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The Carchive: Ford Sierra, A Uwe Bahnsen Tribute.

Chris Haining August 16, 2013 All Things Hoon, The Carchive 14 Comments

Ford Sierra

When putting together Carchive posts I do my best to choose brochures and cars which will appeal to a broad cross-section of the Hooniversariat. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes a little less so. This time around, though, and with all due respect, I couldn’t care less about what anybody thinks about either the product or the publication.

Today we’ll be looking at the original launch brochure for the Ford Sierra, which made its debut in 1982, and we’re doing that out of respect for Fords then Vice-President of Design, who sadly passed on the eighth of this month.

Mr Bahnsen, this one’s for Uwe.

“The new Ford Sierra. Man and machine in perfect harmony”

As the first consciously forward-thinking Ford to hit the European market in some time, this was an appropriately spacey catch-phrase to use. It was also quite forgivable, because this was a car that had been designed for the driver to actually use and make the most of, rather than just being a product; a consumer durable, which was what the Cortina could fairly be accused of being.

Ford Sierra 2

“If you love the open road, it’s a car you’re going to enjoy. Because it’s designed around the driver….”

The dashboard design was split into four distinct zones. Zone 1: Active driving information (speed, revs, fuel etc). Zone 2: Ancillary equipment (fog-lamps, heated screen, rear wash/wipe etc). Zone 3: Warning and information systems (of which more below). Zone 4: Entertainment and comfort.

This new dashboard, which curved around the driver, was best illustrated by the top-of-the-range Ghia model, as experienced by yours truly in our family car for a big chunk of the ’80s and ’90s. I spent a good deal of time watching that instrument panel from the rear seat during family holidays; my eyes patrolling the displays for a warning light that never came.

 The best bit was Zone 3. In the Ghia that included the Graphic Information Module, which contained a top-down neon view of the car which showed any improperly closed doors, any defective bulbs, temperature warning below 4degrees and then below zero (shown by a terrifying RED snowflake). Also a digital clock with elapsed time, alarm and analogue AND digital readouts. This was in addition to the comprehensive strip of warnings including (but not limited to) brake pads, water and oil temperatures. Design “experts” of the time actually criticised the dashboard design, saying that it didn’t properly reflect the idealistic, forward thinking exterior. But what did they know? As an advancement over the Cortina, and Uwe’s rectilinear Granada console, the Sierra was fresh and, well, right. I loved it. I still do.

Ford Sierra 3

“Remember Probe III, the stunning prototype design study that was first revealed to the public at the 1981 Frankfurt Motor Show?”

There is some conspiracy theory that the Sierra was developed before the Probe III, shown at Frankfurt in full-dress and then undressed for public consumption depending on the public reception of the Probe. Certainly, design work started in 1978 so there would have been ample time for this to be the case. Ford have never officially cleared things up one way or the other.

Whatever the case may be, Probe III was extremely valid as a concept, particularly as it confirmed Fords interest in aspects of design that they had never shown remote concern about, aside from in flight-of-fancy concepts of the ‘Sixties. It was true that Probe III:

“…explored dozens of ideas that would soon find their way into production”

Key of these was that grille-less front end, which instantly set the Sierra aside from more evolutionary rivals, even if this feature was initially only made standard-fit on the very top models of the range. The fastback rear end treatment was a brave step, too: Sierra wouldn’t be made available in the traditional three-box sedan shape until the Sierra Sapphire arrived five years later. Those wanting an absolutely direct Cortina replacement would have to wait until then.

Technologically, though, there was little under the skin that you could describe as even vaguely revolutionary. The most interesting development was how the wheels were attached to the car:

“The all-independent suspension system: Sporting handling without hard springs”

The semi-trailing arms at the back had already been experienced underneath the critically acclaimed Ford Granada MK2, and were a world apart from the ox-cart issue live-axle setup of the Cortina. Everything from the spring rates to the level of damping actually meshed. The Sierra rode well, handled well. It was neither the sharpest nor the smoothest, but it was, resoundingly, good enough. And infinitely more accomplished than the Cortina.

This was typical of the way the oily-bits of the Sierra had been developed. It seemed that the development programme had concentrated on putting Ford of Europes Medium-sector car on the cutting edge, but only stylistically and conceptually. Mechanically, as long as it wasn’t awful, it would do. Hence, for motive power, Sierra was propelled by:

“direct descendents of the reliable and durable Cortina engines”

These were the straight-four OHC “Pinto” engines of between 1300 and 2000 CC, and the “Cologne” V6 OHV’s of 2000 and 2300 CC. The 2800 Cologne would follow a little later when Sierra would wear its enthusiasts badge for the first time. So the engines were as straightforward as they came; single-cam, two-valves per cylinder, carburettored. But proven, and this was an appealing and important attribute. It was nice for people to know that, no matter what Ford had done with the recipe, the taste would stay the same.

It was interesting that Ford should want to say so much in the brochure about so much of the Sierra’s development. In fact, they even went as far as to share things that might actually have been wise to keep quiet about:

“…studies showed that, in certain areas, sheet metal could actually be reduced in gauge with no adverse effect on strength or durability.”

