Home » Back When Americans Drove Sticks: 1989 Pontiac Grand Am vs 1989 Ford Taurus SHO

Back When Americans Drove Sticks: 1989 Pontiac Grand Am vs 1989 Ford Taurus SHO

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Good morning! Got a couple of rarities for you today. These are both cars that are getting thin on the ground in general, but are absolute unicorns with three pedals each. Only one of them is really anything special (as far as I can tell), but it’s cool to see them both alive and well after 33 years.

First, we’ll check the results from yesterday:

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Huh. I’m actually a little surprised at that result. It’s my pick as well; I’d rather wrench all day on a good-looking non-running car than try to make something pretty, but I expected it to scare off most folks. I did hear some talk of fixing up the Bronco to flip it, but that isn’t necessary. Just fix it up and drive it, and eventually it’ll flip itself.

All righty then… For those of us old enough to remember when a three-pedal manual was called a “standard” transmission, the death of manual options stings every time another one is announced. I understand that Mitsubishi’s cheap-and-cheerful Mirage is the latest to fall from stickshift grace. This trend is a real shame, because – and I know I’m not the only one who does this – it will eventually render pointless one of my favorite walking-around-a-city games: peeking in the window of parked cars while walking past to see if they’re manual or automatic.

Today, both of our contestants would delight, and likely surprise, anyone playing that game. And one of them, in this particular model year, was only available with a manual, something almost unheard-of these days. Here they are.

1989 Pontiac Grand Am – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: St. Helens, OR

Odometer reading: 168,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep, just fine

This car gives me the nostalgic warm fuzzies. My hometown’s mayor owned a Pontiac dealership, so nearly every official car, including all the high school’s driver’s ed cars, were Pontiacs. I spent a good deal of my sanctioned behind-the-wheel training in a Grand Am exactly like this. Same color, and same transmission; yes, in those days, some of the driver’s ed cars were sticks. You had to request to be assigned to one, but they existed.

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I’ve always liked the looks of the first-generation GM N-body, especially the two door. It’s just a pleasing shape with good proportions. This one, with the facelifted front end and those “food-processor” wheels, is just about perfect. The only thing it’s missing is the “Quad 4” badge on the front fender. Without that, I can be reasonably sure that this car has our old clattery friend the “Iron Duke” four-cylinder under the hood; GM didn’t offer a V6 in the Grand Am in 1989, and the Sunbird’s 2.0 liter turbo four was reserved for the SE model.

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But hey, I’ve got nothing against the Iron Duke personally. It’s a good honest motor, easy to work on, and relatively efficient. I’d certainly not say no to this one just because of the engine. I must say, however, that were this a Quad 4 car, I would have called the seller yesterday and been begging my wife to let me buy it. As it stands, with the 2.5, I can resist. Just.

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This car is in remarkable shape. The only obvious flaws I can see are some flaking paint on the luggage rack (that’s what you get for painting stainless steel, dummies) and a little minor wear and tear on the inside. The seller says it has one window that likes to come off its track, but they’re manual windows (!) so you can probably fix it with a zip tie, or maybe a little JB Weld.


1989 Ford Taurus SHO – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter DOHC V6, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Wilsonville, OR

Odometer reading: 145,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

I have some personal history with a Taurus SHO as well, but it was less sanctioned. My dad owned one, a facelifted ’92 model, and it remains to this day the car in which I have driven the fastest: 135 MPH indicated, on the Kansas Turnpike. (Yes, my dad was with me.) Ford set out to turn the Taurus into a world-class high-performance sports sedan with the SHO, and while I don’t know how world-class it is, I can vouch for the high-performance part. I gave up before it did.

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For those who may not be familiar, what we have here is a first-generation Ford Taurus in name and appearance, but with heavy-duty suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, a five-speed manual (the only choice through 1992), and, most importantly, a special version of Ford’s “Vulcan” V6, built by Yamaha, with dual-overhead cams and 24 valves. This engine put out 220 horsepower compared to the standard Taurus’s 140, dropped 0-60 times into the mid 6-second range, and pushed the car’s top speed up over 140 miles per hour. That may not sound like much now, but in 1989, for a four-door sedan available at your Friendly Ford Dealer, it was the star of the show.

