1990 was Ford’s year of The Essex Machine


You could say that Ford was riding high on its “Quality is Job 1” tagline in the 1980s, and the 1990 model year could be the Blue Oval’s peak of such bold proclamations and promises. For a look at what passed for Job 1 Quality back in 1983, as increased power meant the Malaise era was finally coming to an end.

While styling boss Jack Telnack shoulda parked himself next to that sweet Thunderbird Turbo Coupe instead, Ford had a point: no other American automaker was innovating to the same extent. Nor did anyone else have the distinct lack of hubris to embrace the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, the guy who helped Toyota quality become the envy of the industrialized world. Of course, Ford never earned the reputation for quality that Toyota worked so tirelessly to achieve. And one reason we’ll discuss below, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Here’s the problem: 1980s Toyota didn’t innovate like 1980s Ford, both in Europe and America. One look at Germany’s Ford Sierra, or under the hood of the fuel-injected 1983 Thunderbird Turbo, or the sleek face of a 1984 Lincoln Mark VII, or at the streamlined body of a 1986 Taurus, and it is clear which automaker was putting it all on the line. Ford took risks to survive during challenging times.

Which leads us to 1990, and Motorweek’s glorious round up of then-new Ford products. Sure, there’s the all-new Town Car that Motor Trend couldn’t stop loving, and the supercharged Thunderbird was celebrating a happy anniversary. But Motorweek saved the best for last, even making the new Taurus police car into its YouTube thumbnail. Don’t call it the Police Interceptor (that came later), and consider it more than just a revolutionary family sedan with a funny paint job.

Taurus police package
“Why so cavalier with your speed?” said the Taurus … YouTube | Motorweek

The Taurus Police Package sported the big four-wheel discs from the 1988 Continental, fluid coolers, tough steel wheels, a beefier suspension, and a unique grille that got the loyalists all hot and bothered. So excited, in fact, that said loyalists now make 3D-printed reproductions for more to appreciate.

But at the heart of the 1990 Taurus Police Package was Ford’s somewhat new, balance shafted, sequentially fuel-injected, 3.8-liter “Essex” V-6. With a modest 140 hp and a surprisingly peppy 215 lb-ft of torque, the Essex was diesel-like in its grunt. It pulled off jackrabbit starts thanks to a wide-ratio automatic transaxle. Unlike the bulletproof, cast-iron wonder known as the Buick 3800 V-6, this motor suffers from catastrophic head gasket failures. Which many on the Internet know, but it’s clear to everyone that no other iron block, aluminum headed engine from the de-asbestos head gasket era suffered the same fate.

1988 Mercury Sable Essex V6 3.8
I wanna get into it, man, you know, like a…like an Essex Machine, Man! Ford

But now folly is folklore, as here is the Essex V6 legacy. And since it was made in Essex, any vehicle with this magnificence under hood is hereby deemed an Essex Machine. Folks living in the U.K. may disagree, but this is not up for debate because this is the LAW. Don’t you see what kind of Essex Machine is profiled in a Motorweek video?

Clearly I have bias in the matter, and far too much personal knowledge of the particulars. My Essex Machine uses the Police Package’s severe-duty brake pads, and benefits from a shocking power increase akin to what Taurus SHO owners experience upon removal of their stock Y-pipe with similarly awful 90-degree bends. All I need are the 1992 Continental/Taurus Police cylinder heads to make REAL Essex Machine power, likely enough to spank that legendary Crown Victoria up and down the road. Just don’t go hopping any curbs. 

Indeed, the Ford Taurus finally became the car that Robocop deserved. However I suspect the Essex Machine’s dynamic performance wasn’t spectacular, and it would be considered terrible by almost every modern metric. You know what they say: If the non-asbestos head gaskets didn’t get you, the garbage transaxle certainly will!

Only in the modern era do we begrudgingly tolerate wrong-wheel-drive vehicles for police duty, once Ford’s Panther chassis was put to pasture in 2011. But the 1990 Taurus Police Package has merit in its ability to make an unreliable powertrain a little tougher, and the advantages of front-wheel drive more palatable for another set of prospective buyers.

So to all my Essex Machine riders out there in the weirdest corners of the Internet, I command you to rock on.

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