The passing of time is the most powerful force in existence. You gaze over your lawn and all seems well, then you look again and it suddenly needs mowing, or you spy a delicious looking orange in the fruit bowl and say, “ooh, lovely, I’ll have that tomorrow”, by which time it’s suddenly white with mould. Time is ridiculously tricky to keep tabs on, and I’m pretty sure I only picked up the subject of today’s discourse about five minutes ago.
We’re going back to 1989 to look at a brochure that really represents the very core of my collection. It’s this somewhat tired, thumbed and soiled Ford ‘Cars’ catalogue from ’89 that was the very nucleus around which today’s whole ridiculous hoard would form, and now we’re going to split it open and see what comes out. Hey, don’t blame me, it was all Friend of Hooniverse 0A5599’s idea. Welcome back to The Carchive.
Click on the images for a better look at 1989 in all it’s considerable glory.
Over the entire history of car marketing, not many manufacturers followed the the ‘entire range in one volume’ format, and I’m not sure any do these days. So, as an 8-year old car fanatic , picking up a range brochure from Rover, Vauxhall or Ford was something of a treat. Growing up in a Ford family, it was the latter that I would come across most frequently, and I can still remember giddily walking out of Westwood and Clark Ford of Clacton-on-Sea with this 144 page tome in my grasp.
My job for tonight, though, is to try and keep sentimentality aside and treat this as a snapshot the state Ford was in at the turn of the ’90s. And it really wasn’t a great time for the brand with the blue oval. I mean, they had been through worse times, financially, but in terms of direction, position and intellectual posture, they were in the doldrums.
The newest, shiniest car in the ‘Cars’ 89 was the Fiesta, which was all new for the ’90s. It represented a massive investment for Ford, and was a big step forwards from the original that had, by then, been essentially the same car since 1977. The new, Mk3 Fiesta (Mk2 was a heavy update of Mk1) was a far more practical car, with a far more space inside and a five-door version for the first time. There was also a wider range of engines, from the feeble 44bhp 1.0-litre to the 89bhp 1.6-litre in this brochure, but up to 126bhp in the RS Turbo you’d find in the supplementary Rally Sport brochure — and you had to pick that up from a dedicated RS dealership. Which Westwood and Clark wasn’t.
It was unquestionably a necessary upgrade, but wasn’t exactly innovative and would soon be left for dead by the Peugeot 106, Citroen Saxo and even Rover 100. The Mk3 Fiesta was roundly condemned for a fussy, poorly designed and assembled interior, thin, uncomfortable seats and a wholly unrewarding drive, and genius Richard Parry-Jones’ upgrades for the “Mk4” didn’t come a minute too soon.
From a new model at the very dawn of its life to one with the end on the horizon, ’89 was the last year for the Mk3 Escort, and the XR3i Convertible was probably my favourite model. It just always seemed so bewildering that a car should be offered in such an extraordinary array of body forms, with hatchbacks and estates in 3 and 5-door form, and a cabrio that used the same rear light clusters as the Estate. And, lets face it, although the car in the shots above was saddled with a slightly tragic “Essex girl” image, I reckon it looks pretty sharp in Azure blue, and the XR3i’s dogleg alloys were smart, too.
As with so many European brochures, the Ford catalogue lists the performance figures of every model, and the XR3i cabriolet was just a tenth of a second slower than the hatch on the 0-60mph sprint, at 9.7 seconds. Top speed was the same, at 115mph. No great shakes by today’s standards, but it’s eye-opening to consider that the Cabrio, with all its body-stiffening and folding roof mechanism, weighed just 980kg.
The Ford Orion, which would also be renewed in 1990, was actually yet another Escort iteration, and the car above is the limited-run 1600E, which has gained a bit of a cult following over the years. It was based on the Orion Ghia Injection, which was a peculiar combination of luxury Ghia interior and sporty XR3i powertrain that was only offered in the Orion. The 1600E, though, took the lux up a notch with a fancy leather interior with walnut door cappings administered by Tickford.
In every other regard, it was just a regular Orion, and as soon as the novelty of a posh Orion subsided, it slunk into cheap second-hand car territory with many being pulled apart for their leathery bits to go into XR3is, RS Turbos and, even customised Ford Escort vans. The indignity of it all.
