Mike Humble takes another look at some of the less likely extinct cars in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.
Pictures: Andrew Elphick and Words: Mike Humble
7: Ford Sierra 1.6 Ghia E-Max
A truly massive advertising campaign in the press and the box ensued that the world knew about the new kid in town – who can ever forget the strains of Vangelis and Chariots Of Fire with the swooping helicopter shots of the Sierra XR4i. ‘Man and machine in perfect harmony’, was the tag line of the most expensive (at that time) 1983 TV advert. As quick as a flash, I peddled down to our local Ford Dealer – Skipper of Darlington, for a glossy brochure only to be told they had run out. My persistence paid off and I finally got one, my all time love of the SD1 was in risk of becoming second choice. I adored the aerodynamic look, the flush fitting headlamps, the epic bi-plane rear spoiler of the three-door XR4i and the way it paid no homage whatsoever to anything else on the market back in ’82.
The quiet suburban streets up and down the land back then were sprinkled with offerings such as Cavaliers, Marinas, Cortinas, Renault 18s and other varying three box saloon cars. Sales reps plied their wares in their Cortina 1.6Ls and everything seemed to have boot – to quote the great Huey Lewis, ‘it was hip to be square’. The Sierra changed all this but by no means was the car an overnight sales hit owing to Ford, quite literally, re-invented the wheel. Initial sales were slow as buyers rubbed their eyes trying to get a better view of the swooping jellymould shape and its tailgate that offered a cavernous luggage space. The wraparound cockpit design of the controls was an ergonomic masterpiece. There was nothing wrong with the cars, people just needed time to get used to it.
Buyers didn’t have much to be worried about. Underneath its sleek body a range of improved existing engines and gearboxes were to be found, it was very much the case of same meat different gravy. Power units were the 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0 OHC ‘Pinto’ engines and a pair of Cologne built V6 plants, the carb-fed 2.3 and injected 2.8. The latter delivered 160bhp, and added real drama to the range. Finally, there was the 2.3-litre diesel.
Gearboxes were based on the excellent N-Series type, again, seen before in the Cortina and Granada with a five-speed unit on the XR4i. Revisions included electronic ignition on the 4 cylinder cars with vastly improved engine and gearbox mounts to improve refinement, to finally rid the car of its transmission vibration that so affected the Pinto-engined Cortina. The suspension was changed too, with simple struts up front and a clever yet simple fully independent set up working at the rear.
Body styles included a three- and five-door hatchback, closely followed with a stylish looking five-door estate. The interior was a world apart from the outgoing Cortina. Its facia was as curvy as the cars body offering a superb commanding view of all the controls and the roads ahead with extensive warning lights on the higher range that even told you if the washer fluid was getting low – features normally reserved for cars of a much higher class. Range-topping Ghia models boasted electric windows all round, central locking with torch key, a pump action pneumatic lumbar support fitted to the very smart front two tone velour seats and a full colour co-ordination of the interior plastics. Bob Lutz and his design team had produced an astonishingly good package that was also impressive to drive.
The first major revisions to the range came in 1984 which also coincided with Austin Rover introducing their new model in the family car sector – the Montego. New for this year, Ford introduced an economy-tune engine, called the E-Max, based on the 1600. At the same time, Ford dropped the slow selling 1.3-litre engine but introduced an interim 1800cc version to compete with the Cavalier, which was a roaring sales smash.
Some nifty engineering work made sure that all three engines shared the same crankshaft – so the 1.6 now had a smaller cylinder bore, yet a longer stroke. But this paid off with its maximum torque being developed further down the rev range. The E-Max unit had a computer programmed ignition system fitted with a Weber twin choke carburettor, and was otherwise known as the lean-burn engine. The XR4i was now the 2.9i XR 4×4 available in five-door form only.
A five-speed gearbox was standard and Ford engineers altered the rear axle ratio making high speed cruising came at lower revs, the power rating of 75bhp remained the same and the Sierra 1.6 E-Max could achieve 50mpg. General performance was not so good, the all new Montego 1.6 had more power (86bhp) better fuel economy (54mpg) and both the Cavalier and Montego were vastly quicker cars through the gears. In the defence of the Sierra, it was heavier & larger in comparison and as people became more accepting in aerodynamic cars – helped by the Audi 100/200 range – the Sierra soon far outsold the Austin and remained close behind the Cavalier Mk2. The styling of the Sierra never really dated as much as the boxy Vauxhall, or angular Austin – and some practical yet neat styling revisions both inside and out ensured the Sierra remained a good looking car.
Later developments introduced the excellent Cosworth making household names of racing drivers such as Andy Rouse & Didier Auriol.
The old yet durable Pinto engines were deleted by the early 1990s, and were replaced by a range of CVH 1.6- or 1.8-litre engines, while the popular 2.0 gained a chain-driven eight valve twin cam unit. The old bombproof Peugeot diesel was killed off, and became a 1.8 turbo diesel Endura unit.
None of these newer engines were as robust or reliable as the older generation engines, but by 1993 the Sierra was dead – long live the Mondeo. So once the seemingly everywhere Sierra along with its arch enemies – the Cavalier and Montego have quickly faded away with one model – the 1.6 E-Max Ghia, like other ’80s wonders such as the Phillips Video Disc or Sinclair ZX Spectrum, are now all but extinct.
But oddly only enough, it only seems like yesterday!