Doing It By the Book – Understanding the 1997 Ford Taurus

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You know I am the Hooniversal European Editor, when I go ga ga over a 1997 Ford Taurus. Yeah, the ovoid Taurus must be one of the most mundane things you can imagine over at the other side of the pond, but here they’re rare birds. Mondeos are everywhere, Scorpios are common, but a Taurus pops on my radar only seldom.

I’ve been reading Mary Walton’s Car – A Drama of the American Workplace recently, and the book focuses on the difficult birth of the new-for-1996 Taurus. It gives you amazing insight into the process that goes into developing a car they wanted everybody to drive, a car that was built to beat Camry. And it gives you a possibility to try to understand what they were going for with that unspeakable design. Seeing this maroon Taurus in the metal in my town happened with perfect timing, then.

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I don’t subscribe to the “What the hell were they thinking” school of thought. It’s really easy to snarl remarks from the comfort of your own desk, listing hundreds and hundreds or ugly cars or failed designs just for quick, disposable amusement. Designing a car takes years of market study, customer awareness, working with the constraints of reality and feasibility and carry-over structures, and getting different engineering departments to gel.

At any rate, thinking of totally rad ’90s trends and how well the Japanese were doing in the early ’90s, you sort of start to see the world with Taurus eyes. Clouded over with headlight cataract by now, as you can see.

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You can scrape the corner of a car with no corners, apparently.

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At least you can’t blame it of DLO fail. The aftermarket winter wheels are horrid, though, and practically any other wheels would suit it better. I do like the little lip spoiler on the trunklid, and it’s nicely incorporated with the taillights.

I don’t like the following Taurus generation at all, it feels like a half-assed attempt at rescuing the looks. I’d rather celebrate the appearance than try to hide it under a different nose and tail.

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The tack-on foglight and the rusty tow bar are like warts on the face of a bearded Mona Lisa.

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I like to think that at some point there were people standing behind the car, confidently launching it onto the market. Maybe it’ll become a design classic, when rounded late-’90s headlight setups like this are celebrated. The facelift Tiburon, the W210 E-Class, the Jaguar S-Type… Yeah, it’ll take a while.

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

43 Comments

  1. 10 years ago I thought that was one of the ugliest thing on the road. Now, that most of them are waiting for the cold jaws of the crusher, that design is starting to look good again. At least for me. But I liked the bugeye Scorpio too.

  2. "DLO fail," I love it.
    This term needs to become more common. I, too, read and enjoy every article of Vellum Venom. It's the sole reason to visit -redacted-.

      1. Back when that insufferable blowhard Farago ran TTAC it was redacted in my world. I think I even blacklisted it in my home router. It's not bad now, but I've never gotten in the habit of visiting it.

      2. TTAC is on my dark grey list after seeing today's article on Joe Biden and gun control. I got the same feeling as I did when [Redacted] started posting "This is a Hot Babe in a Drift Car" and "This is Snooki Drunk-Driving her Ferrari." The comments were about as intelligent.
        This is Me Not Caring.
        But I really like Murilee's junkyard series, Thomas Kreutzer's humour, and Derek Kreindler's Canadian perspective. So I keep visiting.

        1. Actually, yes. It doesn't matter if you agree with it or not, I don't think that article was sufficiently car-related. I do like the author's police car reviews though.
          Overall I'm quite happy with the newest generation of authors.
          I'm still unlikely to start commenting there though.

        2. Agreed on that one post today. I've gotten good at scrolling when I visit over there. Nope nope nope Hey! nope nope Hey!
          Doug DeMuro is hilarious. I'm bummed they got to him first 😉

          1. Indeed, Doug's articles are always good for a grin. And, of course, Baruth has moments of genius that are worth the work it takes to get to them.
            Whoops! By now I've proven my original comment quite incorrect. However, it remains that Vellum Venom is my favorite feature there.

    1. I've read TTAC since its inception, but it has sadly gone to hell. I still visit out of habit, but I've quit commenting and read fewer and fewer of the articles, and reading yesterday's Biden post reminded me why. Between the endless union bashing, Obama-hate, rampant sexism (primarily via the resident pervy German contingent) and the increasingly nasty commentariat, reading TTAC has become too much like being trapped in an elevator with a load of opinionated a**hole fratboys and bitter teabaggers. In a word, insufferable.
      Which makes me love Hooniverse all the more.

