The cars : Ford Sierra development story

Replacing the Cortina was never going to be easy, but Ford of Europe went down the path of radicalism for the car that supplanted it – the Ford Sierra.

Project Toni might have been advanced looking, but early customer resistance was a real factor – with success taking a long time to arrive.

Ford Sierra: Streamlining the future…


It seemed that everybody loved the Cortina just a little too much. It did everything you ever needed a car to do, if only averagely. Pleasing Coke bottle-inspired styling allied to simple rugged mechanicals combined to create a car that everyone wanted, the car ‘for Mr Average’ – in one word, ordinary. However, in September 1982, shock waves were sent across the nation’s suburban driveways and motorway service stations. What was this ‘Jellymould’?

The joint Cortina/Taunus replacement Sierra, aka Project Toni, exploded onto the scene and, for many long-time fans of the Blue Oval, it was too hard to stomach. Publicly, Ford was proud of its cutting edge design, but behind closed doors management heads were rolling even before the new car’s honeymoon period had ended…

The man in the street was not alone in his bewilderment – back in early 1978, Ford’s American management was just as startled. Did its European cousins actually intend to market a car that looked like a motor show special to the fleets? After all, this was the Ford Motor Company, purveyors of solid sensible transport, not some exotic European carrosserie – if you wanted cutting edge, you visited Citroën, surely? And just one year before, the NSU Ro80, along with the NSU marque, had sailed into history – a victim of its own misguided reach for the skies.

Ford Sierra: The pitch

According to Ford’s Robert Lutz: ‘I gave him (Don Peterson) a small sketch to put in his pocket on his return to the US and inscribed on it the words ‘view daily until familiarity is achieved”. It worked.’

However, by coincidence, Giorgetto Giugiaro tipped the balance towards the successful signing-off of the Toni project in its most advanced form. Unveiled at that year’s Turin Motor Show, the Isuzu Piazza prototype had been very well received; enough for the Ford boardroom to give its own new ‘aero-look’ model the go ahead. Within two years, the Sierra was was signed off, and Ford management had been encouraged along the way by praise heaped on Giugiaro’s similarly sleek Lancia Medusa concept, a four-door aerodynamic hatch-cum-supercar.

A total of $1.2bn had been set aside to develop, engineer and produce the car and its assembly lines. Robert Lutz (who would become Ford of Europe’s Chairman by the time of the Sierra’s launch) handed the reins of the Sierra project to Ford’s Vice President of Design, Uwe Bahnsen, a man who enjoyed sleek fastback designs, if the model Rover SD1 that graced his desk was anything to go by. It was something that would haunt in him the future.

Beneath him, Ray Evertz assembled a team of Designers for Bahnsen, among them an ambitious young Designer called Patrick Le Quement, the man responsible for the Cargo truck cab. Perversely, although several alternative proposals were created for the Toni, the original proposal was deemed right from the start.


The Sierra had been developed without prior knowledge of the C3-generation Audi 100’s highly aerodynamic shape, which made aerodynamics de-rigueur. Of then-current production models, the Sierra’s drag coefficient of 0.34 had only been beaten by the Citroën GS and Porsche 924. And as for its middle market rivals, no-one had come close to that figure.

Referred to as an ‘aeroback’ design by its creators on account of its bustle at the rear, the Sierra sported a similar body shape to the recently launched Escort Mk3 (known internally as Erika). The later XR4i improved on the standard car’s Cd figure by incorporating sculptured side panels to control air resistance across the wheel faces, as well as its iconic bi-plane rear spoiler. The result was a very impressive Cd of 0.32.

Ford Probe III paved the way for the Sierra a year early…

Having said that, no production Toni could come close to matching the Sierra ‘taster’ prototype – the Ford Probe III – of 1981. But, then, that did feature overtly aerodynamic features including Citroën-like enclosed rear wheels, and integrated door mirrors (which would appear on the production 1988 Probe coupe). That car’s Cd was 0.25, although its main raison d’etre was to soften-up buyers hooked on the Cortina, selling them the idea of its sleek new replacement.

This revolution in mainstream car styling was impressive enough for the Sierra to be displayed in England’s Victoria and Albert Museum during 1982.

With a splash of added dash…


However, so as to not scare traditionalists, both a stylised finned grille and a flush nose cone (complimented with built-in driving lights) were offered, defining the range topping Ghia and XR4i models as objects of desire. All this was finished off with full flush wheel covers – the first European Fords to feature them.

The inside story was far more conventional, despite tipping the nod to the ergonomic command centre style of dash layout favoured by BMW and Saab. Another unusual step was the use of two different dash mouldings depending on specification: GL, Ghia and XR4i models were deeper and gained the Fischer C-Box cassette storage system and a four-way joystick fader control for the stereo system (both big sales draws in 1982).

The integrated warning displays on these plusher models (previously the domain of executive cars), alerted the driver of low fluid levels and brake pad wear. Additionally, the Ghia and XR4i models featured a vacuum fluorescent display alerting the driver to such dangers as lamp failure, doors ajar or freezing outside temperatures.

No big deal today, but stepping into this from a Cortina must have seemed like a massive advancement. The stylised door panels with triangular moulded door latches/grab handles were an innovation too. All in all, it was quite pleasant, but as Uwe Bahnsen conceded at the launch, not so extreme as to frighten traditional Cortina/Taunus purchasers.

Ford Sierra: The design portfolio


Ford Sierra: The tech…

‘The Cortina’s dead – Long live the Cortina!’ screamed the headlines, when the Sierra finally made a bow on 22 September 1982.

And right they were to do so because, under that memorable styling, beat a very conventional heart. There were no surprises or radical shocks in the technical specifications: the main improvement over its progenitor was the addition of independent rear suspension (aping that of the Granada). Up front, the tried and tested McPherson struts were complemented by an anti-roll bar fitted behind the struts.

That independent rear suspension layout consisted of an upswept over-axle cross member which carried the differential casing (itself to be used on the upcoming 1985 Granada Scorpio). Each driveshaft was supported by a coil sprung trailing wishbone, with a self-levelling system available as an option for the estate model.

Aerodynamic performance was big Sierra news, with a drag coefficient of 0.34 making it a class leader.
Aerodynamic performance was big Sierra news, with a drag coefficient of 0.34 making it a class leader

Rack and pinion steering featured optional power assistance, and the brakes were a standard mixture of discs and drums. A pressure-sensing relief valve was fitted to prevent the rear wheels locking under heavy braking applications, and all models above 2.0-litres gained ventilated front discs – all very conventional.

The engines were pretty familiar, too. The range comprised of the overhead camshaft Pinto four-cylinder and Cologne V6 units. Simple, effective and lusty (in larger capacity guises), they were capable of a service life of well in excess of 100,000 miles, even if the Pinto often required replacement camshafts at high mileage.

Available in 1.3-, 1.6- and 2.0-litre forms, the Pinto featured electronic ignition and revised cast exhaust manifolds in its new home. The Cologne V6 engine was available 2.0 (in Germany), 2.3- and 2.8-litre capacities, and was fitted with fuel injection to aid the XR4i model’s sporting pretensions. An economical but sluggish Peugeot 2.3-litre four cylinder diesel could also be specified, but only if you were a masochist. Transmission was by a four- or five-speed manual (both boxes derived from the slick Type E ‘rocket box’), or a trusty three-speed automatic.

Under the skin, the Sierra was a combination of Cortina and Granada engineering.
Under the skin, the Sierra was a combination of Cortina and Granada engineering


Unfortunately, the Sierra didn’t click with buyers, and sales fell well below expectations. Scalps were inevitably sought.

Uwe Bahnsen became the scapegoat for the whole Toni project, and eventually left Ford for good. Stylist Patrick Le Quement also left the Merkenich studios (initially to Detroit) instead of succeeding Bahnsen as Head of Design at Ford of Europe – the expected career path for someone who’d been responsible for the company’s hugely important mid-liner – a clear reflection of the Sierra’s underwhelming market performance.

Le Quement would go onto greater things, becoming the figurehead of Renault’s design renaissance during the 1990s, but Uwe Bahnsen ended up teaching at the Art Centre College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland. Sierra mastermind Robert Lutz made the Ford Board of Directors, but left for Chrysler in 1986 after having been reprimanded for the lacklustre take-up of the Merkur brand in the US, ironically spearheaded by a federalised version of the Sierra XR4i.

Even though the public was reluctant to embrace the Sierra, Ford’s PR department was pulling out all the stops, with the press seemingly in agreement of its advances.

Four-page colour advertisements were placed in all the major national papers, the Readers Digest and the TV Times (where a complete catalogue fell out at your local newsagents). Billboards and posters sprung up, and 60-second commercials were aired, soothingly telling you that the Sierra was ‘Man and Machine in Perfect Harmony’. Your local toyshop would even sell you an accurate 1:36 scale Corgi model. In short, unless you lived in a cave, Warley’s marketing team made sure everyone knew there was a new kid on the block.

The benefits of the hatchback configuration took conservative buyers a little time to cotton on to

The press gave rave reviews too. CAR headlined its October 1982 issue with ‘SIERRA SHOCK! It really is a good car’. Steve Cropley summed-up his review: ‘Quite simply, Ford have done it all. They have built an all-new car which breaks all ties with feeble old Cortina, yet takes over those components which it was not possible (or affordable) to rebuild. It thoroughly deserves the tag “modern” and, more to the point, it is thoroughly worthy of the eventual millions who will buy it.’ The trouble was those millions only cottoned on in Britain after several years.

