September 23, 2010

The 19th annual national Taurus SHO convention kicked off a week of Taurus tomfoolery on Monday, July 12 at Dearborn's DoubleTree Hotel, located just minutes north of Ford World Headquarters in Michigan. A good many years have passed since Ford played a significant role in the SHO convention; last year, Blue Oval representatives took a 2010 SHO to convention number 18 in New Hampshire, but by and large the SHO community spent the last 10 years in limbo, feeling as though Ford completely abandoned their sport sedan faithful. So when the company invited the next SHO convention to Dearborn with promises of special events and surprises, many attendees were cautiously optimistic at how a new relationship might be forged with the manufacturer, especially when the vast majority of convention goers weren't necessarily on board with the significantly larger, fourth-generation "EcoSHO." That didn't stop 2010 SHO owners from attending--and enjoying--the event, nor did it dampen Ford's efforts to rebuild ties in support of their new flagship. If anything, it just made the Ford reps try even harder to reach this small, but extremely dedicated, enthusiast group, and to that end, they were decidedly successful.

Monday was the convention's official welcome day, and as such, activities primarily consisted of showing up and showing off. Nearly all the 100 or so cars in the lot were driven as opposed to trailered, and the few that were piggybacked weren't car show queens, but track day warriors toting race rubber and enough tools to fabricate a mobile SHO factory. Ford stepped in with a hosted pizza banquet Monday evening--their first of many contributions--and delivered a pair of 2011 SHOs for the sunburned attendees to check out during the dinner. Opening-day activities capped off with a presentation from retired mechanical cut-away designer Alan English, who explained why making cut-aways isn't as simple as buying extra blades for your reciprocating saw.

Tuesday dawned painfully early, as the convention's traditional car show was reduced to just a couple hours in the morning, after which everyone was invited to Ford World Headquarters for lunch. Owners were in the lot as early as 7am, repositioning and polishing their rides for the professionally judged show that included numerous categories. In addition to generation-specific groupings, awards were given for best engine, best "road warrior," and for folks like Jonathan Richard from Granby, Quebec, there was a SHO-powered category, since his white 2002 Taurus didn't come stock with the lumpy-cammed, 3.2-liter SHO V-6 and five-speed manual tranny stuffed under the hood. His project car actually began life as a taxi, and according to Jonathan, the swap was actually quite straightforward. His 2002 Taurus wasn't the only cool frankensteined ride at the show, but it definitely stood out as one of the best.

Other car show highlights included a factory-fresh 1989 SHO with just 10,000 original miles, endless combinations of under-hood customizations featuring the Yamaha's exotic intake manifold (which still has the ability to shock and awe the motoring public after 21 years), MRT's oh-so-sweet 2010 project SHO built last year for SEMA, and one of the all-aluminum AIV Mercury Sable/SHO test cars that Ford built in the mid-1990s. Blissfully absent were massive wings, crazy body kits, and cartoonish paint jobs so often seen in the world of front-wheel drive performance. SHO owners may be a special breed of Ford enthusiast, but they definitely favor performance over flamboyance.

The party moved to Ford World Headquarters for an early lunch, dished out to attendees while Advanced Engine Design and Development Manger Brett Hinds gave everyone an in-depth look at the EcoBoost V-6. Following a Q and A session where Ford's North American Car Marketing Manager Steve Ling suggested a 400 horsepower SHO might be on deck, SHO owners, Ford employees and the media fraternized outside HQ for about an hour, snapping photos and chatting about all things Ford. A police escort soon arrived for the third adventure of the day, which took cars and owners to Ford's Dearborn Proving Grounds for a very special tour around the facility. The day's official activities finally wrapped with another tour, this time at the nearby Automotive Hall of Fame where yet another custom 2010 SHO--this one from the folks at Mobsteel--awaited enthusiasts inside. Wednesday was another early day, as most of the attending SHO owners trekked 25 miles north to Waterford Hills Raceway for a day of laps around the 12-turn, 1.4 mile road course. The event was tailored to novices as well as veterans; all four SHO generations took to the track in various states of preparation, from bone stock street cars to mildly-prepped track machines, with one very cool exception--a curiously painted first generation SHO originally constructed in the early 1990s by Woodstock Motorsports, purpose-built as a road course dominator. Originally one of four "Ninja Turtle" SHOs to compete in the Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship, this particular machine was located a few years ago by Ryan Pasch of Chicago, who restored the old SHO to its original racing livery. Back in the day, the Ninja Turtle SHOs were quite successful on the racing circuit, though for SHO convention number 19, Pasch managed only a few hard laps before brake issues sidelined him for the day.

