The Ford Sierra is a large family car that was built by Ford Europe from 1982 until 1993.
It was designed by Uwe Bahnsen, Robert Lutz and Patrick le Quément. The code used during
development was “Project Toni”. First unveiled on 22 September 1982 and with sales beginning
on 15 October 1982, it replaced the Ford Cortina. Its aerodynamic styling was ahead of
its time and as such, many conservative buyers (including company car drivers) did not
take fondly to the Ford Cortina’s replacement.It was mainly manufactured in Germany,
Belgium, and the United Kingdom, although Sierras were also assembled in Argentina,
Venezuela, South Africa and New Zealand.
The Sierra was the 1983 Semperit Irish Car of the Year in Ireland.
The first Ford vehicle to have the bold new “aero” look styling was the
1981 Ford Probe III concept car. The good reception this received encouraged
Ford’s management to go ahead with a production car with styling almost as challenging.
This “aero” look influenced Fords worldwide: the 1983 Ford Thunderbird in North America
introduced similar rounded, flowing lines, and some other new Fords of the time
adopted the look.
By September 1981, it had been confirmed that the Cortina’s replacement – still
a year away – would be marketed as the Sierra.
The aerodynamic features of the Sierra were developed from those first seen in
the Escort Mark III—the “Aeroback” bootlid stump was proved to reduce the drag
coefficient of the bodyshell significantly, which was a class leading Cd0.34 at
its launch, though not as good as the Cd0.22 of the visually similar
Ford Probe III concept car of the previous year, and also behind the contemporary
third generation Audi 100 that was unveiled the same year – the first production
car to get below the Cd0.30 barrier with an impressive figure of Cd0.28.
The aerodynamic styling of the Sierra would later be seen in North America’s Ford Taurus.
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 – the
situation being exacerbated by heavy discounting by Ford dealers of surplus Cortina
stock in 1983. 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outdated as its contemporaries, even though all major competitors were newer
designs, although the Sierra had been tweaked on several occasions. The most
notable changes came at the start of 1987, with a major facelift and the addition
of a Sapphire saloon. As other manufacturers adopted similar aerodynamic styling,
the Sierra looked more normal.Early versions suffered from crosswind stability
problems, which were addressed in 1985 with the addition of “strakes”
(small spoilers), on the rear edge of the rubber seals of the rear-most side windows.
These shortcomings saw a lot of press attention, and contributed to early slow sales.
Other rumours that the car hid major crash damage (in part true, as the new bumper
design sprung back after minor impact and couldn’t be “read” to interpret major damage)
also harmed the car’s reputation. This reached near-hysterical heights at one point
with UK press making a report that Ford would reintroduce the previous Cortina model
out of desperation. However, these reports were swiftly denied by Ford. At its launch
some of the Sierra’s external styling differed depending on the specification.
In place of the model’s regular 2-bar grille, which was unpainted on the lowest
specification model, the Ghia featured a narrower blanked-off grille between
wider, but still inset, headlights while the front bumper was also restyled and
featured combined indicator/foglight units compared to the lower specification
model’s slimmer but wider indicator units. The XR4i had an identical front end
to the Ghia, bar the bumper which was slightly different. The rear lights of the
Ghia were the same shape and layout as other models, but featured tiny horizontal
strakes on the lenses to give the impression that they were smoked.
A couple of years later all the lower spec models adopting the Ghia and XR4i’s
front grille and headlight treatment.
In 1987 the Sierra was facelifted. The front end was completely revised, with the
biggest difference seeing the indicators now positioned above the bumper and to
the side of a new headlight design, and while the grille again remained blanked-off UK
versions of the newly introduced saloon bodystyle, badged Sierra Sapphire,
featured a unique shallow black grille between the headlights.
That apart, all specifications of the Sierra now shared a common front end,
compared to the car’s original styling.
The rear lights were slightly altered. This facelift made the Sierra look more normal.
The XR4x4 was now based on the 5-door hatchback bodystyle and featured different
front and rear body-coloured bumper styling, along with wider side rubbing strips.
The RS Cosworth was now based on the newly introduced saloon
bodystyle and featured another style of front bumper as well as the black grille
which was only found on UK versions of the saloon bodystyle.
From 1988 a Sierra-based pickup called the P100 was produced in Portugal for
the European market. It was narrowly beaten to the European Car of the Year
award by the Audi 100. The Sierra was Ford’s answer to the similar-sized
Opel Ascona, which had been launched a year earlier with front-wheel drive
and a hatchback bodystyle. Unusually in its sector by that time, the Sierra was
still rear-wheel drive. It was a strong competitor for other rivals of the early 1980s,
including the Talbot Alpine, Peugeot 505 and Morris Ital and the Citroën BX, but
later in its life it had to compete with the Austin Montego (1984),
Peugeot 405 (1987) and Opel Vectra (1988).
