FORD SIERRA (1987-1993)

December 6, 2007

It seems hard to believe now that the humble Sierra was a revolutionary of its time. It succeeded the Cortina and represented a giant risk for market-leader Ford, as it tried to leapfrog the competition with a radical ‘aero’ shape. The gamble paid off, after some initial buyer resistance, and the Sierra was a huge success with private and fleet buyers alike. Ironically, the car’s successor, the Mondeo, has battled to live up to the Sierra’s successes, worthy though it is. Strong competition from the Vauxhall Vectra has kept the Mondeo from any chance of repeating its predecessors’ long-lived reputation as a benchmark car and the most familiar sight on UK roads.

The early cars are getting on a bit now, so you’re probably best to concern yourself with 1990 or younger examples. The car was in production from late 1982, so any bugs were well and truly ironed out by then. The range of cars on offer is obviously enormous and quality will vary by just as much. There are three bodyshells to choose from; five-door hatchback, four-door saloon and five-door estate, each with a multitude of trim options. The saloons were officially called ‘Sapphire’ but the name never really caught on, so don’t be surprised to see a four-door car claiming to be an ordinary Sierra. The last cars are generally easy to spot – the front indicator lenses are white, not orange, and remained so until the end of production in 1993 when the range was replaced by the all-new (and much better) Mondeo. Anything from a humble bread and butter family saloon to a tearaway sports-racer. The majority of decent cars still on sale will be the 1.8 and 2.0-litre hatchbacks and they make sensible buying. The trade always preferred the rear-wheel drive Sierra to its Cavalier competitor, mostly because of the long, 10-year production run and the relative simplicity of the mechanicals. Even if you do get problems with any of these cars, chances are, there’ll be someone who can fix them quickly and cheaply, close by. There are certainly advantages to driving what everyone else seemed to be driving only yesterday.

As you can probably imagine, Sierra prices depend greatly on the individual car’s condition and it’s best to restrict your search to later examples if you can. A 1993 K-plate 2.0i with Ghia trim might reach £500 but the 1.8-litre turbo diesels have maintained a stronger grip on their value with a GLX on K-plates going for around £1,000. Sapphire saloon and 5-door hatchbacks are priced at roughly equivalent levels. The sporty Sierras are lead by the all-conquering RS Cosworth priced between £3,000 and £4,500 in standard form or between £5,000 and £7,000 if you want the 4×4. XR4x4s with 2.9-litre V6 power are also around and even the late plate examples are now available for under £800. Unsurprisingly, little. Be wary of very-high mileage cars for obvious reasons, though, with service records, you should be safe. Turbo cars can be a little fragile and temperamental, like most of their ilk, so buy with extra care and check for oil leaks, worn transmission (especially with 4×4 models) and an overly-smoky exhaust. Electrical gadgets are great convenience features but a real pain to repair. Check the sunroof, all windows, mirrors and central locking, to be sure. Be careful with recorded mileage too: the Sierra has only a five-digit readout so a car with more than 99,999 miles may not show it on the dashboard. The car that changed the face of Ford and the look of British traffic jams everywhere. Honest, uncomplicated, reliable and cheap second-hand. Supply is plentiful so happy hunting for a cheap used car!

(approx based on a 1988 Sierra 2.0 GLX) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £85 and an alternator should be close to £65. Brake pads are around £15 a set, a replacement headlamp is close to £60 and a door mirror should be in the region of £40. A full exhaust system is about £75 and a starter motor around £100. A front wing is around £60, a windscreen about £75, a tail lamp about £45 and a catalyst about £295 (with a £10 surcharge for the old unit). Front dampers are around £30 each and rears around £15 each.

Virtually the last of the rear-wheel-drive rep-mobiles, the Sierra was always a good-handler, compared to many of its contemporary front-drive competitors. Trouble is, what was a good chassis at the original 1982 launch, had well and truly reached its sell-by date even by the late 1980s. If your priority is comfort and your staple journey a daily motorway or A-road crawl, then a Sierra could be just the job. Get yourself a bargain-priced well equipped late model and you could have the last laugh at those jelly-mould jokes you’ll cop down the pub.



November 20, 2007

As an example of the excesses of the bygone ‘hot hatch’ age, Ford’s Fiesta RS Turbo from the early Nineties is typical. The car only lasted a couple of years on the market and in that time, many were written off – most were thrashed. This was an affordable little Ford with Porsche-like punch. Those who could tame the peaky turbo and the wayward handling under acceleration loved them. And the same is true today.

