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The Ultimate Taurus:  '96-'99 SHO

Thanks to Sheriff Buford T. Justice:

The 89 Ford Taurus SHO was a huge development at its introduction. At last, a domestic sedan capable of running with expensive imported sedans, sport cars and pony cars.

Later developments of the SHO relied on the same basic chassis but in 96 a whole new SHO based on a new Taurus chassis and a new V8 engine arrived. Like parents and children of the same family pre 96 SHO owners donít always "understand" their children with new ways and the 96+ SHO owners donít always understand and appreciate their parents. The theme of the 96+ SHO is to make a sporty sedan, not just fast but also as well made and with the quality worthy heir to the original SHO.

A family resemblance is undeniable. Some parts like brakes and sway bars interchange between years. Skin aside the lineage is in the bones. Those who look only at bone stock 0-60 times and ETís may dismiss the 96+ SHO out of hand. No manual transmission, next! For some the 96+ will never meet their needs. We respect the point of view of 89-95 SHO owners and acknowledge the pride they have in their wonderful SHOs, to do otherwise is to disrespect our own heritage and thereby deny ourselves. Others may be interested in why 96+ SHO owners like their cars so much and concur with Ford that the 1996 plus SHO is the Ultimate Taurus.


The heart of the new SHO needs no iron lung, it is an athletic 3.4 L 32 valve DOHC V8 rated at 235 hp @ 6100, 230 ft-lbs torque @ 4800; just a touch more than the 89-95 SHO. On a chassis dyno stock to stock, the 96+ SHO makes as much wheel HP as the ATX 93-95 SHO. With similar levels of modification it pulls ahead making just a little more with under drive pulley, exhaust and intake modifications. Some modifications are not available for the 96+, specifically Stage I and Stage II cams. A maxed-out 89-95 SHO with cams or supercharger will out-pull a 96+ SHO without cams and supercharger. The 89-95 SHOs require a major tune-up at 60,000 miles which includes a valve clearance adjustment so many 89-95 owners hot rod their SHO at that point. Because the first such adjustment on the 96+ SHO is at 100,000 miles not 60,000 the major opportunity to work over the engine with a cam swap is greatly delayed and the interest to develop parts for the 96+ is reduced. As a group we are still waiting for the first supercharged 96+, not a trivial problem given the tight packaging under the hood. One 96+ does run low 13ís using NOS, but I will let the owner tell you about it.

From the factory the V8 is both muzzled and constipated. The intake and exhaust are optimized to be silent. With a modest investment both problems can be remedied resulting in a substantially quicker car. The V8 uses a new engine management system EEC-V with OBDII that not only provides very sophisticated diagnostics but also actually learns how a given driver drives and makes adjustments to accelerate quicker. The old days of adjusting the ignition timing and fuel to compensate for improvements are over. The OBDII is not the curse of hot-rodders but the Holy Grail. If one puts on a hi-flow intake and exhaust the OBDII will learn how to optimize the new system as you drive keeping perfect driveability and emissions, and making a fair amount more HP in the process.

Engine Design Features

The V8 also is an all aluminum engine, heads and block, making it lighter than the V6, which features aluminum heads Ė iron block. Did I mention that it is a 32 valve DOHC V8? It is hard to find that pedigree in any sedan, much less at the SHO price point. The new 4.6 L mustang engine is also a 32 valve DOHC V8, a few years after we had it first. The split block design features a low-end girdle and a structural aluminum oil pan for a strong bottom end to complement the free breathing top end. Get on a creeper and roll under your car sometime and admire the jewel like motor. GM makes a 2 valve truck motor with a blower and puts it in a car it calls the "Gran Prix". Ford makes a true Gran Prix engine and puts it in a car we call the SHO.

It features a coil-on-spark plug distributor-less ignition system which eliminates performance robbing sparkplug wire problems which all other cars can be prone to. A unique reverse flow cooling system improves head cooling. An important consideration when a romp in the mountains is in order. Pass everything climbing a mountain in lower gears and clear the summit with the coolant temperature on normal. The exhaust manifolds are cast of thin wall high-silicon molybdenum rich castings that heat rapidly to facilitate catalytic converter operations (and aids cold engine driveability). The exhaust flanges and cylinder head mating faces are machined for zero-leak performance. Cams are chain driven not belt driven, no more worries of cam belt failure. The V8 has a oil filter/oil inter-cooler unit. Important because the engine thrives on lots of cool clean oil.

To be precise, and accurate on paternity let's quote Ford: "The SHO V-8 was developed jointly by Ford and Yamaha Motor Corporation. Blocks are cast using the patented Cosworth process at Fordís Windsor , Ontario casting Plant, then shipped to Yamaha in Japan for machining and assembly. The new V-8 is another version of the Duratec family of modular motors. The engine is installed in the Taurus SHO at Fordís Atlanta Assembly Plant."

