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Story by Matt Train

Please join me in welcoming Matt Train to the Speed:Sport:Life family. Matt is a long-time Taurus SHO fanatic, trailer-towing iconoclast, and all-’round nice guy. His new column is called “Just Like This Train”, and if you don’t like the title, blame me; I’m the Joni Mitchell fan, not Matt. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth

The press conference made me cringe. Look, the man’s got it all wrong. It was NEVER pronounced “Taurus SHOW”. The cognoscenti always spelled the letters out: Ess – Aitch – Ohh. Super High Output. And if you knew what the letters SHO did to the pedestrian Ford Taurus, you damn well used respect when you called that car by name. Back in the day, the Taurus SHO was heavy artillery in the street wars.

Its been a long time since a Ford Taurus has been worthy of those letters. The 1989 Taurus SHO debuted to 5 people giving standing ovations, and the rest of the population wondering what the hell they were looking at. There was nothing like the SHO when it came out. In 1989 context, an exotic, quad-cam 24-valve V6 with 220 horsies slotted under the hood of a 3,100-lb 4 door sedan meant instant bragging rights, and the super-Taurus could run with the best and the fastest sports sedans in the world, period. Backed by a 5 speed manual transmission and some talented chassis tuning, it was capable of showing its taillights to almost everything in its class. When it was new, it mopped the floor with the 130 hp Pontiac 6000 STE, and embarrassed the 160 hp Nissan Maxima SE, two of the better sporting sedans in the SHO’s price class. But hey, let’s dream bigger: the Fox Body 5 liter was just a downshift away from the history books, and most BMWs were fair play as long as they lacked an M badge. Heck, even some of those didn’t stand a chance against that screaming Yamaha V6.

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The SHO borrowed some fenders from the Sable for the second-generation variant.

And what a screamer that V6 was! You know that feeling you get on the back of your neck? The one that travels down your spine and makes all your hairs stand up on end? That feeling was standard equipment on the Taurus SHO. With its dual-stage intake runners, a change in tone occurs at 4,000 RPM during hard acceleration. Those who have driven a Honda VTEC engine are familiar with this feeling, but with the Taurus SHO, the acceleration just gets harder and harder the higher you rev it. The engine seemed to love being thrashed, and encouraged regular trips to the 7,000 RPM redline – a redline that the power delivery implied wasn’t quite serious. Everyone who has driven the V6 SHO seems compelled to talk about the engine and what it did to the car. Even though the Taurus chassis was aging, the suspension still had all the right moves on the back roads, too. You knew when you drove it, that you were at the wheel of something special. Something fabulous.

The result of all this fabulousness was a sales dud. Frequently cited as the reason for the poor sales, the car lacked an automatic transmission but had a very high price tag. With most Ford Tauri maxing out in the $15,000 range at the time, stepping up to a SHO was a $20,000 proposition – big money in the late ‘80s. Ford dealers were famously un-educated on what they were dealing with, and buyers were equally mystified with a lack of marketing. Only the real car people knew what Ford had unleashed, and were willing to deal with the downsides to get it.

The new 1997 Taurus SHO was introduced as an executive express with an exotic 3.4L V8 from Yamaha, no manual whatsoever, and fish-derived styling that was borderline offensive. Adding insult to injury, the car was actually slower than a well driven 5 speed V6 SHO, and the camshaft sprockets frequently separated from the cam and grenaded the engine when doing so. While it was not without its charms (and its fans) the V8 SHO is not as sought after as a V6 car. The SHO brand breathed its last as a 1999 model amid slumping sales and a ridiculous price tag. With hindsight we realize Ford never intended to create a cult classic – it was an accident. Despite all odds, the original V6 SHO has already made a number of “future collectible” lists, and residuals of the survivor cars are starting to bear this out.

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The V8 SHO seemed as star-crossed as the troubled 1996 Taurus which spawned it.

It is this same grassroots enthusiasm for the original super sedan that has influenced a new SHO, introduced this past week at the Chicago Auto Show – the new halo model for the rejuvenated 2010 Taurus. Now, we here at Speed:Sport:Life have made no bones about the fact that we’re fond of the new 2010 Taurus, and we’re just plain fond of anything that has “SHO” glued to its rump. So it was with baited breath that we watched the Ford press conference, waiting for the moment when it was SHO-time. Despite some token references to the past car, the 2010 SHO rolled out to a standing ovation from the faithful – and a Cheshire Cat grin from yours truly. As the crowd gathered around the new car, I sat back and wondered….is it a SHO, or is it a sporty Taurus? Or can a sporty Taurus ONLY be a SHO? In short, does it earn its name?

This early in the game, we don’t have driving impressions, but on the surface, it certainly makes a convincing argument. There are discreet yet tasteful styling enhancements. 365 horsepower from a twin turbo, direct-injected V6 which is state of the art. All wheel drive is unexpected but not surprising. The interior is stunning. On the downsides, the car is also usefully large – too large for a sporting car. In keeping with the SHO’s predecessors, its also eye-wateringly expensive – nearly $40,000 for the car before options. You have to wonder how many people will cross shop this with a premium label. I also noted no SVT involvement in the development of the car, which made me wonder just how sporty this sporty Taurus is. Perhaps the biggest letdown, though, is under the hood. Where the old V6 had a bespoke, snarling, specialized V6 with an intake manifold worthy of an art museum, the new car has a corporate V6 with a black plastic shroud and an automatic transmission.

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Only time will tell.

This new SHO isn’t exactly a shot-by-shot remake of the original, but the current market wouldn’t respond well to a car that was perfectly faithful to the first-gen car. A large, manual transmission, bloodthirsty sports sedan simply doesn’t play in this economy. No, it will not please the purists, but as a reinterpretation of the original SHO formula – utility, sophisticated performance, tuned dynamics, discreet style – we think it’s a winner. Does it earn the name SHO? Could it (or should it) have been called something else? That, as they say, is the question. As with the old car, the truth will be in the sales figures. But we wish the SHO an enthusiastic good luck, and we can’t wait to get our hands on one. When we do, you’ll be the first to know!

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Jack Baruth

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