By on January 16, 2015

 

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“Wait! Is that a…”

“Are you British?”

 “I haven’t seen one of these since I left Venezuela as a teenager, only rich people had Sierras!”

Behold random responses from gawkers of TTAC’s Project Car. The surprises continue after several hundred miles under the Ford Sierra’s belt, as life with this fish out of water is far from a compromise.

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To see it is to not know it: like most hyper-futuristic designs past their prime, a head turner in conservative 1982 England is a familiar profile in conservative 2015 Texas.  Aside from the steering wheel on the wrong side!

But critical eyes notice the Ghia’s grille-free nose and alien headlights. The conversation’s tenor changes: there’s no better compliment to Mr. Uwe Bahnsen and his gifted team than the subtle and thoughtful reactions a Sierra earns a full thirty-three years after liftoff.

Get behind the wheel and the modern theme continues, because it drives like a newer vehicle.

Reasonable drag coefficient (.34) and almost nothing frontal area aside, the finest late-70s technology helps the Sierra match (or trump) the manners of new vehicles at most (legal) speeds.  Strut front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering is right, even without modern aluminum componentry. The semi-trailing arm rear looks modern-ish with exposed webbing on the differential: credit the beginnings of finite element analysis.

(photo courtesy: Ford Press Release)

At 2500-ish lbs, the ho-hum Ford Sierra is a balanced rear-wheel drive, fully-Germanic chassis on a family car body. Which means that roads normally tortured by flaccid CUVs now tango with something Miata-sized.

Captain Mike, the mastermind of this plan, behind the wheel at the Nürburgring.

Thrills start at the tiller: no power assist means road feel harkens to a dance with a soul mate. Manual steering effort is no chore with 165mm wide tires that rarely lack grip on city streets. Emergency maneuvers are effortless, understeer is progressive with the possibility of gentle, controlled oversteer.

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Go round-abouting and the Sierra hangs tight as speeds near 25mph. Above 25 and the front wheels howl as your grin grows. Add a dab of oppo, scandinavian flicks, badass drifter talk blah-blah-blah: with more go-juice, steering modulation and you could duplicate this:

Fiesta THIS.

Like all Sierras thrashed-then-trashed in Europe, its a joy to drift at low speeds even if hamstringed by saggy, original springs and plush dampers. But it’s a pleasant ride/handling tradeoff.  Potholes disappear with 80-series sidewalls smoothing imperfections to the point the big-rimmed Rolls Royce Phantom hangs its NVH-soaked head in shame. How Britishy!

Too bad about the buzzy powertrain: 105 bigger-than-you-think horses from a 2.0L OHC four-banger (sporting a large 2bbl Weber) means the Sierra rarely struggles, but makes a helluva ruckus.

It’s a wonderful powerband: diesel-like torque from a standstill with a smooth-ish (but L-O-U-D) demeanor all the way to 6000 emissions control free revs. The 3-speed auto schools modern units with an effortless 1-2 upshift and a reassuring push to 3rd at full throttle: all autoboxes should shift this sweet.

Brakes?  Credit the light weight for the Sierra’s discs/drums bringing the machine down from 60mph with the hustle of a modern machine. ABS would help, ditto weight adding life-saving technology like airbags, larger door bars, etc.  I reckon with today’s weight shedding tech (aluminum engines, plastic hoods/intakes, etc) offsetting the safety goodies, the Sierra’s fighting form wouldn’t gain a pound.

In the right place. (photo courtesy: Ford Motor Company)

And Ghia spec Ford Sierras are a nice place for average Americans and most Europeans, aside from the previous owner’s decision to order it sans air conditioning: antique English vehicle shopping FTW, SON MATE!

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Fleet-spec Sierras don’t stand a chance, but the real wood trim and buffet-worthy options list protect Ghias from modern motoring irrelevance. Power windows (front 2 or 4), crank moonroof, adjustable reading lamps and a four-speaker cassette stereo are far from impressive. But heated seats, roll up rear sunshades, headlight washers and a gen-u-wine electronic trip computer are touches you’d pay extra for even today.

Mediocre overall, as integration is the killer app.

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Because 1980s. (photo courtesy: Ford Motor Company)

The dash, less radical than the wraparound polycarbonate bumpers, organizes controls in zones for easy use: one to the right of the gauges, another to the left, a third atop the center stack (dark chocolate) and a 4th in the lighter brown region. It’s charming in a proto-modern, Atari 2600 human factors kind of way.

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The interior bits are from a dumber era in polymer construction, yet texture/fit/finish from the doors, vent registers, levers and switches is pure Germanic craftsmanship. Aside from the (period excellent) brown velour, the interior’s aged well.