In Germany, sales looked healthier, and the Sierra was out-selling the Taunus by a factor of 3 to 1. It was possibly helped by the simultaneous arrival of the Audi 100 (at the Paris Salon premier both models were on adjacent stands), which also helped sell the benefits of aerodynamic design to the masses. Ostensibly, the launch of the 4×4 model (developed by Ferguson Formula Development) and ABS were delayed because the Sierra had had more than plentiful media exposure – or so the PR Department would have us believe…

But the real problem in those early months was the Cortina. Dealer bonuses designed to clear stock offered as much as £550 off a car – 10% of the list price of a Cortina 1.6 L. This meant that, combined with dealer mark-up, a discount of up to 30% could be obtained, meaning that you could have a Cortina Ghia on your drive for the price of a base Sierra. Customers wanted the future but were swayed by the price of the past and the Blue Oval’s army of smooth-talking sales people. Ultimately, there were just too many unsold Cortinas stockpiled throughout 1982 and into 1983.

Ford panicked and, worried that its precious 30% market share of the British market was vanishing, introduced a booted Escort known as the Orion, a less-than-subtle nod to those conservative buyers who couldn’t get into bed with the Sierra and were tempted to go knocking on the door of Vauxhall with its ultra-successful second-generation front-wheel-drive Cavalier.

However, in 1987 Ford grew the Sierra family, finally giving the sales rep the saloon that he knew he always wanted. The aeroback was finally to be joined by the Sapphire.

From Aeroback to Notchback

Testing times: the revised Sierra's front end is most evident in these shots...
Testing times: the revised Sierra’s front end is most evident in these shots…

February 1987 saw the UK launch of the Sierra Sapphire. The slightly twee name denoted the new three-box Sierra, and ushered in the arrival of the facelifted hatch and estate models.

Visually just a little smoother, the new cars featured more than 77 new or altered body stampings, and together were enough to give the Sierra a more palatable style that drew it closer to the range-topping Scorpio model. The big difference between the hatch and saloon was the boot and bonded rear windscreen, a major technical advance that rival Austin Rover had perfected three years previously at Cowley. Looking a little closer, the roof (a nod to the second generation Astra/Kadett) sported integrated flush drip rails, and the overall length of the car grew by 40mm. Implementing these changes cost Ford a cool £228m.

A nod to Britain’s conservative buyers saw one unusual change to the Sapphire model – a radiator grille. A bonnet 50mm shorter meant a pseudo plastic grille was fitted, easily differentiating the two cars in the motorway overtaking lane. Interestingly, no other European car followed suit with this largely pointless demarcation. In total, over 1200 new parts were required for the facelift, mainly electrical, with electronic engine management and electronic Teves ABS filtered down from the Scorpio, as was the Triplex heated front windscreen. Security was upped with the introduction of six-lever Chubb locks to deter car thieves and appease insurance groupings. Further technological advances would be announced in November 1987, with the launch of the notch bodied Cosworth…

For the 1988 model year, Ford dropped the weak performing 1800 Pinto in E-Max tune in lieu of a new 1796cc CVH engine, which was coded the R2A engine. This new alloy head engine featured novel ideas such as hydraulic tappets with rollers to prevent excessive wear of the camshaft, longer service interval requirements and a water heated inlet manifold/carburettor promising good fuel economy.

The physical size of the engine was much smaller that the Pinto unit it replaced. Routine servicing was a breeze and, as a result, the engine was considerably lighter than its predecessor, thus losing its nose heavy feel in hard cornering. The engine was quieter, more powerful and had a reasonable turn of speed. Soon after launch, demand outstripped supply from both fleet and retail customers. Austin Rover and Vauxhall had moved the goal posts in the engineering stakes and Ford now had a product to go to battle with.

But Ford didn’t stop there…

The 1989 model year saw the end of the 2.0-litre Pinto units in the Sierra with the launch of an all-new alloy head twin cam engine available in twin choke carburettor and fuel injected guises.

Although the old single cam engine was utterly reliable and well known the world over as a robust power unit, Ford had slipped behind the competition in the power stakes against Austin Rover’s 16-valve M-Series and Vauxhall’s Family Two engines. Both trade and retail customers were demanding technology and performance, and no longer was the family car seen simply as a repmobile and packhorse.

Continuing the Ford tradition of a crossflow head, this new power unit featured twin camshafts but only the traditional eight valves. A whole new adaptive and diagnostic engine management system kept the engine in tune and peak performance with minimal attention, while all routine servicing was simple to undertake, keeping time in the service bay to a minimum.

Ford’s diesel dilemma

In the late 1980s Ford also took the opportunity to ditch the harsh and unrefined 2.3 litre Peugeot-sourced diesel engine and replaced it with its own 1.8-litre Endura D unit as fitted to the Fiesta, Escort and Orion. However, in the Sierra it was only offered in turbocharged form. While no match for the Citroën BX and Peugeot 405 in performance or even economy, it was nevertheless light years ahead of the Sierra’s old pushrod 2304cc oil burner. Within 18 months, Ford had offered a bundle of new engines to keep the Sierra in the top ten sales chart – and the strategy had worked a treat.

More palatable facelifted Sierra was met with a massive uplift in sales...
More palatable facelifted Sierra was met with a massive uplift in sales…

Some revitalised models came into stream for the 1990 model year, namely two repmobile specials, the upgraded LX and GLX. The former was identified by its two-tone paint job and neat boot spoiler. In keeping with a constant programme of modifications, the Sierra was treated to little revisions such as lowered ride and tighter bushes to make the car feel nimble on its feet. Interior wise, the classic ‘wrap round cockpit’ stayed pretty much the same albeit with a new chunky steering wheel with adjustment for reach as well as rake.

Ford knew that by the early 1990s the Sierra was living on borrowed time, so a massive advertising push was made to raise the profile of the Ford portfolio. Riding on the back of massive motor sport success with the ever conquering Sierra RS Cosworth, Ford teamed up with Queen lead guitarist Brian May, who slightly altered the wording of a not so well-known album track, Driven By You.

The advertising slogan Everything We Do Is Driven By You soon became a virtual household phrase thanks to an epic one minute TV commercial, and all new Ford cars sported the slogan in their rear window.

The Ford Mondeo was in the pipeline, but owing to the ever improving opposition, Ford’s market share was at risk. Between 1991 and the final examples reaching the showroom in 1993, a series of steady improvements and tastefully executed revisions made sure that the Sierra remained in the public eye and on the road. To keep production costs down, Ford changed the dashboard and used a cheaper but better looking one-piece moulding. More importantly, during the crime-ridden early 1990s, security systems were added across the range. In the looks department, a subtle new grille and colour-coded bumpers were added across the range, along with some run out special editions called the Azura, Chasseur and Quartz.

All in all, Ford’s Marketing Department knew what it was doing. Until the very end, the Sierra held its own in the Top Ten, remaining popular until its demise, with very few unsold examples lingering after the launch of the Mondeo.

Sierra in service

As far as engineering and reliability were concerned, the Sierra was a good, solid car right from the outset. The powertrains and gearboxes were carried over in modified form from the Cortina, giving no headaches to workshop staff or fleet managers. Its all round independent suspension was simple yet well designed, with only the track control or compliance bushes being a weak link.

The Sierra was an expensive car to design and Ford made some silly mistakes as the company’s bean counters looked at ways of saving money. From mid-1986 to late-1987 Ford decided to assemble its body shells using panels of recycled steel. Stories of door skins and wings simply rotting away within two years were no myth and this affected all Ford cars and light commercials around this time. These cars were known within the motor trade as ‘D-for-doom’, referring to rusty D-reg cars that were common place. This penny-pinching act went on to cost the company millions in warranty claims.

Moving on to the late 1980s and early ’90s, Ford’s later power units were not exactly top notch either. The 1.8-litre CVH engine, unique to the Sierra, was having massive problems with oil consumption owing to poorly designed valve stem seals. It was very common to see these cars leaving a trail of blue smoke behind. Other issues with this engine included poor quality pistons resulting in small end failure and eventual total engine destruction.

The 1.8-litre unit soon developed into a decent engine thanks to modifications in service, but big problems continued with the larger 2.0-litre twin-cam engine. Premature timing chain failure, timing gear problems, cracked exhaust manifolds, spark plugs seizing into the cylinder head and even head gasket failure dogged the twin-cam unit. As the 1.8-litre became good, the 2.0-litre fast became known as fragile and troublesome. Fitted to the 2.0-litre was a new gearbox known as the MTX. This alloy-cased all-synchromesh gearbox was far from being as sweet-changing and durable as the N-Series Cortina-derived gearbox it replaced.

When Ford tried to make an impact with new technology, it lost out on reliability. Aggressive marketing and heavy discounts kept the Sierra in the frame, but in its last year of production Vauxhall was chipping away at Ford’s fleet market share with its Cavalier Mk3. Ford rode out the problems by teasing the public with the launch of the Mondeo quite a while before it was launched, thus deflecting criticism of the old car by exciting everybody with the up and coming new models.

