The cars : Ford Orion 1600E by Tickford

Keith Adams tells the story of how Tickford helped Ford reinvent its iconic 1600E…

Ford Orion 1600E (1)

In 1989, the Escort and Orion were coming to the end of their production run, and Ford wanted to send them off in style, as well as introduce a new halo model. Taking its inspiration from the Cortina Mk2 1600E, and intended to sit in the range above the 1.6i Ghia, Ford turned to Tickford to build a limited run of specials.

The Ford Orion 1600E started out as a 1.6i Ghia built at Halewood, and from there they were shipped in batches to the Tickford site in Bedworth for their interior transformation. The Orion was originally available in only two colours Raven, a blue-black metallic and Mercury Grey. Later a small number became available in Diamond White.

Every car was trimmed in soft Shadow Grey leather, and came with front sports seats specially developed for the model from those fitted to the Escort XR3i. The standard Granada Scorpio steering wheel was treated to a leather rim, and the gear lever knob and gaiter were also leather.

Ford Orion 1600E (2)

A fillet of American Cherry wood veneer was placed on the fascia ahead of the front passenger seat, and matching wood veneer cappings were placed on each door trim panel to complete the ‘mini limousine’ effect. The original build schedule was for 1500 cars being built between October 1988 and July 1989, but this was not quite reached.

Between October 1988 and February 1989 the first 1000 were produced, but a number of these had to be recalled to rectify a paint problem caused by fall-out from a nearby factory, which in turn led to a hiatus in production. The remaining 498 cars were built in June and July 1989.

Nobody knows at present how many of these cars have survived. As with any limited run car, the prices demanded for the Orion 1600E will always tend to exceed those of the 1.6i Ghia, due mainly to their rarity value.

Ford Orion 1600E (3)

Keith Adams


  1. Seem to remember quite liking these.

    Interesting that Tickford did the work, turning a standard 1.6i Ghia into the 1600E. How did they do the seats though? Did they arrive at Tickord un-upholstered or was the standard fabric removed? The whole process of making the 1600E must have been fairly costly.

  2. Good stuff. Hand painted coach lines too I believe, and additional footwell lighting aswell. I think the steering wheel might be a Scorpio item too from memory.

  3. I remember these , our local Ford dealer at the time sold 2 I think , one Grey and one Blue. I still prefer the 1.6 Ghia Injection though!

  4. Very nice,and to think way back then the 1.6i Ghia was an aspirational car for all its shortcomings.
    Alas,ford lost its mojo.

  5. I remember Autocar reviewing this version and they came away unimpressed. As for its value, rarity doesn’t always mean it’s worth more, but then Orion’s are still in the banger wilderness. It is an Escort with a boot after all.

  6. I remember these. The interior was good but the exterior did not have the image of the mk2 Cortina 1600E which was rather more special in my opinion. Nice try from Ford and an attempt to copy the Rover 216 Vanden Plas efi which was selling very well in 88/89 and was also aspirational to some!

  7. Clearly a very busy time for the Tickford facility at Bedworth as the were also fitting the body styling kit and decals to five hundred production examples (after the four press cars) of the Maestro MG Turbo.

  8. I don’t think Tickford did the Sierra 2000E though. That was all leather, with full electrics, and two tone paint, based on the Sapphire 2.0i Ghia

  9. In other words, it offered pretty much everything a Monty VDP did, in a smaller, less attractive package……

  10. Yuck, the late eighties/ early nineties were Ford’s dog years as they were producing some awful cars, but Rover was powering ahead. All I can remember of their cars from this era was they were rust prone, ageing dogs with rough engines and poor reliability. The 1990 Escort was their Ital, an ugly, boring car with ageing engines and terrible reliability. Meanwhile the Rover 200 was something you wanted to buy as it looked the part and was well made.
    However, driving one of the newer Fords, they have certainly got past this terrible period and their cars are pretty good.