  3. First of all, I never imagined it was Ford's job to make good looking cars. As far as I can tell, they made one or two, but that's just statistically probable.
    When the original Taurus came out I was in High School and quite the car spotter. I had never imagined anything like it could come from Ford. It wasn't good looking, but it was so different looking. I couldn't believe square haired ol' Ford had come out with this streamlined spaceship of a car. It was clear they were sending the message that the old days were over, Quality was Job 1 and they had embraced the future. My friend's mom had a Taurus Wagon and when I wasn't staring at my friend's mom I was staring at her weird car. (Too bad she had to give up the Skylark Convertible for it.)
    <img src="http://cgdailydrive.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ford_ltd_wagon_black_1985.jpg"&gt;
    1985
    <img src="http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/1532/4061/3829530007_large.jpg"&gt;
    1986

    1. Looking back, I'd take that Foxbody wagon over everything else Ford offered in 1986.
      Unless Ford offered an SHO wagon. Then I'd reconsider the Taurus.

  4. The LX version for 1997 featured a 200 hp V6. That color has worn well too…of all of that color, they arent faded and still shine.

  5. That Ford there was sold in Wakefield, MA as I can tell from the 128 Ford roundel on the back. I wonder how it got to Finland….

      1. On the GMC Acadia forum I frequent because there's no activity on the Saturn Outlook forum, a member sold his Acadia because it was going to cost him almost $30K in taxes & fees to bring it with him to Finland. Then he bought a US Honda CR-V and is bring that over instead. Presumably cheaper to import because it's actually sold over there. Why he didn't just buy something over there and sell it when he was ready to come back, I don't know.
        All that begs the question how any US cars get to Finland unless the tax situation was once much more favorable.

        1. Generally someone gets an assignment in the States through their company (say, Nokia), moves there, and then after a year one of the perks is that you get to import a car tax free. That's how you end up with a Taurus or something when you just buy some 4-door thing without thinking about it too much and then you figure "well, I can just pay the shipping fees and end up with a reasonably new car in the end…". IMHO Best bet is to just buy a Volvo that will be serviceable back home, or a Mustang/Camaro/Corvette that will retain it's value and be a nice summer car.
          The problem is that if you don't qualify for the tax free personal import, and the vehicle isn't sold there, the customs pick out a comparable vehicle from ones that are sold there. That's when you get in trouble when they decided that the specs for a V8, 4 door, Crown Victoria resemble a MB S500 and decide to use that as a comparable vehicle.

  6. I never thought of these as ugly cars, but I must say I really like the facelift version of this. It looked much better as a race car, too.

  7. I don't understand how people defend this car at all. It's an ugly design and has terrible build quality.

  8. In Australia and New Zealand they tried to foist these on us in an attempt to wean us off Falcons.The attempt failed and these cars have something approaching a negative value these days-they can't be given away.

    1. Yes. So true. Ford imported 1000 of them to, as you say, wean Australia and NZ of Falcons. An absolute and almost total failure. They didn't sell them all and after years in holding yards were almost worthless. Those that did buy one had to take zero money when they tried to trade-in.
      Makes me wonder if Ford US thinks we are going to forget this POS when they try again to flog Taurus' instead of Falcons. Or even worse, put a Falcon badge on them.

  9. if i can be straight with y'all, i actually like these. not even in a perverse and so-bad-it's-good sort of way. i just don't think they're as ugly as everyone else seems to.
    i'm sure it's an awful car, but i don't object to the styling. i think it's one of those cars on which the accoutrements really make or break the sheet metal – the wrong grille treatment or wheel covers can make it look really shitty, but with the right boxes ticked it can be aaight.
    i will say – it's one of the few cars, in my estimation, that looks much, much worse as a wagon.
    <img src="http://www.v8sho.com/SHO/images/portfolio/RandySmtih/Thumbnails/Randysmiththumb.jpg"&gt;

  10. The revised Taurus looked horrible. I suppose it was a fine enough car. That book you mentioned was deeply mediocre, and really suffered for trying to paint the sunniest picture of the redesign effort. It would have been far better to contrast the weak revision with the spectacular success of the original model, and to learn a few lessons.