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But goodness, those seats are magical.  Don’t let the benign seams fool you: the Ghia sucks you in, cradling you. All passengers get thick, luxurious cushions with brilliant thigh support and Volvo-worthy head restraints. Even the Velcro-like velour provides impressive lateral support for everyone but latex-wearing fetishists.

While the stereo is barely adequate, while the vintage Hitachi deck’s discman input smartphone jack provides turn-by-turn Google navigation and streaming audio, don’t forget the tunes held in a handy hatchback with 42.4 cu-ft of space!

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And the beat goes brown.

Considering fuel economy numbers near 30mpg for highway-skewed driving (no overdrive) the Ford Sierra is an antique you could daily drive. (Just find one with A/C.)

But the original MKI design asks for more. It deserves more. 

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Back on the trailer for big upgrades: more gears, power and period-correct emissions processing for a powertrain worthy of that efficient body.

Yes, this Sierra has the power of contemporary V8s in a superior chassis. And it’s quite the time capsule, even difficult to find in Europe…but at what cost to cutting-edge design?

Next time you see TTAC’s Ford Sierra, prepare for an even larger threat to the notion of a modern car!

 

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67 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1983 Ford Sierra Ghia 2.0...”


  • avatar

    I can’t wait to see what Sajeev cooks up for the Sierra. Bet it won’t be an LS4 swap…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Always liked these because they were featured in the great early 90’s British cop show set in Newcastle called ‘Spender’. It starred Jimmy Nail who if known at all in the U.S. is known as the erstwhile lead in his buddy Sting’s failed Broadway show The Last Ship. Sting actually took his place in an attempt to bring some ‘name’ box office lustre to the cast.

    Spender was shown from ’91 to ’93 and each year Ford provided them with a Cosworth edition of the car. From the ever reliable Wikipedia: ‘the Cosworth model, which was powered by a turbocharged 16-valve 4-cylinder engine known as the YB. (1993 cc; 204 PS (150 kW; 201 hp) YB Turbo) (from 1986).’

    It seems there was also a ‘4×4’ version of these available.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I thought Sajeev lived in that big white house up the street. There have been other articles with photos taken in front of it, and not this lil brown house!

    The deception!

    I love the Ghia brougham badging on the interior wood. That’s superb.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Looks great Sajeev, especially with all the Ghia goodness. “Ghia” was the nearest thing we got to “Brougham” in the UK (lots of brown velour and fake wood) and for a while in the 1970s and 1980s, Ford Ghias were held in high regard.

    What upgrades do you have planned for your car? The 2.8 V6 Cologne engine was the top engine here in the UK, but I know they managed to fit a V8 into the Sierra in other parts of the world.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @ monkey – Here in the States, by far the best thing about the Ghia trim was Jaclyn Smith: http://hooniverse.com/2011/04/23/hooniverse-weekend-edition-the-adventures-of-charlies-angels-with-their-fords/

      Love the velour, if not necessarily in this color. (Sajeev, those seats may clean up nicely with an extractor. Check out some detailing videos on YouTube.) I can’t be the only person who thinks that seat trim in many cases has gotten worse over the past 30 years? It seems at many price points, manufacturers offer you mediocre-to-poor fabric in effort to guilt you into paying for mediocre-to-poor leather (which often consists to small, heavily processed “leather seating surfaces” surrounded by vinyl*). US-market BMWs, for example, used to come with what I’d describe as a good-quality velour that had a shorter pile that what you’d see on your Brougham-type vehicles. The typical buyer of today probably would unthinkingly react, “Cheap!” It was good stuff, in my opinion.

      – – –
      *which is not necessarily to diss MB-Tex or a good-quality vinyl that’s forthrightly offered as such

      • 0 avatar

        Seats are perfect, you not seeing dirt. That’s just light bouncing off the shag in different angles.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          @ Sajeev – Ah, good to know. I thought that might be the case, which of course didn’t stop me from offering unsolicited advice. :-)

          A quick web search confirms that BMW, for example, used to offer cloths that look nicer than what they currently offer in some non-US markets: http://worlduph.com/samples/bmw_body_cloth.htm. I was a big fan of the herringbone, though I can’t vouch for its durability past year six of ownership. I know Japan and the US both have done some incredibly durable cloths that also manage to be comfortable.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @spreadsheet,
      In Australia we had the Cosworth Sierra’s. I thought they had the best engines and suspension tuning.

      They were exceptionally competitive in our Group A racing series from the mid 80s to the early 90s.

      No V8 in that class could keep the Sierra along with the Datsun Bluebird with the turbo 1.8 and of course the Skyline… these Datsun/Nissan’s came from the Japanese Golden Age of automobiles.

