Most of this is mentioned in the full review below, but nothing serious has gone wrong with it. I have a little history from the previous owners, and they have done little other than maintenance. They added a cat-back exhaust to it, but that may have been for sound, because the rest of it is in excellent condition still.
Since I have had it, I've had to put quite a bit into it, but most of it is typical 11-year old/160,000 mile stuff, and it all pretty much happened at once.
The rear brake lines rusted through. That was mostly the fault of a poorly designed retainer that allowed water to puddle, but the whole line was in rough shape anyways. Other than the fact that for some strange reason they used American lines with European ends and Japanese fittings, it would be a fairly basic repair. That made it a pain in the butt, but still less than $50.00.
After replacing the lines, the bleeder valve broke off in the left/rear caliper. It was too deep to extract, so I had to buy a new caliper for it. It was cheaper than I expected though at only $40.00.
When I got that fixed, it wouldn't start because the alternator was seized up. When we got underneath the car (it's mounted on the passenger/lower/back of the engine) we found that the casing was broken, probably from road debris hitting it. Either way, 11 years and 160,000 miles is not a bad life for what looked like the original alternator. It would have been $165.00 plus $150.00 to replace it (4-hr job), but my connections got it all done for $160.00.
While troubleshooting the alternator, we fried the starter, but that was my fault for trying to start it, not realizing the alternator was the problem and the belt wouldn't let the engine turn over. I replaced it with a $20.00 used one, since it's the same as the DOHC 3.0L V6 starter.
When the shop changed the alternator, they found a VERY loose ball joint. I had them change it as it's a press-in unit. Again, I got it replaced cheap at $40.00.
The right/front ABS sensor was cracked when I got the car, so the ABS light had always been on. When I got it back from the shop, though, suddenly the speedometer didn't work. We found that the V8 does not use a speed sensor in the transmission, rather it uses the ABS sensors. The left/front one had gone bad too, so it had no speed readings. I had to get them from the dealer, but they were only about $28.00 each. When I changed them, I found the wires to the left one had previously been cut and spliced, so the sensor may have been fine, but I replaced them anyways. ABS is pretty important in a Michigan winter!
When I first got the car, it didn't have near the power it should have. The previous owners said they thought something was wrong with the transmission, and that it probably had never been serviced, so it may have a plugged filter. About a week after I got it, suddenly the exhaust got loud. The exhaust system consists of: a Y-pipe from the manifolds with a catalytic converter on each side of the engine, a short stainless-steel braid flex-pipe, a third cat, then one pipe back to another Y that leads to two mufflers. The loudness came from the blown-out flex-pipe.
Seeing that, I figured at 160,000 miles the cats were probably getting plugged up. Exhaust is difficult and can be expensive. Out of 8 shops (literally), only 2 even found listings that Ford ever put a V8 in a Taurus, and they could find part numbers, but nothing available. When I checked at the dealer, I was floored with a quote of $2,500 just for parts! The Y-pipe alone was $1,500!
Fortunately, some internet research has found that Magnaflow makes performance parts very reasonably. Summit Racing sells the Magnaflow Y-pipe for just over $300.00. That will get replaced at tax time. For now, I paid the local Muffler Man $30.00 to remove the third cat (it's useless as the oxygen sensors are mounted to the Y-pipe) and replace it with a new flex-pipe and a piece of straight. It currently sounds great with the Vortex mufflers that came on it, and removing that cat restored a lot of power.
I also found that the SHO has a self-adjusting load-sensing brake proportioning valve in the rear. These are known for seizing up, and mine had. I got a great replacement on Ebay for $20.00.
In the interior, the passenger's power window did not work, and the power door locks... well, the driver's would lock, and the passenger's would unlock. I got used door lock and window switches for both doors from the same guy on Ebay for $30.00 all together that fixed everything.
The other interior issue that I haven't fixed yet is the driver's power seat. It has separate power and lumbar adjustment that neither work, so I assume it's just a faulty power or ground wire. It's in the right spot for me, and my wife has her own car, so it's low priority.
