The 1996 third-generation Ford Taurus was an unfortunate attempt by Ford to redesign the best-selling car in the country to stand out a little more, but an early concept looked much better, because it looked a lot like the Tesla Model 3, if you can believe it.
Take another look at the 1996 Ford Taurus. It was essentially the oval Ford logo recontextualized into every element of a mid-size sedan. Jalopnik’s Kristen Lee described the aura of the car as “reminiscent of cigarette burns.” It wasn’t great:
But it would seem a very early design treatment for the third-gen Taurus can be traced back to 1993, which is when Ford debuted the Synthesis 2010 concept car as part of a cluster of future-forward engineering and design studies.
The Synthesis 2010 was part of a $25 million development research effort to determine the feasibility of an aluminum-intensive mass-production vehicle, according to the Nov. 1993 issue of Car Styling. I can’t help but think it shares quite a few styling similarities with the Tesla Model 3.
Like the Model 3, the Synthesis 2010 has a closed nose, with the cooling airflow directed through a thin hole incorporated into the bumper. The grilleless result is obviously similar, as are the general shape and presence of the headlights. Both designs also emphasize a large greenhouse—the Synthesis with glass C-pillars and a bubblier profile, the the Model 3 with its glass roof and eggier shape.
The cars also share an emphasis on aluminum use. The Synthesis achieved 46-percent weight savings over an equivalent steel-bodied car, and it’s heavy use of aluminum resulted in a vehicle that was claimed to be 98-percent recyclable. The 1996 Taurus ended up inheriting aluminum fenders, according to Automotive News.
Here’s more on the aluminum in the Synthesis from CarStyling.ru, a different Car Styling publication distinct from the magazine previously cited:
Synthesis 2010 uses aluminum extensively in the drivetrain, brakes and suspension arms but most importantly in its complete lightweight aluminum unit body. The aluminum stampings are joined with an experimental “weld bonding” process which combines resistance spot welding with chemical bonding techniques for strength, longevity and reduced noise, vibration and harshness.
While Tesla’s Model S and Model X utilized a heavy focus on aluminum construction, the Model 3 deviated in the interest of cost savings. However, a majority of the Model 3's rear-end is made of aluminum.
The other key difference between these two totally unrelated cars designed over 20 years apart is in their powertrains. The Synthesis was a concept of a time where automakers were reconsidering the practicality of the two-stroke engine. The 80-horsepower 1.2-liter two-stroke three-cylinder engine in the concept was 40 percent lighter than a four-stroke of similar power. The Model 3 is, of course, completely electric.
But it’s interesting to see two vehicles with similar bodywork not only 20 years apart, but with completely different functions. Though, both cars come from a time where the industry is heavily invested in either advancing combustion engine technology to be more efficient, like Ford was doing in the mid-90s, or entertaining alternatives like electric power, like Tesla with the Model 3.
Other fun style details on the Synthesis 2010 were the three-bubble motif for the taillights and the exhaust, a GPS system on the interior developed in-house by Ford, a prominent instrument cluster housed in bubble-like glass on the dashboard, and exposed gear-lever linkage.
It’s also interesting to see that the hideous 1996 Taurus could have looked so much... different. I was going to write that it would have looked more interesting, but the actual design is also fairly interesting. It’s just that it was almost a little easier to swallow.