In the early 1980s, the American automobile manufacturers were getting their asses handed to them. Ford was late to the game updating its midsizers. GM and Chrysler both had moved to front-wheel-drive platforms with better packaging and efficiency, while Ford soldiered on with their Fox-platform LTD (née Fairmont). We can debate until we're blue in the face the superiority of a rear-wheel-drive layout, but the fact of the matter is that RWD creates packaging ineffciencies. At that time, FWD was being touted as the most monumental invention since the wheel.
More after the jump.
The Taurus was developed by a skunkworks assembled by Lew Veraldi. Veraldi pioneered a team concept that cut across departmental fiefdoms and succeeded in turning out nothing short of a revolution. Holed up in the basement of Ford's Design Center, Veraldi and his team hammered out the details of the car across disciplines in a way that enlightened all to the supreme struggle every department puts into birthing a car. Veraldi's team effort was so effective that it was emulated when the 1995 Taurus was being designed.
When the Taurus dropped in 1986, minds were blown. Here was an American car with a sleek aerodynamic shape that many thought aped the Audi 5000. The lines were clean and trim -- up front there were flush headlamps and no grille. The LTD had been a pretty good effort at smoothing out the middle-earth origins of the Fairmont, but the Taurus buried it once and for all. Aircraft-style doors closed tight around the B and C pillars, sleek door handles with integrated locks replaced the ribbed chrome flap seen on Fords since at least the Johnson administration. A large glass area made the interior feel airy and even roomier than it was. The look was quite contemporary and doesn't look severely dated even today. Inside was a dashboard that had been to the same finishing schools as the European and Asian competition. The dash even tilted toward the driver, acknowledging his or her presence. Unlike the slide-rule angularity that plagued GM interiors for most of the 1980s, the Taurus was studied in ergonomics, with uncluttered design and better materials than the outgoing LTD.
Front-wheel-drive certainly aided the roomy feel of the passenger compartment. Gone was the huge and obtrusive drivetrain hump from the Fox cars. Footroom was greatly improved, and there was just a small tunnel down the center of the car for the exhaust. The Taurus offered fully-independent suspension, something a Fox-derived car wouldn't do until the very last gasps of the SN-95. It was cheap and easy for the Taurus to pull off, there wasn't a heavy, bulky differential to eat up trunk space, so the rear suspension could be a lot more compact with no live axle to accomodate. As a result, the Taurus set the standard for interior volume that the Accord, Camry, and GM10s chased.
There's a lot of variety to the Taurus range, as it tried to be a lot of things to a lot of people. You can find a utilitarian wagon with a large and flat load area and a raucous sports sedan, both wearing the Taurus badge. Initially powered by the venerable gravel-throated 2.3-liter four cylinder and the 3-liter Vulcan V6, adequate, not stunning, performance was the order of the day. The stunning performance came later with the addition of the SHO to the Taurus range in 1989. The SHO had a Yamaha-designed V6 underhood, came only with a manual transmission, and could run with the big-dog euros. We're waiting for a Fusion SHO, thanks. The torquey 3.8-liter V6 made it into Tauri as well, a boon for the heavier wagons and making the car overall more relaxed.
Over the years, the Taurus had one redesign, with a couple of freshenings interspersed. The features went up, the price held fairly steady, and the resale always fell like a stone. Not yet dead a year, you could probably even find a fairly new one languishing on a dealer's lot. There are so many of these things around that a deal is a given. They're not terribly loved, but they offer a lot of space and drive well if you're not looking to set record lap times.
There were problems – AXOD transmissions had issues, the 3.8 liter had an appetite for head gaskets, and all cars from this era seem to have biodegradeable base/clear paint. There's a good base of knowledge about these cars because they are so common. Every mechanic has had at least one Taurus on the lift. There's also a fair amount of support from internet sites, as well. It's a great car to learn how to wrench on; cheap, plentiful, straighforward engineering.
Overall, the Taurus was a hell of an effort. Lew Veraldi assembled a team that fussed over the details and really brought out a stunner. We may snicker now about the Taurus, but drive an LTD (if you can find one) and a Taurus back-to-back and you will know which one is the superior car.