It also has the typical fogged up plastic headlight lenses. They're still in good shape other than that. Autozone sells a great polishing kit for less than $20.00 that should make them look like new again, when I get the ambition to do it!
Okay, so that's quite a list, but like I said, it's all very typical for its age and mileage. There's a few other things it could use, like shocks & struts, but they're still okay for now.
The biggest drawback is that if you don't have some connections, the high-tech parts on this car can be quite expensive. In the end, though, the joy of driving this car is worth every penny... and that's coming from someone who owned a convertible Mustang GT prior to this!
This is a complete review that I wrote for another site. It contains some of the material mentioned above in less detail, but offers a good perspective on the vehicle overall.
The V8 Ford Taurus SHO is one of the finest examples of a seamless merge between automotive and technological excellence I have ever had the pleasure of driving. Although it has been outpaced by some since its introduction 12 years ago in 1996, it was far ahead of its time then, and is still better than many cars available today that cost twice its initial MSRP of $25,450. The ultimate "sleeper" car; it looks like a 4-door sedan with some sporty accessories, seats five very comfortably, has a spacious trunk, and includes numerous standard amenities that aren't even available as options on many other cars in its price range. However, assume that this car is just another family-guy sedan, and you can be sure that you won't be the one to have the last laugh.
Originally introduced in 1989, the Ford Taurus SHO has always been known for combining performance that was far above similarly priced competitors, with luxurious comfort comparable to higher priced cars and an outstanding tradition of reliability and quality like no other. The SHO was restyled in 1992, and continued to be powered by a dual overhead cam V6. The third and final generation of SHO’s, introduced in 1996, debuts radically changed exterior styling, tremendous interior improvements, and an all new power plant in the form of an all-aluminum 3.4L V8 engine.
Externally, the SHO is a little less than exciting. Though its looks have been upgraded over its standard siblings, the differences are subtle, to say the least. Five-spoke 16-inch aluminum wheels are available in either silver or chrome, and come wrapped in P225/55ZR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. While this doesn't scream performance to the unaware masses, it should encourage you to know that the ZR-rated Goodyear Eagle RS-A has been the tire of choice for numerous police-interceptor pursuit vehicles for many years. Design upgrades come in the form of a sportier front and rear bumper cover with a wide horizontal vent in the lower front air dam, and cut-outs for the dual chrome exhaust tips in the rear. Side-skirts have been added to the rocker panels to finish out the treatment, although they are nearly too small to notice. The rear deck lid also shows subtle changes by replacing the black-out taillight panel with a body-colored piece, and a strange little spoiler attached to the top that looks like a fiberglass sun-visor was left lying on the trunk. The final exterior hint that this is not your mother's Taurus, is the small "V8" badge glued to each side just behind the front wheels.
Taking a seat inside the cockpit of the SHO will reveal very little divergence from the standard Taurus, as well. Nearly all of the interior panels are commonly shared. The spacious rear seating remains unchanged, with seat belts for three, and a fold-down seat back that provides full access to the trunk compartment. Front seating has been dramatically improved, however. The standard front seats have been replaced with soft, yet supportive, sporty high-back buckets that wrap around you just enough to provide a securely stationed feeling under nearly any driving conditions. Supple leather seat coverings are standard, as are power adjustable front seats with power lumbar adjustment in the driver's seat.
The fully automatic climate control system with integrated AM/FM cassette deck has also been improved by adding Ford's "Mach" amplified 6-speaker system, with a trunk-mounted 6-disc CD changer also available. Other standard amenities include: power windows with auto-down driver's window and passenger lock-out, power door locks, heated remote-power mirrors, remote keyless entry system with driver's door mounted numeric keypad, automatic power antenna, child safety locks on the rear doors, and a large auto-tilt/slide moon roof. An integrated voice-activated cell phone is available as well, though a rarely chosen option. More noticeable differences are seen in the full-instrumentation dash, including tachometer and 140-mph speedometer, and custom "SHO" floor mats complete the "special edition" look.
