By on October 28, 2013

It’s been a while since our last update on TTAC’s intercontinental project car: a UK-spec 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia finished in Rio Brown.  Since then the Sierra’s gifted creator passed away and more positively, Ford wisely ditched its Titanium trim level for a famous name befitting a premium offering with brown paint…even if it isn’t Ghia.

Jealous much of TTAC’s sweet ride, FoMoCo?  


We ended our last story with the Sierra’s hood cable unable to release the “bonnet”. Which was fixed one year ago this week: reaching between the front fascia and the radiator to grab the release lever and pop it free.  From there, two zip ties eliminated the slack in the cable and it’s been fine ever since.  A surprisingly easy fix!


Any hope of getting Citizen Sierra nice and legal started with its horrible exhaust leak, probably stemming from the Nürburgring workout given by Capt. Mike at said famous race track.

I grabbed a 2.3L Mustang manifold gasket, pulled the cast iron lump off and realized that the 2.0L Pinto motor has a unique cylinder head.  With no matching gasket in sight, I swapped my unopened part for Mr. Gasket’s sheet of “make your own” gasket paper.  In less time than it took to watch a football game, I crafted a set of four gaskets. About a week before Christmas 2012, I finished the Sierra’s exhaust. Ironically, that was also the day I confronted my inner and outer demons.

Making a concerted effort to change my attitude/personality that evening, the Sierra–in some twisted way–became my catalyst for that change. So it became that Citizen Sierra joined my personal quest for continuous improvement.


Considering the number of cars in the Mehta garage, a unique key chain was needed.  I found these vintage units (modeled after a promotional button Ford made in 1982) on eBay in the US, and they were mine in a couple of days. Nice.


Shameless Plug: in February I scored specialty car insurance, quite affordable thanks to the extraordinary customer service at the National Corvette Museum. With proof of fiduciary responsility in hand, I motored out of the warehouse for a state inspection, a simple task with any 25+ year old car in Texas!  The ride there was surprisingly serene, and it easily passed the test.

With the Sierra legal (enough) to begin the path to citizenship, I hit another roadblock: the head lights and brake lights went berserk.  I tried fixing them: repairing frayed wiring, replacing bulbs, a new brake pedal switch, a multifunction switch from a Merkur, all to no avail.  By mid March I was 100% frustrated: so I quickly reassembled my work and drove to a friend’s shop. And a little over three months later…


Sadly that friend had even more existential concerns than myself: after his cell phone was disconnected, I went to claim my Sierra, in whatever condition it may sit.  Mercifully he fixed it well, charged next to nothing and I learned a lesson…or three.

Soon after I took a few hours off work to get the Sierra titled. Except not: the county wasn’t pleased with the paperwork.  The Sierra is pictured here (above) in July at the Houston Police Department’s Auto Theft division, where they quickly processed/approved Form 68-A: a crucial part to obtaining citizenship in Texas.  While this was one of the creepiest, covert operations I’ve seen (they don’t even let you inside) the people were certainly pleasant enough.


Victory!  Sort of: between an international title that wasn’t signed by Capt. Mike and two ownership changes between here and the UK, I needed a bonded title to get legal.  My friends in the classic car trade recommended a local title company. In less than a week, they made the impossible happen.  While I enjoy working instead of waiting in lines, there was a singular downside. Their handiwork set me back a painful $750.


Legal issues cleared, the work began: first the horrible radio. While the factory unit supposedly picked up FM, it seemed to miss the land of BBC radio. Then the tape deck broke, taking away my MP3 interface!  I grabbed the same (Blaupunkt) radio from a 1980s USA Audi in hopes it would work. No dice.

Then I bought a stunning vintage, NOS, perfect DENON cassette deck, which wasn’t amplified and therefore useless to the Sierra. Stereo #4, a “so cheap its worth a shot” NOS Pyramid deck with a graphic equalizer did work, but made the original speakers crackle and pop like that “snappy” breakfast cereal.  $50 later on eBay and I was installing new 4” Kenwood coaxial speakers into a very chocolatey cabin.  The rears were a snap, but the fronts were…well you see the photo.


