The Mondeo will soon hit its quarter century, meaning it gains access to the classic car world and, to mark the occasion, Andrew Elphick recounts the story of its design, development and later introduction of Ford’s vitally important mid-liner.
And it really was an exercise in clean-sheet design.
Ford Mondeo: One world, one vision
These were the words of two giants – one, the world’s most flamboyant rock band, Queen; the other a multinational known to millions – the Ford Motor Co. The ‘World Car’ is an ambitious task for any manufacturer; many had managed to score in two out of the three main markets – Europe, Japan and the USA – but all three markets was a goal only the smaller-scale prestige makers had managed so far.
Ford thus decided it would again try to offer the world a one-size-fits-all option for the 1990s. It had form. In 1980, it had tried to offer an Escort common to North America and Europe – whether you were in Detroit or in Dagenham, you could stroll to your Ford dealer and buy an Escort. The only problem was, shy of the odd nondescript part under the skin, it seemed that the Blue Oval grille badge was the only shared part you could see.
So come 1985, and just three years after the launch of the Sierra, and a few months after the Granada (Scorpio) launch, Ford decided to have another crack. John Oldfield (Executive Director of Engineering Staff) was given a brief – he was to replace the European Sierra and the US market Tempo/Topaz models with a single model – CDW27.
Ford CDW27: sophistication sells
The main question for the Design Team was just how advanced did the Sierra’s replacement for the 1990s need to be? After all, heads were still rolling after Robert Lutz and Uwe Bahnsen’s in Ford after the ‘ jellymould’ Sierra debacle. Should they play safe with the styling, or should they limit the amount of technology under the skin?
Or both? Or, more pleasingly, should the bar be raised – and Ford create a world car and a world beater all in one? Front-wheel drive was chosen for the drivetrain, because it was the way the industry was going – and a benchmark was set by such a car already available in all three markets – the Honda Accord.
By 1988, Ford was busy carrying out its own ‘benchmark’ testing with all rival competitors’ cars. In them, the Accord was given a benchmark figure of 100 per cent, with other rivals scoring better or worse depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Among them, the strongest cars were the Peugeot 405, Toyota Camry, Vauxhall Cavalier (or its twin, the Opel Vectra), and the Volkswagen Passat.
Ford’s battle with impressive rivals
However, these benchmarks needed to be set ahead of what the competion would also be producing in six years’ time. It was a tall order for the car they called the CDW27. And why CDW27? C/D signified that it straddled the C- and D-sectors, while the W was for ‘World Car’.
Ford’s top brass decided that the new car needed to be a stylish cab-forward design, and it briefed the design offices of California, Cologne, Dearborn and Turin (Ghia) to that effect. The four studios duly presented their differently styled proposals for customer clinic testing.
These clinics were carried out in the USA, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. And with the results coming in, it was down Dearborn to choose which model to progress with. Meanwhile, the engineers were developing the drivetrain under innocuous-looking, Sierra-based development mules (below). Eleven of them were developed throughout 1988, along with the new Zetec DOHC 16-valve engines.
During 1988 John Oldfield was promoted to Executive Director of Programme Offices, leaving David Price (a Director of Power Train Programmes) to head-up the CDW27 project and deliver it to production. Such was the importance of the programme, he reported directly to Lindsey Halstead – Chairman of Ford of Europe.
Raising the standard: how Mondeo became so good dynamically
During March 1989, the project’s goals were hammered out – and just three months later (in June 1989), they were finalised. Except that the later introduction of the Nissan Primera would demand a revision to what was now considered the acceptable standard refinement in class when it went on sale in 1990.
By September 1989, the first mechanically-correct Mondeo prototypes for testing had been built, with accurate production prototypes coming on stream early in 1991. In total, 400 vehicles were created in the run-up to the engineering sign-off a year later. On 23 November 1992, production started, ready for the world launch at the upcoming 1993 Geneva Salon.