The Sierra gave way to the Ford Mondeo in 1993 and, after what seemed like an eternity in production (in fact just over 11 years), the new front-drive world-beater from Ford soon turned the image of the Sierra from a car for all people into an also-ran used second-hand bargain. Numbers still left in daily use are fast dwindling ,but the Ford Sierra will always be known by one of its early advertising slogans…

Man And Machine… In Perfect Harmony

Ford Sierra 1990

Thanks to:
Andrew Elphick, Mike Humble, Warren Loveridge and Keith D’Souza

Keith Adams


  1. Still believe the original ’82 Sierra(in GL/Ghia spec)is still a great looking car.We owned a Y reg Ghia 1.6 in crystal green.Superb car and regret selling it.Surprised there’s not a history book on the design/life of the Sierra.Next year it’s 30 years after it was launched.The ‘Toni’ project was a genuine trendsetter,thank you Mr Bahnsen!

  2. A little bit of trivia for you.Did you know the inspiration for Sierra’s quarter glass came fron the Porsche 928?

  3. @Howard. I remember seeing an interview with one of the design team who said exactly that! The original six-light three door XR4i in particular with its hidden blacked out B pillar and highly visible slanted body colour C pillar was designed to ape the Porsche 928 in profile – which it sort of does – the door window, the blacked out B pillar and the first rear side window are the shape of the 928’s door window and the rear quarterlight is the same shape as the 928s.

    Bit more trivia here – the very first XR4is had “XR4″ printed onto the inside of the rear quarterlight, along with horizontal lines. The reason it said XR4 rather than XR4i was because it originally was going to be called the XR4 (to go with the then existing XR range of XR2 and XR3, but by the time that the decision to call it XR4i had been made (no doubt prompted by the decision to name the the fuel injected version of the XR3 the XR3i), the glass with XR4 had been ordered and couldn’t be changed. A similar thing happened with the mid Nineties Daihastu Charade which was going to be called the GTi until the insurance crisis necessitated a change to GLXi nomenclature – the seats still proudly proclaimed GTi however.

    I still think that styling-wise, the Sierra was Ford’s finest hour, followed by the original Focus and the Ford Ka. I had two Sierras, a 1990 G reg 1.8 GLX Sapphire, bought as a nine year old banger, it was totally reliable, well equipped and very comfortable, and a 1990 H reg Sierra 2.0i XR4i (not to be confused with the early XR4i, this was basically a 2.0i XR4x4 without the 4×4). It was white with the XR blue striping, had all round electric windows and a heated front screen (the best feature ever on a car) and I loved it to bits. I bought it with the voluntary redundancy money from a job I hated and had a planned month off before my next job. I drove that Sierra all over the North of England and loved every minute of it. Stupidly, I decided that it was too expensive to run and replaced it with a two year old Escort TD LX with the optional sport bumpers and rear spoilers. This was an absolute dog of a car.

    One day, when I’ve got the spare cash/time/space I intend to buy another Sierra XR, assuming I can find one that hasn’t had cheap 16” wheels fitted and the dashboard painted in a primary colour that is…

  4. Is the Mk3 Granada fundamentally a stretched Sierra, or is it a reskinned Mk2. I currently use a mk3 based hearse as my works van/novelty ride. It’s pretty narrow inside (compared to a similar age E-class or 5-series), and seems to have loads of parts commonality with Sierras. It also overstears like no tomorrow and wallows about, but that’s to be expected for a hearse. I also love the 3/4 muscle v8 sound of the cologne, possibly helped by the lack of back box.

    • I think the Mk3 Granada was a large Sierra, not an updated Mk2 Granada.
      For what it’s worth, Wiki says it’s on a stretched Sierra platform.

      • In spite of the segment’s shift towards FWD it would have been interesting to compare a hypothetical RWD mk3 Sierra (1993-2000) with the FWD mk1/mk2 Mondeo (1992-2000), given both the mk3 Granada and Scorpio (1985-1998) used a large updated Sierra platform (presuming the Scorpio would have lasted a further 2 or so more years with better styling),

        It is also interesting to note that had Ford been inclined to make the Sierra FWD during its development, the only suitable FWD platform would appear to be something similar to the US-built Ford Tempo which used a stretched version of the Ford CE14 platform (roughly same width and length as RWD Sierra) that also underpinned the mk3-mk6 Ford Escort (1980-2004).

      • From what I remember my father saying it was a modified and stretched Sierra platform, which was considerably better in the handling and ride department from the lessons learned. The problem was tha Ford only offered one body shape, the hatchback at the start and this meant it was not seen by parts of the industry as executive enough.

  5. I didn’t like the sierra at first being a confirmed cortina addict like so many were. move on a few years and actually I realised they were a damn good car. The DOHC engine was best avoided- although quite powerful and much better on fuel than the pinto they ate head gaskets and it was not an easy job to fix either.
    I owned a very late 1.6LX sapphire, last year of the pinto engines. a quiet comfy car and when running properly quite economical but these used a poor design of carb that was hard to keep in tune.
    My favourite was the 2.3 diesel I owned. never less than 40 mpg and nothing ever went wrong with it.perfectly adequate everyday transport if you could live with how slow it was.

  6. I bought a Sierra new (well pre-registered) in 1984. It was discounted to a price less than a 1.1 Fiesta. By 1986 Sierra was on the up and I traded it in for the same price! It was a good car. Everyone considered the Cavalier with its 90bhp Engine and front wheel drive the better car, but the Sierra was just as quick and much nicer to drive with well weighted steering. Trying to park an early non-assisted fwd Cavalier was like berthing a super tanker!

  7. Good point about the steering Paul. Few years ago I had an Orion and my dad had an Omega. I found the Omega easier to park. Reckon, like the Sierra, the RWD drivetrain allowed a better steering lock.

  8. I can’t believe Ford used rear wheel drive, the car’s Amercian counterpart, the Ford Taurus, was front wheel drive and was launched in 1986, and also unlike the Sierra, America immediately fell in love with it which was good news for the nearly bankrupt company that made it

    • Perhaps Ford’s rationale for the Ford Sierra being RWD was to allow the company to develop a stretched Sierra platform for the mk3 Ford Granada at little cost?

      • At the same time Ford could have probably developed a FWD replacement for the mk2 Ford Granada derived from a European focused version of the FWD Ford Taurus D186 platform, as an alternative to the Sierra-derived mk3 Ford Granada / Scorpio.

        Not sure why Ford would want to go down the FWD route for that segment like Rover did with the 800 or whether Ford of Europe even considered the idea.

        Worth mentioning though the FWD Taurus D186 platform remained in production until 2007 compared to 1998 with the Sierra-based RWD Ford Scorpio, while the 9th generation (95-02) Lincoln Continental also used the same platform equipped with the 260-275 hp 4.6 Ford Modular V8.

  9. i have a 1983 xr4i , ive owned it a few years now , been in storage , was an upgrade on the old corsair wich was another old rare bird that wasnt round for long , it had the v4 engine,, the xr4i needs a spot of welding round the front bumper bracket on the drivers side and a bit on the sills ,, also it needs a few new bushes underneath ,, the engine is now stripped and rebuilt with crankshaft reground and barrels honed and new rings it runs realy nice ,, only 1 slight drawbak tho , you cant get propper 4 star petrol anymore ,, i use the v power that you get from shell , its 99 ron ,just have to add a few drops of lead replacment addative ,,also its great to insure because of its age its only half the price as my scooby and uses less fuel

  10. What surprises me about Sierras is how few have survived. You still see an old Cortina or Escort or Astra or Marina, but I don’t know the last time I saw a Sierra. For a car which was once a common sight, they disappeared very quickly and completely.

    • Good point. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Sierra hatchback, Sapphire or estate? I see way more Escort mk2’s, BMW E30 3-series and Mercedes 190E. I think there is more chance of seeing Sierra RS Cosworth models than standard models. Such a shame for ma car in production for 11 years. Same goes for Vauxhall Carlton and Senator. Extinct in suburbia.

      • Yes I’ve not seen a non-sporting Sierra for quite a few years either. I’m guessing the surviving ones only come out for shows.

        I heard a lot of Carltons & Senators were scrapped when fuel prices were high a few years ago & were too uneconomic to run.

        Mk3 Granadas are also hard to see, but I spotted a nice looking L reg example at a garage near me.

        • Any survivors are likely crawling out the other side of banger valley, where any uneconomical repairs are now worth it to keep a classic on the road.

  11. I’ve had two Sierras in my time, the first a very early ‘C’ plated XR4x4 with optional aircon and ABS which I kept for about a year, it was a good steed apart from an occasional ignition fault which caused it to cut out randomly. The roadholding was simply awesome, lovely V6 hooligan soundtrack too.

    The second was a 1992 2.0i GLX on a ‘J’ plate, this had the DOHC engine I bought it at 2 years old with 60k on the clock and sold it five years later and 140k under it’s belt, it never missed a beat. The DOHC engine pulled really well in the midrange, very torquey, and the MT75 gearbox (the MTX75 version mentioned above was the FWD version)was a much shorter throw than the original 5 speeder. This car was fast and frugal, it always averaged around 38-40mpg and I didn’t hang about in it either! A real faithful ‘Collie Dog’ of a car that just worked and it was a comfy bus too, the later ‘curved dash’ improved the ergonomics a bit too (which were pretty good even in the early cars)

    As KC says, where are they all now? MK1’s especially are a very rare sight today.