While the craptastic Pyramid was an improvement, it was still a horrible radio.  Back to eBay, and this Hitachi tape deck with an AUX jack and an ingenious spring-loaded pull out mechanism (no grab handle) was mine for a fair price.  Lesson learned: vintage Kenwood/Alpine audio fanbois pay waaaay too much for cassette decks!


After a few more miles of weekend cruises and plans for a short trip to judge a LeMons race, the Sierra developed some annoying problems. A ripped spark plug boot (that I destroyed during inspection/removal) needed attention, but ordering tune up parts for a Sierra (i.e. not of the GMC variety) at the parts store is cumbersome. And the word “Merkur” doesn’t help, either. Luckily an Autozone cut-to-fit kit (USA made!) combined with new Motorcraft plugs worked perfectly. A nice repair for less than $25.   4_1

The exhaust had problems at the rear, too.  $150 later and a local shop replaced the crusty rear resonator and it looks factory. Surprisingly, the new assembly is louder than the original, probably because it isn’t full of rust flakes.


Then a front-end alignment: I’m stunned at the number of shops that refuse to work on a car if the alignment specs aren’t in their machine.  I had the Ford factory shop manual (purchased from a UK re-seller of discarded library books) with the specs in hand, but nobody would play…until I found a Meineke with the balls to read books, not just computers.


Then tires: these Romanian-made Vikings were not only a poor tribute to Nordic heritage, they were past it thanks to the (mis) alignment. Since the usual places don’t stock a 165/80/13 tire, I found a vendor in California selling China’s finest speed rated radials for $34 a pop. Apparently this is a common tire size for Honda Accords from the same era, so I got lucky!

5The Sierra’s fan clutch puked its fluid at the LeMons race in late September, making it hurl coolant as I extorted bribes from cheaty racers.  Determined to find a local replacement, I realized European Ford clutches use the same removal tool as BMWs.  I was lucky to find a brilliant night manager at the local O’Reilly’s, as he hammered away at his computer to find a ($100) clutch from an E30 that dropped right in. Thirty minutes later, the Sierra was running cooler than Jonathan Goldsmith in a booth fulla hot women.


Last month I added this custom-made LeMons bribe to the Sierra’s hatch.  One race team had a talented graphic company in tow, and it’s certainly good to be a corrupt judge with a penchant for exotic machines ending in “RI”!


Our man in Czechoslovakia, Mr.  Vojta Dobeš befriended me shortly after my initial purchase.  Turns out he grew up with Fords from the 1970s and 1980s, so his love of Sierras is strong. Even better, his ability to find valuable parts is even stronger.  I literally bounced off the walls when his box of Ford goodies arrived. We are very lucky to have this guy in our ranks.


As alluded to in last week’s Piston Slap, I ran into problems while installing these parts.  Bad grounds, blown fuses, dirty connections and a truckload of time with wiring diagrams to make it all work: but the result is brilliant. Now I have a well-mannered RWD hatchback with enough head lamps to bake your legs on an autumn winter morning. Yes, really.

The plan was to put the finished Sierra* back in the warehouse…but screw that!  I’ll keep TTAC’s project car in my garage until summer rears its ugly head (no A/C) once more. Citizen Sierra is now, after all, a big part of my past, present and future.

And now you know The Truth About TTAC’s Ford Sierra. I hope you have a fantastic week.

*NOTE: the Sierra is currently running European style plates with the correct license number for the State of Texas.  This, along with keeping the real plates in the spare tire well, is a temporary measure until I figure out how to install a Texas plate without modifying the body or the plate itself.  More to come.

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37 Comments on “TTAC Project Car: Citizen Sierra...”

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Loving your work Sajeev.

    Even in the UK, where the Sierra was a best-selling car for much of the 80s and 90s, there are very few good early models left. Most have succumbed to the rust monster, or died a hero’s death in a Sierra-specific track race (

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks and I agree about MKI Sierra rarity. Quite sad, in a way. This one has a lot of surface rust by Texas standards, but it’s quite solid overall. I was dumbfounded when Capt. Mike found this one over three years ago…rarely do I see a car and say, “I must have it!”

      I seriously doubt I’ll ever have a purchase/ownership experience as fantastic as this ever again, and luckily I get to share it with everyone at TTAC. I’m a lucky guy.