The even firing 60º V8 requires offset crank journals and a balance shaft, producing a very light weight and compact engine capable of making 270 all engine flywheel HP on the street with simple modifications. That crunches to 1.3 hp per cubic inch displacement for a streetable emissions passing daily driver engine with a normal idle, a target worthy of racing engines.

The V-8 DOHC makes exhaust music and sounds like nothing else on the road. The voice is subdued and restrained from the factory but options abound. Several folks have done a touch of exhaust work and had a chance to hear the engine run with cats only. What a note! Yet the engine does not vibrate or make a lot of mechanical noise that would intrude in the pleasure of driving the V-8 SHO.

New alternator produces 130 amps Vs. 110 amps for the old alternator making the Under Drive Pulley option all the more attractive.

The Automatic Transmission

The 96+ sadly marked the end of a manual transmission option for the SHO. The acceleration advantage the 89-95 SHO cars have on the 96+ is almost entirely attributable to the mechanical efficiency of the 5 speed manual box and those great extra gears, particularly 1st which greatly helps the MTX get a hole shot on the 96+. Mod for mod the V-8 can match the V-6 in flywheel hp but the MTX excels in "torque at the tire" because the better selection of gears available 5 forward speeds to our 4.

The good news is that the new ATX transmission Ė AX4N is stronger than the old ATX has many parts unique to the SHO making it capable of surviving both the 7000 rpm range of the engine and the 230 ft-lbs of torque. The slow shifts seem to be characteristic of the non-synchronized design which is stronger than quicker shifting AX4S. The only ATX failures have been associated with either aftermarket LPMs which so far only increase shift harshness or 120 hp NOS kit.

The AX4N is not seen as a great step forward by all, but in light of the linkage and clutch problems of the MTX and durability problems of the prior ATX unit, it should be viewed with a little more gratitude for a difficult job done well.

Steering, Suspension & Brakes

I once thought most Fords sedans were slow to respond to the helm, over assisted, and lacked steering feedback. The 96+ SHO has a unique (to the SHO) high precision ZF speed sensitive power rack and pinion and a duel rate torsion bar provides more on center feel (VAPS). The result is a vary accurate feel and the steering wheel becomes your fencing foil and the corners become sliced lunch meat to-go.

For the first time the 96+ SHO sports a computer controlled Semi-Active Ride Control (SARC) which controls each of the MacPherson struts providing a ride tuned to road conditions every few milliseconds. The SARC system gathers information from many sensors and gives a plush highway ride yet responds to "sporty" situations in a flash. They are the ultimate adjustable shock. They also respond to hard braking and acceleration to minimize unwanted weight transfer. It is possible to defeat the SARC and VAPS system on the theory that stiffer is better but investigations by Jim Heaton has demonstrated the competency, complexity and versatility of the SARC system and the car is not only rides better with the SARC system active but it brakes better, accelerates quicker and handles better. Without the SARC system anti-dive has increased from 13% to 36% and anti-lift has increased from 2% to 25% on the base Taurus just using changes in spring materials. Without the adverse weight shifts providing clues to the butt dyno the 96+ is quicker and brakes better than it feels.

All 96+ SHOs come with 16x6.5" rims and 225/55-ZR-16 Goodyear RS-A all season tires both of which are a good starting place. The larger 16" rims permit the most powerful factory SHO brakes made, 11.6" diameter. The 89-95 SHO brakes are adequate for the 55 mph world they were designed for. The 96+ brakes are up to the tasks implied by the 150 mph speedometer. Someone in the design studio anticipated our wonton nature, the ample wheel wells can accommodate wider 17" or 18" rims and tires without fender modifications for those inclined to strut their stuff. The 4 wheel ABS disk brakes not only work very well in sporty situations but add a welcome margin of safety when traction conditions on the road are slick.

Healthy sized sway bars keep lean in the corners to a minimum but for those hard chargers the 89' 26 mm rear sway bar is a direct swap making the car track the corners like a go-kart. Fair is fair, they covet our brakes.

Chassis & Noise

Related to handling the 96+ chassis is stamped on a new $90 million Schuler transfer press that stamps out each side of the Taurus in one piece from tail light to A pillar eliminating the tolerance variation and joint welds. The resulting chassis is 87 % more ridged at the same weight, making often installed struts brace connecting the MacPherson towers unnecessary. From the triple sealed doors to the ridged seamless construction the 96+ has the best dimensional control, improved margins and flushness of body parts in it's class and NO squeaks or rattles.

The flush windows, hidden roof drip rails, and foam lined doors are just three examples of the technology Ford used to eliminate almost all road and wind noise while achieving a very low .30 Cd and the cathedral silent interior. Click below to listen to the sound of the V-8 SHO engine at 5000 rpm running across Illinois on I72 east at 142 mph, lungs full of cold morning, nostrils snorting steam like a Wyoming Bison in October.