  11. Used to live near Halewood at that time. I remember seeing hundreds of cars lined up and destined for the scrap heap because of the paint problems. Ford wouldnt even sell them as ‘seconds’ to the trade.Awful to see.
    In the sixties when Halewood had paint problems (and they did!) Lots of cars were sent out to the local dealers for ‘rectification. My dad used to work at the J Davy dealership a couple of miles from the factory and they did a roaring trade repainted Anglias in his paint shop!

  12. Actually I cannot remember when I last saw an Orion – it sold pretty bad here in Germany anyway. But even VW struggled to sell the Jetta in meaningful numbers compared to the Golf.

  13. I recall seeing several of these offered by salvage dealers as ‘stolen recovered’ minus the interiors when only a few months old. Not surprising , really. Plenty of easy upgrade bits to suit lesser models of a best-seller. Not sure about the back seats, but front and rear doors, front seats and facia were all interchangeabel with the Escort’s. Few seemed to survive even into middle age.

  14. I had two MKIV Escort company cars and remember the Orion well but not this particular 1600E variant. The Cortina 1600E MK2 and 2000E MK3 will always be more memorable to me as aspirational cars.

  15. Our neighbour at our old house had one of these and I remember it looked very nice though in a way the name never said luxury in the way that Ghia did. Still mourn the lost of the Ford Ghia badge, titanium just sounds a bit crap.

  16. Not as elegant as the R8 saloon and neither were the later ones compared to the HH-R saloons. Rover had Ford by the short and curlies during this time

  17. 1) Tickford Bedworth was formerly Coventry Hood & Sidescreen, and they were traditionally trim specialists, so the trim work will have been easy for them. The company still exists as Trim Technology.
    8) Yes, Tickford Bedworth were very busy in the late 80’s and early 90’s – they did the Tickford Turbo Capri, Sierra Cosworth RS500, Cavalier Calibre, roadgoing version of Ford RS200, Calibra Tickford, and parts for other cars. It’s good to see people recording the history of this little factory which could otherwise be forgotten – its site is now covered by houses.
    13) I thought the paint problems for the Tickford cars were caused by the fall out from Sterling Metals at Bedworth – I used to live nearby and we frequently got thick dust from that factory covering our cars and windowsills.

  18. Should Ford have differentiated the Orion from the Escort a bit more? As per Maestro / Montego?
    Or, was the booted Escort (and the booted Astra Belmont) seen as a stop gap measure until buyers got used to the new 2 box hatchback future?
    You can’t buy a saloon anything from Ford anymore. Even the Mondeo is a mk3 Granada-style hatch.

  19. IIRC the Orion was designed to win back buyers that missed the Cortina saloons, & were put off by the lack of a Sierra saloon.

  20. @23

    True, but it still looked undeniably Escort.

    If the side windows had been capped Montego style, with a new nose / grille arrangement, would’ve looked sufficiently different to the Escort, while being technically related to reduce model costs and complexity at Ford’s side.

  21. Richard @23, the Orion was launched with Cortina like rear light clusters to stop people drifting away from Ford. Now I’m sure 1600 E was used for a range topping early model.

  22. @19 Dolomite Fan – yes I agree the Ghia name & badge sounded better than “Titanium”. I think I read in a mag that Ford were proposing to keep the Ghia moniker for European sales, excluding UK models as it was seen as old hat?

  23. These 1600E’s were fitted out at Tickford Bedworth (the old Coventry Hood factory I think).

    After this Tickford had a place in daventry for making Racing Puma’s from the standard cars. That was followed by and end of line plant to make the Focus RS from part built cars comming of teh end of the main car line in belgium.

  24. A CVH engined Orion with a bespoke interior. I am getting visions of putting lipstick on a pig here. The Orion was a dreadful box of garbage.

    The Constant Vibration & Harshness engine was truly horrible (I owned an E reg Escort for a thankfully short time) and the gearbox was imprecise and notchy. The Escort’s handling was permanent twitch regardless of how straight the motorway was nor how constant the bend. The Orion was even worse, especially with a drooping tail and full boot! That said, the boot opening and high loading lip made it nearly impossible to get a decent sized box in there anyway.

