I never thought I’d be saying “I bought” and “Ford” in the same sentence. Though I really like the Fords of the 80s and early 90s, I lost interest as they approached the late 90s and brought some atrocious examples of the Taurus, Escort, and F-series pickup. The ZX2, what the heck was that?! The only cars that didn’t offend that much were the Mustang and Contour. Yes, the Contour followed the oval trend, but it worked. At least in my mind. I’ve always admired the Contour since its debut in 1995 and told myself that I need to own a V6 with a 5-speed someday.
So, for several years I’ve kept a secret casually searching for a decent Contour. Specifically, a limited production SVT Contour. The like for the Contour turned into love when Ford introduced that SVT version. My admiration for this car began when I received this 1997 March issue of Car and Driver where a ’98 Toreador Red SVT Contour occupied the cover. I was only 11 years old at the time and yes, I still have this magazine.
My search for one was on and off. At times I’d religiously scour AutoTrader listings, Craigslist and nothing would pop up. Motivation would be lost and several months would go by before looking again. After I acquired my 2004 Honda Accord coupe, a really nice one showed up at my local Ford dealer, but it sold before I was even able to pick up the phone to ask about it.
To make my search more difficult, I was dead set on a 1998 model year in that sparkly Toreador Red Metallic—the same model Car and Driver tested. Very few of these are left and many have been beaten into the ground or modified beyond recognition. My search started up again after Thanksgiving (2018) and using a new-to-me site, AutoTempest, I found only two in the country. One had already sold in San Diego and the other was this in Loveland, CO.
Though it was a little rough around the edges, the bones of the car looked to be good and original aside from an upgraded exhaust and cold air intake. Carfax showed it had been in northern Colorado since day one. (That 3rd owner is me)
The car had 131,000 miles and had been with the seller, Zeke, for four months before posting to Craigslist. The first owner only drove an average of 6,200 miles a year, so we have a fairly low mileage example here. No accidents, no rust, clean title, I contacted the seller pronto before it got away. Fast forward a few days, and we had a gentleman’s agreement on a price, and a plan to meet in Pueblo, Colorado to take delivery.
So, what’s the big deal on the SVT (Special Vehicle Team) Contour you might ask? This car seems to have two different groups of fans…those who love it and those who hate it. The love comes from being a limited production, small sport sedan with the European derived chassis. The hate comes from those who think it was pointless and not worthy of wearing an SVT badge.
Indeed, the SVT Contour was a bit of an odd one. Introduced in 1998 when the Contour received a mid-cycle refresh, it was aimed directly against European sport sedans, but had the appeal of a much lower price tag. However, it was still too expensive for many to justify buying a sporty midsized Ford. The cramped interior accommodations didn’t help either. At a little under $24,000 (~$37,000 in today’s dollars), it didn’t make sense. Ford ended production in 2000 and a total of 11,445 were made in the three year life span. SVT is to Ford back then what the “M” division is to BMW. The Team gave the regular, mundane Contour a revised version of the 2.5L V6 to push out 195hp and 165lbs ft of torque mated to a mandatory 5-speed manual. Other exclusive SVT goodies consisted of unique front, and rear fascias, special leather, white faced gauges, premium sound (yeah, right), more aggressive intake and exhaust, 16 inch alloy wheels, and a more aggressive suspension setup.
So, here’s how I took delivery. I grabbed a one-way Hertz rental in Las Cruces and set off 500 miles to Pueblo, CO in the midst of a nasty winter storm covering most of New Mexico. What sane person wouldn’t buy a 21 year old Ford sight unseen and drive back in these conditions?
Luckily, most of the roadway was clear.
But was dang cold. -6˚F!!
Views from I-25 heading north out of Santa Fe, NM. Ice packed most of the way, but the Malibu rental handled it beautifully.
The route took me exclusively on I-25. Good thing since I’d have a better chance of getting rescued if anything were to happen. My confidence was there, but I didn’t want to be stupid either. My luggage was one large suitcase, but it wasn’t filled with what you’d expect. I stuffed a tool kit, first aid, blankets, extra cell phone battery packs, jackets, flash light, water and even duct tape and a hammer. Hey, you never know. I even shelled out the extra bucks for the rental insurance in case I banged up a fender sliding into a guardrail or something. You could say I was a little too paranoid or even expecting trouble, but I don’t have time for delays or…dying. Fortunately, I never had to open the suitcase.