Not impressed thus far? That's kind of the idea. While improvements abound, designers kept things fairly hush-hush on purpose. The SHO was intended to look pretty and appear dainty, until you turn it on; a natural born sleeper. Twist the key in the ignition switch and you'll unlock the beast inside this beauty. The standard 3.0L V6 engine has been removed, and in its place resides a 3.4L V8 engine that puts out an impressive-for-its-size 235 horsepower and 230 lb-ft of torque. To put some perspective on the efficiency of this engine, that is 1.2 liters (the displacement of an entire Mitsubishi Mirage engine) smaller than the 1997 4.6L Mustang GT engine, yet makes 20 more horsepower! Add to that an average fuel efficiency of 26 miles to the gallon (as observed by this author) enhanced by an overdrive automatic transmission, and the hidden picture of performance begins to become more clear.
The engine begins as a 207 cubic-inch all-aluminum block manufactured by Ford's Canadian Cosworth division. The lower-ends are shipped to Japan, where Yamaha assembles the rest of the engine with their own high-end components. Dual overhead cam (DOHC) aluminum cylinder heads with 4 valves per cylinder (32 valves total) flow very efficiently, and bring the engine's compression ratio to a premium fuel demanding 10.00:1 in a cool weight-saving package.
As impressive as the internals of this high-strung engine may be, what is perhaps the most visually impressive sight under the hood is also one of the best technological components. When first peering under the cover of the SHO's engine compartment, a maze of snake-like tubing is seen intertwining itself back and forth across the top of the engine. Another example of intelligent design courtesy of the engineers at Yamaha is the variable unequal length runners of the intake manifold. Each cylinder is fed by two intake runners; one which always flows openly, and another that has an electronically controlled butterfly that allows the computer to increase or decrease the amount of fuel and air flow to each cylinder, depending on performance demands.
On light acceleration, the engine responds smoothly and with great efficiency, but lower that lead foot closer to the floor and you'll feel a sudden surge of power when the secondaries open up around 3,400 RPM, reminiscent of the power band of a two-stroke dirt bike. Be sure to roll the windows down first though, and enjoy the impressive throaty V8 sound that is likely to cause whiplash for those passed by what they thought was just another V6 sedan. The SHO exhales through a 2-1-2 exhaust system that combines exhaust gasses from both sides of the engine into one pipe, and splits again into a two muffler exit near the back of the car.
Power is transferred from the engine to the front wheels via Ford's AX4N four-speed automatic transmission. The computer controlled transmission is built with four forward speeds, including a fuel-saving overdrive gear that can be manually disabled, and reverse. The transmission controls also monitor performance demands, and can adjust shift points and firmness on the fly, allowing for better cruising fuel economy, or quick, snappy, high-RPM shifts.
Admittedly, the power, efficiency, technology, and sound of the engine and transmission will likely leave you disappointed if you count on it for straight-line performance. A quarter-mile dragster this 3,510 pound car certainly is not, with a less than stellar zero-to-sixty time of 7.4 seconds and quarter-mile performance of 15.56 seconds at 90 mph. Though it's not the quickest in its class, it's well within the top percentage of its competition, and strides ahead of nearly any family sedan in a comparable price range. In this writer's opinion, the SHO's suspension, braking, and handling are the most awe inspiring examples of what technology can do to improve performance.
The SHO utilizes a fairly typical four-wheel independent suspension design with MacPherson struts up front and Ford's Quadralink setup in the rear. These common style systems have also been improved through technology and upgraded components. The Taurus SHO benefits from a "semi-active suspension". All four struts have electronically controlled adjustable settings to greatly improve cornering, acceleration, and stopping ability. Without a doubt, this two and three-quarter ton, mid-size, four-door, family sedan holds corners and stops better than the Mustang GT that it replaced in my garage. The SHO pulled an outstanding 0.81g on the 200 foot skidpad; equal to Motortrend's test of the 1997 Mustang GT.
Stopping this heavier car requires 9 more feet than the Mustang, at 134 feet, but it does so in a much more controlled manner, thanks again to technology. The SHO comes as standard with four-wheel anti-lock brakes and a load-sensing rear brake proportioning valve that automatically adjusts rear brake line pressure according to weight and ride-height. Standing on the brake pedal also produces instant response from the semi-active suspension, which stiffens up the front suspension and softens the rear slightly, nearly eliminating front-end dive. The result is safer, more controlled stopping, which also improves traction when slowing down through a tight corner. Combine all this with large diameter sway bars and Ford's ZF high-precision rack and pinion steering system, and the SHO powers through the 600 foot slalom at a surprising 63.6 mph; again, equal to the '97 Mustang GT.
