The Ford Sierra Story
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The Ford Sierra Story

By the late 1970s Ford of Europe could do
no wrong. Over 20 years they’d built up an unrivalled
collection of popular small, medium and large cars. And with Ford’s unparalleled marketing muscle
behind it, it’s easy to see why they were the sales leaders. But they were sent into a tailspin in 1982
with the Cortina’s successor. This is the Ford Sierra Story. (music) Ford had released the mark 4 Cortina in 1976, and by 1978 plans for its replacement were
well underway. With Ford looking to make another step change
in performance and refinement, they decided early on that the new car would focus on aerodynamics. Less work to move air out of the way at high
speed meant less work for the engine, which meant better fuel economy and acceleration. Petrol prices had quadrupled since 1973, and
Ford’s repmobile spent many hours on the motorway at 70mph. What better way to encourage fleets to buy
your car than offering them fuel savings that competitor’s cars couldn’t offer? The total cost of ownership would be lower
with a Ford. The new car project was named “Toni”,
after the Spanish word for mountain range, and would be headed up by Uwe Bahnsen who
had been designing successful Ford’s since the mid-70’s. The exterior design, by Patrick Le Quement,
was influenced by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Isuzu Piazza prototype. New car styling seemed to be moving towards highly aerodynamic cars like the Lancia Medusa concept. But there was undoubtedly influence from Rover’s
SD1, as Uwe Bahnsen had a model of one on his desk. Ford’s European and American management
were initially startled by the designs, but they were convinced to take a chance that
this new style would be a hit with customers. New features like wheel covers would produce
a competition-beating drag coefficient of just 0.34; much better than the Cortina’s
0.45. The Cortina was a saloon, but the buying public,
particularly on the continent favoured hatchbacks, so that’s the shape the new car would be
albeit with a small bustle like the 1980 Ford Escort. Many designs were tried, but management went
with the first shape. And Ford would show its styling direction
to the public with the Ford Probe III prototype in 1981, a design that would influence the
1988 Ford Probe. If the public was shocked by this design concept,
it seems Ford either didn’t notice or by then it was too close to the Sierra’s release
date to make any difference. Where the outside was revolutionary, the interior
would take design cues from more expensive competition like BMW and Saab. The centre console would be slightly angled
towards the driver, producing a satisfying cockpit feeling. With the advancement of electronics, the new
car would alert you to open doors and cold outside temperatures. Yes, thanks to early 80’s car designers
the annoying beep, beep, beep that you get when you haven’t done up your seatbelt started
here! The underpinnings of the car would be pretty
similar to the Cortina, although independent rear suspension created a more planted ride
throughout the bends. Power assisted steering was an option for
the first time, but Ford still relied on rear drum brakes. The car would use the same reliable but not
outstanding Pinto and Cologne engines from the previous car, ranging from 1.3L to 2.0L.
As with the Cortina, a Peugeot 2.3L diesel was offered for taxis and others who valued
fuel economy over performance. A 5-speed gearbox was offered as well as the
standard 4-speed manual and 3-speed automatic. The Ford Sierra was launched in 1982 with
a mountain of Ford marketing that was hard to avoid. If you lived under a rock in 1982, Ford would
probably have pushed a brochure underneath it! The Sierra was apparently “man and machine
in perfect harmony”. So that was nice. But the public were turned off by the shape
they called a “jelly mould”. It’s easy to think the public just weren’t
ready for the shift to more aerodynamic shapes, but the similarly aerodynamic Audi 100 was
launched the same year and the public took this new model to their hearts. Ford had judged car fashions to perfection
with most of its European cars from the previous 20 years, but this was their biggest misstep. And it didn’t help that there was still
a large stock of Cortina’s waiting to be sold, being offered at a good discount over
the Sierra. Amazingly 11,000 Cortinas were sold in 1983,
a year after production ended. With Vauxhall / Opel introducing the classically
styled Cavalier in 1981, Ford for the first time saw their family car market share slip. To make things worse, the Cavalier made much
of its perceived benefit of front wheel drive over the Sierra’s old-fashioned rear wheel
drive. And with Vauxhall having a full and competent
line-up, the Sierra was just the reason fleets needed to look at Ford’s competitors. But not everyone hated the design. London’s Victoria and Albert design museum