Our meeting point was at Enterprise where Zeke would drive a rental back to Loveland about 180 miles away. Big thanks to him for taking the time and having trust to meet an idiot (me) who buys old cars sight unseen. Here we are signing the papers.
And the official key hand off!
I got me a Ford!
A quick examination around the car before heading back on the freeway revealed that this was a really clean example aside from some failed clearcoat on the roof and rear bumper cover. The interior was much better than I expected.
The official delivery mileage of 131,954
Off to New Mexico! The ride was stable, no wobble in the steering, clutch was smooth and the 2.5L had some good pep to it. I was feeling good about the purchase.
New Mexico state line.
By the time I was in Las Vegas, NM, it was time to fill up with 91 octane fuel. I started to make this Loves Travel Center my usual pit stop along the northern New Mexico I-25 corridor. 20 or so miles after refueling, I started to sense the car felt peppier. Just a gentle touch of the throttle gave instant results compared to when I first took delivery. Could it have been better fuel or the slight change in elevation? Or both? Who knows. I was pleased either way.
As darkness began to fall, it was time to switch on the headlights and see how they were. Not surprisingly, they were crap and I ended up having to use the high beams to see anything beyond five yards. The fog lights looked to be out, so that will go on the “fix it” list.
Tired, hungry and cold, I stopped at my grandpa’s place in Grants, NM for the night before continuing on home. The next morning was a frosty -3˚F, but the Contour cold started without issue. Grandpa and I ran a few errands and I let him take the wheel. A Ford man at heart, he loved the experience. At 94 years old, he can still drive a manual so smooth, you’d swear it was an automatic!
Setting off for home. You can see those massive after market exhaust tips.
I took my time and arrived in Las Cruces just after dark. The Contour meets its stablemates.
Here are some stats and minor issues that will need sorting in the coming months:
- 2 previous owners, both residing in Loveland/Ft. Collins, CO area
- Carfax showed the majority of the maintenance was from two Ford dealers.
- Tires and battery are new
- The 2.5L V6 had been completely rebuilt in 2010 at around 100,000 miles and a new clutch was installed at the same time
- Driver’s side visor is broken
- Will need to respray the sun damaged panels
- PDR on light hail damage
- Fix fog lights
- The transmission gear engagement is a little sloppy
- Obtain replacement jack point covers on the rocker panels
- Replace the aftermarket exhaust with a factory OEM unit
- Replace cold air intake with OEM airbox
- Restore headlights and replace low beam bulbs
- Restore/condition leather
- Paint correction and overall detail
Here are some detailed photos before giving it its first wash in my possession.
Check out the original Colorado plate from the first owner. After 20+ years of being on the car, the screws are seized and I may have to drill them out! Zeke had to use binder clips to hold on his plate when he owned it.
Clearcoat failure on the roof.
Exhaust and the rear bumper oxidation.
Some goofy fitment of the rear bumper to be sorted out.
Minor rocker panel damage and missing jack point covers.
Minor scrapes and scratches to be touched up.
As soon as I got a semi-warm day, I took off the front license plate, and pressure washed to remove as much salt and grime as I could. I didn’t want any of that on my driveway.
I then gave it a thorough two-bucket wash back at the house.
Gave the headlights some TLC.
Results as of today. I’m on the hunt for those missing jack point covers and I plan to get the hail damage fixed soon. Repainting the roof and rear bumper will come in the spring.
Tucked away in her new home along with the other garage queen…the 6 i.
For a car this old, the to-do list is not that bad at all. A huge plus for me was having a lot of maintenance records and original documentation including the dealer window sticker!
Here’s my first attempt at vlogging, a compilation of the above events:
So, what are my plans for this car now that I have it in my possession? I will slowly restore it back to the factory, original condition and only bring it out of the garage for special shows and occasions. In fact, I told my insurance agent that I don’t plan to exceed 5,000 miles per year in this.
Sadly, the grey 6 s had to be relocated from the garage to the side of the house. It still serves daily duties. I treated it to a few new coil packs and a new OEM mass air sensor to keep things in tip top shape.
That about does it for now. Stay tuned for future restoration coverage on the Contour. Thanks for stopping by!