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Ford Sierra History

1985 Ford Sierra 2.0L estate

1993 Ford Sierra Sapphire

Ford Sierra Sapphire, the four-door model that was added to the range in 1987.

An unusual 1991 3-door Ford Sierra

1986 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth

Ford Sierra

The Ford Sierra was a large family car built by Ford Motor Company in Europe between 1982 and 1993. Released on October 13th, 1982 for the 1983 model year, it replaced the Ford Cortina/Taunus, and was itself replaced by the Mondeo. (In New Zealand and South Africa, it was initially replaced by the Telstar). Its radical and polarizing aerodynamic styling was ahead of its time and was a lasting influence, but more conservative buyers found it unappealing.

Possibly for this reason, and the early lack of a saloon variant, it never quite achieved the ubiquity of the Cortina or the Taunus, although sales were still strong; a total of 2,700,500 Sierras were made, mainly manufactured in Germany, Belgium, and the United Kingdom, although Sierras were also assembled in Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa, and New Zeland.


The first Ford vehicle to have the bold new "aero" look styling was the 1981 Probe III concept car. The good reception this received encouraged Ford management to go ahead with a production car with styling almost as challenging. This "aero" look influenced Fords worldwide; 1983's new Ford Thunderbird in North America introduced similar rounded, flowing lines, and many other new Fords of the time adopted the look. The aerodynamic features of the Sierra were essentially developed from those first seen in the Escort Mk III - the "Aeroback" bootlid stump was proved to reduce the drag coefficient of the bodyshell significantly, which was a class leading 0.34 at its launch.

The aerodynamic styling of the Sierra would later be seen in North America's revolutionary Ford Taurus, which turned out to be one of the most popular cars that Ford has ever sold in North America.

At first, many found the design blob-like and difficult to accept after being used to the sharp-edged, straight-line styling of the Cortina, and it picked up nicknames such as "jellymould" and "The Salesman's Spaceship" (the latter thanks to its status as a popular fleet car in the United Kingdom). Sales were slow at first. It was later in the Sierra's life that the styling began to pay off; ten years after its introduction, the Sierra's styling was not nearly as outdated as its contemporaries. As other manufacturers adopted similar aerodynamic styling, the Sierra looked more normal.

Early versions suffered from crosswind stability problems, which were addressed in 1985. These shortcomings saw a lot of press attention, and contributed to early slow sales.

Body styles

In another departure from tradition, the Sierra was, at first, only available as a 3-door, which itself existed in two versions, with two pillars (XR4) and only one pillar (later 3-door hatchbacks), a 5-door hatchback and a 5-door estate; no saloon was available. Due to the fact that the Ford Cortina only came in saloon and estate bodystyles, along with the Ford Escort Mk III and the Ford Granada Mk II. Ford had completely turned a saloon and estate lineup into a hatchback and estate lineup.

The company then addressed this issue by launching the Ford Orion in 1983, a car to fill the gap vacated between the late Cortina and the new Sierra. Ford found that customers were more attached to the idea of a saloon than they had thought, and this was then again addressed in 1987 by launching a saloon version of the Sierra. In the UK, this model was called the Ford Sierra Sapphire. This differed from the other Sierra models in having a traditional black grille, which only appeared in right hand drive markets. The 3-door Sierra was dropped in the UK in 1985, although the Cosworth version was continued. However the 3-door Sierra production continued in Europe including after the Sierra range was facelifted in 1987.

The Later 1.8TD Hatchbacks had the Saloon's ( Sapphire ) short bonnet and grill instead of the long nosed bonnet.

Sierras outside Europe

South Africa

In South Africa, the local Sierra lineup featured both the hatchback and wagon. The restyled Sierra range, introduced in 1988, differed from its European equivalent by featuring the traditional black grille of the Sierra Sapphire sedan (known simply in South Africa as the Sapphire) on the hatchback and wagon. (Later, the grille would feature on these models in Europe).

The Sierra was replaced by the Telstar in 1993. Samcor, which assembled Ford models under license after Ford had divested from the country, was already assembling the smaller Laser and Meteor, alongside the Mazda 323, on which they were based, as well as an earlier version of the Mazda 626. Ford's badge engineering of Mazdas proved less successful in South Africa than in other markets, and the Telstar was replaced by the Mondeo in 1998.