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Another interesting track experience came from Northeast SHO owner Kirk Doucette, who elected to leave his track-prepped 1995 SHO at his Spencer, Massachusetts shop in favor of flogging his tastefully de-chromed 2010 SHO. Equipped with a set of race-spec brake pads, a custom exhaust and a performance tune engineered by Doucette himself, he set about defying the laws of physics by throwing the two-ton EcoSHO around the tight course with surprising speed and grip. Aside from the better pads and an estimated horsepower bump to around 440 ponies, Doucette's SHO was factory stock, including the suspension, brake size and Goodyear street rubber. He said his 2010 in stock trim outperforms his track-ready 95 in every fashion, and after riding shotgun with Doucette for a few laps, the big SHO proved to be quite capable of nausea-inducing g-loads, gut-wrenching acceleration and repeated panic stops, though the pedal was softening up after a few laps. It may be a large beast, but the 2010 SHO definitely knows how to wrinkle pavement with authority.

Thursday was the last official convention day, and local tours at such places as the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and Ford's sprawling Rouge factory gave the SHO crowd a chance to recover from two days of early-morning activity. It also gave everyone a chance to prepare for the traditional banquet and closing ceremonies, which included a lengthy car show awards presentation, a silent auction of donated items for charity, a specially-painted helmet signed by a who's who of Ford executives that also went on the auction block for charity, and several guest speakers from Ford. Among them, Taurus SHO Chief Engineer Mike Celentino assured everyone that Ford was listening to enthusiasts--going so far as to say that more performance and better brakes would be part of future SHOs. Taurus Exterior Design Manager Earl Lucas echoed those sentiments, noting that the SHO would receive more unique items, less chrome, and a lower, wider stance. He also became the fourth Ford representative through the week-long convention to suggest the SHO would be receiving more power. Unless someone in upper management sent out the wrong memo, we suspect the Ford folks have some horsepower secrets they want to not share with the world, if you get the drift.

On the enthusiast side of the SHO fence, Ford Performance Group Communications Manager and long time Mustang aficionado John Clor spoke about official Taurus SHO certificates of authenticity, which debuted earlier this year for the first three Taurus SHO generations and recently became available for the 2010 SHO. Styled after the coveted certificates of authenticity that SVT owners have valued for years, the Ford Performance Group's effort to catalog, preserve and deliver vehicle-specific production information was welcome news for SHO owners, who've long desired to have the level of personalization, recognition and distinction that comes with official documents such as these.

Though Friday was not an official convention day, many folks trekked to Cleveland for a tour of Ford's EcoBoost engine plant, either as a stop on their way home, or as a continuation of what turned out to be an extraordinarily successful convention. Despite the struggling economy and fuel prices near $3.00 per gallon, 100 cars and over 160 people made the trip to Dearborn. Enthusiasts traveled from both coasts and the deep South, representing 25 states and two Canadian providences. Ford made sure none of them left Dearborn empty handed; everyone at the banquet received Taurus SHO T-shirts, Taurus drinking glasses, and 1:24 scale 2010 SHO die-cast replicas, the latter of which were hand delivered to each person by Steve Ling and Taurus Marketing Manager Pei-Wen Hsu. On the charity front, the efforts of convention attendees and Ford Motor Company raised $1,800 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and approximately $4,000 for the American Cancer Society.

After years of little contact and even less interest in the Taurus SHO enthusiast community, attendees at the 2010 national SHO convention were not only greeted with enthusiasm, but treated with a respect that was both refreshing and genuine.

"How many people get the chance to be invited into Ford's headquarters, tour its proving grounds, and are treated to specially made gifts, and talk to as many Ford engineers that we could take?" said convention organizer Ken Mallinson. "Our friends at Ford, Pei-Wen Hsu and Steve Ling both helped show our members why Ford is still alive--and will continue to be for many years to come."

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