SHO-Time: The Original Festiva SHOgun

By Staff Writer
Nov 9, 2017 | Ford | Posted in Features | From the Oct. 2012 issue | Never miss an article

Story and Photos By Alan Caesar

Even the untrained eye knows something’s not right with that Festiva. Hyper-economical cars don’t come in bright yellow; they’re gray, maroon, gray, forest green, gray, beige or another shade of bland. More astute onlookers will wonder just who was crazy enough to spend on three-piece BBS wheels for this tiny runabout. Flared fenders, scoops aplenty, big fog lights—and shogun? Does its owner have a thing for ancient Japanese military protocol?

Car nerds gather from all around to take a peek under the hood and, finding nothing, start looking for clues at the back. Where do those twin exhaust tips come from? What’s under that impossibly large parcel shelf? Why are those wires coming out of there? Hey, would you mind popping the, uh, trunk?

The car is a curiosity for many, but occasionally someone walks by who’s in the know. They’ve seen it in a video from Jay Leno’s garage, or remember it appearing on the cover of a car magazine a few decades ago. This one is the prototype, the original—the PROTOgun, if you will. It’s the car Chuck Beck and Rick Titus made at Beck’s shop, Special Edition, Inc., to prove the concept so they could move forward and sell a few.

What had they built? It’s the project that eventually enters every car hacker’s head: a compact econobox with a bonkers drivetrain mounted behind the driver. This is a Ford Festiva with Taurus SHO power—one of eight made, each in a different color.

Tapping Group B Ideas for a Ford Party

Flash back to the late 1980s. Beck got the idea for the car on a beer-fueled night with a friend, Rick Titus, who had recently driven a Ford RS200. That’s the famed Group B rally car—a mid-engined, Cosworth-powered, all-wheel-drive monster. As with all Group B cars, it was built in limited quantities for street use—a homologation special. Their talk drifted to the Renault R5 Turbo, another homologated Group B car.

While the Ford was entirely unique, the Renault was roughly based on the front-wheel-drive compact that bore its name—but with a boosted drivetrain mounted at the back, and plenty of vents and flares to accommodate it. Could Beck build a car like that one?

He set a goal: Build a fast car that could be repaired with easy-to-find parts. Ford had just released the Taurus SHO, which had about as exotic an engine as you could get at the time in a somewhat average car. It was a high-revving, 24-valve, 3.0-liter V6 developed by Yamaha, and it employed variable-length intake runners. It spins all the way to 7300 rpm, but peak horses—220 of them—arrive at 6200 rpm.

The chassis, he figured, should be from the same make. Ford’s tiny Festiva—an entirely un-festive penalty box—weighed in under 1800 pounds and had plenty of rear cargo room to exploit. It was an uninspiring car built for the masses, but it had the goods. After the idea had nested, Beck began searching for suitable donors. He found a wrecked Ford Taurus SHO with a mere 5000 miles on it and set to work.

It’s Full of Bull

There’s not much left of the Festiva’s underpinnings. Special Edition cut a hole in the rear floor pan and structure to fit the high-tech V6. The easiest way to transplant it was to pull the Taurus subframe in its entirety and attach that to the Festiva unibody. Everything between the axle nuts is stock SHO hardware. The steering rack is still there, though it’s been locked in one position. The team replaced the steering rack with a steel tube for production models, keeping the OEM tie rods for alignment adjustments.

To handle the power that a Festiva was never designed to endure, Beck’s team added a tubular structure to prop up the now wide-open rear. Part of the process involved changing the rear geometry. Being front struts, they were originally set up with a lot of caster. Special Edition had to move the strut mount points forward relative to their original positions. Caster just isn’t useful at the rear wheels.

Suspension at the front is a bit of a hybrid. The control arms and unboosted steering rack are Festiva components, but the steering knuckles and hubs are from the SHO. That means the front brakes are the same as the rears, though they’re proportioned accordingly. Two anti-roll bars handle roll stiffness up front: the original Festiva piece, which doubles as a locating link for the control arm, and the SHO bar.

Testing showed that the SHO’s struts weren’t strong enough to handle the grip provided by the SHOgun’s big tires. They were flexing under the load—a claimed 1.0g of grip. Special Edition built new, stronger units for all four corners and incorporated Koni adjustable dampers.

Under the hood of this particular prototype—where the engine used to be—is a Ford Taurus radiator and a fuel cell. Production cars got attractive, polished fuel cells and an air diverter to direct hot air up through the hood’s vent. The prototype, however, was built using leftover parts from other projects. It’s not pretty under there, but it works. Though the seven production cars got nicer equipment, the area under their hoods wasn’t any more suitable for storage than the underhood space of your average car. Storage compartments in the Festiva were limited to merely the glovebox and whatever you trusted to stay put on top of that parcel shelf.

Power output is essentially the same as in the Taurus. The engine uses Ford’s original computer and air filter box. Beck did place a call to Ford when designing the exhaust, though, to see what the best arrangement would be downstream of the original catalytic converters. “They told me I would see some gains if I could get the exhaust down to 48 inches,” he laughs “I can’t make it that [effing] long!”

Enough Scoops for All 31 Flavors

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that a Taurus is much wider than a Festiva, and using an unmodified subframe comes with a requirement: Those three-piece BBS wheels have to stick out. A lot.

To accommodate the width, Special Edition added box flares with plenty of functional scoops. The hood is all steel, its vent created with just a bit of metalworking. Side scoops direct air into the engine bay and intake, while louvers at the back let out hot engine air. “The prototype is built like a surfboard. It’s polyurethane foam covered in a thin layer of fiberglass,” Beck says.

