Over the decades since the 1960s, the Detroit car companies have tried their best to make dollars selling their Euro-market cars in North America, with varying degrees of success. Ford did tolerably well with the Capri and Fiesta over here, then raked in little American-market income with the Merkur XR4Ti and got bombed, Dresden-style, with Merkur Scorpio sales.
Dearborn optimism climbed to new heights for a high-performance version of the Americanized Mondeo, the Contour SVT, prior to its 1998-model-year debut. Here’s a fiery red ’99 in a Denver wrecking yard.
The Contour SVT got a 200-horse version of the Duratec V6 for 1999, which wasn’t overwhelming for a 3,100-pound sedan of that era but enabled the car to get out of its own way well enough. The Contour SVT handled exceptionally well by 1999 standards, making it ideal for transformation into the world’s quickest road-racing 1966 Mustang.
A five-speed manual transmission was mandatory on the SVT, though Ford had learned by that time that American performance-sedan buyers preferred automatics (see: post-1995 Taurus SHO).
Sales of the Contour SVT sucked, not to put too fine a point on it, despite the near-universal approval lavished on the car by members of the American automotive press. Yes, we love factory hot-rod European sedans with manual transmissions, and we think you should buy them instead of top-heavy faux-truck mall haulers (actually, I think you should buy Yakuza-grade 1970s JDM limousines for daily driving use, but I understand that not all of my peers share this viewpoint).
Americans like roomy vehicles, and the Contour was awfully cramped for a car sporting a price tag that edged close to that of the much bigger/cushier Taurus. The cheapest Contour in 1999 started at $12,100, while the SVT was $22,940 (about $18,502 and $35,000 in 2019 dollars, respectively). Meanwhile, a loaded Taurus SE with a waterbed ride and plenty of stretch-out space (and the same Duratec engine as an option) cost $16,375, and the mighty 235 hp Taurus SHO could be had for $29,550. The ’99 Crown Victoria? $19,325.
At the same time, American drivers wishing for a sporty image and plenty of space could get a new Explorer Sport for $20,610. Many did. In fact, most did. The ever-shrinking pool of 1999 American car shoppers who insisted on a taut-handling sedan with manual transmission made their way to their local Saab, Volvo, Audi, and BMW dealerships. The Contour SVT — in fact, all the Contour/Mystique models — went away after the 2000 model year.
If you like these junkyard posts, you can reach all 1600+ right here at the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand!