Buy/Drive/Burn: Upmarket Brand American Midsize Sedans in 1997

We’re back with more 1997 midsize sedan action in today’s edition of Buy/Drive/Burn. They’re all on the smaller end of the midsize sedan scale, all American, and crucially, all wearing semi-upmarket branding.

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Junkyard Find: 1999 Ford Contour SVT

Over the decades since the 1960s, the Detroit car companies have tried their best to make dollars selling their Euro-market cars in North America, with varying degrees of success. Ford did tolerably well with the Capri and Fiesta over here, then raked in little American-market income with the Merkur XR4Ti and got bombed, Dresden-style, with Merkur Scorpio sales.

Dearborn optimism climbed to new heights for a high-performance version of the Americanized Mondeo, the Contour SVT, prior to its 1998-model-year debut. Here’s a fiery red ’99 in a Denver wrecking yard.

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Buy/Drive/Burn: Mediocrity Personified in Sedans of 1996

You’ve seen all of today’s contenders before on the roads, likely more times than you can count. Forgettable because of how middling they were, hundreds of thousands were sold.

Which one would you actually buy with your own money?

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Crapwagon Outtake: 1998 Ford Contour SVT

The appeal of the hot family sedan should be obvious. A car offering both family hauling utility and apex-hunting ability means, in theory, that the sports sedan should be the ideal cool dad car. BMW has been the king of this market for decades.

In practice, though, there are often too many compromises between comfort and performance that doom the sports sedan in the eyes of buyers.

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Piston Slap: Hello Kitty! Contouring the American Mondeo's Future?

TTAC commentator sastexan writes:

Sajeev,

You proved yourself smart by changing over to the older rod shift transmission linkage on your Cougar SVT. My shift cables are broken again – although this time probably due to the 1st mechanic’s ineptitude and unwillingness to finish the job he started and align it correctly. The end that attaches to the shifter is worn out so the shifter keeps popping off the cable end – which was interesting to reconnect while I was driving in stop and go traffic on the (in)famous Washington Beltway. Unfortunately, the plastic insert on the Contour cables is not replaceable – the only way to fix it is to replace the entire cable set – which is a giant PITA. Oh well.

I also talked to Terry Haines, the transmission guy – if you haven’t heard of him before, he’s a former Ford engineer who has his own shop now, mostly working on MTX75 transmissions. He rebuilt my transmission at 100k, upgraded the shift forks, put in a quaife, replaced two syncros that were going bad. He walked me through the procedure to replace the shift cables (more than I can handle) and we also discussed why the Duratec V6s are puking rods – he unequivocally believes that it is due to the powdered metal connecting rods Ford started using around ’97 – he said that some spec must have changed because earlier Duratec have no con rod issues. In his teardown of motors, he said all the ones that have thrown rods had nothing to do with oil starvation – it all had to do with the con rods stretching out of spec and causing spun bearings then snapping the con rods. He also said SVT engines are more susceptible, due to higher compression and typically harder lives. And he said that the 3L upgrades everyone is doing has the same con rods and is just as at risk – Ford just ignored the problem in the Duratec.
Since you have plans for your Cougar, thought you would be interested in this line of thinking.

Sajeev answers:

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New or Used: College Priorities, Automotive Compromises

Animal...housed?

Brenden writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

My buddy is in college and needs a used set of wheels. After 2 years of depending upon Baltimore’s awful public transportation system and the generosity of friends, roommates, frat brothers, and total strangers for car rides, his school work is starting to suffer and he’s decided to buy a car. Unfortunately, his budget is about $2000. His living situation and total lack of mechanical skills rule out anything German, Swedish, or otherwise maintenance intensive.

His criteria for the car are reliable/durable, fuel efficient, and cheap to run. Working AC and heat would be a bonus, but he really only intends to drive the car about 15-20 minutes per day for school. He has absolutely no pretensions about the car’s badge, perceived coolness, sporty driving dynamics, etc., but he probably won’t spring for a total crapcan like a metro or echo. Also, he’s currently unemployed, and I don’t think he intends to find a job due to his course load.

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New Or Used?: Lease Or Beater? Edition

Doug writes:

I currently lease a 2008 Ford Fusion SEL 5 speed, loaded with heated leather, sunroof, SYNC. It has under 20,000 miles with 2 payments left. The lease end buyout is $14,100. I am debating whether to buy out my lease for cash, or just by a beater – I was thinking of a 1998 Ford Contour SVT in the $2500 range. I am about to start a 5 year sprint to pay off my mortgage, so I don’t want endless repair bills during this time. Buy the lease, or buy the beater?

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  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=noform&path=1&year1=2022&year2=2022&make=Jeep&baseModel=Wrangler&srchtyp=ymm&pageno=1&rowLimit=50Annual fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.
  • FreedMike How about the “Aztek” package? Wait, this car already has that…Said it before and I’ll say it again: they need to restyle the hind end on this car, stat.
  • Johnster "Vale" is the [s]cheap[/s] lower-priced performance version with black trim and stiff suspension."Mist" is the "DeLuxe" version with a bit more chrome and trim. (Sort of like the "Decor Package" option.)"Magentic" is the full-on Brougham treatment (in its current state) with more chrome trim than the "Mist" and all sorts of gimmicky electronic features inside. (Sadly, it will not include simulated landau irons or a vinyl covered roof, even as an option.)"Aurora" is the Oldsmobile of Cadillacs (sort of like the old Cadillac Calais). No, that's not right. It's the top-of-the-line model, sort of a "Grand Touring" version, with not as much chrome as the "Magentic" but all of the gimmicky electronic features and a stiffer suspension.
  • Drew8MR Why can't CARB leave hobbyists alone? Maybe lay off the low hanging fruit and go after the gross polluters. Bring back the rolling exemption.