus ownership experience was sadly (or perhaps fortunately?) brief. It was a 2000 model, SE trim, rental-car silver (1st owner actually was Hertz), with the Vulcan V6 and column shifter. Bought it from some neighbors for what seemed like pennies. It was around the ’08 recession, I was released from my job but transitioning to FT graduate school. Decided to sell my beloved Mazda3 hatch because it wasn’t paid for, and b/c of where I lived, I only really needed an occasional car anyway, so anything would do. I came to really like it, especially on longer journeys, and the A/C was superb. Unfortunately after only 7 weeks it was totaled when a lady did a left hand turn directly in front me. It is possible that the car saved me from serious injury or worse. The insurance payout I got was double what I paid for it, but I would not recommend that scenario as an investment strategy.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “The insurance payout I got was double what I paid for it, but I would not recommend that scenario as an investment strategy.”

      By my calculations, it will only take 13 accidents to get yourself in a Ferrari 250 GTO.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I never owned a Taurus but rented them on business trips. I liked the car. It was comfortable and handled well. The rentals were softly sprung to the point where I was reluctant to push them hard through corners. At the exit, I always felt the car was laughing at me, “What’s your problem? I could have taken that 10 mph faster.” In contrast, GM products felt good until I entered a corner. Then, it was heavy understeer all the way.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    “Non-SHO Taurus models were equipped with a three- or four-speed automatic depending on model and year.”

    Lest we forget the rare and not lamented Taurus MT-5 which, as the name implies, came with a 5-speed manual transmission. Offered in both sedan and wagon forms, it only lasted 2 or 3 years, IIRC.

    • 0 avatar

      Gotta keep reading through the full article.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      I believe ALL V6 automatic Tauruses (Taurii) were equipped with a 4-speed automatic.

      That was one more smart call on Ford’s part: don’t launch a totally NEW car with a dated THREE-speed automatic.

      The 3.0 V6 may have had pushrods, but it worked well in practice with the automatic. It covered a quarter mile in under 18 seconds and delivered good fuel economy for 1985.

      Unfortunately, Ford took a page out of the GM playbook and took a premature victory lap with the 2nd gen 96 Taurus. They made some improvements to the car, but cursed it with the ridiculous oval-centric styling, and worse, really raised the price.

      That really knocked sales for a loop, and the Taurus never recovered, even after Ford clean-up the styling, and addressed the price. The Camcord competition didn’t sleep, and even the General piled on with the 2008 Malibu, and to a lesser extent the 2007 Impala.

      Ford did come up with a winner almost 30 years (a generation!) after the Taurus–the 2nd gen Fusion, but apparently, like Ford’s CEOs, it was not meant to stick around….

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        My father had a 1990 GL. It was a pretty nice car that I thought drove well, had decent acceleration for what it was. I drove it a bit around the end of its lifetime. The transmission self destructed twice in the time we owned the car. As I recall, we got a check from Ford for at least one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Te ovoid shaped Taurus was a Gen III car…

        • 0 avatar

          Ovoid was priced higher than next gen Camry and that fact killed the sales. If was the end of overengineered Camry and the beginning of cost cutting of originally premium Taurus. It was reflection of the fact that Ford could not compete with Toyota simply because of more effective production system at Toyota.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            It wasn’t a reflection that Ford could not compete it was that Ford did try to compete with Toyota on several levels while Toyota decided to compete with Taurus on price. That meant Ford drove away the customers that bought on price, while Toyota decided the needed to compete on price.

            It also didn’t help that the Explorer was stealing Taurus customers that did have money to spend.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            Ford went for the mid 90s Camry with materials and overall quality of construction. Toyota designed the 97 Camry with serious cost-cutting in mind. According to a story in Motor Trend, Toyota was hedging against the valuation of the yen and they decided to chase market share. So when the new Camry came out (you know the one, it has a front grill that looks like an A/C louver from a Grainger catalog) it had a price advantage plus the excellent reputation of prior Toyotas. Ford had made a very good product but buyers chose the Toyota based on prior experience. Why wouldn’t they? However, the “skinny” Toyotas were pretty cheap in a lot of areas. They did not falter in reliability but the interior fitments, such as my late father’s 2003 Avalon, were a far cry from the triple door sealed, variable speed hydraulic cooling fan prior generation. The cards lined up for Toyota on this one.

      • 0 avatar
        blppt

        “That really knocked sales for a loop, and the Taurus never recovered, even after Ford clean-up the styling, and addressed the price. ”

        One reason might be that they were STILL using that same iron block/iron head Vulcan V6 from 1986 in a car that had only gotten heavier, and the competition was offering newer designs.

        And the option Duratec, whilst theoretically faster if you explored the upper reaches of the tach, in most real life situations felt no more powerful than the Vulcan.