Back in 1990, we were in the grip of the boy racer age. A ‘hot hatch’ was the thing for the up and coming to have – and the faster the better. Hence the creation in the Third Generation Fiesta of the RS Turbo. Theoretically, it was only available from specially appointed Ford RS dealers but in practice, you could pretty much buy it anywhere. Powered by a potent 1.6-litre four cylinder turbocharged engine developing 132bhp, it was blindingly quick – dangerously so in the wrong hands. The transmission was lifted from an Escort RS Turbo and the suspension was beefed up to match a sexy-looking set of RS alloy wheels and a bodykit. Inside, you had Recaro seats, a sunroof, electric windows and central locking. Only a three-door version was offered. The handling lacked the subtlety of the then class favourite, Peugeot’s 205 GTi and, in February1992, the car was replaced by the normally-aspirated Fiesta RS1800. A cheap but frantically fast runabout with Fiesta practicality and Ford ease of maintenance, makes this a cracking cheap used car!

Prices start at around £2,000 for the earliest 90H-registered cars, rising to about £3,000 for the last of the J-registered models. Accident damage. Look closely for bodged repair jobs and look for signs of theft. Steer clear of lurid extra body kits or paint jobs. Particularly avoid ‘tweaked’ examples, however tempted you are by the extra performance. A fun buy if you can find a good one – but take your time and look carefully. There are many rogue examples about.

(approx inc VAT) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £110 while front brake pads are around £20. A replacement headlamp is close to £80 and a full exhaust is about £130. A windscreen is about £150.

The Fiesta RS Turbo is a pocket rocket – no doubt about it. Mid-range acceleration is awesome. Thanks to the standard limited slip differential, it grips like a leech too. You just need to be wary of the inevitable torque steer when that turbo cuts in. Not for the inexperienced, especially in slippery conditions.

FORD FIESTA (1989 – 1995)

November 18, 2007

A small car for people who don’t like small cars. That’s how Ford have marketed their evergreen supermini, the Fiesta. In its current guise, the slogans are justified – this is the best handling car in its class. Previous Ford Fiestas, however, have had to rely on more basic virtues. Still, these have usually proved enough. Ford’s entry-level small car has remained a first choice for Britain’s private buyers since 1990. Now that the smaller but trendier Ka is selling well, the market is awash with even more good quality used Fiestas.

The Fiesta has had a long and fairly complicated evolution that goes back to the Seventies. The models dealt with here are the Third generation cars (the first shape to offer a five-door option) dating from April 1989 to mid-1995. These cars are called Mark III and had a selection of existing and updated engines. Base model cars used 1.0 and 1.1-litre engines. A new 1.3 appeared in late 1991. There was also a 1.4 and even a fuel-injected 1.6 for the XR2i. Other sporty models included the RS Turbo (notable for its multitude of fog and driving lights) and the manic RS1800i – a real boy racer. A 1.8-litre diesel and automatic versions with both 1.1 and 1.3-litre petrol engines completed the line-up. Choose a good one and you should get reliable transport that can be easily DIY maintained for sensible money. The third generation cars lack the class-leading handling of the later models but are nevertheless an acceptable drive by the standards of their day. Basic models tend to be just that but from LX upwards little niceities like tinted glass and a sunroof appear while the Ghia has central locking and electric windows. Look after one of these popular cars and it should sell on easily when the time comes to buy a new car.

Acceptable 89F Fiesta will be few and far between your best bet is to go for the latest model that you can afford. Taking 95-M platers as a benchmark, you’ll pay £1,100 for an entry level 1.1-litre Azura 3-door with the 5-door going for £50 more. The more powerful 1.3-litre in LX trim will be around £1,200 on the same plate and a 1.4-litre Si costs from £1,300. Then there’s the 1.6-litre models – £1,500 for the Si and £1,600 for the 5-door only Ghia. A quick 1.8-litre RS model will cost £1,800. Finally, a 1.8-litre diesel will cost from £1,200 on the 95M plate and that will be for entry-level Azura trim. Engines are, on the whole, reliable, but watch for signs of wear, particularly on 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6s. Excess smoke on start-up is a give-away. The cam-belt needs to be replaced every 30,000 miles on the older ‘CVH’ 1.4 and 1.6-litre engines as it may break and lead to very expensive repairs. Rust can be a minor problem on some cars as build quality varied quite a bit on the earlier models. Check the bottom of the doors, boot, front valance and the bonnet’s leading edge. Water leaking through the sunroof and boot also affected some early cars so have a look for staining on the headlining and boot carpet. The modern looking third generation Fiesta (post-`89) is a good all-rounder – no question about that. Arguably, it’s the best little small car on the market if you take into account that huge dealer network, those cheap part prices and the vast choice offered at affordable prices.

(approx based on a 1993 Fiesta 1.4 CFi) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly will be around £75 and an alternator should be close to £100. Brake pads are around £25 a set, a replacement headlamp is close to £50 and a manual door mirror should be in the region of £40. A full exhaust is about £80 and a catalyst is about £200. A starter motor around is around £90, front wing is around £60, a windscreen about £70, a tail lamp about £30 and a catalyst about £200. Front dampers are around £55 each and rears around £50 each.