In another departure from tradition, the Sierra was initially unavailable as a saloon.
At its launch it was available as a 5-door hatchback and a 5-door estate, and from
1983 as a 3-door hatchback. Until the launch of the Orion in 1983, the larger and more
expensive Granada was the only saloon-bodied car available in the European Ford range.
During the life of the car, two different styles of 3-door body were used; one with
two pillars rear of the door, looking very much like a modified 5-door frame, as used
on the high-performance XR4i; and a one-pillar design used on standard-performance
3-door hatchbacks and also at the other end of the scale as the basis for the very
high-performance RS Cosworth.
At the time of the car’s launch, both styles were
already envisaged, and a demonstration model with one style on either side was displayed
at a Sierra design exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Ford Cortina had been manufactured in saloon and estate bodystyles but after
the switch to the Sierra, combined with the redesign of the Escort to Mark III level
in 1980 and the introduction of the Granada Mark III in 1985, Ford had changed its
saloon-based line-up into a hatchback-based one.
The company launched the Ford Orion in 1983 to fill the gap in the saloon range between
the late Cortina and the new Sierra. Ford found that customers were more attached
to the idea of a saloon than they had expected, and this was further addressed
in 1987 by the production of 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 continued.
Production of the 3-door Sierra continued in Europe, including after the Sierra
range was given a facelift in 1987. The remodelled 3-door was never offered in
the UK, having been withdrawn in 1984.
Sierras outside Europe
In South Africa, the Sierra range featured both the five-door hatchback and station
wagon bodies and production began at the Silverton (Pretoria) plant in January 1983.
The restyled Sierra range 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.)Versions sold in South Africa were available
with the 1.6 (Kent) and 2.0 (Pinto) four-cylinders, 2.3 V6 (Cologne) or 3.0-litre
V6 (Essex) petrol engines. While the Cortina MkV in South Africa had retained the
old 3.0 V6 Essex engine, the Sierra was initially given the new 2.3 V6 Cologne motor,
this being fitted to the top of the line model only. However, owing to the low cost
of petrol, and the popularity of the old Cortina XR6, a Sierra XR6 was later launched,
featuring the old Essex, initially producing 103 kW (138 hp).
Uniquely, the South African market also saw the introduction of a 5.0 litre XR8 between
June 1984 and 1988. A limited number of 250 Sierras were made for the purposes of
homolgation, as this model was the premier Ford used in Group A racing. The XR8 was
fitted with the 302 ci engine from the US Ford Mustang, and the Borg Warner
T5 heavy duty transmission. Front brakes were AP Racing four-piston calipers on 280 mm discs.
Max power is 209 PS (154 kW) and a top speed of 225 km/h (140 mph) was claimed.
The XR8 is easily recognized by having four cooling slats between the headlights,
whereas lesser versions were sold with the original smooth front.
Whereas British buyers rued the absence of a saloon version of the Sierra, in
New Zealand, it was the absence of an estate (a “station wagon” there) that
customers missed, when Ford New Zealand replaced the Cortina with the Ford Telstar range.
This led to Ford importing CKD (“completely knocked down”) 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. 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. Sierra Cosworth’s remain
sought after performance cars.By contrast, the Sierra was never sold in Australia,
as there was less demand for a medium-sized wagon than in New Zealand, although the
RS Cosworth/RS500 was used in the Australian Touring Car Championships
from the late 80’s and early 90’s.
In South America, the Sierra was produced by Ford in Argentina and also in Venezuela.
In Argentina, it was first offered as a five-door hatchback beginning in the summer
of 1984. A station wagon body style was added in September 1985.
The sporting XR4, with three-door bodywork sometimes referred to as a “coupé”,
arrived a couple of months after the original introduction. The facelifted post-1987
model was built in Venezuela, but did not reach the Argentinian market until 1989,
where the range continued with a Merkur XR4Ti-like grille until 1991 for XR4
and 1992 for five-door models, when it was replaced by the Volkswagen Santana-based Galaxy.
Argentinian Sierras can easily be distinguished by
utilizing a more sculpted front bumper (similar to that of the Merkur XR4Ti)
with an extra cooling inlet.The 1.6 L was offered in GL model only, while the LX,
Ghia, Ghia S/SX and XR4 were available with a 2.3 liter inline-four with some
differences in specs. Both engines, as for the preceding Taunus TC3, were from
the “Pinto” family. The power ranged between 75 PS (55 kW) for the 1.6 and 120 PS (88 kW) for the XR4 and later Ghia S versions. Some Ghia models also featured automatic transmission as an optional. The station wagon was called the
Sierra Rural—”Rural” being used for station wagons in Argentina in the same
way “Turnier” is used in Germany.GL model was the base model replaced by the LX with
same equipment. The XR4 was eventually complemented by the five-door Ghia S/SX.