New Zealand

Whereas British buyers rued the absence of a saloon version of the Sierra, in New Zealand, it was the absence of an estate (station wagon) that customers missed, when Ford New Zealand replaced the Cortina with the Ford Telstar range. This led to Ford importing CKD kits of the Sierra wagon for local assembly in 1984. The wagon was offered in 1.6 (base) and 2.0 litre 'L' and 'Ghia' models initially, and proved to be a strong seller. In one month in 1987, the facelifted Ford Sierra, by then a single station wagon model, was the country's top-selling car range.

However, Ford cancelled the Sierra once Mazda, which developed the Telstar, could offer a station wagon. The Telstar wagon, while popular, never reached the Sierra's heights, especially its competition successes overseas. Further reasons could be customers' knowledge of the Telstar's Japanese roots (European cars being perceived as superior, never mind the Telstar's more modern mechanicals), and that the equivalent Mazda 626 wagon offered a considerably longer warranty at a similar price.

Relative rejection of the Telstar forced Ford to import completely built-up (CBU) premium models built in Genk, Belgium from 1990: the Sierra 2.0 GLX Wagon, the Sierra Sapphire 2.0 Ghia and the XR4×4 were part of this range. The advertising copy read, 'Introducing the new car that needs no introduction.' However, a relatively high price did not help — the Wagon began at over NZ$31,000 — and production gaffes in the launch brochure showed cars with no steering wheels. Furthermore, any marketing boosts Ford could have gained through Group A touring car racing were well and truly over with the Escort Cosworth becoming the company's standard-bearer in competition (and the Escort, meanwhile, was absent from the New Zealand market).

The Sierra was withdrawn from the New Zealand market in 1992, and it would be another five years before its European successor the Mondeo would arrive there.

South America

In South America, the Sierra was produced in Argentina and Venezuela. In Argentina, it was offered in three and five-door hatchback and station wagon bodystyles. The facelifted post-1987 model was built in Venezuela, but not in Argentina, where the range continued with a Merkur XR4Ti-like grille until 1992, when it was replaced by the Volkswagen Santana-based Galaxy. The 1.6 L and the 2.3 L engines were offered in GL, Ghia, and XR4 trims (three-door only). The station wagon was called the Sierra Rural — Rural being used for Ford station wagons in Argentina in the same way Turnier is in Germany.

North America

In the USA, the Ford Sierra and the Ford Scorpio were offered under the failed Merkur brand as a three door only, but the Sierra was called the XR4Ti (similar to sub-model designations in other markets), and the Sierra name was never used, due to Ford's fear that buyers would confuse it with the similar sounding Oldsmobile Ciera. It was offered from the start of the Merkur brand in 1985 to its demise in 1989. The Merkur brand is claimed to be a commercial flop, because tariffs raised the price of the cars, and since Merkurs were sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealers, many customers were more attracted towards Mercury models because of their lower price. The Sierra was withdrawn from the American market in 1989 with the demise of the Merkur brand.


Unlike many of its rivals, the Sierra retained rear wheel drive, albeit with a modern, fully independent rear suspension, departing from the Cortina's live axle.

In the beginning the Sierra used engines and transmissions from the Taunus/Cortina. The engines were of two types, the OHC Ford Pinto engine in 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0 L displacements, and the Cologne V6 engine (in 2.3 and 2.8, rarely 2.9 L capacities). Towards the end of the 1980s, the Pinto engine began to be phased out replaced with the DOHC (2.0 L) or CVH engine (1.6 L and 1.8 L) first seen in the Escort in 1980. The 2.9 L Cologne engine was available in the Sierra XR4x4 and the rear wheel drive Sierra Ghia. Models with the 2.0 L and Cologne V6 engines had an option of a limited slip differential. Models built until 1989 used the Type N transmission that had been used in the Cortina; it was later superseeded by the MT75 unit (for DOHC and V6 models). All Sierras had rear drum brakes, except sporting models (2.0iS (some), XR4i, XR4x4, Sierra Cosworth, other special/sporting models) and models with anti-lock brakes. American versions meanwhile were sold only with a 2.3 L four cylinder turbocharged version of the Pinto engine.