        That being said, I had an 03 Taurus Vulcan sedan. It wasn’t anything special, but I liked it.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        I will always repeat this when I see it, but the kind of person who uses the “CamCord” word to descript an Accord or Camry was the buyer who flocked to dealerships to buy mediocre products such as the Lumina, Malibu, 81-96 Cierra, etc.
        By sitting around buying that junk GM stuff, and giving GM $$$ allowed General Motors to continue to build their garbage vehicles, finding ways to build them in other countries. Meanwhile, Honda and Toyota flourished building an actual American product.

  • avatar
    James2

    My dad owned a pair of Taurus wagons, a ’92 and a ’95. Both were the same color, a light metallic blue. I felt the ’92 was better built. My dad jokingly said if a Sony 36-inch TV couldn’t fit in the back (only way it would was minus the box) then it wasn’t worth buying.

  • avatar
    chris724

    My dad had a ’90 SHO. I remember the clutch was not too smooth, and was repaired a couple of times over the 10 years he owned it. But that engine was awesome from 4000-7000 RPM, and never had any trouble. I also remember almost losing it one time on a curvy, hilly road.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Never tried the SHO, but I did drive the MT-5 model Corey mentioned – it reminded me how good the shifter/clutch setup in the Civic I was trading in was, and that’s being charitable.

      Keep in mind that at the time, manual-transmission family sedans were not unicorns at all – plenty of folks bought Accords, Camrys and Stanzas with sticks. But anyone who cross-shopped those with a manual Taurus would definitely be giving his money to Japan, Inc.

      • 0 avatar
        Hydromatic

        I suspect anyone who wanted to row their own gears would either be too cheap to buy a Taurus (and go for a Tempo instead) or pony up for an SHO. The overwhelming majority of Taurus buyers wanted the automatic.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Wow, that car is in crazy-good condition…in Michigan, no less.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I remember when this Taurus first came out I was on my way home from work and excitedly pulled off the road into a Ford dealer to get a closer look. They were by far the most exciting family sedan to come out in years

    I no longer care if I ever see another one of these jellybeans again

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    I had a ’91 SHO, and it was a spectacular engine, a passable manual transmission, and a pretty good car.

    I had looked into picking up an MT-5 wagon and then putting everything SHO-related into it, but was never able to find a MT-5 wagon for sale.

  • avatar
    lstanley

    Sometime back in the late 80s my neighbor’s dad purchased a black SHO. He also had a Nissan Axxess to help solidify his awesomeness.

    The vanity plate on the SHO was Showtime. Seriously that has to be in the running for the greatest vanity plate plate match to a vehicle in all history. It’s also why I always have referred to the SHO as a SHOW, and not a S.H.O.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Correct me if I’m wrong. Wasn’t the Taurus the allegedly “Toyota killer “?

    • 0 avatar

      I think it was until 1992.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        I think sales killer is a better term, as many traditional, old school American’s purchased more on allegiance to their country than quality and reliability. Remember in the late 80’s Toyota was starting up their Georgetown KY plant. The 87-91 Camry was a quality and reliable automobile, and they did sell a lot of them.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      It was. Sort of. Just as is the case with pickups today, back then Detroit could still make up for lacking fundamentals, with superior understanding of what the market wanted.

      Over time, the latter is a deficiency a lot easier to correct than the former. Hence Toyota’s current performance vs Ford’s in the core family car segment. Which will be repeated in pickups too, over time.

    • 0 avatar
      blppt

      I’d rather drive a 87-93 Taurus than a 87-93 Camry.

      Well, as long as the Taurus was a V6.

      That being said, the Camry was far more reliable. Just didn’t feel as good in turns as the Taurus/Sable.

      • 0 avatar
        johnds

        I still see more 87-91 Camry’s on the road than I do those Tauruses. Many were built at the KY plant, and quite a few were from a Japanese plant. It was a very reliable and competitive vehicle. More often than not, I heard people say they spent a lot of money repairing those first Gen Taurus/Sables.

  • avatar
    Kruser

    I can remember what a turning point this design was. Everything else was hard edges and corners, while this seemed truly fresh and exciting… Even at the time, I realized that it was odd to think so well of the design of a mass-market midsize sedan.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I had a 1997 Sable Wagon, bought new. It was great at the start, but managed to eat transmissions (3 replacements in 7 years). Also devoured a head gasket, A/C compressor and a heater core. Bless the Ford 6 year extended warranty, which the dealer honored without complaint. The Sable, with the light bar in the grill was very good looking for its time and always got compliments. I remember it being very comfortable to drive. The third seat was rearward facing, and to this day, whenever I see a car like that I shudder, thinking that the 3rd seat must have inside the rear crumple zone. Of course in 1987 the Sable was a pretty good size car as the SUV craze was in the future. In 1995 Ford came out with the Windstar minivan and we moved up in size. Ford’s reliability did not move up with us.