Reading all these performance statistics might make one wonder why more people aren't driving a sedan that is capable of shuttling an entire family at nearly the same pace and greater comfort as its two-door brother, the Mustang. The quote, "With great power comes great responsibility", may do well to sum it up. A major drawback to the Taurus SHO is its expensive maintenance costs. Confidence in its durability is shown with its first factory recommended tune-up scheduled at 100,000 miles, but you'll likely need that much time to build up a savings account to handle the costs. The Yamaha designed engine utilizes an individual coil-on-plug ignition system instead of conventional spark plug wires. While this greatly improves both performance and fuel economy, the extremely computer dependent engine requires all eight of these average $80 each coils to operate perfectly.
Many of the common high-mileage breakdowns can be expensive, too. Starters, alternators, and water pumps are usually at least 20% more expensive than the V6 Taurus, partly due to the limited space available under the hood. This also decreases the chances that many of these will be simple do-it-yourself home garage jobs.
Be prepared to pay dealer prices, unfortunately, as the semi-rare status of this car limits aftermarket part availability. Shops are also quite often very limited help, as well. When looking for exhaust parts, I only found one out of eight different shops that could even find parts listings showing that Ford ever put a V8 in a Taurus; and they still couldn't get the parts. A trip to the dealer produced a price quote of nearly $2,500 just to buy the parts to replace the exhaust system, not including labor! Don't get me wrong, it can be done. If you're ambitious and resourceful, far less expensive parts and labor costs most certainly can be found, but be prepared to work for it.
For example, after much searching of internet retailers and specialty clubs, I found I can replace the entire exhaust with performance upgrades for around $700 including labor; not outrageous for a performance vehicle that was only produced for four years.
All of these costs are on top of the every day cost of an engine that requires premium unleaded gasoline, but an average of 26 MPG does help to offset the usual $0.20 fuel upgrade.
There are also unofficial defects with the camshafts and transmissions. Although I have not personally had issues with either on my own high-mileage SHO, anyone familiar with these cars will adamantly warn new owners to have the camshaft gears spot-welded to the cams, as they have a tendency to come loose from the cams, causing catastrophic engine failure. The preventative fix is costly at around $800, but far less than the thousands required to replace the rare high-end motor after it has happened. Ford denies that there is a problem with the cam gears, even though there has been a pending lawsuit about the issue since the late 1990's, and there have been several thousand documented cases of the problem.
The transmissions, on the other hand, are pretty reliable... for a sedan. However, under performance conditions, the factory transmission cooler included in the radiator proves to be less than adequate, and can cause premature transmission failure. Adding an inexpensive aftermarket cooler to the transmission is an easy way to prolong transmission life.
Bottom line - is it worth it? Absolutely, undoubtedly, you betcha! The '96-'99 Ford Taurus SHO is an extremely impressive performance sedan. Of course, no family sedan will ever replace the fun factor of a two-door convertible sports car. However, should you ever find yourself in my situation, a speed junkie with a family to transport around and too much ego for a minivan, you won't be disappointed. In the few short months I've had my SHO, I've encountered a few expensive maintenance bills. Though the parts and labor can be expensive, they have all been issues typical of any 11 year old car with nearly 160,000 miles on it (i.e. starter, alternator, brake lines, etc.), but if the mechanic's bill is the poison that kills the fun, you can count on a surefire antidote when you get to drive it home. Who knows, your personal preference may be even more than that. In my own opinion, without a family I probably never would have gone from a convertible Mustang GT to a Taurus anything, but now that I have, I'm not too concerned with when, or even if, we ever switch back.
Pros — All the comforts of a luxury sedan, with almost too much of the fun of a sports car.
Cons — The ultra-rare V8 engine and high-tech parts make for expensive maintenance costs.