Here’s yet another one of those car birthdays that makes you feel old. Ford’s medicine to a customer base that still mourned the passing of Cortina came along thirty years ago. The old faithful to family and fleet as well as being honoured amongst thieves, we raise and wiggle a glass to the Ford Sierra Sapphire. Like ’em or loath ’em they were a textbook lesson in how a manufacturer just knows exactly who buys a car, why and what for.
We have covered the Sierra at length on AROnline before so we won’t be going into the full belt and braces approach to the Sapphire, a car that’s just marked thirty years since its launch, but it marks a little more in some people’s emotions. That’s because the Sapphire was the last UK-produced Ford to feature rear-wheel drive at a time when almost everything else in its class didn’t and it also became the last family-sized car to be produced at Dagenham. Produced in the UK from 1987 to 1990 with models after coming from Belgium, the Sierra Sapphire sold in very strong numbers right up until its deletion in 1993 with the advent of the all-conquering Mondeo.
It really was exactly what it looked like – a Sierra with a boot, and this was by no means a bad thing either. The slightly stiffer body shell gave the handling a little bit more tidiness while the fully enclosed passenger compartment benefitted from a notably quieter environment. By now the Sierra was a proven product in the market place and Ford did little to scare the workshop staff by opting to mirror most of the driveline options already fitted to the five-door models – that meant the usual range of carb and fuel-injected OHC Pinto units for the petrol models with a PSA-designed 2.3-litre diesel thrown in for good measure.
Barely a year after launch the 1800cc lean burn Pinto unit was deleted in favour of an all new 1769cc CVH type engine (internally known as the R2-A) which bore little similarity to the existing 1.4 and 1.6-litre CVH found in the company’s front-wheel-drive models. The main reason for the differences was that this unique engine featured certain build and component ideas that would eventually find their way into the Zetec power unit design which was to follow a few years later. The same year (1988) also saw the Peugeot-based EN Series 2.3-litre diesel make way for a brand new smaller unit of 1.8-litre capacity also of PSA design that added an all important turbo decal to the boot.
Further engineering updates came in the form of an all-new 2.0-litre i4 twin cam engine and all synchromesh MT75 transmission for 1989 and, as expected, the Cosworth models followed suit in either two or four-wheel drive flavour. Soon after, the remaining 1.6-litre Pinto-engined models were deleted in favour of a traditional 1.6-litre CVH power unit and other updates included clever packaging detail changes as well as colour-keyed exterior and interior tweaks, Ford kept a fairly average car selling in respectable numbers right up to the whole Sierra range deletion in 1993. On a personal level? Well, I owned a twin-cam Saff some years back and found it to be one the very best motorway cruisers bought on a budget.
Happy Birthday to the Sapphire!