The Ford Taurus and its companion, the Mercury Sable, were designed by Jack Telnack, Fritz Mayhew and the Ford staff. The design changed the failing fortunes of the US auto companies by creating a new “aero” look, which was characterized by softer, rounder, more aerodynamic forms than previous Detroit styles. Some called it the “jelly bean” or “flying potato” because of its rounded look. For years, Detroit had been criticized for the sharp, angular and contorted metal forms that were the residual result of the Harley Earl influence of the 1950s. Car designers were rebelling against the marketing-dominated repetition of previous, angular designs.
Ford Chairman Donald E. Peterson recalled, “I set the design staff free to create cars that tickled their fancy and in came the ‘aero’ look of the 1980s.”
Ford spent $2.9 billion to develop the Taurus. It was a risk because of its advanced styling, and many Ford executives feared the worst. If it had failed, Ford would have had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Motor Trend praised the design and called it “the shape of tomorrow.” Popular Mechanics described Tauruses as a “totally new breed of car.”
The public thought so too. It was a huge success. It became a popular family sedan when minivans were still young and SUVs did not yet exist. It sold 263,450 its first year. Within three years, a million had been sold. In 1990, it received IDSA’s “Design of the Decade” award. From 1992 to 1996, it was the best-selling car in the US but faded over the last decade as imports took over as sales leaders.
Telnak, an Art Center graduate of 1958, had worked on the fastback version of the Mustang in the late 1960s, and then with Ford of Europe on the 1977 Fiesta. In 1983, he focused on the design of the 1983 Thunderbird, which introduced softer “aero” forms. Mayhew, a 1963 graduate of Carnegie Mellon, and Telnack were both leaders of the design “Team Taurus.”
The Taurus was on USA Today’s 2007 list of “25 Cars That Made a Difference.” A 1986 Taurus is featured in the Henry Ford Museum’s automotive exhibit. Ford unveiled an all-new 2010 Taurus at the January 2009 Detroit auto show, attempting to recreate its original success, and its original turnaround for the ailing industry.