Promoting Excellence in HO Scale Vehicle Modeling

1996 Ford Taurus Sedan From Atlas Model Railroad Co. Review

Please note: The opinions expressed in our reviews are the views of the reviewer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the 1/87 Vehicle Club.

model critique by Bill Cawthon

In 1996, the Taurus capped a five-year run as America’s best-selling car. Ford moved over 401,049 sedans and wagons that year, beating the second-place Accord by almost 19,000 sales.

It may seem hard to believe in hindsight, but the Taurus was a huge risk for a company that could not afford a mistake.

In 1979, Ford was in trouble. The company was preparing to close plants and cut almost 50% of its hourly workers. Even after the gasoline troubles of the early 1970s, Ford had continued to concentrate on rear-wheel drive cars with V8 engines. Now, there was a recession, gasoline was being rationed and American consumers were moving to smaller, front-wheel drive cars.

Ford needed a new car, but there was serious doubt, even within Ford, that the company could build a car that would compete with the Japanese. On top of that, there was so little product development money, Ford decided to bet everything on a single new model.

The car, called the Sigma, was to be a front-wheel-drive car with a four-cylinder engine. The first concept was a smaller sedan that would compete with Chevrolet’s new X-body Citation. Over time, as the gasoline crunch eased, the Sigma grew in length from 177 inches to 186 inches. The design was changed to allow for an optional V6 engine. The new car, now called the Sigma 2, would replace the Fairmont/LTD II and compete with GM’s A-body cars.

The brass in Dearborn gave the project to Lew Veraldi, vice president of product and manufacturing engineering, and the aptly named John Risk, program director. Early on, Veraldi and Risk decided they didn’t like the Sigma name. Casting around for alternatives, the two discovered their wives were both born under the same astrological sign: Taurus.

Veraldi and Risk assembled Team Taurus. From the beginning, Veraldi decided that everyone involved with the car, from designers to assembly line workers, had to be involved with its creation. Team Taurus looked at every competing vehicle, even those not sold in the U.S. The team then examined every step of the automotive development and assembly process, with the goal of being best in class. Suppliers were also brought into the program to ensure the components would be up to the team’s standards.

In December of 1982, Jack Telnack’s very radical exterior design was selected, but not without controversy. It took the intervention of Henry Ford to get Telnack’s chromeless grille accepted.

Over the next few years, as they showed clay mockups to reporters and focus groups, Ford marketing people got used to being asked if the company really intended to build a car that looked like that. Older car buyers, especially those who owned Ford’s traditional big cars, didn’t like the new look, but younger people took to it immediately.

In January 1985, the Taurus made its press debut on MGM Sound Stage 27, the same stage where “Gone With The Wind” had been filmed over forty-six years earlier. At the time, it was the most lavish product introduction in Ford history and hundreds of reporters were there. There were four cars, each covered by a huge cylindrical curtain.

David Breedlove, a Ford program planner was at the unveiling. He remembers, “They pulled the curtains up and it seemed like 10 minutes, but it was probably 30 seconds, and there was silence. Then all of a sudden, there was this cheering. These media stood up and started applauding and cheering and screaming and they all kind of rushed up on stage.”

You know the rest. When it went on sale in the fall of 1985, people went crazy for it. Since 1989, no American-badged car has ever outperformed the Taurus on an annual sales basis.

Seeing Atlas’ new Taurus model for the first time is a bit like being one of the reporters at that unveiling. We have wanted a high-quality, ready-to-run model of the Taurus for so long, it is hard to believe it’s finally here. Fortunately, the wait has been worth it: Paul Graf and his own “Team Taurus” have done an outstanding job of capturing the essential American car of the last fifteen years in 1/87th scale.

Atlas chose a challenging prototype. The third-generation Taurus, despite its seeming simplicity, has a very complex shape. The Atlas model reproduces this shape extremely well and includes even minor details such as the hood-mounted windshield washers and the antenna base on the driver’s-side rear quarter panel. Even the relief on the factory-mounted rearview mirrors is modeled, a very nice touch. The full-width taillight, headlights and turn signals are translucent plastic inserts. The prototypical five-spoke wheels are chrome-plated with rubber tires.

One special feature is the flush-mounted “glass.” It’s hard to believe how much better realistically done glass looks until you see it. The “B” and “C” pillars are molded into the transparent inserts and painted black.

My model came with a charcoal gray metallic finish. The paint quality was very good. I like the way Atlas supplies their models in a variety of colors. This means you can add several to a model railroad layout or diorama without having to disassemble and repaint. Between the models shipping now and those due this fall, the Taurus will come in twelve different colors. Of course, Atlas also offers an undecorated version if you want to create a special purpose vehicle, like a police car. (Note: The official Taurus police package was discontinued in 1995, but various forces continued to use the Taurus in both line and unmarked roles).

The interior on my car was light gray with a separate, black steering wheel. Atlas also offers a “buckskin” tan interior.

The interior is one of the few nits I have to pick about this car. Other than the steering wheel and instrument cluster arch, the interior is devoid of detail. The seats are plain angle forms and the instrument panel itself is featureless. Perhaps I am spoiled by the increasing level of interior detail found on European models, but I found this lack bothersome, considering the world-class quality of the exterior. On the other hand, Atlas didn’t take the molded-in steering wheel shortcut that is so maddening on some Herpa models.

This lack of detail is also found on the chassis. A couple of axle tunnels and the words “Atlas” and “China” are all that’s to be found on the underside of the model. Once again, not a big point unless you intend to have an Atlas Taurus dangling from the back of a tow truck.

I also wish the wheels were open, as on the prototype. This feature is common on the German models. However, this is an appearance detail; easily corrected with a little flat black paint. My other concern is the Atlas wheels and tires are a bit big when compared with those in prototype photos. Once again, if this bothers you, the problem is easily resolved with replacement wheels.

End of complaints and now back to the gushing.

This is a wonderful model of a popular prototype. The new Taurus is also one more proof that Atlas has become America’s premier manufacturer of ready-to-run plastic light vehicle models in 1/87th scale. I realize that there are several companies producing some great truck models, but Atlas is the only one devoting the same kind of attention to passenger cars and light trucks.

Just as they did with the 1997 Ford F-Series pickup, Atlas has created a model that is a must-have for any collector of modern vehicles or any modern-era layout. I highly recommend it.

- Bill Cawthon

Atlas No. 1273 – 1996 Ford Taurus sedan in Charcoal Gray w/gray interior. Suggested retail price $8.95 painted versions, $5.95 undecorated version.

Current Release (Shipping as of 8/6/2002) Expected in October 2002
1270 – Undecorated
1277 - Ebony
1271 – Moonlight Blue
1278 – Iris Frost
1272 – Medium Willow Green
1279 – Light Saddle
1273 – Charcoal Gray
1280 – Midnight Red
1274 – Rose Mist
1281 – Pacific Green
1275 – Toreador Red
1282 – Silver Frost
1276 – Vibrant White

Manufactured and distributed by:

Atlas Model Railroad Company
378 Florence Avenue
Florence, NJ 07205