Underappreciated: NASCAR Ford Taurus
rctothefuture last edited by rctothefuture
If there's one car that goes wildly underappreciated from the Gen 4 era of NASCAR stock cars, it's the Ford Taurus.
Ford and Chevy were the main competition in the late 90's, early 2000's with Pontiac coming up the rear. Ford would eventually replace the Taurus in NASCAR with the Fusion (a god awful abomination) but the Taurus isn't as well remembered as the Chevy's of the era.
Ford in the early 90's was running their Thunderbird's and were having quite a lot of success due to their slick aero and Yates power plants. Ford was using the T-Bird to compete with Chevrolet and their Monte Carlos, it was the battle of the PLC's. Everyone was running 2 door Personal Luxury Coupes at the time, even Lincoln was almost involved!
However, Ford decided to change tactics in 1998 to compete against the newly designed Chevrolet Monte Carlo on the way. Ford decided to put it's money where it's mouth is and make the symbol of their stock car program their newly remodeled hottest seller, the Ford Taurus. A risky move, considering that Ford was quite successful with their Thunderbird and had the opportunity to use their new Coupe, the Probe. However Ford decided to go all in and go with their family truckster.
Now sedans weren't new for NASCAR Racing, they had been a part of the classic generation of the 50's and 60's. However, since the Winston Cup era, only 2 door coupes had been approved for all makes (AMC, Buick, Chevy, Ford, Olds, Pontiac, Plymouth, Dodge, etc.). 2 door coupes were also inherently more sporty and were closer to the on track product that folks would see "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday".
The idea that a Ford Taurus would beat a Monte Carlo SS Sports Coupe was in someway a genius marketing scheme. You could believe you were beating the young guy next to you with a family sedan, car seats and all. A grocery getter that gets into victory lane, the ads write themselves! Ford would adapt the Taurus as it's symbol speed, even releasing the V8 SHO to offer the consumer a similar feel and sound to their NASCAR counter part.
Ford however would not have a lot of pleasant memories with the Taurus. It's styling received mixed reviews and caused Ford to lose their sales status as the #1 selling sedan in the U.S. to the Toyota Camry (foreshadowing?). I personally find the restyle to be quite good looking, especially in race car form. They just look fast!
Ford did have some pleasant memories on track as Dale Jarret would win his Championship in 99 in a Ford Credit Taurus and would lead to several more in the Busch series as well. Ford's success at the time was used to their advantage as dealerships would proudly hang championship banners and advertisements would mention Ford's winning spirit. It was a great symbiotic relationship to help stir up sales for Ford's new controversial design.
As Ford updated the Taurus, the stock cars would reflect the new styling changes by Ford. Such as in 2000, when Ford went to a large headlight assembly with turn signals.
However, in the early 2000's, the Gen 4 car started to change massively. Team engineers were able to play with aerodynamic changes on the template, changing how the rear end, front bumper, and rear window shape. Chevy started it, they redesigned the Monte Carlo to offer a large spoiler in the middle which meant their stock car would have this. This would affect aerodynamics by offering more grip in the corners and more speed down the straights.
Ford complained and was allowed to change their front and rear bumper design and it lead to an engineering war from 2001-2005.
It all culminated in the Chevrolet "Twisted Sisters" where the cars would fit the standard template but had insane proportions to help with aero push and clean air.
Ford filed complaint and NASCAR was stuck with their hands tied as the cars with in legal boundary. Ford teams did attempt similar changes however the engineering teams at Roush and RYR were not able to compete with the Fords of the era.
That's maybe why the Ford Taurus is forgotten. Chevrolet was at their height in the early 2000's. DEI would dominate plate tracks, Hendrick's was taking the trophies at short tracks and intermediates. Jeff Gordon was the road course king. No matter how good Ford could make the Taurus, Chevy just had them beat.
Even Pontiac, lowly Pontiac, had it's own aerodynamic package that screwed Ford in one of NASCAR's most famous finishes.
In 2003, at Darlington Speedway, Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven were in a huge battle for the lead. Lap after lap near the finish they were fighting each other. On the final lap, Craven and Busch got into each other. Beating and banging bumpers, trying whatever they could to get the win. It lead to the closest finish in NASCAR history, at the time. That little kick on the nose on the Pontiac was just enough to best the best of Ford at the time. It's almost poetic, that we forget how far away these cars looked from their street counterparts at the time but Ford tried it's best to stay true to form and stay competitive.
In 2006, Ford unceremoniously killed the Taurus and replaced it with the Fusion. Ford was losing market share rapidly in the sedan segment and needed new life blood to bring Ford back. The fusion was their new development on the Mazda C platform and was said to offer better styling, comfort, and reliability. With that, the Taurus name was ended (until it was brought back) in both the street and in NASCAR.
As such, they kept with the sedan fighting on the oval tracks. Chevy would follow suit with their Impala SS Sedan and then Toyota joining Cup racing with their Camry later on. Ford started the sedan revolution in NASCAR and ultimately would end building sedans in 2020.
The Fusion would spend one short year as a sticker package on the Taurus bodies, before becoming a "Car of Tomorrow" in 2007.
For fans of Gran Turismo, Papyrus NASCAR games, or were just a fan at the time then the famous Cummins/Valvoline #6 Taurus or the Sharpie #97 are fond memories. Heck, Ford won 3 Championships with the Taurus! (Jarret, Busch, Kenseth).
However, this time period is dominated by the Chevy's. The famous #3 Gooodwrench of Earnhardt, the Budweiser #8, the blue flame #24, they are all schemes that folks know and they are all Chevrolet. They were the Gen 4, which is why the Ford Taurus is Underappreciated.
frinesi2 last edited by
Oh man, that Valvoline livery reminded me of my favorite toy car which I've just gone and liberated from my child's repository.
Not a Taurus, but still ...
(attempted to post a pic and failed ... it's the Thunderbird)
interstate366 last edited by
You know, I never knew about the Twisted Sister design, and I watched NASCAR regularly at the time! Looks so odd.
rctothefuture last edited by
@frinesi2 The thunderbird is more well known for sure. I think the Taurus did it better though with it's 90's paint vibe.