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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The secret Ford Taurus that changed NASCAR forever

While visiting the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Mooresville, owner Don Miller took us for a walk behind the museum to show off a rather shabby Ford Taurus GL. Dilapidated and covered in creeping fungus, this particular silver sedan brought about a massive sea change in NASCAR in the late 1990s.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/the-secret-ford-taurus-that-changed-nascar-forever/
58 REPLIES 58
Maestro1
Technician

I've always thought that it was a terribly ugly car to begin with, which is not the point. The
point is to win in competition; and if was a Winner, I'm probably the only person who has another consideration about the car.
HighwayStarr
Intermediate Driver

Ugly? Maybe. But did you see what Chevy then unveiled (Lumina). That took the record for ugly. When that was was unveiled for its first race at Talladega in spring (May) 1989, Sterling Marlin lost 2 windshields before the race was even half over. Of course, other mfrs bitched that the car was aluminium m and wasn't even publicly available to consumers for another year!!??
Tinkerah
Engineer

Count me as the second.
MattK
Advanced Driver

I owned a 1999. It was a good car. Large, Comfortable and roomy. It's catfish face was polarizing. I always thought that they should have come out with the updated syling of the next model considered the fourth generation first. It was more conservative and was a handsome looking car.
FloridaMarty
Instructor

I miss the days when stock car racing was just that, "STOCK CARS"!
TKDMaster
Pit Crew

They never were "stock cars" in the showroom sense, even back in the 40's, 50;s, etc. Look up Smokey Yunick and some of the tricks he pulled, (not that everybody else wasnt massaging every single part in the car to get some tiny advantage). If NASCAR had not "looked" the other way, some manufacturer would have dominated every single race of every season because their particular car would have been the fastest.  And there would have been no fans in the seats after the dominant make showed itself because one "stock " model would dominate ALL of the races if nothing could be changed. Daytona Raceway would not exist because you can't pay the bills with 100 "Ford" Chevy" "Dodge" fans in the seats.  Does SCCA Showroom Stock even exist? ( I am not interested enough to even look it up) 

buellerdan
Instructor

Are you referring to Smokey's 7/8 scale Chevelle?
TKDMaster
Pit Crew

It was by far the most "creative" of all of them, I think Smokey did it to make a point. (which it did)  The only answer was to write specs for each car model, and that caused even more "points of negotiation".  So all Nascar could do was to specify a "spec" car with different manufacturer engines.  Realistically, they could do nothing else without having tech inspectors appointed to work in each race shop. (and on a 24 hour a day basis!, even on a local dirt car like I worked on at 3am to get ready to travel) 

 

cobra305
Pit Crew

Creative means cheater
cobra305
Pit Crew

iF YOU OWN ANYTHING BUT A CHEVY IN nascar YOU WILL BE PENILIZED IF TO GO FASTER THAM ANY gm
Oldroad1
Gearhead

Yer right. Every time Ford starts to dominate like they did with the Fusion in the OTeens. NASCAR steps in with some "Unsafe Speeds" edict and starts with the, "we gotta slow these cars down" garbage. They're really sayen, "We gotta slow these Fords down. That Fusion was a slick bullet that's why they were forced into that 2X4 skating Mustang body. This current body is a no down force skating joke.
JerV8Flat4
Intermediate Driver

Whatever was done to the cars by the teams, there still was a time when they started off as stock cars, came from dealers, and had VINs. Those were nothing like tube-framed with NASCAR body templates and zero stock parts.
elvacarsdallas
Intermediate Driver

Yes, SCCA had 3 classes of "Showroom Stock" with only safety upgrades. That changed overtime.
sixtieskid
Intermediate Driver

Totally agree - My dad worked at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in the late sixties and early seventies. Mom took me and my little brother to the dealer to meet dad for lunch. Our jaws hit the floor when we waked in and saw an orange 1970 Superbird on the showroom floor! Dad and I always watched the STOCK Car races on Sundays. The better part of our conversation at lunch that dad consisted of me and my brother badgering mom and dad to "Buy that Superbird!"
sixtieskid
Intermediate Driver

