Review : Secret Fords

We were late to the The Cars You Always Promised Yourself party, reviewing it earlier in 2020, and pronouncing, ‘there is lots of inside information… definitely enough to make this a book worth buying for those interested in more than just the halo models.’

Steve Saxty’s follow-up – is more of the same, only better… here’s what we think about his inside story of the development of some of the most interesting secret Fords.

Secret Fords, by Steve Saxty

As readers of AROnline, you’re already highly engaged in the inside world of vehicle development, and how cars evolve from the Designer’s sketchpad to the production line. You might think that you know the Ford story well, but this new book by Steve Saxty shows great insight into this subject – and you can thank his position as an insider for his ability to deliver a compelling collection of design sketches, clay models and fascinating might-have-beens.

Did you know that the Ford Capri could have re-emerged in the early 1980s as a Sierra-inspired coupe (above) designed by Ghia? Or that there were seriously-considered proposals for a coupe version of the Ford Escort? But there are lots of alternative proposals of vehicles that made it into production – check out some of the Sierra alternatives that didn’t make it into production, for a brilliant view of Ford’s indecision over how to replace the Cortina and Taunus.

The book pulls the covers off an astounding, scarcely believable array of one-offs, prototypes and cancelled cars that were kept secret. They are revealed in previously private photographs and extraordinarily rare design sketches. Ford gave the author – a former Ford Product Designer – first-time access to its most confidential archives and more than 50 former Ford Designers and Engineers opened up their long-concealed files.

Not only do you get access to these photos, but they’re placed in context by the author’s inside access into the subject – as well as the input from the Designers and Engineers involved in these projects, such as Patrick Le Quement and Richard Parry-Jones.

This is not a cheap book, but it’s a quality item that stands up alongside the the best volumes for more revered marques such as Aston Martin and Ferrari. Running to more than 300 pages and featuring countless images on glossy paper, it’s a book that you’ll keep coming back to. My own favourite is the section about the Ford Sierra, and the development of the XR4i sporting version.

You’ll note that this is Volume One – 1970-1988 – which suggests that we’re subsequently going to get a Volume Two. If it’s as much of a doorstopper of a volume as this one, then it’s going to be a become the definitive work of all things Ford.

You can order your copy from Steve Saxty’s own website.

Keith Adams


      • I think it’s more Vauxhall Cavalier or Opel Manta to me. I remember seeing this when I was a kid, can’t remember why my dad had a picture or it, plus some other prototypes. They were colour so they weren’t the Ford News as that was a newspaper back then. I remember looking at it and think it wasn’t cool, like a Capri, or the Probe III which I knew was the new Sierra. I remember sitting in the Probe III thinking how modern it was to my dad’s mk 1 Escort.

        • Yes the Capri / Sierra coupe prototype looks just a bit like a Cavalier MK1 (particularly Wayne Cherry’s first prototype of the Cavalier Sportshatch). Potentially this could have been a success and I have to say all these years down the line “I like it”

          • Yes, also the Capri, except for the 2.8 Injection, should have been replaced by 1983 or 1984 as the 1.6 was completely outclassed and 2.0 wasn’t fast enough against its fuel injected rivals. I’m sure a smaller Ford coupe could have sold in big numbers, and in 1985 a 1.8 engine had become available that would align the car more with the Manta.

    • I did my best – I hope you like it! I think there’s some great content on this site and a natural synergy with the style of books I try to write.

  1. Ford should never have abandoned the coupe market and the Capri could have been replaced by this Sierra based coupe in 1983, which looked more modern. The engines, barring the smallest ones, could have been carried over to reduce costs and I can imagine a Cosworth version being available from 1987 onwards that would have made the Capri into a cheap supercar.

    • Possibly not much of a place for a Capri follow on as Ford had captured a the lucrative market with the Escort-based XR3 and Fiesta XR2, is it correct that at the peak, the XR3 model sold in such high numbers in accounted for a whole 1% of the new car market in the UK?

        • Your correct. But because it didn’t take off as hoped in the UK they kept the Capri in production. By the end of Capri production, the UK was the only real market for the car and they were struggling to sell the remaining cars, hence the plethora of special editions.

    • But the coupe market was dead by the early 80s. Everyone abandoned it. In the end the Capri remained in very limited, cottage industry type production in a corner at Cologne to feed the UK market only. Anybody offering up a business case for a new coupe at that time would have been laughed out of the board room

  2. Have got a copy of the book, would definitely recommend it.

    For the Sierra-based Capri replacement, the ditching of the ironic Capri cues in favour of an Opel Manta B-meets-Isuzu Piazza type look takes some adjustment and could have done with more refining before reaching production. Something along the likes of a facelifted Sierra with elements of the facelifted 3rd gen Ford Mustang and 2nd gen Ford EXP, with an optional 2-door coupe version like on the Opel Manta B and a 2-door saloon Sapphire Cosworth conversion.