proudly displayed it the year it was released. The reviews were good too. It was similar to the Fiat Multipla story
in that the car was great, if you could get past the looks. And the news wasn’t all that bad, although
UK sales were slow, in West Germany it was a hit, outselling the old Taunus 3:1. Publicly Ford were proud of their new car,
but internally management were furious, and heads would roll. Uwe Bahnsen was side lined, and eventually
left Ford to take up flamenco dancing in New Mexico. Hmmm – not really! He went off to teach design at a Swiss college. Patrick Le Quement was denied promotion and
went to Detroit, mirroring how Roy Brown Jr. was sent to the UK to work on the first Ford
Cortina after the Edsel debacle. But Patrick’s story was a happy one, helping
Renault return to prominence in the 1990s with cars like the Renault Twingo. Ford were concerned customers would miss the
saloon shape they’d enjoyed with the Cortina, so released the Orion. Despite being based on the smaller Escort
it was a similar length and had more rear leg room and boot space than the Cortina. Although the public had accepted the shift
from Escort saloon to hatchback, they pushed back with the Sierra, just as they did with
the mk3 Granada hatchback in 1985. The Sierra was hit with some major quality
issues at launch. The car suffered from high speed instability
which Ford fixed by adding small rubber strikes on the rear windows to interrupt the air flow. The plastic bumpers would spring back and
potentially hide crash damage. With all the bad publicity around the jelly
mould shape there were rumours that Ford would throw in the towel and bring the Cortina back. However, that jelly mould shape translated
into a faster and more economical car. With essentially the same 1.3L engine as the
Cortina, top speed increased 7mph, the 0-60 time dropped a second, and fuel economy leapt
from 35mpg to 45. The 1.6L engine also benefitted from a 5-speed
gearbox to provide equally impressive figures. By the end of 1983 the Sierra was the
No. 2 selling British car, just behind the Escort. Ford also launched an estate version, and
a luxury Ghia variant with electric windows and adjustable lumbar support. And with Ford releasing sporty Fiesta XR2
& Escort XR3i models, they introduced the 3-door Sierra XR4i in 1983. The car had the meaty Cologne 2.8L V6 from
the Capri and a distinctive bi-plane rear wing. 0-60 was sub-8 second with a top speed just
shy of 130mph. South Africa predictably released a souped-up
version of their own. In 1983 they added the 3.0L Essex V6 from
the Capri to give it more power, dubbed the XR6, and by 1984 they’d shoe-horned the
Mustang 5.0L V8 to make the XR8, delivering over 200hp for motorsport competition. The Sierra hatchback and estate was produced
in Venezuela and Argentina, along with an XR4 version. And on the continent Ford experimented with
the Sierra Van. The Audi Quattro had proved that 4WD wasn’t
just for farm machinery, and Ford enhanced the XR4i with 4WD to create the XR4x4 in 1985. The car lost its whale tail rear wing, and
most were sold as a 5-door. The car was popular and helped create a halo
around the Sierra to start turning the tide against the ever-popular Vauxhall Cavalier. And it certainly needed to. By 1984 the almost new Sierra had fewer sales
than the three-year-old Cavalier. Ford were keen to develop “world cars”
to reduce the cost of development like it had with the mk3 Escort, so brought both the
Sierra and Granada to the USA in 1985 under its “Merkur” brand. With the Sierra name being used on GM trucks,
the car would be known as the XR4Ti, quite a mouthful! With European Sierra production running at
full capacity, German company Wilhelm Karmann essentially hand-built each car for them. The car was roughly similar to the European
XR4i, but the car was modified to comply with US regulations with 850 new parts. But despite having a smaller 2.3L 4-cylinder
engine and being 280lbs heavier, it produced 175hp and actually had similar performance
figures to its European cousin. But a combination of mediocre reviews, slow
sales, unfavourable exchange rates and upcoming US safety regulations that would force a redesign
meant the XR4Ti was discontinued in 1989. Despite this being only sold in North America,
it won the British Saloon Car Championship in 1985 as Ford were keen to try the Sierra
platform in motorsport for a special car that they had in the works… And that car had been in the works since 1983. Cosworth had enhanced Ford’s 2.0L Pinto
engine, and Ford felt it would be perfect to bolt into a Sierra. The twin cam 16v turbocharged engine was a
beast, producing 201hp and giving the road car a top speed of 150mph and a 0-60 time
of 6.4 seconds. In race trim it generated 300hp at a time
where the Ferrari 308 was only producing 253. The Sierra’s regular gearbox just couldn’t
channel all that power. Ford tried the Borg-Warner T5 gearbox from
the Mustang but even that didn’t hold up and Borg-Warner had to create a custom gearbox. The car was a big success on the track, but