My Father, a HAM radio license holder, once drilled a hole in the roof of our sierra to fit a 2m/70cm VHF/UHF antenna, and I remember him being startled by how thin the metal had seemed. But it did seem that the thin metals had been employed in fairly sensible places, not just everywhere in the fashion of certain other European cars. Sierras, if looked after (and thousands weren’t) were not fearful rustbuckets. The earliest seemed to have the best resistance to the marching tin-worm, and all models would eventually shrug off their rear wheel-arches and let their battery trays effervesce into history, but they were generally pretty well assembled from reasonable components.

Ford Sierra 4

At launch, Sierra was offered in the UK in 5 door hatch and longroof variants. The three-door hatch (short-lived on the UK market but available long-term in Europe) came along in ’83. It was an expansive range, and this brochure illustrates it in depth, starting with the base-level model known merely as Sierra.

“From outside, you’ll recognise it by its special wheels and different grille and bumper treatment. The whole nose section is dark grey”

This was A Bad Idea. It looked silly. The grey nose was ghastly (the slatted grille on the lower models was bad enough in body colour without being highlighted), the top-hinged mirrors were gawky. And inside there was an impressively impoverished equipment tally. The avant-garde dashboard was a shadow of what it could be when most of the features were missing.

Compare the vanilla Sierra to the Ghia model at the top of the range and it was barely the same car, something that was all too obvious whether you looked at the outside or the inside.

Ford Sierra 5

“Altogether, the Ghia is quite a car”

And quite a looker. The headlamps were bigger, including integrated long-range driving lights; there were high-intensity fog-lamps too, and faired-in indicator lamps in the corners. The Ghia looked exactly the same in your rear-view mirror as the XR4i would, except for the chrome highlight in place of the XRs Cobra Red insert. And at the rear there were exclusive Ghia-only rear lamps, with subtle black pin-striping.

Ford Sierra 6

Inside, the “Chatsworth” seat trim was lavish, the wood on the doors managed to look kind-of-classy, there were electrical gadgets galore and and an unfeasibly cool joystick to control the stereo’s balance and fade. Ghia meant hness if nothing else. Vauxhalls equivalent Cavalier, even in CD specification, looked somewhat meanly equipped by comparison.

So, what did Sierra really achieve, then? Well, the Sierra didn’t actually pioneer the “grille-less nose”, the Vauxhall Cavalier already had that attribute in 1976 and there were more examples too if you look further afield. However, it could be said that the Sierra did a lot to develop the concept of  marketing good aerodynamics as a desirable feature in itself, even if the less obviously streamlined Audi 100 of the same year actually yielded a far better co-efficient of drag.

What can’t be denied, though, is the impact that the Sierra would have on future developments by the blue oval. Stephen Bayley, in his book Cars, Freedom, style, sex, power, motion, colour, everything, notes that Bahnsen “…bravely refused conventional market research. When the Sierra was tested (without identifying badges) in consumer clinics, a majority felt that it was more expensive than the target price. But the research did not ask the same consumers if they would actually buy it”

Of course, the Sierra was met by slightly cautious customers, mainly because every previous Ford in this sector had been incredibly conservative and predictable. Suddenly they were being exposed to something scary and new. The phrase “Jelly-mould” was seemingly coined especially for the Sierra. But gradually, the car began to catch on. As more and more appeared on the roads, so the previous Cortina looked more and more dated.

Then, of course the XR4i arrived and some of those spoilers, air dams and skirts that the world had seen back on the Probe III in 1981 made their return. This time, the public rather liked it.

And without the eventual success of the Sierra you could bet that Ford wouldn’t have wanted to repeat the same experiment on the other side of the Atlantic. The Aero T-Birds would probably never have happened without the Sierra having reinforced Fords bravery on a global scale. The Taurus and Sable of ’86, although having very little in common mechanically with the European car, was undoubtedly designed with the same considerations in mind.

This is a very honest, extremely detailed brochure. It’s almost completely free of lifestyle bullshit, merely presenting facts and reasons rather than telling you what wonderful effects ownership of a Sierra would have on you, why it would make your days happier and your sex-life more fulfilling.

One day I will own a Sierra. A Ghia, like my Dads (A794MEW, I still love you) would be nice, but an XR4i would be fantastic. Genuinely, it’s one of my very favourite things to have ever stalked our highways. I love it for what it was and what it meant. I can admire details of its design (especially the concave line running from the leading edge of the front side window which eventually morphs into he rear deck) just as I do on any Modenese masterpiece you might mention.

Uwe Bahnsen didn’t actually design the Sierra, but he was responsible for it. And for that I am truly thankful. Rest in peace mate.

  • dukeisduke

    "Chatsworth"? Looks more like Realtree, or Mossy Oak.

    Rest in peace, Herr Bahnsen.

