By Matt Wolfe
Some cars make it easy to end up on Santa’s naughty list, while others are sure to earn a present
Nice: 1986 Ford Taurus
Jack Telnack and “Team Taurus” at Ford world headquarters, the Taurus’ rounded, aerodynamic profile was lauded as “the shape of tomorrow” and became a Ford styling trademark. The Taurus’ pleasing demeanor, practicality, and modern features raised the bar for what was expected in a family sedan, earning Motortrend’s “Car of the Year” award for 1986 and a spot on Car and Driver’s “10 Best” list. Over 200,000 units were sold in its first year of production, and the car is credited with helping save Ford from bankruptcy.
Naughty: 1989 Ford Taurus SHO
The Taurus SHO was very much a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it debuted in 1989. At first glance, the SHO looked like any other Taurus, but behind the innocent styling lurked an engine capable of outrunning Santa’s sleigh. Designed by Yamaha, the SHO’s 220 HP 3.0 liter V6 transformed the Taurus from a friendly family cruiser into the third fastest sedan in the world. The SHO could even hang with contemporary Camaros and Mustangs while carrying a family of four and their Christmas gifts. Regarded as a breakthrough car in its day, the SHO was one of the most responsible ways to be naughty.
Nice: 1959 Morris Mini
The Morris Mini was the elf of the automotive world; small, dependable and surprisingly capable. The Mini was born out of Britain’s need for a small, economical and practical vehicle following the Suez Oil Crisis of 1957. British Motors commissioned Sir Alec Issigonis to design a car that could carry four passengers and their luggage but not exceed 10 feet in length. What Issigonis came up with was a compact, front wheel drive vehicle that handled like an oversized go-kart thanks to its compact dimensions and low mass. The Mini became an instant classic with over 5 million units sold.
Naughty: 1963 Morris Mini Cooper S
The Cooper S version of the Mini was like that small present you saw under the tree as a kid; you never expected it to be as good as the bigger ones. John Cooper must have gotten a lot of small presents as a child because he saw big potential in the Mini’s small package. Cooper was a race car builder and a friend of Sir Alec Issigonis. He convinced Issigonis that Minis could be as successful on the track as they were on the street and the two men collaborated to create the Mini Cooper and Cooper S. Cooper’s Mini turned out to be a motorsports monster, winning multiple British Saloon Car, British Rally and European Rally Championships as well as the Rally Monte Carlo, proving that the small gifts can be the most fun.
Nice: 1984 Honda Civic
If the third generation Honda Civic were a Christmas treat, it would be a sugar cookie. Small, sweet and simple, the Civic was the darling of the compact car market. Available in four different body styles including the CRX coupe and even a four-wheel drive wagon, there was a Civic to suit every taste. The Civic grew slightly for the third generation, and was equipped with one of the last CVCC engines, an engine technology pioneered by Soichiro Honda that allowed Honda’s cars to meet Japanese and United States emissions requirements without a catalytic converter. The Civic won the Car of the Year Japan Award during its introduction in 1983 and went on to sell over 200,000 units annually during its model run.
Naughty: 1984 Honda Civic Si
The 1984 Civic Si took everything that made the standard Civic great, and made it even better. Like enjoying a sugar cookie coated with frosting and sprinkles, driving an Si was an even sweeter experience than the standard Civic. To create the Si, Honda installed a fuel injected, dual overhead cam, 1.6 liter inline-4 that produced 122 hp. That was a stratospheric output at a time when V8 engines with over triple the displacement were struggling to produce 200 hp. Combining the rev-happy engine with the Civics’ diminutive size and 2000 lb. curb weight created a comically fun car that brought joy to the Japanese car world.
Nice: 1986 Mercedes-Benz 300E
The W124 platform on which the 300E was based was the anvil of Mercedes-Benz’s lineup from 1985-1995. The W124 cars rolled down the road with an aura of strength, grace, and sophistication thanks to their robust construction and styling courtesy of the legendary Bruno Sacco. The 300E was a mid-range sedan variant of the W124. Powered by a smooth inline-six and equipped with luxuries like leather seats and ABS brakes, the 300E was a stately sedan. It was the kind of car you would be happy to drive to you significant others house for the holidays to meet their family for the first time.
Before AMG was acquired by Mercedes-Benz in 1999, the company made a name for itself by installing ludicrously powerful engines in Mercedes sedans. One such sedan was christened “The Hammer.” Based on the reserved 300E, the AMG Hammer substituted the sleepy inline-6 with a 5.5 liter V8, doubling the sedan’s power output to 355 hp and 388 ft.-lbs. of torque. Capable of reaching 178 mph, The Hammer could keep pace with the Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris of the time while coddling it’s passengers with sumptuous luxury. Were this car named after a reindeer, it would most definitely be Blitzen.
Nice: 1964 Pontiac Tempest
Like Santa’s belly after a few plates of Christmas cookies, the Pontiac Tempest was enlarged for 1964 to accommodate the new model’s shift to GM’s A-Body platform. Now a mid-size car, the Tempest would be Pontiac’s offering against competition like the Ford Fairlane and Plymouth Belvedere as well as Oldsmobile’s Cutlass, Buick’s Skylark, and Chevrolet’s Chevelle. Offered in coupe, sedan, wagon, and convertible body styles, the Tempest and its GM sister cars were practical, agreeable sedans that helped GM maintain their world leadership in revenue and market share throughout the 1960s.
An option package for the 1964 Tempest, the Pontiac GTO was a naughty car for buyers and the people who created it. The 389 cubic inch V8 that came with the GTO package was more than an easy way to get speeding tickets. Its instillation in the Tempest was a violation of GM’s policy that limited maximum engine displacement of A-body cars 330 cubic inches. Despite this, Pontiac general manager Elliot “Pete” Estes approved the GTO option for production. Over 32,000 GTO optioned cars were sold in the first year of production, demonstrating that sometimes it was good to be bad.