  12. There is a pretty minted A reg beige L sitting on a forecourt at a small garage in the south of Edinburgh just now.

    Part of the problem with massively successful cars, produced in their millions, is they are never seen as future classics at the time. Like the Mini, which was originally built and painted in such a way that longevity was never a consideration, the Cortina and Sierra have seen their numbers dwindle to a handful as they would have been ‘thrown away’ once they got to the end of their useful lives. Nowadays, enthusiasts will try and rescue cars that would normally be considered scrappers to try and preserve what few potential roadgoing examples are left.

    When I think of how many Cortinas, Sierras, Mk2 Granadas, Fiestas, Escorts etc you would see daily in the 80’s, their scarcity now is something we have a right to puzzle over I suppose.

    • Don’t think there is any puzzle. The 80s finished 25 years ago. Cars aren’t designed to last that long. 80s Fords were mostly killed off by:
      Theft/joyriding (big in the 90s)
      Banger racing
      Rising Steel prices

  13. Most Sierras I see now are Sapphires that have been butchered by boy racers to vaguely resemble Cosworths, who use them to drift round roundabouts.

    I fear rust has gotten most regular examples, and as they always seemed so modern no-one probably thought to keep some in good order as per Cortinas.

    I did see one up until about 5 years ago doing Taxi work!

  14. How many mk1 Mondeos do you see about these days?

    My theory is that few mainstream cars survive what I like to call “banger valley”.

    A car is new, highly desirable. Becomes nearly new used, still highly desirable. After a few years it becomes cheap then it is thought of as a banger – simple repairs can render it scrap or sent off to be a banger racer.
    Eventually they become so rare that you see one and you go “Havent seen one of them in a while”, then it starts to become desirable again through sheer rarity and the “I remember when those were everywhere” factor. Eventually they become very sought after as classics.

  15. Up & to recently I had not seen many in Essex but there seems to been a lot appearing on the roads recently, and they have not been butchered by boy racers. A good place to spot them is rural Norfolk, especially the esates which many of the farmers used as work horses.
    The car may not have been as advanced as it looked, it did bring up the standard of interiors for the mainstream rep mobile, and from my experience of them were pretty reliable old motors who failed due to rust, as much as the opposition did.

  16. These were good cars, really – I had a couple of four-cylinder ones that I didn’t really do much with (inevitably acquired as swaps and hurriedly disposed of), but found the XR4x4s to be lovely with the V6 – I had a white D-reg Mk 1, a blue 2.8 Mk 2 that came to a rather sticky end after hitting black ice (4×4 is no use when no wheels have grip) and a lovely black 2.9 Mk 2 with heated screen, tinted lights etc.

    Then I got an XR4i to replace my Supra, and liked it so much I seriously considered spending the budget for a contract hire car on having it restored. The V6, the performance, the visibility – it was lovely. Unfortunately extensive rust in the rear inner wings conspired with cheap deals on RX8s for RWD thrills, and it went elsewhere.

    The XR4i is definitely my favourite, though I’d really like the XR4i bodyshell with XR4x4 running gear.

  17. A lot of 1980s car seemed to vanish from the roads quicky, faster than cars from other decades.

    I’m guessing being the last cars unable to use unleaded & the first with “gadgety” features like electronic ignition have thinned the numbers down.

    I’ve only seen 3-4 Mk Sierras in the lasr 5 years, though I still see decent looking Mk2s every now & again.

  18. For such a conservatively engineered car it really did look amazingly futuristic when it first came out- even such features as flush wheeltrims and plastic aerodynamic bumpers were not that common.

    The interior looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. A friend of mine had an early Y Reg 2.3 Ghia in black, with grey velour seats. It really looked amazing despite it being quite old at the time. The ride quality was not good, however, particulary on rough or unmade roads- so the ‘Citroenesque’ illusion quicky evaporated…

  19. I remember me & my brother thinking they looked futuristic when they first came out.

    My brother cut out a full page ad out of a magazine showing the dashboard of the Ghia, mostly due to the (for the time) impressive amount of controls.

    One problem I’ve hard iwth the Mk1 Sierras was a lack of cross wind stability, which was corrected my slightly reshaping the boot lid on the Mk2.

  20. The crosswinds were partly corrected with little ‘fins’ behind the rear side window – black plastic extensions, screwed on, from memory.

  21. @21, Richard16378,

    The Escort Mk3 was another Ford that was notoriously unstable in crosswinds, and also if you hit a patch of standing water on one side. I had one for a while (and I don’t miss it).

    I once drove it onto the old Severn Bridge at 70mph, and crawled off it at about 15mph, as I was absolutely certain that the car must have had a puncture, such was the total lack of stability and inability to remain in my chosen lane at speed. So when the motorway broadened again and I could use the hard shoulder, I stopped. Tyre pressures were fine, it was purely the strong sidewind. And the car had three passengers and luggage which ought to have weighed the car down for a little added straight line stability. I’ve used that bridge a lot in different cars and never had that problem in any other- mind you, I’ve never owned a Sierra…

  22. They imported Sierra XR4is to the states as Merkur XR4Tis (Along with mk3 Granadas). According to Wikipedia, they planned to bring in other ‘top of the range’ Fords such as the Sapphire, but low sales, a strong deutchmark and federal requirements put paid to that.

    Andy Rouse drove one in the BTCC.

  23. Merkurs have a 2.3 Lima turbo engine, though. America is responsible for the 4.0 Cologne that makes XR4is very, very interesting indeed however!

  24. South Africa got an XR8, a Sierra with a 5.0 V8 engine from a Mustang.

    Externally it looked like a 5 door XR4x4, it had a “Ghia” style grille with the pre-facelift wide headlights but with a slatted grille.

  25. Will, the XR8 looked almost identical to the UK 2.0 iS externally, complete with 2 tone paintwork, and wheeltrims(not alloys) as standard. The side rubbing strip inserts were blue on them too. There is at least 1 XR8 in the UK

  26. The reason you see so few Sierras and indeed Mondeos is…..
    a. The scrappage scheme,
    b. They were Joe average cars, not good at any one thing,
    c. They have more modern electronics than their predecessors and represent more of a challenge to the DIY enthusiast,
    d. Many of them were modified (****ed up) by Chavs, so finding an original example is tough.
    e. Many of them were less than secure so got pinched by Chavs and written off in the mid ’90s.

  27. add terminal rust to that list, fords seem to start to disolve from a very young age,
    Compare late R8 Rover 200’s to a late Escort for example.

    Never really liked the Sierra, it was old tech in a frumpy skirt, and felt cheap.

    Fix Or Repair Daily reputation did it no harm though.

  28. The Sierra was not a “good” car, certainly the early ones.
    Had a new Sierra 1.6 from the dealer while the Mk V Cortina was being serviced.

    The instability ot 70mph on the motorway was truly frightening, zig zag zig zag from white line to white line.

    Recall the Sierra write offs due to shell buckle? Minor accidents made them irrepairable. Neil Kinnock, Labour party leader made the news after his Sierra accident, loss of control on a motorway, that infamous lane to lane weave again.

    The Sierra was just a Friday afternoon car, cobbled together and released too soon on the guinea pig public to face the Vauxhall FWD Cavalier and Astra cars, both of which were vastly superior to the Ford offerings

    • There was a lot of Daily Mail type articles at the time criticising the Sierras crosswind stability – I never encountered any problems with my early (1984) car. The Cavalier certainly was not superior in anyway – except it offered a saloon when at the time that was what fleet buyers wanted.

      • Sorry, but that’s just plain wrong. The Cavalier‘s engines were greatly superior to the rough old pintos dished up in the Sierra. Early camshaft problems apart.

        • The 1.6 engine in the Cavalier was more economical, more refined and more powerful. The only advantage the Sierra had was V6 engines, which transformed the car into a refined and fast long distance cruiser. I always rated the estate with the V6 and the XR4i.

    • The Audi TT required more than aerodynamic spoilers to correct a roadholding safety issue, cars were recalled from owners and shipped back to the factory for major suspension modifications. There were a number of fatalities which triggered an investigation and then a recall of the TT

    • The Audi TT required more than aerodynamic spoilers to correct a roadholding safety issue, cars were recalled from owners and shipped back to the factory for major suspension modifications including retrofitting an electronic vehicle stability control system, ( shades of the Mrecedes A class) . There were a number of fatalities which triggered an investigation and then a recall of the TT

  29. The launch photo (at top) is a 1.6L if I recall. At that time I thought the Sierra’s design was very futuristic and forward looking. Now of course, it looks dated. Nice to see these archive images though…

    • The photo of the blue Sierra at the top of this article is a bit of a mix up. The wheel trims are GL while the side mirrors are from the base model. Its seats are maybe GL by the shape of the headrest, definitely not the base seats which had the A frame headrest. Dad had a 2.3D base and the non-internal adjusting base mirrors would rattle with the engine. Was one slow carcass of a car. Head gasket failure was common on the 2.3D, something about the Ford gasket being at fault. The bad handeling and poor fuel economy of the Sierra let it down. The pinto with the VV carburettor, 25mpg at best. If they were not the units made in Germany or Belgium rust was deadly. Typically of Fords at the time they seemed to be a good car when launched then as time goes on the scales fall from your eyes. Yeh a P405 or MK3 Cavalier were better cars. Late 1980’s and early-mid ’90’s was Sierra land, there were everywhere and never off TV shows. I liked the dashboards on them though.