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    yeah yeah maybe the last car made in Argentina with RWD.
    One of the dream race car of the 80′ but fail in competition vs renault fuego, that’s is something rare (FWD beat RWD)

    In TC 2000 races only Oreste Berta can do it this.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Brilliant, I cold barely have written it more objectively myself. Just more prrof that this was the pinnacle in car engineering, all cars made after the facelift in ’87 are redundant (except maybe for safety, the Sierra is not lightweight just because of any magical engineering, the welded front fenders and glued windows are actually part of it’s structural integrity)
    A/C would be pretty rare on a first gen Sierra, but this car with the EFI and 5 speed is about as good as a car can be. The Ghia seats with adjustable lumbar support(and even better the recaro-designed XR4i/IS-seats) are among the best I’ve owned, unlike the base seats which suck you in comfortably, but then take away your ability to walk and lift after about an hour of driving)
    As for engine swaps, I think a Honda S2000 drivetrain would be awesome, and retain the weight distribution, while still operating like a standard car as long as you stay below the VTEC.
    Upgrading the suspension to Cosworth spec,and using 205/50-15 wheels is good enough for decent a handling/comfort compromise, considering the light weight.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      The ’88 T-Bird Turbo Chicken Coupe drivetrain would be the easiest, and most bang for your buck, swap. Those cars are plentiful and cheap. Convert to a 5-speed or use the overdrive auto. And an 8.8 limited slip, with 3.73s and disk brakes already loaded. Tremendous aftermarket too. Those 2.3 engines are loaded with all forged internals and high nickle blocks. Volvo twin-cam heads are a direct bolt-on. Easy/cheap 500 hp with aftermarket pistons/rods, big turbo, O-ringed heads, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        The Turbo-coupe route would probably be the easier way, but then you’d just end up with an upgraded 5-door XR4ti more or less. I don’t know how different the XR4Ti is from the European Sierras, but I guess the 2.3 block is pretty similar to the European Pinto 2 liter? The T9 5-speed can barely handle the torque of the injected 2.0 so getting a T-5 (and a Cosworth bellhousing) is the best way to make it last more than a week, especially if 500 hp is a goal.
        Also, the 5.0 route is simple (cheap) and effective (torque), and there are a whole lot of XR4tis with smallblocs, not to mention the South African homologation special XR8 version from ’85. Although it will hurt weight distribution, unless you get as much aluminum as possible on it (not much more than the turbo with piping/intercooler though)

        • 0 avatar

          The Thunderbird Turbo uses a T-5, not the T-9.

          And take it from me: the turbo Lima motor is very, very different from the Pinto. I’ve grown weary of making exhaust gaskets for this pinto…and if the manifold is warped? Game over.

          • 0 avatar
            Zykotec

            yeah, a little googling shows that you’ll need engine mounts from an Xr4ti if you’re going the Lima way, I knew the block was longer, but I guess there are other differences too.
            The T-5 should work great, and should have decent aftermarket support over there.
            Another (probably more expensive) option would be a Scorpio Cosworth V6 and automatic.
            PS; I think I still have a couple of exhaust manifolds lying around, but I guess shipping from Norway will be costly.

          • 0 avatar

            No, but…if you could find new A-pillar weatherstripping for the driver’s (RHD) pillar, I’d quite like that. Mine’s a bit worse for wear.

            [email protected]

          • 0 avatar
            Zykotec

            Looks like this site has had it at some time. They may be able to get them again. Looks like a part that can be DIY’ed though. http://www.motomobil.com/weatherstrip-door-to-a-pillar-right-hand,3237,16210630-1.html

    • 0 avatar

      Jeez, you guys are good! Now can you give us some stock tips?

  • avatar
    Occam

    Is this the same as the Merkur cars that I used to see about? They looked to me like 80’s Escorts that melded with Fox-Body Mustangs… in other words, a lot like the Mercury Capri of the era.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Got to drive one of these in the early 90’s in England. It was a 1.6, so absolutely no power. I don’t recall being impressed about the car at all. Handling was just OK, layout was good, but not as good as (for instance) a Saab 900.

    One question: why mod this RHD car when you can probably still find a Merkur for peanuts? Will you be using any Merkur parts in your build?

  • avatar
    Windy

    do your plans include adding AC and if so how will you do it? no AC in your part of Texas must be hell in all but the winter months. will yo have to get the dash from an AC equipped version from a UK parts yard?

    and lastly what was the total cost involved in getting this car to Texas and reregistered?

    • 0 avatar

      No need for A/C, that’s what my other cars are for. The heater is excellent and summer nights are totally good for the occasional drive with the moonroof open and the windows down.

      Because of paperwork problems, I had to get a bonded title ($750) state inspection ($20) and towing from the delivery area in Dallas to my house (car was kinda not running well, $200-ish) Shipping from Europe was dirt cheap because of Mike Solo’s efforts as an Air Force Captain.