  • avatar
    ColoradoFX4

    There were more than a few Taurus/Sables in my family growing up: an ’87 Taurus LX wagon, ’91 Taurus GL wagon, ’96 Sable G, ’97 Taurus G, and my parents still have an ’88 Taurus GL sedan. All good, reliable cars (the ’87 wagon ended up with 365k before biting the dust).

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    A bold move by Ford that paid off. I had an 04 Taurus as a company car from 2006 to 2013, it was a good sedan , quite reliable overall. ( had the Vulcan v6 )

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It was a bold move – to the point where Ford basically had bet the company on this car, which people sometimes forget.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        There is a good book called “Car” that documents the creation of the Gen III Taurus…and how they benchmarked the Camry…and how timing can foil the best of plans…

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          I actually bought that book and actually read it all the way through.

          Was at the gym one day (pre-pandemic) and the young woman on the treadmill next to mine asks “What are you reading?” so I had to explain the whole thing, and added “It’s kind of depressing because you know how it’s going to end.”

  • avatar
    SilverBullett

    There is a video of the Taurus history on YouTube on the channel Tofer’s Car Tales. Not quite as detailed as this article, but a fun watch.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    My mom had a Taurus and a Sable wagon, both 94 models, but about 8 years apart. The Taurus lunched its head gasket and the Sable developed weird electrical issues that couldn’t be diagnosed. I remember liking them, well the sedan (I was at the age when we had the wagon where wagons were just a step above mommy-vans in coolness). I preferred the lights on the Taurus because I could never quite wrap my head around the light bar, though I found the same item to be interesting on the Grand Am (or was it the Grand Prix?). Also, for some reason I can’t objectively define, I always preferred the slimmer lights on the facelifted first generation to the lights it was originally equipped with.

    With all that said, I remember a co-worker of mine who had a white 93 Taurus something or other try trying to convince me that her car was better than my 95 Accord EX. It was bigger, but not better.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    As one who still owns a 29 year old Sable as a winter rat and a Home Depot car, I’ll weigh in on this…The positives are the Vulcan is almost a slant six in terms of durability. While the transmisions often are mentioned as a weak spot, mine is still original at 235K miles. Not the best shift quality though, even from day one. Body stayed solid for all these years; only three years ago did some minor cancer pop through over the right rear wheel. Good mileage, too. Almost everything still works save the rear windows, the power antenna, and as of last year, the A/C clutch. With first-gen SHO swaybars and Koni inserts, it handles remarkably well. Brakes are ok for intended use but spirited driving warps the dinky rotors. Even the stainless muffler and rear exhaust pipe are still original.

    Weaknesses: Engine cradle rusted out where one of the four rubber doughnuts mounts to the body – this one gets not only rain/salt, but A/C condensate. The rear locating arms have a steel rod to provide lateral support to the independent rear. The washers that held the rods rotted out and one tire ended up rubbing against the back side opening of the rear quarter. Only a block from home so I drove it back that way. Mind you this was all at 20 plus years but still. One rear brake line let go at 26 years – the steel rotted out. And there is plenty of brittle plastic inside, including a cracked dash. Something that Camrys of that generation don’t do.

    All in all a very good design. It still is reliable; I don’t hesitate to take it on the highway but I have newer cars for distance driving. One can’t help but wonder what the hell happened to Ford. By the mid 90s they had a great lineup. 10 years later is was all over. Just short term money grabbing on Explorers while the rest of the lineup withered on the vine.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The SHO’s poor MT-5 was straight out of the Escort, Tempo or reg Taurus. What a shame. The one I tested wouldn’t accept shifts above 6K RPM. It needed a mule kick. I call them the DONKEY SHO.

    Across the board, Ford-1987 had the market by the tail.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    No comments on how similar Taurus styling was to the Audi 5000? (called 100 elsewhere) My folks’ first Audi was an early 5000 fwd 5 speed, and I remember thinking that the Taurus was a copy. With 3 years between launches, there was plenty of time for Ford to be ‘inspired’ by the 5000. A friend had an SHO around ’96, and that’s probably the only one I’ve ever been in.

    After they had been out a few years, I’d check each Sable I saw to see if any of them still had all the grill bulbs functioning. Approximately zero ever did.

