This is the fastest couch I've ever driven. We're wafting along in the left lane, the sternum push of two turbos burying me in the h foam of a fat man's bucket seat. The speedometer is hungry for 130, but we're running out of road. We haven't left fourth gear, and this car's still pulling me toward my mortality with unblinking resolve. Did I mention I'm driving a Taurus?
To be fair, this isn't the ubiquitous domestic Camry competitor that kept Ford's coffers full for almost 30 years. No, this is the other Taurus: the full-size bruiser that increasingly finds itself parked in the "they still make that?" section of your brain. Curtis Haley bought his 2011 SHO to serve as the family truckster. With 365 factory horsepower and all-wheel drive, it seemed like a suitable way to lug the wife and kid around without blacking out from boredom.
Haley says he's owned somewhere around 30 cars – roughly one for every year he's spent on this planet, and most of them were more fun than functional. He's one of those guys who can't help himself, or leave well enough alone. The car didn't stay stock for long. What started with an over-the-counter tune devolved into a build that would push the limits of the factory turbos, the transmission, and the all-wheel drive system.
He handed the car over to the mad wrenches at here in Knoxville. Those guys are responsible for some of the fastest Supras and GT-Rs in the area, and they wasted no time going to work on the big-bodied SHO. Velocity chucked the stock down pipes for a catless set, and integrated a discreet alcohol injection system that uses the old windshield washer reservoir. It was good, but it wasn't enough, so Haley shipped the car to in Michigan, where the SHO got a full Corsa exhaust. Air comes in via a Livernois Windstorm intake, and a three-bar MAP sensor lets Haley crank up the boost.
When all the parts were in place, the car went to the dyno for a custom tune. The result is impressive. The car puts down 392 horsepower and 426 lb-ft of torque at the wheels. Do a little back-of-the-envelope math for driveline loss, and it's clear that the 3.5-liter V6 is shoving somewhere around 550 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque into the stock automatic gearbox. That's with stock internals and with the original turbos. If Haley knows fear, he isn't showing it.
When I ask about durability, he grins and says there's someone else out there putting down even bigger numbers. Early on, Haley's car blew the seals on the power take off unit.
"I haven't had any other issues," he says, "but traction."
The car's maniacal from a launch. At over 4,300 lbs, it wants to be stationary. Torpor is its natural state. But when the turbos spool and the brakes let go, the car punts itself forward with hilarious force. The front tires slip for a moment before the rears engage, then all four scramble at the pavement in search of the best way to rip your face off. It's violent and more than a little terrifying.
But roll into the throttle with the ease and patience of a gentleman, and you're rewarded with a planted machine that wants nothing more than to explore the upper octaves of its speedometer. Haley lowered the car by an inch and a half on H&R springs. You'd never know it from looking at the car, but the drop banished most of the car's body roll and nose dive. It just only gets more planted as the speed climbs, and the engine simply does not stop pulling. You run out of numbers on the dash before the car runs out of steam.
Despite the thrust, the SHO's perfectly civil most of the time. The exhaust isn't brassy or loud, and the only thing that distinguishes this car from the ones languishing at the Enterprise lot is the sound of boost escaping through the blow off valve with each throttle lift. I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around how the car can be an outright terror one minute and a plodding kid hauler the next.
"It's just a Taurus."