When I visit a car graveyard, I’m always on the lookout for three things: puzzling examples of badge engineering, crazy high odometer readings, and manual transmissions in unexpected cars. One of the rarest of all is a non-SHO Ford Taurus with three pedals, sold under the MT-5 designation for the 1986 through 1988 model years. After a decade of searching, I found my first discarded Taurus MT-5 in Phoenix, three years back. Now a junkyard near Pikes Peak has provided the second example of this extraordinarily rare Junkyard Find.
Strangely, the MT-5 wasn’t the very cheapest 1986 Taurus you could buy. The Taurus L that year had a three-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment and cost a mere $9,645 versus the MT-5’s $10,276 (that’s about $22,915 and $24,415 in 2020 dollars, respectively). The MT-5 had the same four-cylinder engine as the L, but came with bucket seats, better gauges, and a nicer steering wheel.
Americans were accustomed to automatic transmissions as costly upgrades by 1986, and so few bargain-seeking car shoppers felt that paying more for a manual transmission in an ordinary midsize sedan with a two-digit-horsepower engine made much sense. MT-5s gathered dust in the showrooms. Never mind that the overdrive gear in the five-speed gave the MT-5 much better fuel economy than the L— gas prices were in a screaming power dive around this time.
Nearly all first-gen Taurus buyers opted for the V6 engine, anyway, because the base 2.3 four-banger made just 88 horsepower. That was miserable stuff in a car that scaled in at 2,759 (sedan) or 2,957 (wagon) pounds. Yes, Ford sold— or at least tried to sell— MT-5 wagons, though I’ve never seen one in person. Four-cylinder engines were available throughout the 1986-1991 first generation of Taurus, but you won’t find many.
The HSC engine has an interesting story. Originally designed for the Tempo, it was two-thirds of the old early-1960s “Thriftpower” 200-cubic-inch straight-six engine that powered millions of Fords through 1984.
Once the Taurus SHO became available for the 1989 model year, the MT-5 got the axe; drivers who preferred manual shifting also tended to prefer lots of horsepower.
The car seems to be in pretty decent condition, with no rust and a reasonably nice Bordello Red™ interior. Since the Taurus MT-5 falls firmly into the “rare but not valuable” category, however, few cared when it took that final tow-truck ride to this place.
“Now there’s an American car that has exactly what we’ve been looking for.”
For links to 2,000+ additional Junkyard Finds, Junkyard Gems, and Junkyard Treasures, head over to the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.