The cars we loved.
Ford ISO what? You’d be forgiven if you had never heard of this almost one off that combined Italian design flair with Ford’s technical and marketing savy. Unfortunatly, it had less technical savy and more design flair which meant it was easily overlooked in the crowded European marketplace. The car was shown as a concept at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show and was put into production the following year. It was only offered as a coupe, but one convertible was produced. The interior and most mechanical bits were different in the concept. German by parantage, but Italian in spirit, the collaboration with Ghia would mark an on going fascination by Ford with Italian design and engineering that climaxed with Ford’s bid to buy Ferrari, the rejection and later revenge via GT40 in the years following. This Ford deal with the Italians would be a more friendly and less productive marrige.
The production car would be based on the mainstream Ford Taunus platform, the Ford ISO was the end result of a collaboration with the Italian design studio Ghia’s production wing called OSI (Officine Stampaggi Industriale) and the Ford Motor Company’s European office in Cologne Germany. Ford provided the parts from the Taunus including it’s 2.3 L OHV V6 to Turin and would get completed cars back. Those cars were unlike anything else in Ford’s European line up at the time and had a more American look than the tiny cars that made up Ford’s Euro based product lines. Graceful and powerful looking, it in some ways reminded one of the Mustang, but it’s overall proportions were less elegant (if not awkward) looking.
In fact, it was suggested that Ford of Europe was developing the OSI to become a European Mustang of a sort. Ford USA was exporting the Mustang to Germany and called it the T5 and the two cars shared a similar profile, especially from the rear. The Mustang however outsold the OSI considerably. It was easy to see why. Despite the car’s racy Italian lines, the OSI V6 could only muster 90hp initially. Later cars recived a 2.3 L with 108hp. Many owners ended up modifying their cars for more power. The car might have been a bit sluggish, but it handled well with exotic sized 15 inch wheels and a very conventional live rear axel with MacPherson struts up front.
Good looks were not enough to sustain it. Even during it’s short production run of fewer than 2000 cars, there were quality control issues. Then suddenly OSI collapsed and production suddenly stopped. Ford was left without a sporty coupe to compete with Opel with and developed the Capri to fill that void. OSI’s are extremely rare today and are found mostly in Europe. Most did not fare well against the elements, as many are rusted out.
If you can find one running, it most likely has been modified as the original engine was not set up to run on unleaded gasoline. The OSI was an interesting footnote in the evolution of Ford of Europe’s product mix. Oddly enough, the graceful look of the OSI never found it’s way into any of Fords future European products. Ford’s American designs seemed to move into the direction of sporty fastbacks (as was the rest of the Big Three) into the 70’s. – a look inspired by the Mustang and prehaps the OSI 20M TS. Ford learned it’s lesson and was more succesful with it’s next attempt at Italian cross breeding which resulted in the DeTomasso Pantera by the mid 70’s. Success was a relative term as the Pantera was not the most refined of Anglo-Euro Exotics.