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The Ford Contour SVT Was a Bright Spot of Excitement in the 1990s

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2016

For the American automakers, the 1990s were a time of few bright spots among high-performance models -- unless you count the various versions of the Chevy Lumina and the Dodge Intrepid that offered sporty-looking wheels. One exception was the Ford Contour SVT, which probably shouldn't have existed but did anyway. And for that, we're glad.

Before we get in to the Contour SVT, a few words about the Ford Contour. Developed to replace the Ford Tempo, the Contour (and its twin, the Mercury Mystique, which was designed to replace the Mercury Topaz) was based on the European-market Ford Mondeo. But while the Mondeo offered three body styles -- a hatchback, a sedan and a wagon -- and was primarily sold as a hatchback, the U.S.-spec Contour was only available as a 4-door sedan.

This made sense, because the U.S. market prefers sedans, while most foreign markets prefer hatchbacks. But the U.S. market didn't seem to prefer the Contour: Even with the sedan-only body and a far more advanced design than the Ford Tempo it replaced, the Contour never found sales success. It only lasted for one generation before Ford left the sorta-small, sorta-midsize segment and released the Focus.

But at some point, in that single generation, there was the Contour SVT: a high-performance version of the Contour developed by Ford's Special Vehicle Team. Featuring more aggressive styling, improved wheels and flared rocker panels, the SVT Contour looked cool yet subtle. It also boasted some interior improvements including new seats, trim and gauges, along with better brakes and suspension.

But the best thing about the SVT Contour was its powertrain. While Ford offered the regular Contour with two engine choices -- a 125-horsepower 4-cylinder or a 170-hp V6 -- the SVT model used a tuned version of the V6 that made up to 200 hp. It also came with another impressive feature: a mandatory manual transmission. It's hard to explain just how unusual this was back in the 1990s, but trust me, this feature was a big deal. This was back when making a high-performance car meant adding a body kit and maybe suspension. This was back when the BMW M3 produced only 240 hp. And yet, Ford debuted this sporty version of an unpopular European market car with a stick shift, a subtle body kit and a power boost. It was phenomenal.

Unfortunately, its time was short-lived. After going on sale in 1998, the SVT Contour was dropped along with the rest of the Contour line following the 2000 model year. These days, it's hard to find one for sale -- though there are four listed on Autotrader, each for around $5,000. And while the performance market has moved well beyond the SVT Contour, it's still fun to reminisce about one of the sporty bright spots of the 1990s.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The Ford Contour SVT Was a Bright Spot of Excitement in the 1990s - Autotrader