    • 0 avatar
      canam23

      They are similar, but the Taurus is more aerodynamic, a little rounder. I would also take the Taurus over the Audi for longevity.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Those lightbar lamps were expensive back in the day so most didn’t bother to replace them. I found them online for $5 each so all of mine still work. Burned out bulbs in a car bug me – if the dash needs to be opened up to replace a lamp, that’s what I do. By keeping the dash lights partially dimmed, they will last – my instrument lamps are all original. Only the lamp for the clock and the headlamp switch were replaced because they are on whenever the car is running.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    This was such a huge car for Ford. The aerodynamic styling was obvious, but also this was one of the first mainstream cars to feature multipoint fuel injection. It was also the debut of Ford’s 4-speed automatic transmission. The 4-speed was very important because 3-speed automatics used about 20% more fuel and 20% slower than 5-speed automatics, adding a gear cut that in half or better, especially on the highway. The Taurus actually matched up well to Audi’s 5000 model of the time. The Taurus with the 3.0 ran 0-60 in about 10.5 seconds. The Auto-equipped 5-cylinder Audi 5000 was almost 2 seconds slower.

  • avatar
    justVUEit

    The Taurus was certainly quite radical when it first started prowling the streets. I tried to purchase a used SHO back in the ’90s but the price was still a little steep for me at the time. It was a really good running car and all luxed-up. I was trying to choose between this and a used T-bird Super Coupe. (Neither purchase happened, prices for used just too steep.) I ended up with a Taurus wagon in mid-level trim. Nice car but a rather bland and pedestrian interior. It was functional but not a place I’d really want to spend a long drive in: plain dash, so-so cloth seats, and lots of knock-outs to point out the options the first owner didn’t purchase.

    What did it in quite prematurely and turned me off Ford ever since was the self-destructive mode of the crappy automatic transmission and then the treatment I received from Ford. Every automatic behind the 3.8 got shredded early in life and Ford kept gas-lighting me. I got tired of the constant lies from the company. The tranny was a junk product and they tried to lie their way out of it. I’m glad I traded it because it saved me from the 3.8’s tendency to self-destruct.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Ford, especially the dealers, were making an absolute killing off Taurus/Sable/Conti/other “up date” trans hard-parts and rebuilds, once out of warranty or warranty denied. Even if owners took it to Aamco or any indie, they still had to get the hard parts from Ford.

  • avatar
    canam23

    I bought a 1987 Taurus wagon when it came out and loved it. It’s easy to forget now, but these look like they came from the future when they came out. Not just the exterior, but the interior was light years ahead of what GM and Mopar were offering.

  • avatar
    johnds

    5-6 Tauruses come to mind in my life time. My friend had an 87 Sable, another had a 88 Taurus, My uncle had a 87 and 92 Taurus, and my mom in law bought an 07 Taurus. The Sable was okay, but was driven by his elderly grandparents sparingly since new, so it didn’t need too much work. My friend with the 88 Taurus tried to pass an old grandma, and the engine cradle fell out and he dropped the engine. Apparently there was a recall he wasn’t notified about. My uncle said he paid more to repair the 87 Taurus than he did buying it (He bought it pretty much new) and his 92 Taurus was much more reliable, but suffered from the power steering issues that many older Ford cars have. Finally my mom in laws 07 Taurus was decently reliable, however it was built so cheap I can see why its a popular Government or rental car. Nothing really to write home about.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    I have a friend at work who swears by buying used Tauruses and running them into the ground as a relatively cheap way to provide for his transportation needs.

    Not a piston-head, obviously..

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      He is correct…buy a car with heavy depreciation, a decent reliability potential, gobs of available cars, and super cheap prices on repair parts…so you buddy wins this for sure.

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    Reliable car to 100k mi., then, not so much.
    nice riding and handling. judge the looks for yourself.

    That will be my last Ford.

  • avatar
    18726543

    My first car (the hand-me-down, not the first car I ever bought) was a 1989 Taurus. It was purchased used from a local buy-here-pay-here in about 1994 I think. My parents were deciding between the ’89 Taurus and an ’87 Maxima that was also on the lot. I often think about how things would’ve been different had they chosen the Maxima.

    I started driving the car in 1998 when I turned 16. It had the 3.8L and every single option you could get except the SHO engine. It had the digital dash with MPH/KPH button, speed alarm (to set a chime if you passed a certain speed), inflatable lumbar support, climate control…you name it, it had it. I think I acquired the car with about 90k miles on it and it had already blown a head gasket by then. The trans was fine though.

    The bassist in my band drove an ’03 for many years and commuted up and down I-270 in it daily despite it pushing 230k miles. It was in rough shape with the typical broken rear springs and abysmal exterior appearance. He took absolute minimal care of the vehicle and it just kept on going which was lucky for him because the list of repairs he could actually afford pretty much ended at “headlight bulb”. He eventually wound up trading it in on a 2013 Rogue. I didn’t ask what he paid, but I’m sure he got taken by a very long payment term.

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