History is replete with civilian Detroit cars that were upgraded to “performance” cars, wowed the folks at Car and Driver and Motor Trend, and then screwed everyone who bought one.
Exhibit A would be the Ford Taurus SHO.
In 1989, Car and Driver put it on the cover and compared it favorably to German performance sedans.
Unfortunately for the owners, the clutch in the car was only good for 15,000 miles. It came out of an Escort. Eventually, Ford solved the problem by making an automatic transmission available, and the result was a very nice car. Which Ford promptly stopped selling so that it could redo the Taurus body style.
The SHO was an engine looking for a car. Ford had a contract with Yamaha to build a dual overhead camshaft engine with four valves per cylinder. They signed that contract when Ford planned to build a competitor to the Corvette. When they cancelled that car, they had to figure out what to do with the engines, and it turned out that the Yamaha engine would fit into the new Taurus.
No engine ever delivered in a Detroit produced car looked so good. In later models, they even polished the intake runners. Opening the hood was an opportunity for a car guy (or gal) to experience Nirvana. It was just beautiful. (And, yes, it’s personal 0 had a 1989 five speed and a 1992 automatic and, to this day, I regret that we let that 92 go – it was just about perfect.)
But the torque steer for the first years was beyond belief. A front wheel drive car with 300 hp and equal length drive shafts. You held the wheel with both hands when you punched it.
The five speed wasn’t all that smooth, either (a Getrag unit, too).
But all of that paled in comparison to the clutch
Because the clutch was good for 15,000 miles and replacing it cost $1,500. So the clutch alone cost you ten cents a mile.
Rumor has it that Ford’s going to do it again.
The new Taurus, which is the old 500 with an even older name, reattached to the car that should have been produced at least seven years before it was introduced, is rumored to be getting the Ford “Twin Force” engine.
That’s what Dearborn calls twin turbochargers on a 3.5 liter V-6.
It puts out 415 hp. 400 ft lb of torque.
Vehicles with the engine, which has only seen the light of cay in the Lincoln MKR concept car, reportedly have been spotted circulating in Detroit (though how anyone would be able to distinguish the engine within a plain Jane Taurus is unclear.)
Is Ford gonna do it?
Of course they are.
Chrysler is about to introduce an SRT version of the Caliber: 280 hp from a turbo four, Sachs shocks, lowered, 19” wheels, front calipers from the Charger fuzzmobile, standard six-speed, zero to 60 in 6.1 seconds and you can still get a refrigerator in the glove box.
Ford is at least as inept as Chrysler.
The history of performance cars in the United States is rather discouraging. Generally, the idea has been to take a car which was not designed for high performance and upgrade it. Only the Corvette has been consistently designed properly: with a basic structure designed to take the most stress the engineers could conceive, which could then be decontented to make a less expensive vehicle.
Of course, every auto manufacturer upgrades their cars when they offer their highest performance models. The Z06 Corvette and new M3 are examples: there are drastic and systematic changes in the cars from the base models. But the engineers were starting with something that was designed to be a performance car in the first instance. That has ensured a basic structure amenable to modification by making defined and predictable changes.
But hot rodding a Ford Taurus is a very different thing.
It isn’t a car that was designed to be a performance car. Sure, you can compensate for the extra horsepower with bigger brakes, a tighter suspension, and bracing across the strut towers. That’s conventional engineering wisdom. But you won’t be making the frame stronger, or improving the welds that hold the body together. And every one of those modifications made to compensate for the increased power will, if used, put extra stress on the rest of the car – even the radio – over what was originally considered the design limit.
If Alan Mullaly, the new president of Ford, is serious about making cars people will want to buy, he’s got the right idea with adding horsepower.
But not to the Taurus.
The Ford 500 was a mistake from the beginning, too little, too late.
But it wasn’t his mistake.
Sell the car at cost and buy time to build something better.
Don’t make the mistake of attempting to make it into a silk purse.