When I was 8, my Dad was rocking a Sierra Ghia — purchasing bits for which was the main reason for us to visit the dealership. The Sierra Sapphire, a saloon/sedan version of the Sierra that arrived four years after the hatchback and estate models went on sale, was still somehow a bit of a novelty to me. I found it fascinating to watch the metamorphosis of a shape I was so familiar with, and to see how they gave the Sierra Sapphire (albeit in facelifted form) a look of its own at the front end — it had a more pronounced grille than the hatchback.
The GLS was the sportiest Sapphire sold, other than the RS Cosworth that took over from the three-door hatchback Sierra RS Cosworth in 1987. It boasted a 2.0-litre, 123bhp injected four-cylinder with twin cams but only 8 valves. Top speed, 121mph, 0-60mph in 9.1 seconds. By typical family saloon car standards, that made the Sapphire GLS pretty nippy. And those plastic wheel covers are some of the coolest Ford ever made.
Of course, if you preferred your Sierra in the five-door hatchback form that God intended, you could still have it that way, and to do so also granted you access to the 2,9-litre V6 engine. This, an evolution of the Cologne 2.8, was the same basic engine that went into the three-door Sierra XR4i, which died in ’85 for Europe, but was still offered in Lima-powered Merkur XR4Ti form in North America up until 1990. It was replaced over here by a five-door, four-wheel-drive XR4x4 that was generally agreed as a far more capable machine than the XR4i ever was.
Ford’s permanent four-wheel drive system actually required that the front left driveshaft actually travel through the sump. It also knocked the performance back a little compared to the rear-wheel drive days: 0-60mph took 8.2 seconds and top whack was 127mph. However… cool as it was, the XR4x4 was arguably overshadowed by the quite outrageously cool Sierra Ghia 4×4 Estate, which combined the XR4x4’s powertrain, luxury Ghia interior and longroof practicality. One of the most appealling cars Ford of Europe has ever made, in my opinion.
At age 8 I had lived quite a sheltered life. Although I knew they existed, I had never been properly exposed to Jaguars or Rolls Royces and found it difficult to conceive of a car more plush or swanky than the Ford Granada Scorpio. When we visited the showroom, the Scorpio would be my first port of call. I’d pull myself up into the back seat — always the back seat, for it was my natural domain — pulled the door closed and heard the outside world disappear. If the battery was connected, I would recline the seat, lower the centre arm rest and sit there, swaddled in a rich sea of soft leather. I could scarcely imagine a more opulent way to travel, particularly with the promise of individual headphone jacks for two rear seat passengers, and separate rear compartment ventilation control.
In the UK, the Scorpio name was reserved for the very top spec, while the rest of Europe applied the Scorpio name to every model of what we knew as the Granada lineup. That meant you could have, if you wanted, a Scorpio CL or a Scorpio Ghia. Not so in the UK.
Here, you got Scorpio ‘leather trim’ and Scorpio ‘fabric trim’, as well as Scorpio 4×4, which offered either upholstery types and the same powertrain as the Sierra XR4x4. But look at that leather interior! Look at that two-tier “Model 2008” stereo with separate amplifier and 7-band graphic equalizer! Look at the heater controls with that all-important “A/C” button. Yes! In ’89, A/C was still a genuine novelty in Europe. Though standard on the Scorpio, it was an £850 option on other Granadas, and that’s a serious chunk of the asking price.
Ah, 1989 Ford. It was a strange time. The top models in the range were generally well regarded, and would continue to trundle on for a few years yet, while Ford seemed to be panicking to replace the lower orders with whatever they could pull out of a hat. The Fiesta in ’89 and then the Escort in ’90 were indicative of a Ford that was struggling for direction. Both new models were mediocre in the extreme, which came as a huge disappointment after Ford had created waves with the Sierra in ’82 and, to a lesser extent, the Granada / Scorpio in ’85. At this point it seemed that they were just treading water. Fortunately, a few years later, it would all feel like it was coming together once again.
The Mondeo was launched.
(All images are of original manufacturer’s materials, collected by me in ’89 and lovingly preserved for 29 years. Copyright remains property of Ford, whose Brentwood, Essex headquarters I hear is marked for closure, spelling a sad end of an era)