....lunch that day......
dooscoop32
Detailer

There was only one Superbird in our area here in western North Carolina. It was orange too. We did a lot of cruising in our little town and the Superbird participated too. But it was laughed at extensively! Virtually nobody liked that car except its owner.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

My mom ended up with a Petty blue Superbird as a daily driver (my absentee father thought that providing cars instead of child support was okay, so we had a constantly-rotating supply of cars coming and going) in or around 1978, it was a 440 /column shift auto...and I seem to recall a bench seat...

The replacement for that car was a nearly-new 1978 Road Runner, and it burned to the ground on a Sacramento freeway about a week after we got it.
RG440
Technician

Your dad probably wishes he kept that petty blue Superbird and paid the $20 week…buy that Superbird as with any low production Mopar of that day is still paying off….
HighwayStarr
Intermediate Driver

True. I miss ol' Awesome Bill's Coors #9 TBird that looked just like mine. I even mounted huge, fat Goodyear tires with the yellow lettering on my '87 'Bird. Them was the days, for sure.
uweschmidt
Instructor

Typical Nascar Circus It was fun when it was Stockcar Racing and actually Stock Cars were Racing

That second gen Taurus was not my favorite. Too many ovals on it. Interesting story on the NASCAR vehicle.
MustangJim
Technician

The marketing brochures called it " a symphony of ovals"
4RenT
Instructor

I thought the front of the car looked like the face of a dead fish.
My mother thought the car was laughing at her.
Isaiah1000
Intermediate Driver

Saw picture of Taurus, saw picture of NASCAR... still can't see it ha. Interesting story but I wonder if I'm the only one the factory's attempts to relate their race car to a production car were lost on.
GForce
Pit Crew

To me the term "stock" car went out the windows way back before my time. But in the 80's, at least the concept was the same as stock. Rear wheel drive, V-8 coupe. Monte Carlo, Regal, Grand Prix, Cutlass, and Thunderbird. GM had a fit when Ford's aero-birds started dominating the superspeedways (especially Bill Elliott that lapped the field twice under green at Talladega to take the win). But, the car had the basic looks of a stock one. So GM decided to create their own aero package on their cars.

But the "stock" look and theory was completely thrown out, not with the Taurus. But when the GM cars went V-6 and FWD. The race cars didn't even look like what the dealer sold. But, they never were really "stock" anyway. Now, they all have the same template and with the exception of the front and back, cannot be told the difference as they circle the track.
TKDMaster
Pit Crew

Yeah theoretically they could have built front wheel drive V6's, but how could they have explained why the "race cars" were 40 mph slower than last years cars. 

Oldroad1
Gearhead

Starting in the 80s and 90s the only thing stock on these race cars were the lids of the car. Roof and pillars, that's all the sheet metal the factory supplied the teams as far as bodies go. Every thing else were team's fabrications.
JohnGalt
Intermediate Driver

And they're all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same...
KeninFL
Intermediate Driver

"Leave it to the press to ruin a great story." Cameron, how'd they ruin it? They just told it (to non-insiders), like you are now.
Timbo
Detailer

A few comments:
Stock cars are no longer stock.
I miss "Run what you brung".
Racing organizations' mantra: "If you can't beat it, ban it". Innovation loses. Wings - NASCAR, SCCA, Indy, CAN/AM, the Chaparral in general.
Oldroad1
Gearhead

AMEN!
4RenT
Instructor

And Indy 500 officials banned Herbie because the carburetor intake was too small!
930Flachbau
Detailer

Family owned businesses are like monarchies. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't based upon family genetics. The France's and the Ford's........case in point. Those were the days! lol
Autocar
Intermediate Driver

Stock cars.....what a joke...Cookie cutter cars. Nascar is a close second place to the government, over regulated.
Nascarpainter
New Driver