the RWD car just wasn’t suited to rallying. The car would be known as the Sierra RS Cosworth
and by 1986 another 20hp had been added, taking the 0-60 time to around 6 seconds, and the limited
edition RS500 Cosworth provided further performance. Soon the RS Cosworth was on everyone’s shopping
list. Unfortunately for Ford this also included
joyriding thieves who could easily pick Ford’s basic door locks. Despite more secure locks in 1987, the British
joyriding craze basically made these cars uninsurable, and Ford had to abandon hot family
cars. By 1986 sales had started to pick up, maybe
because of the XR4i and RS Cosworth, maybe because other aerodynamically styled cars
were entering the market, maybe because people just got used to the styling, seeing it driving
up and down Europe’s roads every day. Regardless, Ford’s bet was starting to pay
off – they had a modern, fuel economical vehicle. And they tinkered with the styling, so it
wasn’t quite so “in your face”. The car would continue to be a top seller
into the late 1980s. The Sierra got a £228M restyle in 1987. The front end and rear lights were revised,
and the car had bigger side windows. Other changes made the car look like a smaller
mk3 Granada and softened the striking 1982 design. But the main change was the addition of a
saloon version as the Sierra Sapphire. With its distinctive front grille, the company
rep finally had his Ford family-sized saloon again. But Vauxhall would strike back with the mk3
Cavalier in 1988. The 2.0L & 2.3L V6 engines were dropped in
1985, along with the small 1.3L engine in 1986. In its place came fuel injected versions of
the Pinto engine, and the CVH engine in 1988. The CVH was introduced to comply with tighter
emissions regulations and had first appeared on the Escort in 1980. It was a little less refined but produced
similar performance and fuel economy figures to the old engines. Ford of South Africa had been producing a
pickup version of the Cortina since 1971 and in 1987 released one based on the Sierra. The rear end was completely different, and
it used a Ford Transit gearbox. Ford of Europe loved it so much they started
European production in Portugal and sold it throughout Europe where it was particularly
popular in the UK. 1989 brought the Sierra 2000E, a nod to the
luxury Cortina model from the 1960s. And the Sierra was given a light facelift
inside and out in 1990. With the new Mondeo in the wings, and the
Sierra having to compete with the mk3 Cavalier, Ford made the car higher spec with features
like heated seats and air conditioning. The unrefined 2.3L Peugeot diesel was replaced
with Ford’s own 1.8L diesel which led to better response times and slightly more power. But despite the restyle, the Vauxhall Cavalier
was above the Sierra in the UK sales charts. By 1992 Sierra production was winding up,
but Ford had a lot of extra spare parts. They threw them in a seemingly random fashion
at those last Sierras. Cars with the same trim level might have manual
or electric windows, you might even get fuel injection even if you didn’t order it! These cars are known as parts bin specials,
but unfortunately, they’re also not known for their high quality. The last Sierra was produced in December 1992. Ford sold just 7 cars shy of 1.3M in the UK
and sold over 2.7M worldwide. The replacement would be the more conservatively
styled “world car” Mondeo in 1993 but like the Cortina, Ford had many Sierra’s
left unsold when the Mondeo hit the market, meaning some Sierras were still being sold
in 1994. The Sierra’s legacy was one of a styling
misstep that hurt sales, and Ford’s marketing team had to work doubly hard to compete with
Vauxhall and Opel who had finally produced a serious competitor. But its sporty XR4i & RS Cosworth versions
were seriously cool. “OK, so we’ve got a hit in Europe with
this tiny car you call the Cortina.” “It’s the Cortina in the UK, and the
Taunus in Europe, and it’s not tiny, it’s our large family car.” “Gees, did everything get shrunk in the
wash over there? And why the two names. We need one name for this car. I like Sierra.” “Isn’t that what GM call their truck?” “Why yes, it is! But it’s also a majestic, sweeping mountain
range. And it’ll prevent sneaky GM using it on
their trucks over in Europe.” “But they don’t sell pickup trucks in
Europe.” “See, we’re making progress already! Say, what’s this new car gonna look like?” “Well the mk3 had American flair, then
we thought “let’s make a car that looks like three cardboard boxes had been taped
together”. Now we’re thinking of making it look like
a jelly.” “What, those crazy sea creatures that
sting you? That sounds nuts!!!” “Ah, no, I see you’ve misunderstood
me. I’m talking about a jello mould.” “Oh, why didn’t you say so? That would look awesome! I can’t see any way that shape could fail!” Many thanks to Bob Oval at the Sierra Appreciation
Club for all his help with this video. If you want to help, please subscribe or think
about becoming a Patron for just $1 or 80p a month. Thanks for watching and see you in the next

