The cars we loved.
Automotive historians who follow design trends will note that the Ford Sierra was the first Ford to use the “jelly mold” styling that became the hallmark of Fords automotive design worldwide. Although the Taurus is perhaps the most successful example of Ford’s aerodynamic ’80s designs, the Sierra predates it by 3 years. Both cars were inspired by the Probe III concept car of 1981, a vehicle that established Ford’s design direction for the next 12 or so years.
In Europe, parts of Asia and South America, Ford was about to replace the mid-sized rear wheel drive Cortina. The replacement called the Sierra was initially available as a rear wheel drive five door hatchback and estate car (wagon). The look was a radical departure from anything anyone had designed before. It was a big risk for Ford, who had to battle rumors of airflow issues and its ability to hide minor damage due to energy absorbing bumpers. The drama eventually settled as the press and public began to embrace the new aero design.
Although buyers could choose from only two body styles, there were 13 different engines available. In many European nations, heavy taxes made cars with engines larger than 2.0 expensive to maintain. Fords answer was to sell a version of the Sierra with 1.3 and 2.0 L engines, some of them diesel and eventually turbocharged. A wide range of drivetrains were to be expected as the Sierra was produced in six different nations for a world market as stretching from Germany to Venezuela.
Sales gained more steam with the rollout of a more conventional looking four door sedan in 1987 called the Sapphire. Although not as aerodynamic as the original 5 door and wagon, it out sold them both and became a popular model in its own right. By this time the Sierra did not look so odd, as the rest of the automotive world was jumping on thee aerodynamic bandwagon.
Of the sporting Sierra’s the XR4 and it’s derivatives were the most popular. By using the 2.8 L four cylinder from the German built Capri, Ford was able to keep cost down and the list of options rather high. The XR4 was sold in the US at Mercury dealerships as the XR4Ti under the Merkur brand. Like its European counterpart, it was nearly identical down to the over the top bi-wing rear spoiler design. The wing design, similar to what was being used on the European inspired Mustang SVO, was Fords way to personify European design influence in multiple markets. Many critics hated the twin spoiler, but had little to complain about the XR4’s performance, short of more power. Despite great reviews, the XR4 never matched the sales of Fords other sporty cars: the Fiesta XR2 and Escort XR3i.
For those wanting more power than the 2.8 L V6 could muster, there was always the Cosworth RS, Ford’s top Sierra. It was available as a sedan or coupe (with its own version of the bi-wing spoiler). The sedan became a popular choice due to the subdued nature of its design. With no big spoilers or obvious boy racer add ons, the sedan became a low cost executive sedan alternative to Audi, Mercedes and BMW. Frumpy and upright looking, it was not the most attractive looking of the Sierra offerings. In some ways its 3 box design was more reminiscent of VW’s second generation Jetta than the 5 door hatchback Sierra. For those with still even deeper pockets, there were tuner options like Turbo Technics all-wheel drive versions of the XR4 with a turbocharged 2.9 L making 280hp. The high price combined with the relatively low production numbers of these cars makes them amongst the rarest of the Sierras.
The sporty overall nature of even the base 1.3 and 2.0 Sierras, prompted many buyers to seek more power at their local Ford dealerships. Turbos were commonly added to smaller displacement Sierras in an attempt to gain more performance without the tax penalties and expense that comes with a Cosworth or tuner special. These cars were commonly referred to as “Stockman Turbos” for their strict adhesion to stock parts from the Ford performance bin.
By the dawn of the 90’s the Sierra design was beginning to show it’s age, but not nearly as much as other designs born in the early part of the 80’s. In the end Sierra was most popular in England with well over a million sold while New Zealand, South Africa and some areas in South America equally embraced this versatile world car. In 1993 the Sierra was replaced by a true world car, the Mondeo, also sold as the Mercury Contour/Ford Contour in North America.