The Sierra also had a diesel option on the engine, namely at launch the 2.3L normally aspirated Diesel made by Peugot. This was later superceeded in 1990 by a 1.8L turbocharged powerplant which offered better response times and slightly more power

XR4i and other sporting models

In 1983, the high-performance XR4i version was introduced. It utilised a tuned version (150 hp DIN) of the 2.8 L Cologne engine also used in the 'Ford Capri 2.8 Injection' of that era and sported a restyled version of the 3-door Sierra bodyshell. The double rear spoiler and curious multi-pillared rear windows were considered over-styled by some prospective buyers, and the car never achieved the cult status of the smaller Fiesta XR2 and Escort XR3i. A version of the XR4i with a 2.3 L turbocharged engine was sold in the United States as the Merkur XR4Ti. In South Africa, there was a 3.0 L V6 version, called the XR6, while a limited run of 250 eight-cylinder XR8s were made in South Africa for saloon car racing homologation in 1984.

In 1985 the XR4i was replaced by the XR4x4, which was based on the five-door hatchback, had four wheel drive and was powered by the same 2.8 L V6 engine. By the end of its production in 1990, 23,540 had been produced. From 1990 to 1993 the XR4x4 Was available with both the revised 2.9EFi and 2.0 DOHC EFi engines. The XR4i also made a re-aperance in 5-door Form but with the DOHC 2.0 Engine instead of the V6.

Argentina retained the XR4i for some years after it was discontinued in Europe in 1985.

A special version called the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was also produced based on a three-door Sierra with the dashboard from the Merkur XR4Ti. It was designed by Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) group and made in Ford's Genk factory in Belgium. It was launched in July 1986 and only 5545 were made. The RS Cosworth used a 204 hp (DIN) 2.0 L DOHC engine with a Garret T3 turbocharger and intercooler.

In 1987, a 224 bhp Sierra Cosworth was sold alongside the 204 hp version. Available in only white, black or Ford's 'Moonstone Blue', the RS500, (only 500 were produced to meet with homologation racing rules) was modified by the Tickford Engineering Company in conjunction with Ford. Revisions included uprated brakes and modified front and rear spoilers (a second smaller rear spoiler was added beneath the large "whale-tail") as well as various engine upgrades including a larger turbocharger. Racing versions of the Cosworth were highly successful in European touring car and rally championships through the late 1980s.

In 1988, a new Cosworth was produced which was based on the Sierra Sapphire saloon. 11,000 were produced until it was replaced in 1990 by a four wheel drive version, the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4x4, of which 9,250 were built. Its replacement came in the form of the Escort RS Cosworth which appeared in 1992, which used a shortened and developed version of the Sierra platform and running gear but clothed with an Escort-esque bodyshell and the return of the whale-tail spoiler.

Turbocharged versions

The 2.0 L Ford Sierra was an attractive base to a serious street car tuning project, as a turbocharged 2.0 L engine could produce well over 400 hp (300 kW) with a street-legal setup.

In Finland, tax laws made the 1.3 L-engined Sierra an attractive business car in the mid 1980s. A number of these underpowered engines were turbocharged by local Ford dealers in order to gain 2.0 L engine power with 1.3 L tax fees to the owner of the vehicle. The 1.6 L and 2.0 L OHC engines were also turbocharged. Some of these "Stockmann Turbo" Sierras are still running today.

Turbocharged vesrions of the Sierra were also available as post-production models from companies like Janspeed and, most notably, from Turbo Technics. The XR4x4 2.8 was available with a range of aftermarket kits pushing power from 150BHP to 200/230/250 BHP. The 2.9 got a twin-turbo setup, available in 225/250/280 BHP variants. Even the DOHC version got a single turbo kit, of which only a small number were made. Turbo Technics even sold their own pre-prepared sierras known as the Minker; only a handful were ever produced, as they cost significantly more than Ford's own RS Cosworth.

Changes during production life

In 1987, the Sierra was given some minor styling revisions (the windows were slightly enlarged, while the front fascia was tweaked), and a saloon (Ford Sierra Sapphire) version was introduced. A pickup truck version was also introduced in 1988 to replace the Cortina-based P100 imported from South Africa - it kept the P100 name. Some detail styling changes were made in 1990, when the dashboard styling was freshened up, the front fascia featuring white lense indicators, the rear fascia given smoked rear lamp lenses, improved steering wheel design and front grille was added to suit growing demands. A further revision to the interior trim (dash and door trimmings) and bumpers appeared for the 1992 line up. UK production of the Sierra ceased, with right hand drive production moving to Belgium.

By the early 1990s, however, it had become clear that the Sierra had fallen out of step technologically against modern Japanese rivals which offered multi-valve engines, multi-link rear suspension and front wheel drive. All of these features would appear on the Sierra's long awaited replacement, the Mondeo, which was unveiled at the end of 1992 and launched the following March.

Ford Sierra
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