      You should really get the full story here: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/tag/ttac-project-car/

  • avatar
    Gman94

    The daddy of my 86 Merkur XR4Ti. Take away 2 doors, add a biplane spoiler and a 2.3l turbo. It was fairly lightweight (2900 lbs, IIRC) but had a very compliant ride.

    Right about the seats though. They were great. Also, the hatchback swallowed almost anything with the rear seats folded.

  • avatar

    Very nice. I rented one of these in France, in ’87. I was driving on the autoroute at US speeds (probably ~65mph, and Frenchmen were passing me as if I was standing still. I decided to see how fast they were going. ~100 was my speed record until ’93.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I LOVE this car.

    Ford botched the Merkur division and products in the US, but I still always thought the XR4ti was tremendous, especially with the biplane spoiler. The Scorpio never had a chance.

    My 85 LeBaron GTS was a near clone of this car in its looks, but it was FWD.

  • avatar
    otter

    Tell me about that plate in the photo of the open hatch – will Texas issue you a legit EU-look ‘Murrican license plate, or is that something for display/fun?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    https://www.vehicleenquiry.service.gov.uk/

    Just punch in the UK number plate for fun details!

    Look at the annual reg fee on this thing.
    12 month rate £230.00

    Geez!

    First registered 1/15/83. Happy birthday Sierra.

    Oh, also.
    http://www.fordcapriforum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=35364

  • avatar
    rodface

    Hey Sajeev, what neighborhood is that in the top photo?

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Have not seen this car since I was over in Sweden in the late eighties. My agent had one and we drove all over Sweden visiting various customers. Great road car and I was quite impressed. Funny I still remember being in a Saab 900 and the driver started the car using a choke. Since at the time I owned the same model back home in the USA I questioned how does a choke work with fuel injection and I was told the car did not have fuel injection. I was told buyers in Sweden did not trust fuel injection at the time and it was only used on export models. This way the bugs could be worked out by the Americans. Do not know if he was kidding me but I never forgot that answer. Another thing was most of my import customers in Sweden mostly drove American cars. One of them had the last model that Studebaker made. Loved the car and was sorry to see the end of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Perc

      European car manufacturers have always tried to position themselves as more upscale in the US. Most people don’t really have any idea how basic a German or Swedish car can be on their home continent.

      The A4, 3 series and C class have always been available with really basic engines and zero amenities, and people bought them in droves, too. And then there’s the 300 and 400 series Volvos which no American has ever seen. Not that you really missed much.

      But the opposite is true as well. Detroit spent a great deal of time convincing European buyers that “american cars” were big and wafty, that they had lots of cylinders and power everything as standard. They have no idea what a Ford Pinto or a Chevrolet Citation is. Or a Cavalier. They know of the Ford Focus obviously but not that it was sold in the US as well.

      When GM suddenly decided to first bring a whole lineup of Daewoos to Europe and then put Chevrolet badges on them, people thought they were crazy. Over here the Chevrolet brand stands for (or used to stand for) vans, pickups and Caprices, not Cavaliers and Citations.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    So this thing has the same motor as a Pinto, huh?

    Well, at least it’s in a better car.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Sajeev, whatever powertrain you put in there, it HAS to be light. They use to reinforce the front strut towers of these in YV for a reason.

    You will also have to improve the brakes and the cooling if you put anything bigger than you current I4.

    Good to see it running.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I made a decision early on to not put 10 pounds of you-know-what in a 5 pound bag. I basically refuse to take my own advice of LSX-FTW, but that’s mostly because of the money involved and cheapness of my replacement.

  • avatar
    Joss

    It’s like rediscovering Concord decades on with only analouge gauges to date it.

    Brougham, Ghia, Vanden Plas all same icing.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    There’s another Sierra enthusiast: http://www.curbsideclassic.com/my-curbside-classic/my-unintentional-coal-ii-1989-ford-sierra-2-9i-ghia-4×4-tales-of-sierras-past-and-how-a-17-year-dream-came-true/

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    This post is from over 2.5 years ago, but was linked in a Piston Slap today. Have there been any updates?

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    one of my buddies in HS (early 90s) had Sierra, I swear that thing had the mose comfortable seats of any car I’d ever ridden in , front or rear. Mors so than 420SEL I’d ridden in.
    We could comfortably fit a 6’4″, a 6’8″,and a 6’6″, and shorty 6 footer with no one bumping knees to auto.
    He had to sell the car in college, as parts were really difficult to come by for the 6cyl motor.
    Besides the Sterling, and Peugot 505 ,this is my favorite Euro odd balls I’ve gotten to ride in

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