  11. As the current owner of a 97 Taurus (in NM faded green), I can say with authority that these cars are miserable. I have an almost brand new transmission in it and that's likely the worst part of the car. It seems to love to keep the engine screaming at around 4 thousand RPM, even though I backed off the throttle half a mile back. The seats are miserably uncomfortable, the wind noise is immense (though that may be my particular car, I think that it had an unreported accident at some point, and the doors don't quite fit right. The suspension is rolly, the turning radius is that of an oil tanker, and the steering is epicly numb. I have the V6 version and, though it doesn't seem woefully underpowered, it doesn't really feel like they tried very hard, especially given how much the car weighs.
    The styling isn't terrible, per se, but it is not the prettiest thing to look at day after day, and will turn absolutely 0 heads on any given day. I don't want to say the paint was cheap, given that any car will fade when the sun is a few inches away (see: New Mexico), but it seems a lot more faded than a lot of cars from that time period.
    One bright spot on the car are the brakes. They're obviously not sportscar quality, but when you need to STOP they are there for you, bring that heavy car smoothly and, more importantly, quickly to a halt.
    Take from this what you will, but I will not be unhappy when mine passes along to a new owner.

  12. I disagree about the wheels. They are the best thing about the car. Not that they are particularly remarkable wheels, they aren't, it's just that the car is so awful. I guess the design theme is consistent (Round!), but it feels like a collection of ovoid shapes that aren't happy to be on the same car together. Kind of like an awkward family reunion. We're all related, but man I'd rather be anywhere but here with you guys.
    I drove an '05 Taurus for a few weeks as a free body shop loaner a couple of years ago. Absolutely awful car. Nothing good about it except it was free.

    1. Exactly. Too much was sacrificed to enforce the consistency of the oval theme, well beyond what the original car found necessary. And it seems as if management also placed to much reliance on the oval to make the car irresistible. Maybe they were riffing on the cachet of Ford as the Blue Oval. Never believe your own marketing.

  13. HAH!! I recognize that sticker that says 494 2875! It was a rental car from Hertz at one point.

  14. You're right about the rareness in Europe.
    I managed to crash into one once; I was driving my first Rover 800, I was in college so would have been 19. There were roadworks on the A12, a major trunk road near me. I was following the Taurus (an LX), somebody dived out in front of him; he had ABS, I didn't. The rest was history. Fortunately there was no damage; I was wincing about the idea of my insurers suddenly having to find a Taurus rear end in the UK.
    It remains one of about three I've seen in this entire country.

  15. Rented one of these once. It was shocking what a horrible car it was, and the one I got had only a few thousand kilometers on it. The GM H-bodies I normally rented back then were far better in handling and performance. it seemed as if every part of the drivetrain was engineered to conspire against the other.

  16. I do appreciate the looks of these (especially with the chrome strip in the grill post-'98), although I suspect they went a little far overboard being different, missing that, unlike the original Taurus, it wasn't different for the sake of improvement, it was different for the sake of standing out. Plus, by '96, Chrysler had the better looking and driving LH cars, and GM's W-Bodies had been pretty proven by that point. Plus, the Camry and Accord were significantly more civilized at that point.

  17. What killed the 1997 Taurus was not so much the funky looks, which many people enjoyed, but the standard engine. The Taurus with the optional Duratech V6 was not too bad. But the standard engine, the Vulcan V6, was abominable; harsh and underpowered. They sold fleets of them to rental car companies, business travelers rented them, and swore never to get behind the wheel of a Taurus again.

  18. A dab of toothpaste which isn't a gel, a rag, and some elbow grease, and those headlights will be less-bad in their cloudiness.
    Now, if you go to a variable speed drill, and a polishing ball, like a Mother's Mini, with some rubbing compound (for paint), then a paint polish, and finally a wax…which is best topped by a UV inhibitor…they might come close to clear, depending on how bad the damage is.

    1. This also always happens only to American cars over here. No Euro or Japanese car develops this cloudiness in our conditions, same thing as with clearcoat damage. Just not sunny enough here.

  19. I wonder what the percentage is of people who looked at that photo and saw that the tire was facing the wrong direction before they even saw what car was in the picture.

  20. I had one of theses for a while, and it was the very definition of beigemobile, being beige metallic (no Ford, calling it "Champagne" doesn't make beige any better) on the outside and beige cloth on the inside. But for all that I thought it was a decent car. I had the 200 hp Duratec engine, and that thing would actually scoot along pretty damn well. I never had any complaints about the power. And the handling was surprisingly capable for a people pusher. The transmission was a low point, but at least I never had any issues with mine, which seems to be a rarity.
    And I disagree with you that it made more sense in the era, because this car was hated on day 1. Even my mom, who tends to like weird cars everyone else hates disliked it instantly. No ideahow that design got through any focus group. And I found the year 2000 refresh to be a MASSIVE improvement, and a very attractive car.

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