In 1986, I had the opportunity to drive my first Ford Taurus. It came as I rented the car for the weekend as I had tickets for a San Diego Chargers game down at Jack Murphy (now Qualcomm) Stadium and my employer's holiday party. It was a daunting task to drive from Reseda to San Diego and back in time for the party in Woodland Hills, but I was up for a challenge. Besides, this would be the first time I would drive between two major cities.
After piling up the miles on that first trip, I was impressed with Ford's breakthrough family sedan. Impress enough to welcome it again a couple of months later when I had to drive up to the Bay Area to retrieve some items from my late father's estate. For the amount of travel I have done between both Northern and Southern California, a Taurus helped me achieve my first ever trip between the two areas from behind the wheel. Interstate 5 through the Central Valley can be a lonely highway, but that 1987 Taurus GL was a true traveling companion.
During these past two decades, the Ford Taurus became the car that was my ticket to adventure. I never owned a Taurus to get the full experience of the car, but I had driven more of my share of them to rack up some wonderful times behind the wheel. With the exception of the SHO, I may have driven every version of one of the best products Ford created.
The "jellybean" shape struck a chord with consumers looking for a family sedan that stood and performed admirably. On December 26, 1985, the Taurus, along with its twin the Mercury Sable, arrived at dealerships to a hungry public. In turn, they had one of the best new car introductions in Ford history selling as many Tauruses as they did in the first year of the Mustang in 1964.
In my own view, the Taurus represented what a North American automaker can do when given the chance to instigate change in an otherwise bland market. As the car grew on the North American public, it was a consistent best seller. That was until Honda and Toyota cracked Ford's code with the Accord and the Camry respectively.
This was confirmed in 2006 when I drove a couple of Camrys as rental cars. I discovered that the two Toyota mid-sized sedans had a familiar ride and feel that a Taurus had. On one hand, it was admirable that Toyota was able create their own Taurus to become the current best selling car in the USA. Yet, it is not a Taurus…plain and simple.
A Taurus might have been considered to be a bland appliance with a curvy shape, a soft ride, sofa-like seating and tepid performance. Yet, I still enjoyed that kind of car in the years before this professional journey took flight into the stratosphere. I certainly aspired to drive a fine automobile with tight handling and all of the bells and whistles, like I do today. Yet, in 2006 I was quite content with having a 2006 Taurus for a nice long drive.
There are various reasons why I actually enjoyed driving a Taurus. The 3.0 liter Vulcan V6 has plenty of torque to take off in and will hold a nice speed on the highway when given the chance. Not to mention, it was one of the most reliable engines of its era. I did not mind the comfortable seats while finding I had better knee room in a Taurus than most of the cars I've driven over eth course of 20 years through the turn of the 21st Century.
These Taurus sedans offered comfortable and spacious accommodations in the back. In every edition of the Taurus, the only consistent feature of the Taurus was its comfort.
If one thing stood out about my experiences with the first few generations of the Ford Taurus, it was the memories that came with certain moments in my life. I used a Taurus to move from San Diego to Long Beach back in 1996. One time, I ended up cramming a few friends inside of one for a sushi run in Redondo Beach. In 1986, one Taurus was subjected to being driven to a San Diego Chargers game, only to head back to Woodland Hills for a company holiday party in the same day. After moving to Madison, one such Taurus endured my first drive in snowy conditions. In all, I traveled nine different states with the Taurus…though not all at once, mind you…and not in the same Taurus. No other automobile I experienced or worked with has matched this milestone.
Retail sales ended in 2005. Ford sold the Taurus to fleet customers during the 2006 and 2007 model years. Ford took to a larger, Volvo S80-based car to continue its presence oin the big front-drive sedan (and crossover) market – the Five Hundred, along with the Freestyle and the Mercury Montego. When sales were found to below expectations, Ford decided to slap on the Taurus and Mercury Sable badges to those models starting with the 2008 model year.
By 2010, only the Taurus continued on as Ford's biggest sedan. I reviewed this car since. Frankly, those rebadged Tauruses were not the same. They were simply too big, too piggish and completely out of touch with the marketplace. Between the step-in cockpit and the raked angle center stack, it was not as engaging as I expected a big car to be. The so-called "Big Bull" remains in the lineup – retail units along with the Police Interceptor models for public safety fleets. The 2017 model year will mark the final run of the Taurus in North America.
Perhaps I have been privileged to experience the evolution of this wonderful car over its first 20 years. I can only look back at those years to give my appreciation for perhaps one of the most pivotal automobiles I experienced in my life. I can recall ten Tauruses over the span of those 20 years. Each one of them has a story attached to it.
One such story was perhaps the saddest one. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, I joined a friend of mine, his partner and their family up at their cabin site in Sandstone, Minnesota. When I arrived in the rented 2006 Taurus SEL with Texas plates, it appeared to have delighted everyone who came in contact with it. It also felt at home on the farm by the cabins, where it rested until past nightfall. The drive home was a sad parting of ways. It was indeed an end of an era.
Since that "last drive" of the Taurus in 2006, other vehicles have tried to take its place in returning lifelong memories behind the wheel. The last generation Chevrolet Impala did take its mantle for a while. However, through the work of this site and other outlets, I was exposed to a slew of incredible metal – some I would have never imagined driving during those 20 years of loving the Ford Taurus.
Over the years I have held my driver's license, the Ford Taurus of 1986 to 2006 made the biggest impression on me as an automobile. Without it, everything else would not have been possible.
All photos by Randy Stern