Historiography: A Complete Personal History of the Ford Taurus

Normally, I would save all of my thoughts on a review until the end – or some weeks after the vehicle has been returned to its rightful source. This is depending on where it is published, of course.

However, there is a long story to be told. It is about a groundbreaking automobile that had changed my (and North America's) perception of what a comfortable family sedan should be. This particular vehicle has been a major part of my driving history. It is a story that has been on repeat for many years – but it is worth repeating.

You may read some of this story in an upcoming review of the latest iteration of this car. I would rather give you the full background now.

Since Boxing Day (or, the day after Christmas in other countries) of 1985, Ford delivered a jellybean shaped sedan that would sell millions of copies over two-plus decades. When the original run of the sedan was done, it lost its sheen as an exciting family sedan to haul long distances in the middle of the night. When the nameplate returned onto a revised larger model, I winced at the notion of such a marketing ploy. Now, it is at the top of the brand's heap amongst cars – replacing a long-running standard bearer in government fleets for the past two decades.

I was one of those who welcomed the Ford Taurus onto the world. I knew that the time had come to change the vision of the family sedan. Boxy styling and ultra-soft suspension was not going to cut it for a new generation of families and drivers.

1986 Ford Taurus

From the pen of Jack Telnack came an intelligent design. We saw inklings of the Taurus’ shape earlier in the decade with the Ford Sierra – the replacement for the Cortina/Taunus in most of the world. On this continent, the Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar arrived to shock us. It was not because they were aerodynamic and used curvy shapes to create the silhouette. It was to shock us out of our automotive design stupor.

After the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz debuted, North Americans were still unconvinced this is the way of the immediate future. By then, the Audi 5000 arrived with a benchmark in aerodynamic design sporting the best drag coefficient in the North American market. While Audi used flush window construction and fluid lines, Ford's jellybean approach seemed less approachable and gimmicky in contrast.

The Taurus, along with the Mercury Sable, changed that perception. Like the Audi, the Taurus had flushed windows to the door frame. The Sable took it a step further with its light bar front design and wrap-around glasshouse. The result was a wider acceptance of the new aerodynamic mid-sized sedans. In its first model year, Ford sold over 200,000 Tauruses – one of the best debuts of any new model in American automotive history.

My first Taurus came in December of 1986. It was a well-equipped 1987 tan GL sedan rented form Hertz out of Los Angeles International Airport. The purpose of this maiden voyage was to attend a San Diego Chargers home game and drive back to my then-company's Holiday Party in Woodland Hills. Though I have visited San Diego before, I have never driven it from my home in Reseda. In all, I put on 289 miles of driving that Sunday – another personal benchmark at the time. The Taurus was exceptional in fulfilling its duty. It was truly a great beginning of my history with the Taurus.

My second turn in the Taurus came about the next February as part of a trip to Northern California to retrieve some of my late father's belongings from his last girlfriend. It was not exactly the trip I had originally planned, but it was done her request to do so. Again, I rented a 1987 Taurus GL from Hertz at LAX – a white one, this time. New benchmarks were made with this second Taurus – my first solo drive up to the San Francisco Bay Area and my first overnight drive.

This second journey truly solidified the Taurus at the top of my automotive conscious. At age 23, I had discovered an attainable dream car – a powerful and safe machine that was roomy, comfortable and stylish. It took another 780 miles round trip to solidify this notion. It simply laughed at the rain in the Central Valley, the hills of San Francisco and Marin County, along with taking an adventurous traveler with my late father’s stuff down a lonely Interstate 5 in the middle of a wet night.

1986 Ford Taurus Interior

These two 1987 Bulls framed a benchmark for every Ford or Mercury afterwards. Though I welcomed many different kinds of automobiles afterwards, it would be the Tauruses that got the toughest jobs.

One such journey happened after I graduated college as I took a second generation Taurus the other way to Southern California from the San Francisco Bay Area. It met some of my old friends from Reseda when they lived in one of the beach communities south of LAX. The trip was perhaps one of the best times I had since leaving my hometown in the 1980s.

