Back in the late 80's Ford had a ground breaking sedan in the Taurus. The Taurus did a lot of things well and other things just, well… ok. One of those things was acceleration. The stock mill was a 3.0L OHV V6 that cranked out 140hp and it wasn't a fun 140hp; it was slow revving, no torque down low 140hp. 0-60 was measured in days.
But alas! Ford offered an optional upgrade in the form of another slow revving OHV engine: the 3.8. This engine got you, wait for it…
an additional 20hp no extra horsepower but more low end torque which was available only if it didn't overheat and blow a head gasket before you got a chance to back out of your driveway. So the Taurus was pretty lame in the excitement department.
But soon fate jammed it's finger in the eye of Ford's penny pinching accounting department in the form of the Yamaha V6. The Yamaha was a 3 liter dual overhead cam engine that had impressive specs for the time. It made 220hp and 200ft/lbs of torque, revved to over 7000rpm and sounded like God himself composed it's intake note. It was also wildly advanced.
VTEC is for suckers; bring on the race inspired dual stage intake
220hp out of a naturally aspirated 3.0 liter engine was not exactly common. The SHO accomplished this partially with a dual stage intake that also moonlighted as a piece of artwork. It utilized long skinny intake runners for low RPM and then over 4000 RPM short fat runners would open up and offer their assistance in the form of additional airflow. It's hard to pick a favorite here: the sound the engine made as it reached 4000 RPM or how absolutely stunning yet simultaneously out of place it looked underneath the hood of the plebeian Taurus. Let's say both. It's probably both. No, it's definitely both.
Yamaha sourced V6 Engine
Ford suddenly found themselves having committed to purchasing a lot of these engines with no vehicle to put them in and so they did what any reasonable person would do: they shoe-horned it into their family sedan and ended up with the Ford Taurus SHO. What they ended up with was a Taurus that shaved nearly 4 seconds off it's quarter mile time. Whereas your base 3 liter V6 was chugging through the quarter mile at nearly 18 seconds, the SHO would repeatedly crank out high 14 second passes (low 15's if you're not good with a 5 speed). I know what you're saying "Oh but Mike, a base model Accord does 14's now". Well yes, but this was 1989. You know what kind of 1/4 mile time a 1990 Accord squeaked out? 17.2 seconds. This was a Taurus that was marginally slower than the Mustang GT and Camaro Z28. It was a sleeper before being a sleeper was a thing. The only sedan that really came close in performance was the BMW 540i which was still slower and and had owners that were separated from your average Taurus customer by several tax brackets.
If you haven't experienced this car, go find one. Right now. You're at work? Work is for people that want to lease 3 series BMW's and pay their bills. All you need for happiness is a 90's family sedan with an obscure japanese engine in it. Oh, and a 5 speed manual transmission.
What about that $100 car?
Round about the mid-2000's I owned a company that specialized in selling performance and replacement parts for the SHO. This gig didn't afford me many luxuries. It wasn't exactly financially lucrative, the parts were hard to find and my entire business was built on a car that hadn't been built in 8 years. Every single day I had less potential customers than the one prior. But there was that one day when a gentleman called me to ask about the transmission in his 1993 SHO.
There he was driving when all of the sudden his transmission decided to puke much of it's fluid all over the road. And so he took the car to the local Aamco where he was promptly told he needed a complete rebuild to the tune of a few thousand dollars. It was at this point he called me and explained the situation. I apologized for not being much help and then he said it… $100. It was just a passing statement right before he was about to hang up. $100 is what he wanted for the car. Keep in mind, this is 2004.
He didn't want to put and more money into it. Better still, he's calling me from the Aamco 3 blocks from my house. Now I was well known in the SHO community but for a complete stranger to stumble upon me, have a car they were giving away for nearly nothing, and be less than a mile away, well I have to assume that the planets were all lined up quite nicely that day. And so I did what any reasonable guy in his early 20's would and ran my ass down to get the car before he changed his tune.
As I'm talking to the gentleman the Aamco worker, clearly upset over the fact that he was both not getting the business from the customer and not getting the $100 car, told the guy that he could get a lot more for it on his own and that I was doing things to him that at first thought you would think required a screw driver. It was at this point I shot him a look, not as if to say "don't mess this up for me" but more to demonstrate that I was clearly not pleased with the fact that he was trying to sabotage this for no other reason than that he was not directly benefiting from it. And then I agreed with him. I told the guy that if he sold it on his own he probably could get a lot more for it but he was clearly at his wits end with the car and just wanted to be free of it. So I exchanged $100 for 3500lbs of steal and a pretty piece of paper that would tell the world (and the DMV) that it was mine.
A simple fix
5 quarts of transmission fluid. That's what the car needed. The halfshaft had popped out of the transmission case which resulted in the lost fluid. As everything that makes an automatic transmission work is based on hydraulic pressure, a lack of fluid results in a car that doesn't move. After locking the half shaft back in place and topping off the transmission it took off under it's own power and not only did the transmission work but it worked amazingly well. The 93's were the first year with an automatic transmission and it was known for being generally terrible. So to have one that was run dry and then still shifted amazingly, well… I guess I have to go back to those planets being in line or some other odd occurrence in nature. I didn't care.
I would go on to own 13 or 14 more SHOs while I owned that business but none brought me the satisfaction of that car. There's something special about getting a car for nearly nothing, not knowing if it runs or if it's fixable and then discovering that there was nothing wrong with it.
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Note from the author: it's since been mentioned in the comments that the Taurus actually had a 2.5l inline 4 as it's base engine. I didn't think that was still the case but as I'm too lazy to go digging through the archives I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. It's also been pointed out that the 3.8 liter "upgrade" actually didn't give you any more horsepower, just a bump in torque. Imagine having to upsell you average consumer on an engine that makes zero more horsepower!