  • avatar

    thanks for the update Sajeev,
    importing cars never sold in the US will never be easy I guess.
    I am a bit amazed at the title costs and hassle an the problems of finding a local tyre supplier, less so at the way local alignment shops were afraid to work on a machine not in the computer. i ran into the same problem after helping a friend replace the springs in his 1936 Hudson Teraplane. alignment places seem to be very afraid of lawsuits and I think they get some cover by being able to say “we did it according to what the XYZ corp’s computerized machine told us to do”

    • 0 avatar

      I bet if I looked harder at tire shops, they could order me tires…from the same vendor I found. And mark it up. No thanks, I just buy, ship to my door and go to the local tire shop to get them installed for $10 a pop.

  • avatar
    Mr Imperial

    Big time Kudos to you Sajeev-you are a far braver man than I for taking on this car! I know that I would lack the patience for something as rare as this, especially with no parts here in the US, and dwindling supply back in the UK….

    I just fixed up what could be a polar opposite to your car, a 1997 Chevy Lumina. Those cars are the definition of “dime-a-dozen” in the junkyards. It went (mostly) unchanged from 1995-2001, and that includes the two-door variant Monte Carlo of the same vintage. An added bonus, in my opinion, is being able to “practice” on those cars, learning what/what not to do. Not exactly a luxury for you…

    • 0 avatar

      I started off like you, with my Fox Body Fords when I was in college. Back then I had plenty of free time and the yards were full of Foxes. It sounds like you have the tools and knowledge to advance from the Lumina to something more Sierra-like. When you are ready.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr Imperial

        “When you are ready.” Sounds so Jedi-master like :)

        My old 1992 Chrysler Imperial, if memory serves, was kept running by contributions from 6 Imperials, 2 New Yorkers, 1 Dynasty, and 1 Town and Country Minivan.

        The Lumina (which I am selling now, BTW) has had four other Luminas contributing.

        Maybe one day, something Sierra-ish, as long as I don’t get the wife saying “Were you looking to start a fight????”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The plate thing should be easily remedied with some bent sheet metal and a few bolts, unless you want it to sit flush.

  • avatar

    Sajeev ;

    _we’re_ the lucky guys (and Gals !) because we get to read your well written articles on the various Automotive things you like to do .

    I’m still buying & rebuilding odd ball vehicles 40 + years later and reading your thoughts I see the call to an uncommon vehicle is pretty much the same for others as it is for me .

    Nice car I think , I imported lots of old right hand drive vintage VW’s back in the 1970’s .

    Keep up the good works ! .


  • avatar

    Oh Dear Lord… A Sierra..

    I remember the exact opposite of you and your car: An American in Europe trying to work on a Sierra!

    A good friend of my dad was a retired US Infantry sergeant that came to live in The Netherlands with his Dutch wife. Being a Ford man, the poor soul bought a ’90 (?) Ford Sierra Mk.2 with the 2.0, 120hp DOHC engine.

    It ran well, but his Craftsman Metric tool kit (‘I want none of that Yerpean crap!’) came in handy, because I can’t recount the times his Sierra crapped out on him… Wheel bearings, brakes, a plethora of electrical problems, the Rust Monster passing by for visits…

    He ended up selling the damn thing for a Toyota Corolla.

  • avatar

    Sajeev, this is heroic & inspiring. Can I suggest a post on that clearly sets out the legal steps (and costs) you went through? As someone who is pondering how to get his hands on a Citroen CX, this would be VERY interesting to me. (I’m in MA, not TX, so I know I couldn’t just repeat your steps… but it would be a good start.)

  • avatar

    Great story, you’ve put a lot of work into your Merkury (ha). Have you had any issues getting pulled over on the Euro plates yet? I feel like here in Ohio I’d get pulled over by each eager cop, since such a car is likely to stand out by shape alone.

    The AC was just broken, or not ordered as an option? Since it’s a Ghia, I’d of figured it as standard. I guess it does have a manual sunroof though, so maybe Ghia isn’t as I thought.

    • 0 avatar

      A/C ? in a European car from the 80’s, built for the common worker ? I would say ‘lol’ if I was any younger :)
      I guess some of the german premiums could be had with A/C back then, maybe even the larger Scorpio and Granadas, but those would be a real rarity now.