Well I didn't think it would take 24 years to write the story about the Lincoln and Taurus. I worked on, and painted both of these cars for Don Miller. During the build they both were under lock & key, NOBODY was to see either one of them until Don was ready to reveal them. The Lincoln is still on display inside the North Carolina auto racing Hall of Fame & museum, But the wind tunnel numbers for the "drag & downforce were so good, NASCAR laughed at it basically. It would have blown the competition away, so it was too good. The poor old Taurus just sits out back, people at Penske used it here and there, but still very low mileage. FUN DAYS though. Too bad we got old. lol
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

There's a recent YT video (Stapleton42 channel, I believe) on the Lincoln, and General Motors factors heavily into why the Lincoln wasn't approved, in that they practically own NASCAR (is there any reason why Hendrick Racing has won over 50% of all NASCAR championships since the 1995 season...and I seem to recall that GM teams have won something like 42 championships out of the last 52 seasons...and there hasn't been a balance of power requirement put in place?), with France showing a bit of favoritism towards GM concerning why the Lincoln was DOA.

Either way, the Thunderbird was a terrible car aerodynamically and needed to go, so something had to happen.
Firebasebob
New Driver

I was a big Nascar fan since the first time they came to Riverside Raceway. I was raised on SCCA racing but seeing the big sedans being hustled around a real track got me hooked. Was not much for the ovals but loved them on the road courses.
Modern TV brought the action into your Sunday Living Room which was a family ritual for many years. We all had our favorite drivers and teams. I mean like "Smokey", "Fatback", "The King" "The Intimidator", "Smoke", "Rowdy:, "Sonny", "Tiny", "Banjo", "Fireball", "Junior", "Rusty" and all the rest.
That all ended with the body template format and homologation of body shape and the introduction of the "chase" format. I haven't watched a race since. Hard to believe a sanctioning body would kill itself off by punishing the best teams (and their fans). I hear it's much worse now though I can't imagine how.
cobra305
Pit Crew

Leave it to |NASCAR to change rules when the Chevys can't
compete. THAT IS ALWAYS THE WAY THING ARE.
Roundhouse
Detailer

Yep
NASCAR used to require the BODY to be very close to what was sold at the dealerships
That’s why the Monte Carlo SS was produced . So they could use that front bumper and grille on the race cars . Then they did the montes and Grand Prix’s with the fastback rear window to compete with the thunderbirds but then GM talked nascar into just changing the rules every time someone beat a Chevy.
When Bill Elliott wiped the floor at Tallledega because his Thunderbird was so much faster , nascar started changing rules and now all
The cars have identical bodies and identical Engines with just different fake headlights and tail light decals stuck on .

At least in the 80s you could look at the car and tell
Which brand it was supposed to be .
beamo
Pit Crew

A bit off-subject, but I knew a Chrysler powertrain engineer from Detroit. Back in the early 60's they were altering the wheelbase(s) on the NHRA super stock drag racing mopars. It was gradual and nobody noticed anything until one of their "stock" cars parked next to a real stock car. A rule was put in place prohibiting parking the mule cars in the main parking lot. Factory racing programs always pushed the gray areas as far as they could.
Spookysgarage
Detailer

What a turbulent time to be a Ford guy. The latest stable of cars competing are pretty damned close to factory.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

Ford hasn't taken NASCAR seriously since the Total Performance era ended in late 1969. They have slowly gravitated towards being primarily a truck and van producer only, with cars being a side hustle, which was finally sealed as a deal a few years ago, with Ford discontinuing practically all of their car offerings here in the states.

If you're a NASCAR fan and also love Ford, you're a permanent class of underdog because NASCAR is only an expensive hobby for Ford: They're not going to go above and beyond to push to win like Chevy or Toyota, and it shows in the results.