    I can also vouch for the reliability problems from the CVH engine. Cambelts that needed to be changed at 36,000 miles had a habit of snapping at 25,000 miles making a mess of the valvegear. Leaking core plugs was another CVH habit as were dodgy carbs that could never be adjusted properly. Never mind noisy hydraulic tappets and camshafts made of toffee.

    Yes, truly a pig with lipstick. The interior was probably the only decent part of the car. No wonder so many were nicked.

  25. Make an ugly car more expensive, that’s all they did.
    The moment you first touch the squeaking plastic door handle you know it’s all silly masquerade.

  26. The Onion/Orion is one of the reasons why SD3 was so successful, and seen as a ‘prestige’ option.

  27. Typical Ford, tart up old tech and pass it off as something special.

    Would you back in 1989 choose one of these over a brand new 416 GSi?

  28. I remember the Ford Brochures for these, though probably only seen one or two in the flesh, (have seen those wheels a few times especially on humble fiestas). Hadnt realised they actually went to Tickford (Must of cost Ford a few ££ for the privilege?), Strangely I wanted one back in the day, But whilst the last of the XR3i’s and 1.6i Ghia Orions got the EFI engine, (of dubious benefit?) These Bizarrely had the old set up, Ford cost cutting to pay for the Leather?

  29. I stay in Nuneaton during the week and work in Coventry, so I’ve been able to hunt out the Tickford site in Bedworth, as the town sits between the two.

    It’s just flats now

  30. @ Ben Adams – Comment #38:

    The Rover 416 GSi did not arrive until late March 1990, along with the rest of the 400 Series saloon range.

    @ others:

    I am glad someone else has noticed the wheels. These were in fact taken from the Ford Accessories range rather than created specially for the 1600E. I have no idea who made them although I doubt it was BBS who were then a prolific manufacturer of multi-spoke style alloy wheels for a number of different car companies. However, they did suit the Orion and Sierra, and no doubt countless other Ford models from that same era.

    Ford’s next ‘success’ story after the 1600E was of course the Escort Eclipse which was a run-out special edition offered in either Bahamma Blue or Flamenco Red. Ford got caught out with this one as they were not able to produce enough to satisfy the initial demand. They tried repeating the formula two years later with the new generation Escort under the Encore theme – which was struggling to create waves against the offerings from Rover Cars and Vauxhall Motors – although it certainly was not as successful as the Eclipse by any means.

  31. I had one of these, it was an 1989 F reg in dark blue. I bought it in 1994, so it would have been 5 years old, but it drove like it was 20 years old, it was an absolute heap of a car. The engine was terrible, it was rough and would blow blue smoke, and the chassis was soft as putty, probably because of rust. It really was a rust bucket, the wheel arches around the back doors were particularly bad. It was a mistake buying this car, and I knew it after a few days of ownership, I felt robbed!
    I don’t know why Ford bothered sending the Orion to Tickford, as the leather interior was cheap crinkly rubbish, and the wood trim just fell off.
    I always liked the Orion as a kid, My dad had a B reg 1.6i Ghia in black, was a nice car at the time. But my uncle always said to me that Orion’s are just scrap, I guess he was right lol

  32. Absolutely love orions had 2 1600es and scrapped both as were rotten badly in 2004 I own a f reg one still and had this 17 yrs has 200bhp Rs turbo engine and full 1600e leather interior this was just the basic L Model wonder how many orions are actually left oh and just bought a c reg mk1 Orion 1.6 ghia auto so yes I do like them

  33. The 1600E wasn’t really any better specc’ed than the Rover 416/420 GSi… and it had less power with only 8 valves !

  34. 40 years since the Orion was launched and Ford joining the trend of making saloon versions of hatchbacks, as salooons were seen as more exclusive in the eighties. Also the Sierra’s radical styling was alienating buyers, so they needed something more conservative to appease the market, hence this booted version of the Escort. Unlike the Escort, and probably to persuade buyers the Orion was an upmarket product, the dreadful 1.1 engine was never offered, trim levels started at GL, and the suspension was improved. Orion was a masterstroke for Ford and it notched up over 200,000 sales during its first three years on the market.

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