      • The blue car I believe is an LX. The opinion on rust is actually quite wrong. The quality at Cologne or Saarloius were about the same as Dagenham. My father worked for Ford at Dagenham and he visited Cologne and there was no difference in quality other than they stopped the line to sort a problem instead of shoving them round into a repair bay. In fact quality level at Dagenham was measured by Ford’s own quality team and they achieved the same result as Cologne.

      • The blue Sierra on the photo is a L model built before the first small 84 restyling
        Since 1984, the L version had chrome trimmed windows and GL wing mirrors

        The actual wing mirrors on the photo were the same as the basic model (Special) and headrests were like this

  30. Very comfortable motorway cars, but one such D reg car (just before the rusty facelift) was the worst case of NVH I have evr encountered. 2.0 pinto carb Estate drone box, with a hint of ringing at certain frequencies. After 4 years it required a manual choke fitting too as I remember….

  31. I found my Sierra abandoned by my brother in the backyard of my parents house. It was the cheapest MK2 ’89 1.6 C with 4-speed type 9 manual gear box and OHC-engine. I 40…50 tkm with it. It had nearly 300 tkm in the clock and the engine was totally in the end it’s lifeline. Camshaft was worn out because of the lack lubrication (typical problem in OHC engines, lubricating pipe on the shaft doesn’t flow). Carburetted OHC-engine could pass finnish emission test, but it was pain, every year. I could crank it (and get it running) in -19 C temperatures, but now below that. Engine was really crap, even after I adjusted valves, summer 11 l/100 km and winter time 13 l/100 km average. But the engine was the only bad thing in the car, I really liked the roomy modifiable trunk, independent rear suspension and very optimized and light Mcpherson suspension in the front. It was fun to drive in the winter time. It would be great to have cosworth or MK2 with 2.0 Zetec E.

  32. Does anyone in the UK remember the TV commercial in 1983 for the launch of the XR4i which used Vangelis’ ‘Chariots of Fire'(Main Theme)as the soundtrack?
    I remember that commercial to this day. If, somehow, it could be sourced, it would be lovely to upload it to one of the video networking sites, (youtube or similar).

  33. I remember the advert and how much of a laugh it gave us. The Sierra was a sheep in wolfs clothing other than the Cossies. The early ones were an amorphous jelly mould and fairly ugly. The later model Sapphire was a lot better looking but, TBH, none of them were very pleasant inside.

    I used to get 1.6L’s on hire from Hertz and they were a complete nightmare on a wet and windy motorway. I actually took one back totally convinced that there was a problem with the steering. The reply was “they’re all like that”. Afterwards I used to put on my hire forms “NOT A SIERRA”.

    The fitment of the small strakes behind the rear window and changes to the wheel trims helped but the Sierra was never the most stable in any sort of crosswind. The Sapphires were again better than the hatch in this department. As for the engines, the 1.6 Pinto was just about adequate but the 1.8CVH had a terrible reputation for reliability never mind that they were all harsh and noisy. (CVH = Constant Vibration & Harshness in one of the car mags, and they were right).

    Basic spec ones weren’t a bundle of joy inside either and missed out on many useful “toys” that the Ghias got as standard. My experience was that the Sierra was nowhere as good as the Mk2 Cavalier – at least, I know which I would rather have had!

  34. Ahh brings back memories, my Boss had a chocolate brown 1.6L an early one I think either Y or A reg, as it had the large Seat Belt light reminder that stayed for around 15 seconds, however it was pretty tired for having just under 70k miles, He sold it to the local dodgy car dealers gave us most of their warranty work, I was there when the new owner proclaimed ” I prefer around 55 k, so was given the Law Breaking task of removing the speedo to make the car appear less abused, when low and behold a sticker was on the back which said “Ohh No Not Again !”.

    My Boss wasn’t took happy about this but as we were going to do the same…. As the deed had been done and delivered to the Car Sales I remember showing my mates the car and said check the mileage, For a chocolate Brown colour it actually looked good including valeted beige seats, but the mileage had been changed again to 45K.

    My Boss later replaced it with the Peugeot cast off 2.3D Sierra, C reg, another L trim level but much improved in certain areas but the long gearstick instead of the short through Cortina item and foot to the floorboard waiting for things to happen engine made it a ponderous chariot.

    He did have the car for a few years when it literally fell apart, though the engine just kept going. I remember the Launch and was fascinated by the Ghia with its clock and vehicle door open map, However have lost count how many cover sills have welded to these.

  35. I was part of the Sierra design team at Cologne and i´am sorry to tell you that Patrick le Quement was NOT the designer of that car.The original Toni concept came from Gerd Hohenester(ex Opel)I started the Sierra program,as leader of the advanced design studio and Friedl Wülfing (production design studio)finalised the project.U.Bahnsen never liked the Sierra design.It was Ray Everts who pushed the design process in Cologne.

  36. Probably the biggest mistake with the Sierra was its name. It should have been Cortina again in the UK. Remember in 1992 the Cortina name was only 20 years old. The same age Mondeo is now, whilst the Escort lasted nearly 30 years and the Fiesta is 37 and still going strong. The Cortina had been through metamorphis before, from the utilitarian Mk2 to the US inspired boudoir on wheels Mk3 and survived, whilst the Escort had gone from leaf sprung horse and cart to smart front wheel drive Euro hatch just a couple of years before. Run out sales of the Mk5 would have combined with the new car to keep the name top of the charts and the car would have been deemed a success from the word go, instead of raking up dodgy Daily Mail stories about crosswind behaviour and crash resistance.

    • hi sir ive got sierra 2.3GLX i love it so much ive been owning it scince 1998 to date but i need little help from you on what to do to make it perform better all the machenics have just putted it on its worst performance..pleas help

  37. Probably the biggest mistake with the Sierra was its name. It should have been Cortina again in the UK. Remember in 1982 the Cortina name was only 20 years old. The same age Mondeo is now, whilst the Escort lasted nearly 30 years and the Fiesta is 37 and still going strong. The Cortina had been through metamorphis before, from the utilitarian Mk2 to the US inspired boudoir on wheels Mk3 and survived, whilst the Escort had gone from leaf sprung horse and cart to smart front wheel drive Euro hatch just a couple of years before. Run out sales of the Mk5 would have combined with the new car to keep the name top of the charts and the car would have been deemed a success from the word go, instead of raking up dodgy Daily Mail stories about crosswind behaviour and crash resistance.

  38. Good article on a car that made me faint with excitement when I was a 10 year old Autocar-reading nipper, but it needs a damn good proofread. I will do it if you email it to me, Keith.

  39. I had an F reg Sierra 4×4 estate (with air con!)Ghia spec for 5 years,what a great car that was!! No problems whatever,drove it to Spain and back 3 times. Got into a race with an Audi,chased it for 3 miles on a motorway no chance catching it,even at 125mph!! Caught it later in a garage,it was an audi rally car driven by an Audi driver. 300 bhp. No match for me but the Sierra was good to drive and pretty quick R.I.P.Forget to say it had a 2.8 engine.

  40. When I started gainful employment in 85, I got my first chance to look under the bonnet of a low spec (I think 1.6L) early Sierra and was surprised how agricultural it lookd like compared with my dad’s Rapier’s, Sceptre’s let alone Alpine and Horizons I had previously had a chance to play with.

    Even had a pressed steel direct belt driven fan, rather than the much more efficient moulded plastic I would have expected (Viscous linked fans in the later Rapier/Sceptre and electric in the Alpine). I think even the lowly Sunbeam 1.0LS came with an electric fan.

  41. I went to the Boilerhouse exhibition at the V&A for the Sierra when I was at Southbank Poly reading Engineering Product Design. I can remember complaining that the exhibition had added to the myth that doing some styling sketches would mean that all the unseen engineering would magically appear. Looking at the development timeline the engineering phases took about 90% of the R&D time yet were not mentioned. All aspects of the design (in its widest sense) are important.
    This same approach has been continued in the Boilerhouse successor; the Design Museum of which I walked out of at that the original opening event because they continue to misinform the public. Engineering is an integral part of the design process. They continue, for example, to say that Kenneth Grange designed the original HST train; he just styled the nose. What about all those who designed / engineered the rest of the train!

  42. The Cortina, regardless of what the enthusiasts tell you, was getting on by 1982 and losing out to the Cavalier. The Sierra was a brilliant masterstroke, futuristic styling that buyers slowly warmed to with proven Cortina technology underneath. I once had a lift from Carlisle to Whitehaven with my local MP, who had a Sierra 2.3 Ghia, and was amazed at how luxurious, futuristic and powerful it was. It made a 2.3 Ghia Cortina I’d been in a few years previously seem primitive with its basic dash and wind down windows.

  43. Graham @43, like the Cortina, smaller engined Sierras were meant to be simple and endure high mileages that most would endure as fleet cars and as taxis. Most owners would expect a 1.6 Sierra to be able to do 20,000 miles a year with little trouble, be capable of cruising reasonably quietly on the motorway and be cheap to maintain. This is why the old Pinto technology endured until 1988.
    However, while the CVH engines were more refined, economical and offered more power, they were prone to heavy oil consumption and premature failure and along with the awful 1990 Escort and the uninspiring 1989 Fiesta, seemed to tarnish the brand for a few years. No wonder fleets and taxis turned increasingly to the Mark 3 Cavalier after 1988.

  44. #45.
    The Cortina was getting on, but the Sierra was no masterstroke, more of kneejerk reaction to the competition,and launched in an unfinished state with serious problems to be ironed out, especially the Y reg cars which were terrifyingly unstable at 70 mph, first hand experience!, Cortinas being the cars that came with my job, a major American Computer company where everyone had a company car, even the warehouse staff!