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Part of the SHO’s appeal is that, at first glance, it does look an awful lot like a garden-variety Taurus. You could surprise BMW and Audi drivers with this car, if they didn’t know what to look for. Unfortunately, as a relatively inexpensive and quite fast car, a lot of SHOs met with some awful fates, either wrecked or simply abused to death, which makes this black first-year car all the more special. The seller says it runs and drives just fine, but the air conditioning is inoperative.

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The outside of this car looks fantastic, and I like the SHO in black. It looks menacing. Inside, it’s harder to assess the condition, with those seat covers and dash cap, but it’s still nicer than any cheap SHO I’ve seen for quite a while. Frankly, this car is mighty tempting to me as well, but it’s far too nice to park in the part of town I have to park in regularly. I can only hope that someone buys it who appreciates its rarity and specialness.

Every once in a while, I manage to find two legitimately nice cars in this price range. I’d be proud to own either of these, frankly, and if I were in a position to buy, I’d have a hard time choosing between them. But I don’t have to; you do. Now.


(image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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68 Responses

  1. One of the great things about the OG SHO is how well the giant “SHO” in the rear bumper lends itself to punny custom license plates.


    “NJOY THE”

    “RDY 4 THE”

  2. I had a ‘91 SHO, miss it so. I got it up to 140 on hwy 20 between Brothers and Burns. Fastest I ever went in a vehicle still to this day 20 years later.

    1. I was just looking at it and wondering how the hell you used it. You can only really strap stuff to the “wing” part of it. It doesn’t appear you can loop under the rails on the trunk. So how are you supposed to strap something down?

  3. The Iron Duke is the savior of the grand am, less problematic than the QUAD 4 and since that one is essentially a winter beater, reliability means a lot.

    The SHO is not an apples to apples comparison and thus is the winner by default, but I would honestly take both for those prices at those miles.

  4. I picked the Grand Am. I have a soft spot for these since my dad’s first car was a 1987 Grand Am SE (the model just preceding this one with the flatter/more upright front). It was a black coupe with the V6, and that car was pretty damn sporty and could move decently. Can’t remember the last time I saw one like it, if ever. Anyways the interior was exactly like this one and those red interior lights at night are hella cool for 1987. That SHO interior, uhh, looks gross. Not someplace I want to park my butt. I can smell it thru my phone LOL

  5. SHO me the winner, baby! I currently have a pile of parts that once resembled a SHO. I won an ebay auction for a rusted out 91 model in MN. Got it dirt cheap, but had to go to MN in the winter and pick it up! I took out all the good stuff, boxed it up, and put it in the barn. I’m now on the hunt for a first gen Taurus wagon to put them in (my “retirement” car). How cheap? Cheap enough that I got my money back from the scrap man for the rusty hulk!

  6. I would gladly spend $2500 of the $440 to $500 per day Οnline work money that kaan.rakim has me making on that SHO, even if the covers have me worried about the condition of the seats. Those are great cars, even if the updated version looks better.

    As well, that engine qualifies in the “I would open the hood just to look at it” category.

  7. My want for a first gen SHO is sky high, and this looks like a steal for $2500. Give it a good going-over, reupholster the seats, get the A/C working, and you’re set. Nice enough to drive without shame, but not too nice to hide in the garage. Too bad (or good thing, to my wife) this is in Oregon.

  8. I went for the SHO, but my heart wants the Pontiac, I owned a ’93 GT with the HO quad4 and a stick. Fun car to thrash around, but ate head gaskets like they were candy lol

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  9. I’m going to disagree with the premise of the title. Americans didn’t really drive stick that much back then, either, and mostly to save money. Women were actually more likely to buy a stick than a man, probably to save money.

  10. SHO for me! It’s on my list of ‘realistic’ dream cars but, sadly, likely not one I’ll ever be able to own at this point. If that one wasn’t on the other side of the country I’d be making a call right now.

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