About Gregory Ralls

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100 thoughts on “The Ford Sierra Story

  1. I remember seeing one a few months before it was launched doing a road test in the Isle of Dogs… this was years before the area was redeveloped so was very quiet at weekends…

    It looked very strange compared to the square boxes we were all used to !

  2. Seem to remember there was a bit of trouble with the name as well – Dutton kit cars did what we'd now call a SUV called the Sierra – and Ford had to buy them out !!

  3. This car marked the end of Ford's domination in South Africa. Toyota Cressida was far superior and the e30 much more posh. The Telstar was a total flop thereafter. Ford has never sold a successful car since in Southern Africa. The new Ranger being the only exception with it being a pick up truck.

  4. The Merkur name for the American market was brilliant! Can’t help that Americans are dumb and fickle. And yes I’m an American

  5. Will there be any video on Skoda? They have really cool rallye history, and no they werent just rebadget VW until 90s

  6. I always feel like the loss of the boxy design to chase small increases in aerodynamics weren't always worth it. Sure it could make a difference but sometimes you just gotta appeal to that old design language.

  7. its funny how the round advance styling hurt sale of the sierra. But when ford released the also advanced style taurus in the USA it was a smash hit that changed the automotive industry for decades.

  8. Also just spotted the US version of the Ford Sierra (as we know it) in a near miss in the film ‘Sister Act’ as Whoopi Goldberg is abducted

  9. Ford of South Africa never did a pick up of the Sierra, we continued with the Cortina well into the production of the Sierra, until the introduction of the Courier, which was later replaced by Ranger

  10. 17 minutes of talking about the Sierra without one mention of the most significant feature: RUST! The Sierra was an utter rot bucket. The Cavalier was too, but at least it was a front wheel drive rot bucket.

  11. The sporty coupe was the Merkur XR4Ti, whilst the luxury sedan (saloon) was the Merkur Scorpio. For some reason, we didn't get a station wagon (estate). For some reason, neither sold well, and weren't on the US market for very long, maybe two, possibly three yrs. I don't know why. They were both good looking cars.

  12. new Toyota CarinaII (which were fuel injected in late 89) and new Mazda 626 in 1988 Opel Vectra A/Vauxhall Cavalier in 89 Nissan Primera in 90 all FWD the Sierra was old fashioned pretty quickly

  13. Named Toni after what Spanish word?!
    Bit of a mix up there mate.
    Mountain range is a Sierra, like the final car name. Toni as someone has already said is the same as Tony in English, short for Antonio/Anthony….

  14. Can we possibly get a Sherpa/Freight Rover/Leyland Daf/LDV story? Please? I suppose if you’re going to do a light commercial it’s going to be the transit though.

  15. When I was a kid and saw a Sierra I enjoyed it but it aged very badly. The Sapphire looks ok but the 5 doors looks dated and the 3 doors looks horrible. Maybe the 3 doors version contributed to people not liking the Sierra… After all, the Cavalier didn't had one.

  16. Good video, but some inaccuracies. The “Toni” codename didn’t mean anything. Although Patrick Le Quément worked on the Sierra programme, the exterior concept was by Gert Hohenester. The XR4i had a so-called “biplane” rear spoiler, it was the original RS Cosworth that had the whale tail spoiler.

