Taunus 12m

Taunus 12m

After Yuri Gagarin made a successful space trip around the Earth in 1961, US President Kennedy promised to be the first country in the world to put a man on the Moon. That would take another eight years. But someone at Ford came up with the idea of ​​having their latest model, the Taunus 12m, cover the shortest Earth-Moon distance non-stop. And it worked.


On November 29, 1963, a badly battered Taunus 12m stopped at the pit stop of the southern French circuit of Miramas. The car was barely recognizable, it looked so dirty, dented and battered. But he had covered the distance from Earth to the Moon with six drivers in 142 days, 356.430 kilometers, 71.443 laps around the track.

Miramas' original Ford
Miramas' original Ford

Along the way, 108 world records were broken, including the highest average speed of 106 kilometers per hour. But it had been a hellish undertaking. On a cold October night, at 284.275 kilometers, one of the drivers had fallen asleep and had gone off the road, with the car flipping over several times. Due to the regulations, repairs were only allowed to be carried out with the tools on board, which took 11 hours. The car was literally knocked back into drivable shape with the jack and wheel wrench. And could continue.

From that moment on, the windows of new Taunussen appeared with stickers with 'Weltrekord' '356.000 km non-stop'. For customers who asked whether front-wheel drive was reliable. The Miramas-Taunus was 100% standard, as every customer bought it. It was even the simplest version with the weakest engine, 1200cc, 40 hp.


A recreated Miramas Ford
Replica Taunus 12m 'Miramas'

Project Cardinal

What was that Ford Taunus 12m? His cradle was in Dearborn, the American parent company where plans had been developed in the late 50s for an ultra-compact car to compete with European imports, especially the Volkswagen. To excel technically, the car had to be front-wheel drive.

Front-wheel drive was somewhat shunned by most automakers. Citroën and Renault were good at it and so were DKW and IFA, but they had already mastered the complex game of drive shafts, combined with steering wheels, and all the forces acting on them. In England, BMC had just started, and their Mini was a success. It was unknown territory for Ford. Saab used DKW technology. That is why six Saabs were purchased, which could be experimented with to your heart's content.

One of the difficulties in those early years was the engine placement. In a front-wheel drive car, the gearbox is not half under the passenger compartment, but transversely in the front. Either in front of the engine, or behind a very far forward, very short engine. The Saab had room for the three-cylinder two-stroke, but not for a four-cylinder four-stroke in-line engine. An ultra-compact V4 was therefore chosen for the Cardinal.

To keep the block as small as possible, it was given a block angle of 60 degrees instead of the usual 90 degrees. That was not ideal for the interval of power strokes, so a balance shaft was added next to the camshaft, to keep vibrations to a minimum.

Taunus 12m

In 1959 Ford USA pulled the plug. Their Falcon would remain the cheapest, simplest car. In the US, there was insufficient clientele for the ultra-compact Cardinal. The entire design was awarded to Ford Cologne, where the body and technology were made ready for production and appeared at the IAA in Frankfurt in 1962 as Taunus 12m. Mind you, not like Ford. Ford was the manufacturer, Taunus was the brand.

Taunus 12m
Ford Cardinal became Taunus 12m. And drove the Earth-Moon distance within 4 months on the Miramas circuit.

That was just in time to challenge arch rival Opel, who put their brand new Kadett in the showroom that same year. The old Taunus 12m / 15m P1, which had seen the light of day as a 'globe' in 1952, was in dire need of replacement. The 12m even had a pre-war side valve engine.

The new Taunus was a sight to behold: it was noticeably larger than the Kadett and the Beetle, looked more mature and was more stable on the road with its front-wheel drive. On the other hand, the Kadett offered the same interior space for less money and even a slightly larger trunk, its 1000 cc engine delivered the same 40 hp, felt more lively, ran quieter and was more economical. With its mass of 685 kilos, the Kadett was also cheaper in road tax and more economical and cheaper to maintain. In the years that followed, the Kadett would still achieve the highest sales figures of the two.


Already in the first year, in addition to the standard version, a 15m could also be delivered with a 1500cc engine, which delivered 50 hp. After another year there was a very nice coupé and a TS version of 65 hp. See, they didn't like that at Opel.


Under the hood, the engine placed far forward stood out, where the color of the valve covers betrayed which engine type it was. Gray was of course the 40 hp standard engine, blue the stronger 50 hp version and red the 65 hp Touring Sport. With the four well-chosen gears (operated at the steering column), the Fords clearly mastered the Kadett in the mountains. There was a lack of space under the hood. That's why two small radiators were built in: one was in the front left of the engine compartment, the other was against the bulkhead and served as a heater. The heating slide actuated a valve that discharged the hot air under the car in the summer. This could lead to a moving oven if the valve stopped functioning properly. It was the only car where the cooling system was topped up via the heater.

V4 and two radiators
V4 and two radiators

And this Taunus had a rarity that showed its American origin: the teardrop-shaped taillights contained one light. A duplex light that served as a taillight and a brake light at the same time. The brake light flashed when the turn signal was operated. A purely American system. The steering wheel with its deep hub also looked a bit un-European.

To sell

650.000 Taunus 12m P4 left the showroom between 1962 and 1966. In 1965 the Opel Kadett B had appeared, which would become an even more formidable competitor. That is why in 1966 Ford came out with the technically virtually unchanged, but more modern and slightly more spacious Taunus 12m and 15m P6, which would last until 1970. From 1968 there was the 'small' Ford Escort and from 1970 the 'big' Taunus TC1 which also replaced the British Cortina and Corsair. The front-wheel drive, with which Ford distinguished itself ten years earlier, was put on hold until 1976.