    I drove the 1.6L through to the 2.0 Ghia with the odd Sierra as a loan car.

    Vauxhall Cavalier became the mainstay car for the fleet, records gave the Cavalier a 10 mpg advantage over the Sierra, such was the superiority of the GM engine.

    At lease renewal, who opted for the Sierra? Not many, mainly caravan owners who sought RWD and the pub bores for the conversational merits of electric windows/sunroofs/aerials (you know the type) . Ford having bulled up the Fleet Sierra specification until way above the Vauxhall offering

  45. @47 Hardly a knee jerk reaction, read the article Project Toni started in the late 70s, long before the FWD Ascona/Cavalier appeared. The Cortina was a British phenomenon. In mainland Europe its Taunus twin sold in tiny numbers so overall Cortina/Taunus volume was pretty small, despite the Cortinas record breaking UK sales. The Sierra was Fords attempt to produce a car with pan-European appeal, less dependent on the discount hungry, low margin UK fleet market. To some extent it worked – witness the dramatic upturn in German sales. As I said in my earlier post though, if they had kept the Cortina name for the UK market sales would have suffered less here and they could have had their cake and eat it.

    • Ford had almost no presence in France and Italy, and even in Germany, where Ford had factories, their market share was poor. The brand was seen as some dull Anglo- American manufacturer of cars that mostly were sold to British car fleets and had little sophistication. I can remember being in France in 1980 and the only Fords I saw were owned by British tourists. The Sierra did better, but visiting France again in 1983 and 1990, Fords were never a familiar sight.

  46. I think the later Sierras with the smoked light clusters was a fairly sound car,the early batch of CVH engines Smoked their stones off due to production process failure,the pistons were graded A to D – a few thou here and a few thou there but was incorrectly matched to the block. This led to engines replaced under warranty if raised as a customer concern.

    One of the best handling cars of their time was the XR4x4.

  47. My uncle bought a 2.3 diesel it scarred me for life!
    He left it in our yard until the tax ran out on his current Escort, occasionally I’d be elected to move it -when it was in the way.
    Nondescript seats welcomed me, into low seated cabin with quite small windows, after inserting the horrid round key it seemed eternity before the heat light would extinguish and the clonker would fire up. It would then crawl to the next elected parking space!
    To me brought up in BL tin it shouted cheap tat.
    A RWD car in ’82 they must be having a laugh……

  48. @Merlin – I am a trained Industrial Designer (Newcastle Polytechnic), and attended the Kenneth Grange exhibition at the Design Museum – there was no attempt made to denigrate the efforts of the engineering design team. However, the original design of the train and carriages was an ‘engineering-led’ typical British design of the 70s. What Grange did was no more or less important than the work David Bache did on the Range Rover – he took a sound engineering design and improved the aerodynamics, ergonomics and improved the interiors of the rolling stock in a way no mechanical engineer ever could. I’m a bit sick of industrial designers being sen as second best – had the InterCity 125 been left to the engineers it would have functioned, but that’s about all……it’s a team effort.

  49. @ Simon. Please read what I said “All aspects of the design (in its widest sense) are important”.
    Re, Kenneth Grange, I was talking about the original Design Museum on the South Bank when it opened in the late 80s not the recent KG exhibition. It gave regard to the complete project.
    I used to love going to the Design Centre in the Haymarket where fabrics, kettles, diggers, aeroplane engines and graphics would be shown together.
    Half my degree was industrial design and I use to work for part of Moggeridge associates.

  50. The Cortina was very much a British car, as it sold best here, and even though they made the Taunus equivalent in Germany, it never sold particularly well across Europe. The Sierra was an attempt to make a family Ford car that would do as well in Europe as the Cortina did in Britain. I know I saw quite a few in Belgium and Germany in the late eighties, but I wonder how it did in territories where Ford always found it difficult like France and Italy.

  51. @I’m with you on this. I remember hearing the name of the real HST designer, who lead the Derby Railway Technical Centre Engineering team in the early 70s but have forgotten it. Google HST designer and only Kenneth Grange pops up. A styling consultant who wouldnt know a buffer from a bogie and who decided how to apply the livery and the pointy nose. This is par for the course. Everyone refers to Roy Axes Rovers or Ian Callums Jaguars. The guys who make the things go, stop, handle and perform in a crash test are completely forgotten. No wonder Issigonnis didnt trust or involve stylists. It would have been Sergios Mini otherwise! – Paul H CEng

  52. The public didn’t warm to the Sierra’s looks -facelift of the Sierra lost a lot of the original’s blobbiness, it was all sharpened up, even down to the corners of the windows, it had to conform to broaden it’s appeal.

    One good point was the ability to securely carry milk cartons if you folded down the rear armrest in a Sapphire. The real advance since 1980 is the proliferation of the cubby-hole.

    Haven’t seen either a Sierra or a milk carton for a long time.

  53. @Merlin & Paul H – unfortunately when you talk about the original Design Museum you are referring to the original curator Stephen Bayley – IMHO an elitist knobhead who is wheeled out once in a while to give his completely biased opinion on design, which will always err on the side of the creative end of the design team. However, just to remove one element of prejudice, industrial designers haven’t been ‘stylists’ since the 1960s.

  54. Incidentally, Issigonis’s anti-style Maxi and 1800/2200 series ‘landcrab’ were runaway successes weren’t they? Funny how the Pinin ‘styled’ 1100/1300 were the best selling British car of the 60s…..hmmmm 😀 (hint – team effort) Simon H Ba(Hons) MCIOB ACIAT

  55. In 1982 I was a 16 year old school boy & one of my friends told me about his father’s new company car, it was one of the very first Sierra’s on the road & the following Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited for a trip out in it, we drove from the south Manchester snoburbs down the M6 to Stoke on Trent, other car’s slowed down to look at it & after our shopping trip the car was completely surrounded by curious people & my friend’s dad did a quick questions & answering session before we left. It was like something from another planet to all who saw it! It was a Y reg white 1.6L with mirror’s hinged at the top & moon disc plastic wheel trims.

  56. Still ugly after all these years. Luckily they wern’t sold in Australia, so we were spared the horror of roads full on the uglyness. Alas, the Australian Touring Car Championship grids were full of ’em. And you couldn’t even buy ’em here!
    Bonded screens- my ’69 Buick has them, ditto my 1971 Holden HQ. Nothing new there.

  57. @Chris

    I hear that the Sierra was sold in NZ, as an estate car in 84 and then eventually as a small range in the early 90s.

    Strange AU never got it, the 79 Falcon looked like a larger Cortina/Granada. The 82 Telstar (Mazda 626 based) was a similar proposition to the Sierra, albeit FWD.

    With Ford AU production to cease, ending the Falcon, the Fiesta-Focus-Mondeo line is going to look very similar to the UK lineup (which will by then be mostly made up of various sized SUVs and MPVs)

  58. @Simon H
    Sadly the words design and engineering are misused in current parlance. Many do not understand the nuances between ‘industrial design’, ‘product design’ and ‘engineering design’. This is not helped by ‘technicians’ being called engineers. Also the word creative can equally apply to an engineer or to a advertised graphic designer. Where the design museum fell down was that it mainly concentrated on the visual aesthetics. That is perfectly fine provided that they inform the public that that is only part of the product development process. What one calls the more visual / ergonomic side of design is a difficult matter to convey to the public.

  59. Amazing,after all these years the Sierra still divides opinions.Still remember peering through the local Ford dealer in Worksop(Gregorys)back in September 1982 and being amazed that Ford really did have the courage to bring this aero car to production.

  60. Back on topic – I always liked the early ones myself – a neighbour had a white 1.6GL – A reg I think – coming from my Dad’s Vauxhall VX, the Sierra was quite a revelation – certainly the interior – I’d never seen so many warning lights on the dash (the GL had a cut-down version of the Ghia’s info display). I also thought the little valuables cubby on the rear parcel shelf was a clever touch. I finally drove one in later years – a really rough facelift estate, which smelt of dog, and had a knackered rear diff…..sadly it wasn’t the greatest driving experience of my life. I personally think the sweet spot was the ’85 model year facelifts, where all models got the original Ghia front end, the aerodynamic upgrades, and a better choice of trims and colours. I always thought the later Scorpio-style facelift, and the Sapphire, were cop-outs!

  61. Thanks to this car, with its pre-stressed inner wings MiG welders became the norm in workshops-and now becoming a thing of the past with modern cars.

  62. When he was about 20 our eldest son bought a bog standard Sierra at about nine o’clock on a Friday night. He paid 320 quid for it – nothing even in those days.
    At eight o’clock the next day he picked his girl friend up and went touring Europe touching on Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany etc. They were gone three weeks and did thousands of miles – I can’t remember exactly how many.
    When they got back he still hadn’t lifted the bonnet and nothing had broken.
    He kept it for several months (bit of a record for him) and he sold it to a mate for 320 quid.
    Sierras are fine in my book!