From clay to the customer clinic
Cab-forward, not Jelly mould…
If just one thing was certain, it was that Sierra replacement must satisfy the need of every market it was to be sold in – in other words, be restrained, conservative and capable. Ford was still hurting from the costly Sierra launch four years earlier (though the situation was partly its own fault due to Ford Cortina stockpiling in the months leading up to the Sierra’s introduction). So the Detroit top table would be keeping a tight rein in the design studios this time round.
Ford’s four design offices (California, Cologne, Dearborn and Torino) were given their design brief from Manfred Lampe, in what he later described as the biggest single project undertaken by the company. From autumn 1986 until February 1992, Lampe chaired the CDW27 project. From the four proposals initially prepared, (by each design office) a reference was created from which each design studio crafted its own interpretation.
From the easy-going sun-baked Californians, came a design that had its frontal aspect and glass house closely based on the then-new Scorpio. It was almost floating roof, but the A-pillars remained body-coloured. Curiously, it seems that this three-box design was reminiscent of Bertone-styled 1990 Daewoo Espero.
Germany versus USA: stylists do battle
The design from Cologne in Germany (below) had an almost Japanese feel to it – especially in the lighting. That impression was also continued to the fussy rear pillars, which offered differing belt line (side and rear glass levels). Ultimately, though, it would emerge the surprise victor of the four proposals – and its sculptured sill design survived all the way to the final production design.
The US design studio produced the most upmarket looking design of the four, with its kicked up rear flanks and a stylised full-width rear light eating into the boot lid. It too had the favoured sculpted sills of the final production car.
Finally, from the Ghia studios in Turin (Ford’s ‘ideas pool’), came the design from under the direction of Filippo Sapino. While in no way displeasing, and considered ‘inoffensive’ by the panel present, its design was ‘middle of the road’ and considered a bit too safe for the 1990s.
All four presentations were compared in March 1987 at the annual worldwide design conference, held in Cologne. Though the Cologne proposal was deemed the basis for the next step of the styling process, it was agreed the rear end with its kicked-up belt line were too dominant a feature to progress. At the same time the internal fascia proposals were being considered. Due to the cab-forward styling of the raked windscreen, ways to disguise the depth of the dash top were required.
That spring, Design Director Andy Jacobson (successor to Sierra’s ‘father’ Uwe Bahnsen) gave John Doughty’s European Merkenich (Cologne) studios the go-ahead for the finalised CDW27. The internal and external styling was finalised; the mechanical packaging was honed to suit these packages.
Mondeo: variations on a theme
So we have designed our world car, now time to build it…
Well, not quite! A further four designs were sculpted; five if you count the marriage of two of them; and six if you throw in a Californian wildcard. Between July 1987 and June 1988, the advice from the design conference and data from earlier market research clinics, fermented into three proposals from Merkenich (Cologne), alongside a solitary Dunton design.
Each was first cut from clay bucks, then moulded in glassfibre on rolling chassis, for presentation.
Type 4A (below) had been constructed to maximise interior space, with a large glazed area and well-balanced proportions allied to a Taurus-esq nose cone. However, it was considered a bland yet family appealing car.
Type 4B’s (below) roots lay in the original Cologne proposal, but with a sweeping belt line level with the rear window via a sixth glass light. It had a thinner rear tail light treatment giving a higher sweeping rear, when viewed from that angle.
The 4C design (below) was praised for its fresh dynamic look and expressive bonnet line, however concerns were raised it was too sporty and its panelling may be complex to manufacture. Note the Honda-esque nose, the BMW Hofmeister kink and the tail.
Dunton produced the fourth variation – 4D (below). Highly thought of featuring good interior space, helped by the six glass light design. Seemingly influenced again by American fashions, it featured a similar nose treatment to what would appear on the Mustang and Thunderbird of the late 1980s.
The Californian 4F prototype was unusual when presented, it was an homage to the Renault 4 – the wheelbase was longer on one side than the other! With a small front overhang, and a short and even shorter rear overhang dependent on which side was viewed. Overall it is very recognisable as an enlarged 1990 Escort from the front quarter view, notably its lighting and swage line level with the door handles. Ultimately, it was deemed just too radical.