I decided to quit screaming at the TV set years ago concerning why one mega team was allowed to win everything in sight (this is, by the way, a unique occurrence in all of professional motorsports, where one team has been allowed to win as much as Hendrick has won, most other organizations frown upon this sort of thing as it drives fans away) and stopped watching NASCAR entirely.
Swamibob
Technician

Not unique at all. Look at Formula one for the last 6 or seven seasons, or the five or six seasons before that. Look at Australian V8 Super cars, before the new spec car rules. Look at Can Am racing when Porsche came along with the 917-10 or even the 510K. Look at Lemans type sports car racing, before Shelby.
There has always been dominance, in all kinds of racing, over time. It's also true in other sports, including baseball (New York Yankees, amongst others). I always find it more interesting if a dominant team gets beat. I think it makes more interesting and entertaining TV if there is a good guy and a bad guy. 🙂
MustangJim
Technician

Very interesting story. So basicly the Taurus started the downward slope of NASCAR.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

No, NASCAR started the downward slope of NASCAR by allowing one mega team to win over 50% of all championships since 1995.

Also, pay close attention to why Brian France was quickly shuffled off the NASCAR stage a few years back...and how long that went on. Many questionable decisions made during this time.
Spookysgarage
Detailer

Fully agree-  GM has been given a hands up or a "nothing to see here" by NASCAR it seems for ever. 

hyperv6
Collector

The truth is the stock in stock car really left in the early 60’s. The final blow was the FWD based cars coming in and finished off most of the token sheet metal that was left.

 

Stock had to leave as the key to success in Most racing is parity of brands and technology was taking that away and was also bringing higher cost. 

Racing is a business first and entertainment. They hav3 to control cost and keep everyone competitive or they lose mfgs and then a racing series dies. Just look at Trans Am how many times it died and came back. 

All teams played games with the body for years. #3 for years used a tail section with a GM number but it was narrower than the GM part. It made Dale faster at Daytona. They would put one on the car and then they would get caught. They then put the same part back on because NASCAR never rechecked it. 

The T Bird was not as much of an advantage as many thought. The Elliot T Bird was an advantage as on super speedways their car may have fit the templet but it was smaller in every way over the other Fords. The car in the Hebert Ford Museum was measured and found smaller. 

This Taurus was built in a wind tunnel and the shape was fine. The styling is what went wrong. They put too many oval on the car and it became silly looking. The Mercury looked better but was similar in shape. 

Don Miller is a great guy and one of the most unsung hero’s in NASCAR. He is the perfect guy to oversee this collection. He not only ran Penske South but over the years he was involved in every level of the sport and even lost a leg in a pit accident. 

Years ago I got to sit and eat wings and listen to Don and talk racing. He is just full of great stories and history. 

But back to racing it is a challenge for all series and as we move forward it is more and more difficult to control costs and keep the mfgs involved. Even soap box derby racing today is so exacting we had to have thousands of dollars of tools and scales to be competitive due to technology and physics. 

I recall when I got into racing as a kid we used to weigh the stock car to get the right balance. That was unheard of at local tracks back then. We had a NASCR late model guy who helped us and we used his grain scales. We could win on a shoe string budget but today even the local racers are expensive if you want to be competitive.

Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

I think the first blow against the concept of 'stock car' was the downsized 1967 Ford Fairlane that showed up at the Daytona 500 (and won), as it was a unibody car body perched on a modified Galaxie chassis. Oddly enough, I think that the frame under this car was under other bodies, and eventually ended up as the foundation for Darrell Waltrip's first NASCAR ride, but beyond that, Ford eventually returned with a full-frame car for 1972, but then canned it again in 1980, for the release of the Box Thunderbird (based on a Fox body Mustang chassis).
Oldroad1
Gearhead

This article tells me what I've known for years. Individual team innovation is frowned upon by NASCAR. In other words, "your not aloud to be smarter than the other team having found a way to lap .010 faster average." In a nut shell NASCAR dictated the "Cookie Cutter" Boring!