In the USA, the Ford Sierra and the Ford Scorpio were offered under the now defunct
Merkur brand. The Sierra was imported as a three-door only, and called the XR4Ti
(similar to sub-model designations in other markets). The Sierra name was not used by
Ford in the US; the market had already seen the similar-sounding Oldsmobile Ciera,
and the Sierra name was used and trademarked by General Motors Corporation from
the 1970s as a trim level on its pickup trucks and because it would have interfered
sales of the similarly-sized, American-made Ford Taurus. As of 1999, GM markets
the GMC Sierra as a separate nameplate from the GMC C/K, the Sierra’s predecessor.
The car was offered from the start of the Merkur brand in 1985 until 1989.
It was equipped as a rear wheel drive 2.3 L SOHC inline 4 cylinder
(commonly known as the “Lima” engine) equipped with a Garrett T3 turbocharger
and fuel injection.
XR4i and other sporting models
In 1983, the high-performance XR4i version was introduced. It utilised the same 2.8 L
Cologne engine as 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. The XR4Ti was raced in Europe, most notably by
Andy Rouse who used one to win the 1985 BTCC.In South Africa, there was a 3.0 L V6 version,
called the XR6, also made in South Africa was a limited run of 250 V8 XR8s
for saloon car racing homologation in 1984. These were based on the Ford Windsor 302 engine.
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 reappearance (as a badging exercise) in 5-door form but with the DOHC 2.0 engine instead of the V6.In 1989, Ford nodded towards its past and created the Sierra 2.0i 2000E,
a model name used with limited success on the Mk3 Cortina.
The Sierra 2000E had two-tone metallic paint, alloys, light grey leather interior, and
a trip computer in addition the standard features on the ‘Ghia’ models. It was only
available in saloon form and a limited number of models were sold between 1989 and 1991.
Ford used this to showcase the new DOHC twin cam engine which was also released in 1989.
In Argentina the non-injected XR4 model was equipped with the Taunus 2.3 engine and was
produced between 1986 and 1991. In this market the most direct rival was the Renault Fuego 2.2.
In July 1986, a special version called the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was launched,
using the 2.0 OHC bottom end with a 16V DOHC cylinder head specially developed
by Cosworth. With the Cosworth Garret T3 turbocharger and intercooler setup the
engine produced 204 PS (150 kW; 201 hp). It was designed by Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering
(SVE) group and made in Ford’s Genk factory in Belgium for use in group A. It was
based on a three-door Sierra with the dashboard from the Merkur XR4Ti. The car was
available in only white, black or Ford’s ‘Moonstone Blue’ and only 5545 were made.
All RS Cosworth and RS 500 were made in Right Hand Drive.
Racing conversion were done with the European Merkur dashboard.
In 1987, a 225 PS (165 kW; 222 hp) Sierra Cosworth, the RS500, was sold alongside the
regular version. Only 500 were produced as the minimum number of road-going cars
required to meet with newly introduced homologation racing rules, allowing it to
compete in evolution form for group A racing. The car was modified by the Tickford Engineering Company in conjunction with Ford. Revisions included uprated brakes and larger brake cooling ducts and modified front and rear spoilers
(a second smaller rear spoiler was added beneath the large “whale-tail”), a modified
front bumper to allow extra cooling for a larger intercooler, as well as various
engine upgrades including a larger turbocharger and a second fuel rail
(which did not operate on road models). Race outputs were as high as 550 bhp
(410 kW; 558 PS), in which the Sierra dominated group A series around the world.
Racing versions of the Cosworth were highly successful in European and World touring
car racing throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s’, and the RS500 helped Ford
to win the manufacturer’s title in the 1987 World Touring Car Championship. Ford was
forced to fall back on the Sierra for rallying from 1987, after the banning of
the Group B formula. With only rear-drive, the Sierra struggled to compete on
looser surfaces but was very quick on asphalt, Didier Auriol
winning his first World Championship rally in a Sierra in Corsica, 1988.
It was replaced by the 4×4 Sapphire version from 1990, which never managed to win a
World Championship event but became a popular and successful
car in national championships. The Sierra was replaced by the Escort Cosworth in 1993.
In 1988, a new Cosworth was produced which was based on the Sierra Sapphire saloon.
13,140 were produced until it was replaced in 1990 by a four-wheel-drive version,
the Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth 4×4, of which 12,250 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 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 150 PS (110 kW; 148 hp)
to over 200 hp (149 kW). The 2.9 got a twin-turbo setup, available with variants up
to 280 hp (209 kW). 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 Sierra known
as the Minker; only a handful were ever produced, as they cost significantly more
than Ford’s own RS Cosworth.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, called so after a major dealer
that made the conversions, are still running today.