The second generation of these prototypes began with the 4G, (below) which, if given a quick cursory glance shouts Mondeo – though, when examined more closely, they really don’t have much in common! It seems visually a smaller classed car too when viewed from the rear.
Types 4E and 5E (due to their respective doors, below) appeared early in 1989 and the design was nearly finalised – other than the handsome swage lines down each flank, they were close to the Mondeo’s final form. These swages would also appear on the upcoming fourth-generation Escort and Orion. One wonders whether the launch of Alfa Romeo’s 164 scuppered this fine detail as the resemblance is quite striking, though strangely the 1990 Escort and Orion to 164 comparison falls flat.
Note the differing rear treatments both featuring a sixth-light ultimately not present on the production model.
Closing in on sign-off
March 1989 and the final (well, nearly…) signed-off model. The 4H was a development of the 4E, but with a 50mm/2in increase in wheelbase (at the cost of the front and rear overhangs). The grille and lights would be tweaked however, as would the flanks, as they became more organic.
Manfred Lampe later declared there wasn’t a Japanese influence – more a coincidence resulting in the softer styled appearance. Ultimately (bar the diesel models), the grille would become a stylised oval, with a thin bar bearing the familiar Ford badge. By May 1990, we finally had the Mondeo as we’d recognise it today. An estate model was created too, gaining bespoke rear door frames to carry off its bulk handsomely.
View with a room…
Cab-forward styling has one drawback: how does the designer transform acres of fascia plastic moulding into a pleasing integrated design? The designers at Dunton were given this task, along all other internal upholstery and trim design. The original proposal evolved from an Escort-style design to a more organic sweeping fascia, giving an air of quality.
Integration of air bags was a new challenge, as were requirements such as switches that could be operated while wearing gloves! The rear door-mounted speakers were unusual too. Alas the delightful integrated pen holder sadly could not contain the humble disposable Biro…
The family man goes multi-valve
By the late 1980s, double-overhead camshaft multi-valve engines were de rigueur for any performance model. Prime examples were the Cosworth-designed GM C20LET engine fitted to the Vauxhall Astra/Opel Kadett GTE, the PSA XU9J4 as used into the Peugeot 405 Mi16 and Citroen BX 16 Valve, and the VAG 16-valve fitted to the Golf GTI and Corrado 16V.
However, Rover’s new K-Series engine as fitted to 1989’s 200 and 400 range (and which Ford came close to buying in 1986) raised the bar for ‘cooking’ family cars. Of course, the pursuit for economy and efficiency combined with lower emissions had led this need for 16-valves across the board. Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions were now governmental requirements, not just marketing aids.
A new Ford-designed Zeta engine (later Zetec due to trademark wrangling) was to be launched with the Mondeo – even though it had its roots in the CVH power unit first seen in the 1980 Escort (which itself had been subject to a 16-valve head courtesy of Schrick in 1985).
This was mainly so the existing manufacturing facilities could be used – indeed both engines shared the same 91.8 bore spacing, leading to the creation of ZVH engines by independent Ford tuners. Manufactured in three capacities (1.6- , 1.8-, and 2.0-litres, all with an 88mm stroke), and sand cast in grey Iron – the weight advantage of aluminium was swapped for iron’s sound absorption properties. It also featured a cast aluminium rocker cover and ribbed sump pan.
Forged connecting rods and high silicon alloy pistons were an unusually specialist touch (indeed this ‘factory’ bottom end was found by tuners to be capable of producing 200bhp, and only requiring uprated rod bolts – quite an impressive feat).