  • dukeisduke

    Somewhere stashed away I have an '87 Ford UK full line brochure. A friend went on vacation and brought it back for me. Everything from the Fiesta to the Granada Scorpio (another one of Herr Bahnsen's designs).

  • Van_Sarockin

    Quite the car. The dash is quite striking, and it looks to me like it would be very good in daily use. Especially that vampire blizzard warning light. Classy interiors, too. And a nicely buttoned down exterior. It makes you wonder how Ford managed to lose the plot entirely when they brought these over as the Merkur line for Lincoln Mercury. These really should have stolen sales from BMW and M-B. Instead, they hardly sold a handful.

  • lilpoindexter

    I am proud to say I owned an XR4Ti.

  • Perc

    The Sierra didn't compete with BMW or MB. Or well, I guess it might have stolen a few sales from the E30 as a reasonably priced and roomier alternative to a 318i, but it certainly didn't touch MB.

    I grew up in one of these, a 1984 metallic blue 5-door diesel. Ford didn't have diesel engines of their own at the time so they sourced (yet another) one from Peugeot-Indenor, a 2.3-liter 4-pot. I remember how weird it was, I thought, that every other Sierra I saw around was so smooth and quiet compared to ours. 🙂

    We had it for close to ten years. It was the first car I remember dad actually buying (to replace a silver 5-door Saab 900 GLs) and we had it long enough for me to actually drive it. I wasn't old enough to drive, but I was more than happy to move cars around the yard whenever a car needed (or didn't need) moving.

    I had one of my own too, from age 19 to 24 if I recall correctly. I put about 100,000 km on it while I had it, and you can't really fault it for being unreliable even though I put a lot of money into repairs because all wear items like shock absorbers and the exhaust system happened while I owned it. Mine was a red 1990 sedan, or "sapphire" as it's known to the Brits. It had the short-lived 2-liter DOHC and fuel injection. The facelifted sedans, especially the 1992-93 versions with colour coded bumpers and the updated dashboard, are by far my favourite Sierras.

    The Mondeo, while obviously being a better and more modern car in every way, didn't ever manage to fill the Sierra's shoes in my eyes.

  • Rover1

    It is sad to hear of Uwe's passing, he will be missed.
    Some of his other designs
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    • monkey_tennis

      The cars that together define my childhood and teenage years.

      I remember having seen the Probe III concept in the press, but still feeling the 'shock of the new' when the Sierra was launched. There were few model changes that I can remember having such a sense of revolution rather than evolution at that time. It wasn't just that it seemed to be decades more modern than the Cortina it replaced, but also that it seemed years more modern than any of its competitors.

      • monkey_tennis

        Giving due credit to Ford, another launch that had a similar feeling of revolutionary change was the 1st generation Focus replacing the Escort.

        Perhaps it is that the Escort design had steadily evolved stylistically through the 3rd, 4th & 5th generations (1980 onwards) whilst rivals had jumped around from one look to another (contrast the 1st-4th generation Astra/Kadett or the Allegro-Maestro-Rover 200). That meant that the new Focus with its 'edge design' themes really did seem like a big departure.

  • Ate Up With Motor

    On the engine front, there is something to be said for not trying introduce a completely new car and completely new engine lines at the same time, at least as far as early adopters — or, perhaps more to the point, nervous fleet managers — are concerned. Deciding not to doesn't necessarily endear you to the critics, who are usually enamored of the newest and shiniest things to the exclusion of all else, but there are some things it doesn't pay to rush.

    Did the early smaller-engined Sierras use the Pinto four or the newer CVH engines from the Escort?

    • Rover1

      From memory, they were mechanically a Cortina with IRS ,all the first versions had Pinto engines.1.3,1.6 and 2.0 litres, all with carburrettors

    • Perc

      The four-cylinders were all Pinto units until 1989 when Ford finally admitted defeat and retired them.

      The replacements were 1.6/1.8 liter CVHs and the 2-liter DOHC, a new 8-valve twin cam that was designed on a lunch break to hold them over for a few years. They already had the mondeo with its brand new 16v zetec units in the works, to be released in 1993.

  • Rover1

    Everyone loves the Cosworths but I must admit a soft spot for the South African market Windsor powered …
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    • Number_Six

      Hawt.

  • Maymar

    As Wikipedia tells me, the Sierra launched in late '82, probably right around the time Ford North America was rolling out the '83 AeroBird (after Jack Telnack was asked if its boxy predecessor was a car he'd really want to buy), and it's acknowledged that the Tempo/Topaz were being wind-tunnel sculpted in the late 70s, so it's probably pretty safe to say Ford committed to aerodynamics on both sides of the Atlantic before the Sierra became a success. Of course, the Tempo and T-Bird were slightly more conservative than the Sierra, so I wouldn't question that it demonstrated that there was room to go more radical and still succeed.

    That said, I'm absolutely with you that'd I'd love some variety of Sierra – nevermind what some of the more enthusiast-friendly variants achieved, just the idea of a handsome, reliable, right-sized RWD hatchback that doesn't weight as much as a moderate freighter is very, very appealing.

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