Once such 1996 Taurus transported my worldly goods from a temporary hold in San Diego to another temporary place in Long Beach. Though it did so with not much room to breathe, it would be the most disappointing Taurus at the time. I had no clue about what "FFV" meant except it turned the worse mileage of any of the first few generations of Bulls ever.

It seemed that everywhere I roamed, a Taurus would join me. In the early 2000s, one such Taurus would be stretched from Chicago to Minneapolis with stops at my home in Madison and a friend’s place in Rochester, Minnesota. Another Taurus took a friend down to a science fiction convention in Des Moines from the Twin Cities.

2005 Ford Taurus at Wasafarm

The last time I enjoyed a Taurus was in 2006 when I visited my closest friend and his partner at the partner's parent's farm near Sandstone, Minnesota. That white 2006 SEL was the last time I actually felt the same feeling I had 19 years earlier on Interstate 5 south of Los Angeles. Over an hour out of Minneapolis on Interstate 35, the white Bull with Texas plates gobbled up the miles just like an older iteration of itself. It seemed happy parked next to a Polaris Ranger on that old farm. That night simply felt like any other night in a Taurus heading home.

After that drive, I lost the taste for the Taurus. It was no longer relevant in my automotive mindset. It lost its want of adventure or the ability to excite me anymore. Months after Ford’s announcement of its demise, I was at loss as to how I would find pleasure in a car that took me to so many different places in my life.

In 2007, the Taurus as I knew it was done. The fleet-only rental special was a shell of its own self. Soon, its final assembly line near Atlanta would fall, too. Eight million Tauruses were sold in total. Two models replaced it – the smaller Fusion and the larger Five Hundred.

Then, someone at Ford saw the sales charts for the larger, crossover-seated sedan that debuted in 2004. It seemed that no one wanted these big front-drive sedans. They were set up for a facelift by the 2008 model year. All of the sudden, the news broke that the revised Five Hundred would be renamed…

2009 Ford Taurus 5

The Taurus name returned in hopes of sparking a light onto Ford's big front-drive sedan. A rented 2009 Limited model showed that it had some promise, despite being too big for its nomenclature. It did some extraordinary things compared to previous Tauruses – it swallowed the luggage of three people heading for a week's cruise out of Miami. For 2010, they gave it a whole new body – a design that fused the 1960s and 1970s with modern touches. After another rental of a 2010 Limited, I concluded with further concern about the gap between the original Bull's mission and this particular version. As an acquaintance once commented that nothing ever pleases me – especially when it comes to the Ford Taurus.

He was right. I have put a heavy burden upon the name given the history I have with it.

Why do I still make a big fuss about the Taurus? Perhaps this tidbit may provide the impetus behind this backgrounder.

At one time, I considered buying one. At the time I bought my new 1991 Acura Integra – the Taurus was on my shopping list. I scoured dealerships in and around my home in San Rafael to find one that suited me. I knew I would get an airbag in a 1991 L with the regular Vulcan 3.0litre V6 and an equipment level that would be amenable. Yet, I wondered if I could get a better-equipped GL at the price of an L. After I drove the Integra – the Taurus was lost in the shuffle. It is still debatable whether it was a good decision or not.

Normally, I welcome a new OEM to the V&R Garage with open arms. When I found out my first vehicle provided by Ford would be the Taurus, I did admit to some mixed feelings. However, you never say "no" to a story unless there is none to absolutely parse out. In this case, welcoming the 2013 Taurus to the Garage is simply another chapter of this ongoing story.

2013 Ford Taurus 3

This Taurus represents the past, present and future of this work. While many vehicles get highly scrutinized in my reviews, the Taurus is one of the few models that are examined under a higher-powered microscope.

There is a legacy to uphold here. You will see whether it has done so in September.

All photos by Randy Stern

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.