Ford hand-built 20 second-generation Mercury Sables with lightweight aluminum bodies and potent Taurus SHO V6 engines. The few of these rare rolling all-aluminum technology testbeds still around are now potentially headed for a Ford crusher. This is their story.
When Ford started the Aluminum Intensive Vehicle (AIV) program they heralded the "promise of aluminum" in their press materials. More expensive than steel but significantly lighter, aluminum was the future of automobile production if they could figure out a way to stamp and bond the parts.
The first attempt to produce any quantity of aluminum vehicles resulted in the AIV Sable project. None of the press materials or articles indicate why they chose a Sable and not a Taurus, but the slightly more up-scale nature of the car is one possibility.
Aluminum parts weren't uncommon on cars in 1993, but they were used primarily in the engine, for the wheels or for air-conditioning components. There was also the small production Acura NSX in 1990, which featured the first all-aluminum monocoque, and the top-of-the-line Audi A8 in 1994 with a similar construction.
But on a Sable? Using aluminum parts for the body panels was something new, especially on a mass production car like the Mercury mid-size sedan. This car features aluminum body panels that are spot welded and adhesively bonded together — both procedures were invented to create this car. With the addition of aluminum suspension parts and other components the car weighs 400 pounds less than a similar Taurus.
As for the SHO powertrain, there's probably a reason here other than speed and power. The 3.2-liter Yamaha V6 uses an aluminum cylinder head, while the standard Vulcan V6's is iron. Since this was partially an exercise in emissions reduction there's no 0-to-60 MPH time given, but the drop in weight combined with the the 220 HP engine likely combine to make this the fastest stock second-generation Taurus ever built.
As proof, one of the AIV Sables finished 15th in the 1995 One Lap of America ahead of Cobra Mustangs, Corvette ZR1s and RUF Porches.
A total of 40 cars were constructed by hand in 1993, but only 20 of them were released to the public. The rest were used for crash testing and one was used on the Ford Synthesis 2010 concept — a bland hint at the design direction of the third-generation Taurus even more oddly proportioned than the final product.
The legacy of the car is clear. Aluminum use increased on Ford, Jaguar and Aston Martin vehicles in the 17 years since the debut of the AIV Sable. Overall, the amount of aluminum used on European cars more than doubled from approximately 110 pounds in 1990 to 291 pounds in 2005. According to Modern Casting, the average U.S.-produced car will have 280 pounds per car by 2014.
Hilariously, in a New York Times article from April 3, 1994 there's a quote from current OnStar president Chris Pruess, then of Chrysler, stating aluminum is "not an economically feasible option."
The fate of the few remaining AIV Sables are less clear. The model seen above belongs to an employee of Ford of Canada who says the car is going back to Ford, where it's possible it'll be crushed. No one we've spoken with at the company has any clue what's going to happen to it but we hope they're not going to dismantle such a cool piece of history.
Special thanks to the Ford of Canada employee who tipped us off to the existence of this car and to Marguerite Moran of Ford.