Arch-rivals Kadett Beetle and Taunus 1
Arch-rivals Kadett, Beetle and Taunus

Saab 96 V4

And what had happened to those six Saabs in the meantime? The American Saab importer sent them back to Trolhättan in Sweden, after he was delighted to discover that Ford had left the beautiful new V4 engines in them. Saab promptly offered the 95 (station), 96 (sedan) and 97 (Sonnett) with this new V4 engine, in addition to the old well-known three-cylinder, which was in the price list until 1968. The sympathetic Saab 96 V4 would continue to find loyal customers until 1980.


As a classic, the Taunus 12m is popular and affordable. It is a typical child of its time. Many of them have been preserved. The quality is high, as we are used to from Ford Cologne. The engines are proverbially reliable. The weak points are limited to wear on the drive shafts (note the dust covers and the lubrication points), oil leakage on the fuel pump flange. And yes, the plastic timing gears can wear out quickly and make the engine sing, then growl and finally dance.

The Köln V4 evaluated from 1965 to V6 and would have a very long life in that form. Until well into the 6s, the V50 engines were for sale in Taunus, Capri, Granada, as well as in a number of American Fords. Who would have thought that a rejected American project of the late 1963s would play such a big role in Europe. He has aged nicely, this Taunus. And the poor wreck that became world champion 108 times in XNUMX… it still exists. In running condition.

Also read:
- Taunus 12M P4
- The Taunus 12M P4. German model with American design history.
- Ford Granada 2.0 V6 L. Driving a sublime classic
- Ford Escort Mk 3. Momentary love, lasting sympathy
- Opel Kadett. The Return of the Kadett


Give a reaction
  1. I've had 2, great cars that I've had a lot of fun driving. In the first unfortunately not so long because exactly 2 weeks after purchase a student (Enschede had just graduated from college) came from the left with an old barrel where the brakes were not working and when I stood still the front of a hair salon was seriously damaged and the neud made an angle of 60 degrees with the rest and because of that the whole thing worked a little less.
    One thing needs to be mentioned (I miss it in the other descriptions) and that is the reversing lamp that the thing had.
    it was not turned on with the poker but just a switch that was in the speedometer.
    When you then drove backwards, a pennant turned the other way and operated a contact. That happened after about 40 cm. the same thing happened if you were just waiting in 1 at the traffic light and he walked back a bit. The drivers then got a little nervous.

  2. I bought from an older gentleman in 1968 a 12M Coupe with the 1500 cc engine from 1966 with 20.000 KM (License plate 19-36-AT) After a month I had to replace the clutch plates because it turned out that the man (80 years old) with slipping clutch drove. I myself was young (22 years) and also brash and not yet the love I have for my cars these days. So full throttle but also with a cold engine and that gave the problems after 3 years with 75.000 KM. So overhaul and unfortunately after 15.000 KM a car came from the left in the side and pressed me on the right against a sturdy steel gate and the car was a total loss. Very unfortunate because it was my first car of my own and I was attached to it by now. A Nordmende portable radio was placed on the right side via a cable, which provided me with music during the rides. Switching programs was a feat, but later and now I've become a bit more sensible and I have all kinds of assistant systems to keep me on the road. Although I also have a lot of fun and real driving with my oldtimers.

  3. I had two very strong cars, drove them every day to school Bergen op zoom to Moerdijk and that for two years.

    John Geers..

  4. Mine has given me a heartache today. metal in the oil is never good oil pressure lost I suspect. it still runs but that will be the engine out and check everything.

    IMG 20210805 200321 272

  5. Nice car that M12, my mother-in-law let me borrow it in 1966 for a ride with her daughter to Desenzano Garda, to get us engaged there, the exhaust manifold burned out halfway on the way back home, drove home with a lot of noise and consequential damage, luckily keep us marriage now more than 53 years1

  6. Gear-driven camshaft was quite revolutionary and reliable. The only problem was that when changing, often only the plastic camshaft sprocket was replaced, and not the floating steel sprocket of the crankshaft. At Ford we always advised to replace matching gearset. Just a bit of work to disassemble the steel wheel. Now no longer available in the original, but I think the Saab v4 club had them reproduced at Bierens in Tilburg.

  7. I had about 12m order as a company car and drove it criss-cross through NL, as a traveler / representative, and ALWAYS full throttle. And the bodywork was super sturdy too, I'm talking about the front fenders and the bumpers. The American designers had once again delivered a masterpiece. Speaking of broken, these cars could not be broken.

  8. The competition from our own stable: the British Ford Cortina – which sold much better with the ban-the-bomb taillights: nice and uncomplicated conventional with modern – for its time styling and some interesting versions for the discerning motorist. Up to and including a Lotus version at that time.
    When the head office called: "What code name is your project?", the British project leader replied with: "Archbishop" leaving the American in complete speechlessness. Foresight 1 ecclesiastical rank higher than a cardinal…

    • Good story.
      Indeed, the Cortina was a very popular model and also formed the basis for a kind of extended version with Ford pointed nose, the Consul Corsair. Crazy, that pointy nose craze back then. The T-bird started with it, then the Taunus 17m P3 got one and then the Corsair.

  9. In 1982 a classmate got the 12M from his grandfather. I remember he was laughed at at school for it. Who would want to drive something so old, it was said scornfully.
    The classmate also occasionally mentioned that finding parts for maintenance was not easy, in Ford garages in Belgium he was only helped if he went looking for the (wear and tear) parts himself (that was in 1982, when the model was out of production for only 16 years)
    It is a pity that Ford has so little respect for its own history, the old models are disappearing too fast.
    Nowadays they have become quite rare, it has been over 20 years since I have seen a copy in real life.

  10. Our neighbor had a 12M, a white one. My father's first car was a white 17M.
    I still remember the license plate: HU-57-69. The garage was very cramped and I can still remember his grief when he drove out the gate.

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