The most desirable SHO's are the 94-95 versions, most consider the styling the most attractive and the chassis to have the least amount of bugs to fix. The worst bug is the trans, it's not that it's not strong enough, the problem lies more with the tuning. Ford decided to market this car as a sporty alternative to the Lincoln and tuned it for comfort not sport. The trans "slides" it's shifts under light loads and aggressively upshifts until your locked up in 4 gear at 60 kph. It is responsive to throttle changes and does react very nicely to load but when you couple the sliding shifts with small fluid capacity and realize that the transaxle is surrounded on both sides with red hot cats you can get the picture. The trans cooler factory installed is better suited as a power steering oil cooler not cooling a transmission.
It is commonly recognized that a Transgo kit and updated shift drum (older models had a rivetted two piece drum that cracked the spider if abused) solves 95% of the problems, a nice big cooler and chopping out the cats takes care of the last 5%. There is a list of updated components that should also be installed that basically bullet proofs the trans for any kind of street use up to 300HP or so. Most 94-95 models had these updated components factory installed except for the shift kit. Manual transmissions on the early models were saddled with a small diameter clutch disc better suited to a less powerful engine and is the only weak link in the manual models.
You should also note that the engine needs special attention at 100 miles, valve adjustment and cam belt replacement is required and it has motorcycle like shim over bucket design valvetrain, neglecting this critical service dooms the engine and can require cam replacement to repair. Ford has stopped selling some shims in certain sizes, this can complicate manitaining the engine. I think it goes without saying that if the 100K service was not done on time, find another example...you could be sorry. Warmed up there should be no noise from the valve train and listening to it with a stethoscope through the valve covers should show equal noise from each valve, a very light ticking is all you should hear. If it is not perfect...pass, valve recession and cam damage is not reversible.
Many manual trans models had main bearing problems if they were abused, most people just drop the pan and insert new bearings which seems to solve the problem without an overhaul. The bottom end is very beefy and as long as the journals are clean you can usually get away with this kind of repair. Lugging the engine causes this, the autos almost never have this problem.
Other problems center around the variable assist power steering pump, typical interior switch components failing and cosmetic problems like the climate control switch button covers punching out because the buttons are hollow. 2 cents worth of extra plastic would have prevented the last problem. Basically it's a Taurus with a Ferrari engine and the rest of the car is just not built like an exotic.
The automatic versions had 3.2 litre versions of the Yamaha engine and the manuals were 3.0 litre, do not confuse them with the 3.0 litre Vulcan Ford engine, they have absolutely nothing in common. Yamaha produced an engine according to Ford spec and Ford dropped the ball on the drivetrain side as if they expected Yamaha to not deliver on the HP spec, it's too bad, the engine is a jewel and compares nicely to most newer V6's like the Grand Prix Supercharged and other like sized Japanese models. 220 HP from a 3.2 litre engine is still competive today, remember this is a naturally aspirated engine. Magazine tests from the day note that the extra cc's of the auto version offset the advantage of the manual trans so the manual and auto versions are very similar speed wise in the quarter mile.
The engine compartment looks daunting for repair but most things are accessible if you remove certain key components and have small hands, most newer cars are no different as Madd has noted. The power steering system is variable assist and has a small capacity (1 litre), the pump has to endure the 7000 rpm abuse the engine puts out and wears out quickly if the fluid is not regularly changed and synthetic substituted for regular Dextron. Replacing the pump is a bugger and cost me $260+tax for the rebuilt pump (it took me 8 hours to replace it and flush the system manually), luckily it didn't damage the rack (as far as I can tell) but getting all the metal particles out required me installing a fuel filter in the return line. So far so good, I'm still crossing my fingers. I won't repeat the words I used trying to get out the last mount bolt, it makes my forearms hurt just thinking about it.
Discs all around and ABS complicates the brake system but seems to need little repair except for rotor warpage on the fronts, the 3rd gens had larger front discs and is a popular swap for hipo use. The suspension springs are made of small diameter wire so rust can compromise their integrity, mine have already been replaced once. The fact that each generation only lasted 3 or so years makes finding used parts difficult and annoying especially when some parts look the same but are not dimensionally identical.
All in all I like the car and the styling and comfort, the stereo (Bose) is better than many aftermarket units and is tuned to the interior of the car, it handles well since the weight is low for a car this size and has a nice distribution. The backseat is a joke when you compare it to an Intrepid, same goes for the trunk, my Jetta is about the same size and better shaped.
I call it the car you love to hate because for all the mechanical flaws and minor problems with interior components I continue to fix it even though for the money spent so far I could have bought a used Porche, they have similar repair costs and service requirements from my experience. Of course you can't fit three kids in the back of a 911 for a cross country trip and get 30 mpg either.
If you ask me this engine should have been in the Probe and they should have stuck a 302 in this car, many have noted that a Lincoln LSC is a better traditional hotrod and cheaper to maintain while retaining the luxury component. A Probe with this engine might actually had been a contender in the Supercar category, the engine is that sweet.
I was lucky Kaylah, my father bought this car from a Ford dealers wife and he took very good care of it. At 175 K the trans still works fine but is getting to the point where its time to overhaul it, full throttle shifts into second make me cringe, new it would smoke-em into second but not anymore. I don't want to wreck it so I am slowly working out the bugs one by one. You could say that if it wasn't Dad's old car I would have bailed on it long ago, it has sentimental value and that makes me a sucker. Oh well it still draws heads wherever I go and gas station atttendants are always asking me what kind of car it is and want to check the oil.
I have been asked if I wanted to sell it more than once and I have found notes on my windshield from other enthusiasts in the know asking for a phone call. The sunroof is awesum and either tilts or retracts fully, everything is power with leather seats and has an attractive gauge package that is nicer than a 5.0 litre. The climate control is superb and easily cools even on 40 C days. I enjoy the car in it's stock form and I am only going to restore and repair/upgrade components as needed, this car deserves to stay stock and I intend to preserve the original look. For some reason not many of these cars made it here to Manitoba, I've only seen one other model of the same vintage. Down south and out East there seem to have been many more purchased, I have never seen one for sale here. My biggest complaint is the Opal Mist color, it seems to make the car disappear to other drivers and I'm constantly getting cut off, the last pinhead hit the back 6 inches of the rear bumper and spun me around when I had the right of way through the light. Good thing he was driving a police car, because somehow it was all my fault?
Ya, that one still stings.
I posted a thread earlier on how nice the exhaust sounds now with a big resonator and some performance muffs and no cats, at 5 grand you would swear you were driving a Ferrari. It sounds a little ricey at cruise speed but it is very subtle and not intrusive at all, I kinda like it. That V6 sound is not my favorite but the upper rpm rip makes me smile every time. I have had three serious races with it and only lost one, the first was a 360 ci new Dakota Sport and I sure opened his eyes when I passed him walking away, the second was a new Supercharged GrandPix, the slipping tranny let me down on that one otherwise it would have been very close and this is a much bigger car. The last was a riced up mid 90's Acura Legend, no challenge at all.
Here are some pics I snapped this afternoon, it turned out to be nice and I just washed her yesterday.
Hope you like them.