Once upon a time, Ford made sedans and fun stuff that was fairly accessible to most buyers. I’m not talking about vehicles like the Bronco and Raptor models. I mean stuff that wasn’t priced into the stratosphere, stuff that was done up by engineers who wanted drivers to have fun cars that didn’t break their pockets. Cars like the first-gen SVT Focus. More specifically, I’m referring to the light sleeper sedan that was the SVT Contour.
Welcome to Forgotten Cars where we go into a brief history and background of some models you may not remember. Join us for an automotive trip down memory lane.
The Ford Contour was a rather forgettable entry into the small midsize family sedan class. The Contour (and its Mercury Mystique brother) was developed alongside its Mondeo Mk1 European cousin replacing the Tempo as Ford’s small family car. Ford billed it as a “world car.” In reality though, the Contour shared very little with its Euro cousin. But there was a level of sophistication the Contour brought to the market that the Tempo never had. But it was boring. Nothing was exciting about it. Sure, you got a standard five-speed manual transmission that bolted to a 2.5-liter 170 horsepower V6. But it meant nothing in something that looked like a large Escort.
That’s where Ford’s Special Vehicle Team (SVT) came in. After getting their hands on the Contour, the end result was not a quite full-blown performance sedan that was better than it was before.
Engineers at SVT started out with the bland ass exterior of the Contour and tried to spice things up: It got unique front and rear fascias with a wannabe faux diffuser thing in the rear, dual exhaust outlets, and unique SVT wheels with sticker 16-inch Goodyear Eagle GS-C tires.
The interior saw some upgrades, too. There were white-faced SVT gauges and sport seats covered in leather with beefier side bolsters. Other than that it was just a standard Contour interior.
The performance upgrades weren’t just all visual though. SVT engineers actually applied upgrades to try and make the Contour into a credible small sports sedan.
The exhaust utilized Extrude Hone polishing for better flow; 10.9-inch disc brakes brought stopping distances down to 129 feet from 60 mph (132 feet stock); the suspension received recalibrated springs and shock valving; and the front anti-roll bar diameter was decreased from 20 millimeters to 19. The biggest changes, though, were under the hood.
SVT engineers took the stock 2.5-liter Duratec V6 and ground the camshafts, gave it hypereutectic pistons, (which sounds good on paper, but make for brittle pistons. I don’t know what the engineers were thinking there.) a lighter flywheel, and an increased throttle body diameter. The end result was 195 hp (which increased to 200 in 2000) and 165 lb-ft of torque. The engine got paired with a standard five-speed manual. This gave the SVT Contour a zero to sixty time of 7.5 seconds, a major improvement over the standard car, and its 9.0 second sprint with the same engine and four-speed automatic.
Pushed to its limits though, the SVT Contour underperformed. While those Goodyear Eagle GS-C tires did help it pull 0.85 gs on a skidpad, it understeered and its suspension was still too soft. In a 1997 Car And Driver comparison test called The Best Handling Car of 1997, the SVT Contour finished fifth out of six places. From Car And Driver:
We would have preferred less understeer. Sometimes, in grinding switchbacks, the unloaded inside front tire would spin helplessly under power. And as speeds increased, the Contour occasionally felt fidgety, bounding around on its pillow springs.
The Contour SVT is a pleasure at lower speeds, but on faster corners, its soft suspension becomes a liability.
Ford didn’t make many of them. Only made from 1997 until 2000, you could only get it through 700 SVT certified dealers for $22,900 in 1997 ($40,480 in 2022 dollars). With only 11,445 ever made, it’s relatively rare for what it is. I can’t remember the last time I saw one either. As the years go on, the SVT Contour may well end up being a completely forgotten sporty sedan.