These flares and scoops were handmade, but notice how the rear lip is separate from the flares. That one is mass-produced: It’s a rear spoiler from a Pontiac Fiero, flipped over and attached to the bottom of the Festiva’s bumper. Of course, all this was merely a rough draft: Special Edition modified the bodywork when making molds for the final fiberglass-flared cars.

Get Inside

Slip into that Cobra seat and grab the Momo steering wheel. Beck didn’t want this car to feel as cheap as the donor, so he replaced the vinyl door treatments with “SHOgun”-embroidered cloth. VDO gauges are mounted where the Festiva’s 85-mph speedometer and idiot lights used to be. Production SHOguns also had air conditioning and good stereo systems, but Beck makes do in this one by rolling down the windows and leaving the Ford tape deck shut off.

That rubber shift boot should look familiar to anyone who’s driven an economy car from the 1980s. It actuates cables attached to a fine Ford five-speed manual transaxle.

Step on the clutch—its weight may surprise you—and roll out just as easily as in any car. It’s mild if you let it be. The unassisted steering is light and provides plenty of feedback. The entire time it’s running, though, that engine is thrumming behind you. No matter what mufflers you install, this car will always be loud. With the engine immediately behind you, all the sound it generates is trapped under that same roof, begging you to push hard on the gas pedal.

Heed its call and it’ll take off, leaving you wide-eyed and giggling. Beck will tell you stories of getting challenged at stoplights by guys in cars with more swoops and flares, revving their engines and hissing blow-off valves. They’re amazed to see the wrong wheels spinning as he blows them away. The well-loved prototype has seen more than 21,000 miles of use since its build date.

Beck claims the car outperforms the Ferrari 360, and he loves to show it off. It’ll hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and tick the quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds at 100 mph. Top speed isn’t so fast, but it’s still an impressive 145 mph for the two-box toy.

That wasn’t good enough for Jay Leno, though. When the “Tonight Show” host came knocking, he told Beck to fit his example with a 90-horsepower shot of nitrous oxide. He also wanted it built on a 1989 Festiva, not a new 1990 model like the other six final cars. The reason, Beck says, was a federal law that took effect in April of 1989 requiring automatic seat belts in cars without airbags. Leno didn’t want those, so he opted for a used car.

All Roads Lead to the Crazy House

The purchase price for a SHOgun came to $47,500—almost $80,000 in today’s money. It may seem crazy to spend that kind of cash on a car that looks like it’s a set of neons and some hair gel away from a full “The Fast and the Furious” candidate. It’s a real performer, though, not just eye candy—and even today, it will leave many sports cars in the dust.

It’s one thing for a car to look ridiculous for its own sake. It’s another entirely if it can also deliver the goods—which the SHOgun can, in spite of its lack of cargo space. “I think it goes to prove that some people shouldn’t drink,” Beck smiles. “They get bad ideas.”

So if they all came in different colors, why did Beck choose yellow for the prototype? It turns out that some econoboxes do come in bright hues. This is a stock Festiva color.

Beck In The Saddle

Chuck Beck is most renowned for his Porsche replicas. He has made about 2200 replicas of the Porsche 550 Spyder, and pointed out one of his customer’s cars at the Classic Motorsports Mitty. He continues to build these cars as well as Speedster and 904 replicas.

His shop produces topnotch work and offers numerous options, from rolling chassis to complete, turnkey race car builds. Beck’s not dogmatic, either: Replicas are available with air-cooled or water-cooled engines. Look for a full menu and all the details at The performance is on par with far more modern Porsches.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Mr. Lee
Mr. Lee GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/9/17 12:57 p.m.

GRM is stalking me... I was shopping SHO's last night for giggles, thinking I needed to attempt to build one of these. 

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
11/9/17 1:23 p.m.

If you ever get a chance to meet Chuck Beck--- take it!   He's an incredibly interesting guy, and loves to tell stories.  Just be sure you have some time to kill---- because you'll never tire of hearing his exploits!   

alfadriver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
11/9/17 1:24 p.m.
Mr. Lee said:

GRM is stalking me... I was shopping SHO's last night for giggles, thinking I needed to attempt to build one of these. 

Make one for the Challenge.  It's been done before.  A little debugging, and I bet it can win.  Ok, a lot of debugging.

Miles Wilson
Miles Wilson Marketing Assistant
11/9/17 1:25 p.m.

In reply to Mr. Lee :

First-gen Taurus SHO's are still a pretty good deal depending on the market!

A friend and I had similar ideas of swapping the engine into something smaller but after taking a look at the original execution for this SHOgun realized it would be a pricier project than $2018 Challenge money might warrant.


Also, What @alfadriver said.

Mr. Lee
Mr. Lee GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/9/17 3:09 p.m.

There's a 99 local to me that's sub 1k. Auto trans, but should be new enough to adapt to a paddle shifter setup.  Part of me wants to rescue it for a daily for a bit.

markwemple UberDork
11/9/17 4:49 p.m.

These were/are cool, but there must be some good mods by now to make them even better. Even with the looks, they'd be a hell of a sleeper!

Rodan Reader
11/9/17 4:51 p.m.

Saw that very car at a few Ford car shows back in the early 90's... fell in love with it immediately! 

Too cool! laugh

Danny Shields
Danny Shields GRM+ Memberand Reader
11/9/17 5:32 p.m.

Thanks, GRM, for posting up this story again, along with the sidebar on the late Bill Gotwalt's impressive Challenge "Fastiva".

spin_out HalfDork
11/10/17 8:35 a.m.
phaze1todd Dork
11/10/17 9:51 a.m.

Who owns the molds, now? Last I heard, years ago when I was considering building B6T swapped Festy with Aspire suspension, the current mold owner wouldn’t make panels or sell the molds.


Does that prototype still have its OE wood screws?

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