    One positive is that it could have butterflied away the Ford Probe since the 1985-1998 Mk3 Granada / Scorpio was said to be heavily based on the Sierra, though would have needed a suitable rebody heading into the 1990s or Ford deciding to embrace the retro trend.

    • The Capri wasn’t a serious performance car under 2 litres and even the 2 litre was no ball of fire and would be totally outrun by a Manta GTE. What Ford needed was a lighter car with a 1.8 and 2 litre injected engine, while keeping the Capri Injection until this was axed in 1987. I know hot hatches had become the big thing by 1984, but cars like the Manta, Volkswagen Scirocco, Toyota Celica and the Capri proved the market for coupes was still quite healthy.

      • It is possible the engine range of the Sierra-based Capri from the 1980s to 1990s would comprise as follows:

        – 114 hp 2-litre injected Pinto (unless more could be extracted from the former) later the 118-150 hp 2-litre Ford I4 DOHC/ 115-170 hp 1.8-2-litre Zetec as well as the 180-224+ hp (up to 250 hp) 2-litre turbocharged engines.

        – 148-208 hp 2.8-2.9 Cologne/Cosworth V6 (sans turbocharged/twin-turbocharged versions) unlikely followed by the 165-200+ hp 2.5 or 2.5-3.0 Ford Duratec V6 engines.

      • Replacing the 1.6 and 2 litre engines on Capri’s would have given a new lease of life. 1.8 and 2.0 injection would probably be enough while retaining the 2.8 V6 as top dog.

        Didn’t the run out Manta GT Hatch have a 1.8 engine in the early 80’s or am I imagining it?

        • The 90 hp 1.8 engine in the Manta was a GM Family II, while the 1.8 engines in the Sierra were the 89 hp 1.8 Pinto later the 79 hp 1.8 CVH.

          In addition to the 1.8 Pinto being uprated to about 102 hp in injected form, it is possible the 1.8 CVH could have been uprated a bit more considering what was achieved on the smaller 1.6 CVH, before maybe being replaced by the 1.8 Zetec in the 1990s.

          • It really depends on both the weight of the Sierra-based Capri replacement relative to the existing Sierra as well as whether Ford decide to make their base engine 2-litres (like their rivals at Vauxhall with the Calibra and elsewhere), as opposed to making the 1.8 a base engine by uprating either the 1.8 Pinto or 1.8 CVH.

          • Thanks Nate… I know the original Cavalier Coupe had an 1897cc 90 bhp motor, later replaced by the cam in head 1979cc 100bhp version.

            I thought perhaps the Manta 1.8 would have been a tad more powerful in the 1980’s

      • The few owners of 3.0 litre Capris I have spoken with told me the back axle had a mind of its own such was the poor roadholding, the Cortina 2.0 S was not much better.

  3. Regarding Capri special edition run outs, a friend had a 1.6 Laser which was quite nice (sheep in wolf’s clothes?) I think another LE version was called Cabaret?

  4. I ordered a copy of the book and it was delivered quickly with numerous email updates while it was shipped. The book is excellent with interesting pictures, insightful text and attractive page design. With so much Vauxhall information on the excellent Vauxpedia web site this book gives some competitor balance and provides an in-depth view of what Ford was up to during the 1970s,

    On the downside the shipping box wasn’t particularly strong and the book was loose inside. It arrived bashed in one corner. Not enough to send it back but annoying and took the edge off the enjoyment.

  5. Interesting… Must admit, the market for midrange saloon-car-derived coupes had faded out in the 80s, Ford’s attempt at introducing the Mazda-derived Cougar as a Capri-replacement was a flop, and there were no real successors to the nice 70s/early-80s full-sized coupes with sensible engines like the Mk.1 Granada or the Opel Monza.

    Rover’s attempt at the 800 Coupe flopped dismally in the sales stakes. . .

    If Ford had wanted to re-invent the Capri on a Sierra-esque platform it could perhaps have done so by making it a Quattro-chasing 4×4 with either the Cosworth-ized Pinto or the 2.9 24V V6 as found in the Granada/Scorpio.

    A good image-building successor to the Capri.

    Give a few dozen to Ford SVO to develop – 200BHP in a shorter/lighter-than-Sierra shell would have also made a good Group-B/N rally car.

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