  63. I went yo the 1982 NEC motor show when the Sierra was launched. I was 14 and thought it was amazing. The following year my Dad got a 2.0GL company car, A708HFA in Rosso red with the optional 5 speed box. That did 125’000 in over 2 years with no bother. Years later I had a number of Sierras including two early 5 speed 1.6L’s, a 1988 Sapphire 1.6 Emax and a 2.0iS. Imo the original Sierra was the best and they look the least dated now. I never had issues with instability. Everything Ford did to improve the Sierra spoiled it – the best one was the 1986 2.0is with the fuel injection Pinto. It was brisk, very good on fuel and utterly reliable. The CVH and DOHC engines were garbage. The Emax was a joke – the original 1.6 with the VV carb were faster and more economical!

  64. I have owned a 1993 Sierra GT Estate since 2002 and it is still as reliable as ever.

    I have worked out that over the eleven plus years I have had it, it has cost me a pound a day in servicing and repairs. I can still go to my local, 300 yards from home, spares shop and get everything I need for it.

  65. I love the original Ford Sierra and it had a massive impact on me when my Dad took me to my first motor show (Birmingham, 1982) when I was eight years old. I blogged about the experience here:

    I still really like the detailing on the original Sierras. Those slatted aerodynamic wheeltrims, with three slats marking out the Ghia. The slightly raised lip on the top of the Ghia’s rear bumper. The subtle black horizontal stripes on the Ghia’s rear lights (you sure got a lot of diferent stuff on the Ghia in those days!) I think I read somewhere that the look of the windows with the near flush glass and the corner radii on both the Porsche 928 and later the Sierra were both inspired by commercial airliner cockpit windows.

    The moulded plastic interior door handle pulls when every other car had the pull up pins. The futuristic (at the time) name badge design. I still think the way the top of the front wing goes into the A post and the position and angle of the panel gap between them is exquisite. Vauxhall must have through so too because they copied it on the fourth generation Astra:

    I remember at one point there were a couple of Mk1 Sierras near where we lived. A lovely 2.3L Ghia about five minutes’ walk away that I just used to go and gawp at and a red (they always seemed to be red!) Sierra Saloon with the plastic grill. Who else remembers that bottom of the range variant? When you read the equipment list nowadays it’s so basic!

    The post 1987 facelift Sierras are much less interesting to me and seemed to be a regression from the design’s original vision, although I realise that poor early sales meant Ford were forced into broadening the car’s appeal.

    As another commenter said, it is amazing how the Sierra’s design does still divide opinion. People forget some of the technological advances it brought to the mainstream. For example, moulded polycarbonite bumpers, or flush bonded laminate windscreens rather than having a windscreen surrounded by a big ugly rubber seal.

    I know the Cosworth variant helped save the Sierra because its motorsport success stimulated sales, but I think it’s a shame that it dominates the history of the car so much and makes it hard to find information on the early models. Not to mention all the lovely early examples sacrificed in the name of making cheap Cossie replicas.

    There’s an Open University programme from 1984 from their T263 product design course called “The Shape of Cars to Come” that’s all about the Sierra that I partially saw on TV once that I’m particularly keen to track down. Talking of which, isn’t it amazing what people put on the Internet?! –

  66. I can vaguely remember the word back in the day when buying used was to try and get a cologne built sierra because the Dagenham ones fell to bits. I can remember a mate’s 5 year old sierra with rusty arches and sills. strangely the doors used to rust just under the windows too.
    Sadly NOT the last of Ford’s rotters, the old model KA is appalling in this respect.

  67. Apropos of nothing, I have just checked Autotrader for used Sierras. Those on sale are either £600 bangers or Cosworths worth over £10,000, there’s no middle ground..

  68. Excellent article Guys!

    Are there any books covering the involvement of the three men, Uwe Bahnsen, Robert Lutz and Patrick le Quément behind the design of the Ford Sierra, and the work circumstances they experienced?

  69. salve, ho una sierra 1.8 ICVH DEL 1989, COME NUOVA , ARGENTO motore è perfetto ha 160.000 km e non ho ancora canbiato frizione e dischi freni. e’ ancora molto comoda anche se un po’ difficile da guidare in curva se si è veloci. in complesso è una grna macchina ancora esteticamente bella da vedere. non ha un filo di ruggine. solo qualche problema di carburazione quando piove o c’è umidità , ma è molto confortevole. l’ho iscritta come auto storica e ho tutti i pezzi diu ricambio pere quando avrà piu’di 50 anni.

  70. By the 1980s, Ford, like GM, was in the process of harmonising its model line across Europe – and by then the Cortina and Taunus were identical. I was surprised that earlier versions of the Taunus were produced in right hand drive and sold in South Africa and Rhodesia.

    I don’t think there would have been any advantage in selling the Sierra as a Cortina in the UK as it was too different – there was a hatchback but no saloon until 1987. In the Asia Pacific market, the equivalent Ford Telstar (based on the Mazda 626) was a saloon and hatchback, but there was no estate, meaning that Ford New Zealand assembled the Sierra estate to fill the gap in the market.

    In South Africa, the fake grille was used on all Sierra models, not just on the Sierra Sapphire saloon, which was simply known as the Ford Sapphire. After 1990, the grille became standard in the rest of Europe, as right hand drive Sierra production switched from Dagenham to Genk in Belgium. The reason for the “pointless demarcation” was probably to make the Sierra saloon seem more like a successor to the Cortina.

    Ford in Venezuela used the Sapphire name, but not the grille, while Ford in Argentina didn’t bother with the facelift at all – the Sierra was replaced by the Ford Galaxy, which was a reskinned version of the 1981 VW Santana, a product of a model-sharing venture called Autolatina. It also resulted in the VW Apollo (a rebadged Mk3 Escort).

    Brazil never got the Sierra, instead having the Del Rey, which was based on an old Renault model although it looked like a Cortina/Taunus, nor did Australia, which got the Telstar, although that too was replaced by the Corsair, which was based on the Nissan Pintara under a government-backed model-sharing scheme which also saw the Toyota Corolla and Camry sold as the Holden

    By the late 1990s, the Mondeo had replaced all these bizarre exercises in badge-engineering.

  71. The Latin American markets seemed to get all sorts of odd rebadgings & body styles not seen elsewhere.

    There seemed to be all sorts of random teamups between the American big 3 & the Japanese makers to produce compact & sub-compact models.

    For once South Africa didn’t get anything too unusual!

  72. I still own a MK1 XR4i. I have had many sierras over the years the nicest being a MK2 4×4 which was stolen and set on fire.

    I have always found them to be really comfy, not got hard weats like the modern stuff. I would far rather go for a drive in the old girl than take out the 58 plate Mondeo I have.

    They have always proved reliable for me and easy to fix yourself. Parts are getting harder to find but I am lucky in that mine has never been welded and is rust free.

    Values are going up, so I will keep it a bit longer.

    I would however swap it for a mint south african XR8 if anyone has one!!!!

  73. All very interesting comments. I had a ’91 LX automatic Sapphire and what a superb car it was. The auto box was sublime, although the 1.8 (Zenith carb) engine was struggling sometimes, so you had to play the ‘box a bit. However in terms of comfort, road holding and reliability it was excellent. Even after eight years of ownership I enjoyed driving it. The steering was a bit heavy (no power steering) but it was so incredibly reliable we were sorry to see her go. It was the auto box which packed in eventually and she also needed the cills and welding underneath after 160,000 miles! I still have some photo’s of the car and all the places we went in her, Thank you H424TSA.

  74. A typical Ford masterstroke, introduce a car that looks completely fututistic and makes the Cortina look like something from the fifties, but continue with the proven Cortina mechanicals underneath so the car can peform reliably and be familiar to garages. Also, unlike the Cortina, continentai car buyers snapped up the Sierra in large numbers as it was seen as less of a British sales rep’s car than the Cortina.

  75. Did Ford ever look at making the Sierra FWD, possibly via an enlarged version of the Erika platformed used in the mk3/mk4 Escort and Orion along similar lines to the US market Ford Tempo that was said to be derived from a stretched Erika platform?

    While a FWD Ford Sierra would not be likely to feature the Cologne V6, given Ford apparently looked at 4×4 versions of the mk3/mk4 Ford Escort it is possible they would look at equipping the RS Cosworth version with 4×4 from the outset.

    • Not to my knowledge and my Uncle was working at Dunton at the time. Ford were very old fashioned and it was only when the opposition proved that FWD was wanted by both the private and commercial customer that they moved with the replacement being this. A perfect example is the Mk5 Fiesta. Ford had wanted to use the same basic underpinnings that had been in the Mk3 and 4 cars, while the engineers argued that this wheelbase was too small to compete in the marketplace. It was only because the opposition had brought out larger cars that the management relented.

    • I’m guessing that there was a fear of alienating customers in a traditionally conservative segment by introducing too many changes in design/platform.

      So Ford went with a futuristic design with a familiar RWD platform, whereas GM Opel-Vauxhall went with a conversatively styled design but with a new FWD platform (that was a true ‘world’ platform).

      By the early 90s with the mk3 Cavalier/Vectra A they were behind the curve and FWD for the Mondeo was a no-brainer (designed to be a replacement for the Erika based Tempo too – Contour / Mercury Mystique but too small for US tastes).

      • Most of the other rivals to the Cortina/Sierra went FWD in the early 80s, Nissan and Toyota switched to FWD, Fiat replaced the 131 with FWD Regata, plus our beloved Montego etc

        The Sierra quickly went from having a “normal” layout, to having an unusual one…

        • True, but big early 80s Nissans and Toyotas were conservatively styled, as was the Regeta and for the most part the Montego.

          My point was that they went for an “unusual” design but a known layout.