  17. Nice one
    I once hired a ford fiesta at Hertz in Manchester
    On arrival at Hertz, they said sorry don't any fiestas left but we do have a ford sierra.
    The result was I felt like the king of the road for a weekend.

  18. Great vlog as always! The Sierra was a big hit in Norway in the mid to late 80s. I think Volvo has been Ford greatest rival, and VW Passat came in and took the throne together with Toyota. Volvo has always had a strong following in Norway. World wide I think they have been a 1-2% car. In Norway 7-8%

  19. In Lithuanian, Sierra (without extra "r" that is) literally translates to sulfur. And despite these cars being rare today, I remember how common they were in the early/late 2000's, much like Mercedes 300CE.

  20. Had a silver G plate 2000E in the year 2000. Only paid £400 for it, as even after only 11 yrs on the road it was nearing the end of its life.

  21. The numbers show the design improved performance and mpg but for me the four door’s styling isn’t my favorite. I do like the looks of the two doors.

  22. Was the 2.0 V6 for the European market because the UK had the 2.3,2.8 and 2.9 V6 engines. If that's true it's a shame we didn't have it because the Ford Cologne V6 engines have a distinctive noise which i liked.

  23. As I looked at the intro in this video to the Sierra, with its ordinary styling and warmed over Cortina mechanicals, its easy to see why Ford Australia looked at it and decided no more Ford Europe cars for them for a decade or so.

  24. Every day I miss my NZ market 89 RS Sapphire Cossie 2wd in white. Biggest regret I've made selling that. Would love that back and a late model 4×4 Ghia wagon V6.. hell yes

  25. In 1990 the XR4i was re-introduced for a limited run of ~1,500 units with a rear wheel 2.0 DOHC engine.
    It sat alongside the 4×4 version.
    It was on the whole just a badging exercise that should have had 125BHP.
    However, for some reason, mine had 150BHP

  26. Comparing how the Sierra and Audi 100 were received by 'the public' is a bit misleading. The Audi was a much more prestigious product, and sold to people with money and taste. Once you've convinced THEM, what else are we mere mortals going to do but want to follow suit? Whereas the Sierra is just a Ford.

  27. I seem to remember reading something about the kit car maker Dutton using the Sierra name on one of it's cars and a legal battle between them and Ford over the name.

    I also recollect a story that the rear of the Sierra Sapphire used wind tunnel data purchased from Daimler Benz that had been used on the 190E and 300E saloons.

  28. I had ford Sierra 1.6L and a Vauxhall cavalier mk2 16L. The Sierra felt cramped compared to the cavalier, although gearbox was smoother on Sierra. The early Sierra had front grill louvres except the ghia this spoiled look of it. I think all Sierras had a ghia front grill by time the facelift.

  29. I much preferred the Cavalier personally. A much sharper and far more engaging car to drive.
    And didn't the early Sierra have a weak floor plan which made them weak in a shunt?

  30. Ruined with that comedy crap and swept over the racing side. Otherwise brilliant now i know of the xr4ti and xr8. Google…

  31. I generally enjoy your clips, but I’m somewhat disappointed with the Sierra Story.

    No mention of the fantastic and very successful Sapphire RS Cosworth and Cosworth 4×4 – unforgotten and legendary the great Rally battles against Lancias Delta HF Integrale and Toyotas Celica. Also no comment of the iconic Texaco sponsored Sierra RS500 Cosworth racing and winning Germany’s Touring car championship.

    The Sierra was the first Ford to win motor comparison tests and was quickly popular on the continent since none of the competition could catch up with Sierras economy, comfort, cabin, longer service intervals and cheaper insurance costs.

  32. 2.0is was by far most legendary model here in Finland outside of cossies. Oh and we had quirky tax special too known as stockmann turbo with turbocharged 1.6 ohc

  33. Mid nineties I had an E plate XR4x4 and then a few years later a J plate Sapphire 4×4 Ghia,so wish I had kept them now.

  34. Still can't get over how ugly the mk1 square lamp hatchback Sierra was. One of the ugliest 80's cars. Cosworth though looked nice. Last sedans/saloons look so much better to my eye. I think they're one of the prettiest 90's cars, especially Cosworth. Interesting change in basically identical car.