The design becomes a reality
By 1990, the final design had been approved. Now all the engineers had to do was make it go, stop and handle. In all, 13 parameters were established: Ride, Handling, Steering, Powertrain, NVH, Driveability, Shiftability (the feel of the gear shift), Brake feel, Operational comfort, Seat performance, Climate control, Illumination, Perfection feeling. This last category was all about giving the Mondeo a ‘hewn from solid’ feel, like Volvos and Mercedes-Benzes. Basically, a 10-year-old Mondeo should still feel like a new one – not an easy feat to carry off with accountants running the show.
With this in mind and the potential for South American and Antipodean road surfaces (and sales), the suspension needed to be exceptionally durable, yet handle seamlessly on the billiard table smooth roads of mainland Europe. So, credit to the engineers for the rave reviews at launch in 1993.
Paul Horrell tested the Mondeo Ghia in CAR Magazine, taking it 1000 miles from Tower Bridge (London) to the Forth Bridge (Scotland) and back, commenting, ‘The journey tests its every facet and it emerges with honours.’
Great dynamics: all in the body design
The key to this lay not in the suspension, but in the bodyshell. The stiffer it is, the closer the suspension reverts to its natural setting, hence the more compliant the ride. The element of NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness – a Ford-invented term) being controlled by a separate subframe front and rear for the MacPherson strut suspension. The Mondeo was specified with front and rear disc brakes for nearly all models, and a rack and pinion steering set up – in all, nothing remotely advanced, but effective.
Sophistication was an option though – you want adaptive damping or four-wheel drive, sir? No problem. If the electronic adaptive dampers were specified, you had the choice of ‘sport’ or ‘comfort’ settings. Either way, every 20 milliseconds a measurement was recorded. Above 100mph, or during heavy cornering, acceleration or braking the system automatically reverted to ‘sport’, until normal service had resumed.
Had you ticked the box marked ‘four-wheel drive’ however, as well as another set of drive shafts and a differential, came an electronic microprocessor – the traction control unit. This had the ability to cut engine revs and, if necessary, apply the brakes (via the ABS), hence limiting wheel slippage until the broken traction had stabilised. Commonplace now, but impressive in 1993.
Now to matters of safety equipment. Active safety – ABS will help you avoid the incident. Passive safety – the airbag will protect you during the incident. And this is where the engineers suffered… The accountants insist you can only have ABS or an airbag. The marketing men say that airbags sell cars, and so, the engineers’ wish for ABS and airbags get relegated to the options list.
Still, the Mondeo was a very safe place to be – standard ABS or not. In addition to the standard fit airbag, there were seat belt pretensioners to ‘grab’ the slack in the seatbelt once the airbag had been activated in an accident. The anti-submarining seats were an active safety feature too – the idea being the seat bases pressing ramped towards the front to hold your hips in place should you suddenly stop. Finally, door side-impact bars were fitted.
Ford Mondeo: Testing Images
Occasionally though scoop photographers such as Hans Lehmann would spy the prototypes before release – compare the factory shots (above) to his (below).
Pilot production and final assembly
Ford calls its staff ‘the family’, and ‘the family’ from all over the world created the Mondeo together. It was designed by Americans, Germans and the Brits (with help from the Italians), tested by the Scandinavians, and built by the Belgians. Prior to the Mondeo, all major production models had been double-sourced, in case trouble with suppliers, acts of God and acts of, er, activists… However, it was all or nothing – Genk in Belgium would exclusively produce the Mondeo, a move that meant employing 1500 new staff, and creating a third night shift.
In total 600 million dollars was invested, a high percentage on the new body pressing plant. Also a just-in-time strategy favoured by the (ultra-efficient) Japanese was adopted for Mondeo’s parts supply.
Unusually, Genk would construct the first pilot batch of cars as well, (before series-production in November 1992 – four months before launch). During this time, members of the assembly line family were invited to aid flagging any potential hiccups in the design and assembly process. In addition to this, 115 cars were being tested by heavy usage customers across Europe – emergency services, couriers and toner salesmen. The greatest test…
And when they were satisfied, on 8 January 1993, the Mondeo went on sale to an expectant public. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now he’s busy working towards retirement. Hmm.