1991 Special Editions Shogun: Here’s to the crazy idea

1991 Special Editions Shogun

1991 Special Editions Shogun

“By the fifth Corona it seemed like a bitchin’ idea,” Rick Titus laughed. But the hitch with bench racing Chuck Beck, he added, is that Beck has the skills to execute what most of us would just propose and forget. So inspired by the Renault R5 Turbo rally car and a PBS special on some Aussie stuffing Holden 5.0-liter V8s in the middle of Alfa GTVs at $60,000 a pop as market research, Titus and Beck decided to build a Ford Festiva with a Taurus SHO motor in the back seat. And not just as a one-off, but a series, produced and sold.

Crazy, maybe, but Beck’s experience building the best Porsche 550 Spyder replica in the world made this a simple task in comparison. The duo acquired a Festiva and cut away whatever didn’t seem necessary and then installed the 220-hp Yamaha-developed V6 and its five-speed transaxle, subframe and all, into a race car-like roll cage in the back of the car. The Festiva’s original motor was replaced by a 15-gallon fuel cell and space-saver spare.

1991 Special Editions Shogun engine

What made the 1991 Special Editions Shogun special, a 220-horse Taurus SHO engine mounted in the middle and driving the rear wheels. (click to enlarge)

A Taurus SHO strut-type suspension was installed front and rear, and three-piece BBS wheels fitted with 205/50ZR-15 Goodyear Gatorbacks in front and 245/45ZR-16s in back, all covered by huge flares with exhaust vents on the rear edges and the rears with built-in scoops. A cavernous vent for the radiator creased the hood. A front spoiler with integrated fog lights and flared rocker panels completed the external visuals. Lovely it wasn’t, but it wasn’t supposed to be.

Titus and Beck set up Special Editions Inc., to produce what they called “The Shoe-box from Hell,” and managed to get the prototype displayed in the Ford tent at the 1990 Monterey Historic Races.

“We figured we were doing them a big favor,” Titus would later chuckle. However, plans to buy the SHO motors directly from Ford fell through when people from Ford actually drove the Shogun and decided to distance the company from the ferocious little beast. Special Editions had to buy complete new Taurus SHOs to get drivetrains and suspensions.

1991 Special Editions Shogun

1991 Special Editions Shogun (click to enlarge)

Titus said that dealers were quick to offer the slow-selling sedans from their inventory at very friendly prices, and Special Editions had no problem selling the new SHO bodies. Still, the original price of $42,500—this in 1990 dollars—went up by five grand to cover the extra costs.

Titus and Beck began producing the car in early 1991. An order for 50 from a distributor in Japan gave the pair a flying start at a run of cars limited to 250, per Special Editions literature, “to enhance collector value.” A contemporary review called it “a whole mid-engined car that’s greater than the sum of its Ford parts.” The yellow prototype driven by the media back then has survived, a testament to Beck’s talent and careful owners, and still accelerates like a car with a 10:1 pounds-to-horsepower ratio should, capable of quarter-mile dashes in about 14 seconds flat and a top speed of just under 145 mph. Light the fuse and hang on. Other than that, the stock SHO engine was completely docile.

1991 Special Editions Shogun

1991 Special Editions Shogun (click to enlarge)

The Shogun was able to circle the skid pad in excess of 0.90 g in its prime, and there was no way on the public road, even being unreasonable, that the Shogun could be broken from its tether to the pavement. In yellow, it certainly turned heads. Titus credits Pete Halsmer who, in driving the prototype a mere 100 feet, sensed the positive rear caster. Special Editions used the same settings in the rear of the Shogun that Ford had in the front of the Taurus SHO. Taking the caster out sweetened the handling immensely, admits Titus.

Though successful as a vehicle, the Shogun was not a financial success. With the order from Japan imploding and the specialty car market drying up with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, there were only eight made, including the prototype. Timing is everything, they say, and had the project been completed a year or two earlier, during the crest of the collector car market, Titus believes they easily could have sold several hundred. Still, they came out about even money, and the experience of the 4400 decisions in developing the car (yes, he counted) increased his respect for the complex task of building cars. So while the Shogun wasn’t what it might have been, but you won’t find Rick Titus crying in his beer.