  35. Get your facts right first!! I stopped watching after you said Europe favoured hatchbacks, wrong! They favored the saloon. That's why they had so many verients we didn't get.. It was top gear (when it reviewed cars) who insisted we must fit a chest of drawers in the back of your car..

  36. 12:43 The Sierra 4×4 Ghia had an engine you didn't list a 2933cc V6. It was an amazing vehicle, the grip level was insane and it would out-perform many hot-hatches…

  37. Ford put the prototypes of the Sierra in many shows giving the car wide exposure before sale, to have the public familiar with the new shape. The public liked the shape, however what put them off was the two square headlights close together. It took Ford many years to redesign the front end, which was far too late.

  38. Ford made some utter shite cars over the years, I'm glad to say the quality and reliability of their cars has increased. I recall their 80s 90s and early 2000 cars being unreliable and rusty. Still I would never buy Ford, I would always go for Honda or Toyota.

  39. Without Cosworth attached to Sierra it is worthless. The Escorts has a few good sport models etc mostly the RS Turbo which was a nice looking car.

  40. i owned by the time they came out ,a ford taunus van with design more straight than the cortina that had more curves and it was a XL version with the letters in red in the back and it was powerfull this in late 70´s ,when the first sierra model came out i was not economically prepared to spend money on a new car but later already had the money but the design changed a bit and no longer looked so good to me ,and they were a bit smaller than the ones who came out in late 80´s , so i never had the first sierra model and in my country (Portugal) it was rare to see one used for sale but the first design was really atractive by that time the front grill didn´t exist it was all metal inbetween the head lights and as bmw´s the dash was turned a bit to the driver seat as comented in the video ,later i bought the the sierra cosworth who was 4×4 ,but someone ofered me twice the money i had paid for it 5 months earlier and i sold it to buy a early 70´s granada coupé with a 3.0L engine V6 all metalized blue with the roof black covered in vynil as it was fashion by that time and red velvet interior this from a german guy that lived in a big neighborhood inside the city i live because there was a german airforce field 4km´s from my town this belonging to Nato ,normally lot´s of young germans came to live in my town and with them lots of nice powerfull old cars, that we could buy from them, the most regular car that was common to see everywhere was the mercedes W115 and 114 , my first car after i take the driver permit was a mercedes 280S from 68. regards

  41. My school days were the 80's and I remember the discussions about the 'jellymould' cars.
    I also came to hate the XR cars, particularly the XR3i which I always thought was crap.
    The build quality on 80's Ford's was appalling. Always remember the top part of the door where the rubber seal was 'vibrating' at speed, and whenever they were washed with a hose pipe, you'd get as much water running down the inside as you did on the outside.
    Thanks goodness cars have progressed

  42. When i was a kid my dad had a red sapphire but it got stolen. When they gave us a white courtesy car they came back and stole that too.

  43. As a teenager I lusted after the Sierra Cosworth but wasn't old enough to drive and couldn't afford one anyway, now I'm a grown man in my 40s I still love the cossie and I still can't afford one.

    I'm staggered at the price some of these cars sell for today, I was looking at an RS500 recently and it was on sale for £98,000!!!

  44. Being a child of the early 80s I loved the Sierra, my cousin had a 2.0 mk3 which I adored over my dads mk3 Cav. I would love to have a mk1.

  45. ZX Spectrum FTW!! (I had a ZX-80 kit with ram packs hanging off the back)

    Oh yeah, I've had a few Sierras/Sapphires. Loved those cars. All had sunroofs except for Police models.

  46. I owned a Sierra 2.0l GL estate 1989 model from 95 to 03 and it took me my wife our 2 sons and 2 dogs all around the UK on holiday as well as 2 trips to northern France. Loads of space in the back comfortable and for such a big car the sohc (pinto) carb engine was reasonably economical. It never let me down and had covered 140,000m when it went to the scrap yard, only reason I scrapped it was no one wanted it even though it only had rust on one rear wheel, some bubbling on the bottom of the drivers door and tailgate.
    Many good memories of family trips telling the boys to get back in their seats as they loved climbing in the load area and using it to play in as I drove along. 😊

  47. The Sierra styling was simply ahead of its time, just like the later Focus mk1. Within 5-10 years of both of those cars, all other cars looked the same.

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