          I’m guessing if the Cortina replacement looked like the Hyundai Stellar they might’ve tried a FWD platform.

  76. The Cortina only seemed to do well in countries it was produced ( Britain, Belgium, Holland and, to a lesser extent, Germany, where it was badged as the Taunus), the rest of Europe seemed completely indifferent to what was seen as a dull, conservative car aimed at the British company car market. In France and Italy, the Cortina was a big flop and seen as unsophisticated and lacking in driving flair. The Sierra seemed to remedy this by adopting the futuristic styling loved by the French and introducing a high performance XR4i version to please the performance loving Italians.

  77. Drove one on launch day as a hire car. Nice to drive (I was used to a Mini) but on a slip road on the central motorway in Newcasle nearly drove into the back of a brand new Porche! Think it was the August 1st.

  78. Not a bad car, a big leap forward from the Cortina in terms of styling, but mechanically little better, as the Sierra used the same rwd technology and engines. The 1.3 versions were like mechanical slugs, and the 1.6, while acceptable in a seventies Cortina, was a noisy, thirsty and not very powerful engine by the mid eighties. It was no wonder fleet and used buyers were flocking to the Cavalier, which was a far better car to drive with fwd and far more economical and refined engine.
    That said, a V6 Sierra was a very nice drive in automatic form with plenty of smooth power and a futuristic cabin, and a 2.3 Ghia estate always looked very smart and better to drive than a Volvo 245. However, fuel consumption could drop to the low 20s around town.

    • I remember during its lifespan, the Sierra was also available with a 1.8 engine that I think produced 90bhp – not bad in LX form. Certainly better than the 1.3/1.6

  79. As a fresh faced young constable in the mid 1990s Royal Ulster Constabulary where the security situation was less than stable despite the so called ‘peace process’ our patrol vehicles in most rural areas were armoured 2 litre twin cam Sierras and Saphires. They were an exceptionally comfortable and capable car which saved many lives in murderous attacks. Despite their bulky armour and glass they had a fair turn of speed when required and I recall heading to emergency calls at an indicated 120 mph, despite their advised patrol speed of 45mph! I wouldn’t like to have had to stop in a hurry from that speed. I also was unlucky enough to have been in a head on collision as front seat observer in one, mercifully only about 30 mph. The poor Sierra was a write off, and my forehead didn’t fare too much better with 10 stitches required .compared to the modern armoured Vauxhall insignia that I was driving yesterday, I’d rather have been back in the old Ford.

  80. By 1988 there was another British built challenger, the Peugeot 405, a much better looking car than the Sierra, with the legendary XUD powering the diesel versions and petrol engined cars being both refined and economical. Also the Sunderland built Bluebird was snapping at the Sierra’s heels and while a very conservative car to look at, quickly built up a reputation for being a very reliable car that was also quite good to drive. Then, of course, the Mark 3 Cavalier arrived later in 1988, which was a much more robust car than the Mark 2 and was a better car to drive than the Sierra, even in 1.4 form.

  81. At the time the Sierra was launched, my company took delivery of one of the last MK V Cortina 1.6 base Estates. By that time, even the base versions were better equipped, but still no Radio!

    At least the Sierra Estate followed the Cortina Estate in being a cavernous load carrier

    • The base model Cortina by 1982 at least had fabric seats, a rear demister and a lighter to make life more bearable for the driver, compared with its stark seventies predecessors, but you needed an L to get the push button radio and a clock. Nothing to stop someone getting a radio for next to nothing from a scrapyard, of course, to make journeys more bearable.
      Also I do remember being in Sheffield in 1986/87 and two run out Cortina estates were still being used by BBC Radio Sheffield by their journalists and for OBs.

      • My colleague neatly fitted a Panasonic Radio cassette into his Cortina base Estate which sounded great. it also had fabric trim. Nearly, but not quite as good as the L variant, but much better than 1970’s base & L trim

  82. I always considered the XR4i to be a good car and an interesting alternative to the Capri Injection, using the same Cologne V6 and offering the same performance, but more futuristic looking. I wonder if this was Ford trying to muscle in on the market dominated by the BMW 6 series, but offering a better equipped and cheaper alternative. Also was the XR4i made in Germany or Dagenham?

    • Xr4s were made in Cologne if my memory is right. It was nice but the silly double rear aerofoil on the back was a bit tacky. I always preferred the later XR4x4 which was a great car.

      In South Africa they got an even madder car, the XR8, with a big v8 squeezed under the bonnet.

      • @daveh, I thought so as Cologne made the most desirable Fords in the eighties, leaving Dagenham and Halewood with Fiestas, Escorts and smaller engined Sierras. Also the XR4i made a controversial looking car very good looking with its coupe like body and better front end treatment. I can always remember the advert where the rich couple in Chelsea take off for a weekend ion the continent in their XR4i.
        Humbler Sierras were never really my scene, except for bigger engined estate cars, and I was always more of a Cavalier fan.

        • Dagenham did build most models except the XR4 and the V6. It did build estates up to 2.0. It was however where Cossies mostly started life.

          • @daveh, then production moved to Belgium in 1989, starting the big rundown of Ford production in Britain that would be completed by 2001 for cars and 2009 for vans. ;Luckily the engine plant at Dagenham was spared and Halewood moved over to making Jaguars when the Escort was cancelled.

          • Production of Sierras ran onto 1990, before the plant was moved over to full Fiesta production on both lines instead of just the one. When it finally closed as an assembly plant, the press shop survived for several more years producing pressings for Jaguar and Land Rover that had previously been outsourced.

  83. It was in the summer of 1989 that Ford announced Sierra production at Dagenham would end, so probably took some months to transfer everything over to Genk. Interestingly by then, Dagenham had become one of Ford’s most productive plants and industrial unrest was mostly dead.

  84. Today I followed a blue J reg Sierra Estate car on the A1M near Durham. It was doing about 60mph and holding its own alongside the other (much newer) cars. The bodywork looked tidy at a glance. Amazing at how compact it looked compared to the Crossovers, SUVs and other Estate cars (eg Focus). Was a bit like seeing an old friend.

  85. I’m looking for the scientific answer to the question of the severe steering instabilty of the early 1.6L moondisk Y-reg Sierra I had to drive soon after the Sierra launch. If a boat has the centre of gravity below the centre of bouyancy, the boat will be stable, if the c-of-g of the boat is above the c-of-bouyancy, the boat will capsize. As the Sierra pushed its way through the air, the air creates a pressure force on the car, did Ford create the Sierra with the centre of the air pressure force in an unsafe relationship to the centre of gravity of the car? The instabilty on my example was severe, the car would zig-zag so violently at 70mph it was a struggle to stay in lane on the motorway, the Cortina was perfectly stable at all speeds. Where did Ford go wrong with those early Sierras, and how did they fix it other than the rear window strakes fitted to later cars

      • I can recall the Neil Kinnock incident, the publicity was another knife in the back for the early Sierra, word of mouth of the stability problem among the company car drivers was another reason we opted for the Cavalier. The money spent on the publicity of the pre-launch and launch of the Sierra was enormous, but the car was seriously flawed at launch. Did Ford change the steering geometry settings of the Sierra or were early Sierra cars incorrectly setup for suspension on the assembly line?

        • The Sierra rear axle design was different from the Cortina, maybe it took a while for them to be set up right.

          Supposedly the 1.3 axle had different gearing, and as they didn’t sell well they are almost unobtainium these days.

  86. The Sierra was a thirstier car than the Cavalier, another reason not to consider it, and slower in 1.6 form. Also rwd and the cross wind instability meant it was less safe to drive, I could imagine a Sierra in heavy rain and strong winds being an interesting and nerve wracking drive. Cavalier all the way for me, better looking, better engines, better to drive and more economical. Later in the decade, I would say the Citroen BX, Mark 3 Cavalier, Peugeot 405 and Nissan Bluebird were far superior cars to the Sierra, and more affluent buyers were moving over to Audis and BMWs.

  87. The competitors named above all had the benefit of FWD too. I have driven Cav MKII, Pug 405 and Nissan Bluebird and they all felt comfortable with good power output. The Sierra was a car that came good in the end. The best of this bunch was probably the Cavalier MK3 run-out models with alloys and revised grille.

  88. I saw a white XR4i on the A66 a few weeks ago and it still looks totally radical and exciting nearly 40 years later. Yes cynics could say it was a rich Essex man’s car or oh so eighties with its rear spoilers and white body( other colours were available, but most seem to have been white). What a lot of the critics didn’t realise was the XR4i was a good sports coupe made by Ford Germany, which meant quality was good, had the well respected Cologne 2.8 under the bonnet, and could reach 130 mph. Being priced about £5000 less than a BMW 6 series and having Ford servicing and repair costs was another consideration.

  89. The 2.3 diesel was a noisy and sluggish nail, but almost unbreakable and soon developed a following among taxi drivers when they were trading in their Cortinas. 45 mpg against 30 for the Cortina, more interior space, an engine that could do 20k a year without any problems, Ford ownership costs, the Sierra diesel was just made for the taxi trade. Similarly the crude old Cavalier D did exactly the same if a taxi firm wanted a Vauxhhall and fwd.

  90. Recently purchased a 1986 mk 1 Sierra 1.8 Laser. Its been off the road since 2014 and has only 42k on the clock. Never been restored or welded. Will be taking it to a few shows this year.

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