The low coefficient of drag and ample gearing and hp together with a sporting limit make the SHO one of the few sedans you can drive off the showroom to 139-144 mph.

This time Ford used aluminum in the hood and trunk to save weight. The shipping weight on the 96+ is 3490 Lbs. Vs. 3600 Lbs. for a 93-95 also with an automatic transmission. Thanks to the aluminum block and panels the newer SHO is lighter than it's predecessor. The Olds Aurora is almost exactly the same exterior size weighs 3967 Lbs. Almost 500 lbs. more. Lets nix the stereotype of the 96+ being over weight here and now. While on the topic of the Olds Aurora both are domestic sedans with 32V DOHC V-8 and nearly identical proportions but the Olds costs $10,000 more. The SHO makes 69 hp/L Vs. 62.5 hp/L for the Aurora. The Aurora drags around 16 lbs/hp the SHO 14.85 lbs/hp. The Aurora has 3.48 final drive ratio Vs. the 96+ 3.77. The 96+ has a more powerful specific output, weighs much less and is geared better. Guess what happens? The 4.0L Aurora sucks 3.4 L SHO fumes.

Clever design builds strength in, the front and rear bumpers serve double duty also act as structural cross members, a cross member in the rear underbody has been added, three piece roof rail construction boxes the roof rails for added strength, full length (top to bottom) B pillar reinforcement improves noise, vibration and harshness and provides much stronger side impact protection. The 96+ SHO provides stiffened petal-to cowl supports for improved system response and brake pedal feel.

Unlike many other sedans the SHO still sports 4 wheel independent suspension for improved ride and handling

The new SHO is a modest 5.5" longer over all, and 2.5" longer than the 89-95 SHO. The increase was put to good use mostly adding to the rear seat room affording seating for 5 NFL sized adults. The added length enhances stability and ride but does make me wonder if it has grown too big to autocross. It is a car that can fool you, it walks away without the hysterical antics the other car use to let you know you are fast. It is poised going three times the speed limit through the morning mists on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or 144 mph across the prairies of the midwest or carving your favorite exit ramp at twice the posted "recommendation." It just does not feel like you are going fast, it is like flying low in a silent responsive airplane. "Golly look at them mile markers just fly by!" (information provided by a reliable an anonymous reliable source Ė don't try this on public roads). With a 96+ SHO just popping down to video store to rent a movie is an enjoyable adventure. Want to try?

Gentleman start you engines,  SHO at Idle 118k

Take off and what does the SHO sound like on the road? SHOs in Formation 173k

Now just to demonstrate the difference take the same test ride to the video store in a GTP

This is the sound of one GTP GTP at idle 69k 

Maybe GTP gets better once on the road? GTP's in formation - 32k

Maybe better hot rods exist, they may or may not impress your clients, boss, co-workers or significant other. The SHO also has a plush side, and your responsible alter ego need not know it has another personality like an "air to surface" attack aircraft.

This is how one well known automotive aficionado expressed his feeling for the Gen 3 SHO. Classic Critique 22k

And this is how a classy lady views a GTP GTP review - 21k

And let us not forget those receptionists who buy GTPs. Name for ladies 57k

Not that we have any hard feeling toward the GTP folks. Like to kiss ya  32k

They can try to catch us any old time.  Bumpy Night 50k

Comfort & Convenience

A thousand small but important things combine to indicate a seamless envelope of quality, integrity and convenience.
  Soft touch zones, not a lot of exposed metal. Everywhere interior screws are hidden. Fit and finish inside and out is first rate. Horn on center of steering wheel where it should be.. Left foot rest for driver. Soft lighted buttons for door and window controls. Leather interior. Cloth visors. All seat belts have shoulder belt even the middle rear seat. Duel electric remote heated side view mirrors. Child proof rear doors. Passive anti-theft keys and perimeter alarm. Useful headlights. Aerodynamic autobahn windshield wipers. Twin front air bags Keyless entry system. Solar tinted glass Ė complete. 28% more glass area than 95 SHO for improved visibility. Air conditioning with electronic temperature control and rear outlets. Fast time to temperature for HOT damn days. Automatic on/off/delay headlights. Duel beam reading lights and dome light. Particulate air filter keeps over 90% of pollen and dust larger than 3 microns out of car interior. Battery saver turns off headlights in 40 minutes Auto dimming digital clock. Duel illuminated visor mirrors & secondary visors. Power moon roof No glare dash for outstanding night visibility Ergonomic integrated control panel. Rear mounted power antenna. Convenient 60/40 split/fold rear seat opens for large/ long items in the trunk. Embroidered floor mats. Trunk cargo net. OD lock out. AND last but not least an attractive functional unique rear spoiler.


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