    • 0 avatar

      No A/C from the factory, no issue with getting pulled over yet. Honestly, the car attracts almost zero attention on the road. This particular Ghia is missing these options:

      1. A/C
      2. Largest Engine (2.3L)
      3. Power steering (no biggie with skinny tires)
      4. Rear power windows (totally don’t mind that)
      5. Heated Front Seats
      6. Ford Digital Cassette Desk (resolved, aftermarket)
      7. Tripminder computer (in process of adding)
      8. Rear wiper/washer
      9. Headlight washers

      So while mine isn’t fully loaded, it’s still loaded. Finding a clean MKI Sierra is hard enough, I’m lucky that a Rio Brown Ghia with a spotless interior and a decent body showed up with Capt. Mike was looking.

      • 0 avatar

        Pity no more attention, since it’s nice to look at! Particularly those 80s magic hubcaps.

        It sounds like the original purchaser was skimping on options which would’ve been increasingly standardized by the late 80s. Hmm.

        • 0 avatar

          I betcha that having power windows, an automatic transmission, sun roof, adjustable reading lights, cassette deck, four speakers, etc. was pretty boss for the time and location.

          I remember seeing some of the late-70s Mercedes that came to Texas back in the day, aside from A/C they were just as “stripped” as the Sierra. Probably worse (stereo).

          • 0 avatar

            I guess I have to keep in mind that late 80s standard-mid Europe was not quite as well-equipped as late 80s standard-mid America.

            But my 87 5000S had power everuh-thang. I suppose that’s a class or two above this though.

        • 0 avatar

          2 reasons why A/C was not normal in Europe back then is that, first of all we never had the 50’s-70’s epoch here with large enough engines that you could run every possible accessory on them without noticing the loss of power.
          Second, people probaably didn’t feel the need to try and cool down in countries where you savour every day with better than 20 degree (=68 degree F) temperature :)
          And if it still got too hot, you had the (tilt/slide)sunroof.

  • avatar

    I enjoyed the article, well done.

  • avatar

    Finally. It feels like I’ve been waitin years for this update on the poor Sierra. As a fellow Sierra owner (although my (13th)Sierra haven’t been touched on 2 years) it’s awesome too see someone from the US enjoying one as well. And it’s correct that there aren’t many left on the roads over here (Norway) either, but there are lots of ‘project’-cars around (liek my rustbucket) And they still show up in (both real and replica) Cosworth form on race tracs and autocrosses, and everywhere where their lightweight RWD chassis can be an advantage.
    I have been building a NA 2.9 v6 for my car for roughly 6 years now…originally it’s a babyblue metallic 2.3(v6) GL 5door hatchback from 1984, with 106.000 km’s on the clock (roughly 65k miles)

    • 0 avatar

      Best of luck with your project, I fully understand your madness!

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, I fear I won’t be able to restart the project again after such a long break, with small children and a house that needs work though. Some part of me thinks that I’ve outgrown my ‘Sierra-phase’ and wants to buy a 31 year old Honda Prelude instead XD
        PS have you done, or will you do a ‘Vellum Venom’ article on the Sierra? As someone who has been sketching and drawing and photo-shopping cars for 30+ years now, I think that would be an interesting read (like, ‘why have no other manufacturer ever integrated the rear-view mirrors as well as on the Sierra?)

  • avatar

    Your love (or insanity) has to be even deeper than those of us who love (and work on, and repair) old cars that are actually from our respective countries!

  • avatar

    MN and Panther appreciation? Check. This bizarre oddity is something even this Hudson owner doesn’t get. Must be an acquired taste.

  • avatar

    Looking great Sajeev; my hat is off to you for pulling this off. Love those vintage Ford jellybeans.

    It must be fun driving a RHD car in Houston traffic. I would move to somewhere more rural before trying that; and would still end up running into something.

  • avatar

    Looks like M-B enthusiasts may have a solution for your license plates:

  • avatar

    Without Sajeev and the occisional Murillee Martin piece, TTAC is nothing.

  • avatar
    hands of lunchmeat

    You can purchase a plate holder made for the trunk lid of a b5 or b6 generation audi a4, as it will mount where a euro plate normally screws to. Plastic, and inexpensive.

    I feel like there are tons of guys out there who have a love for euro 70s and 80s ford products. This isn’t helping me not want to make a silly offer on an ’83 XR3i that’s been lingering for sale an hour from me……

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