The ’89 to ’95 Fiesta, unlike the later models, didn’t set the world on fire with class-leading handling. It was competent, safe and predictable to drive but not really much fun unless, perhaps, you were behind the wheel of the more sporting versions. Still, the mainstream engines pulled well and the dashboard and controls were well laid out.


November 14, 2007

The Ford Escort Cabriolet was the car that brought open top motoring to the masses. If you’re looking for an affordable used soft-top that will seat four in comfort and can do without temperamental engines and rusty bodywork worries, Ford’s Escort Cabriolet may be a good way to go, especially if you’re operating on a tight budget. One thing you won’t be short of is choice, as there are literally thousands out there. We limit ourselves here to the cars sold between 1990 and 1998, but it’s worth remembering that Ford had already manufactured over 100,000 Escort Cabriolets prior to 1990! Track down a good one and you’ve got yourself a good buy, but you’ll need to tread carefully to avoid the dross.

The Mk V Escort was launched to muted acclaim in 1990, the Cabriolet model choice being either a 108bhp 1.6i or a 105bhp catalysed version. It’s fair to say these cars weren’t the high point of the Escort Cabriolet evolution, and in February 1992 Ford revived the XR3i badge, this time with a Zetec 1800cc engine. A 1.4-litre 60bhp Escort Dash Cabriolet followed in June of that year, but few were tempted. The model range was thoroughly facelifted in Spring 1993. Some refer to these models as ‘Mk V Facelifts’ although most prefer to call it the Mk VI. It could be identified by the oval grille on the front end and revised styling around the grille and tail lights. The 130bhp 1.8-litre Si model was the first to join the fray, quickly followed by the 90bhp 1.6-litre Silhouette, Mistral and Solar editions. The major change to the Escort Cabriolet range came in 1995 with the introduction of the Mk VII or ‘Escort 95’. With additional body strengthening measures this version was well worth the wait. Another new bonnet and grille were inflicted on the car although in this instance it did improve the looks considerably, the more rounded frontal aspect looking more integrated than the slightly contrived Mk VI. Again, the mainstream Si model acted as lynchpin of the Cabriolet range, the 130bhp 1.8-litre engine being augmented by a 115bhp version in September 1995. That same year a Calypso model was introduced, powered by the 90bhp 1.6-litre powerplant. Well-equipped Ghia versions followed in 1996, powered by the 115bhp 1.8-litre Zetec units. Automatic models were offered for the first time, in either Calypso or Ghia trim, powered by a 90bhp version of the 1.8-litre Zetec engine. Production of the Ford Escort Cabriolet finished in late 1997, although dealers still registered cars right onto 1998 S registrations. If you want a cabriolet for little more than trundling about soaking up the sun, the Mk V and VII models are well worth a look. The new car market received a major wake up call in the early nineties as many company car buyers got to choose their own vehicles. Fords that were obviously built down to a price could no longer cut it in this marketplace and the Blue Oval’s response was the 1995 Mk VI car. This was a car that once more appealed to private as well as business buyers, particularly important when regarding soft-top sales. Having said that, the Cabriolet isn’t just another Escort. Manufactured by Karmann in Germany, many of the panel fits are of a far higher quality than standard tin-top versions and the hoods are well engineered. Still, it seems hard to believe that Princess Di once owned one…

Prices for Escort Cabriolets range from ‘spares or repair’ money to £5,500 for the last of the 1.8-litre Ghia Mk VII versions. The Mk V and Mk VI models generally range between £1,000 and £3,000 for good condition cars. Bear in mind that few of the older cars will be in standard condition, many of them having been modified in some way. At these ages, condition is a more reliable indicator as to value than registration letter. Although you may see a huge number of badly modified cars, tracking down a decent Escort Cabriolet shouldn’t be too difficult. The main thing to check for is the condition of the hood. Make sure you check the hood for signs of rips and discolouration. They can often be folded away during a test drive to hide things like bent spars. Check the head linings for water staining and examine the stitching. Cars fitted with power hoods should be carefully examined and the hood operated at least a couple of times by the owner. Escort Cabriolet bodywork is usually good, but check for accident damage and check the lower lips of the doors and boot lid. The engines are usually pretty tough, especially the rugged CVH unit. If you hear rattly tappets and see excess blue smoke emanating from the tail pipe when you gun the engine, that’s advance warning of top and bottom end wear and your cue to make your excuses and leave. Gearbox synchromesh problems are manifest on Mk V and Mk VI models with first gear sometimes being difficult to find. Brake discs are prone to warping, whichever version you choose. Steer clear of cars with impractically coloured interiors. With no-nonsense engineering and a wealth of affordably priced spares available, the Ford Escort Cabriolet is probably the lowest cost and lowest risk route to getting behind the wheel of a soft-top car. It’s worth spending a little extra for a post 1995 edition, but even in an early car you’ll soon see why the Escort Cabriolet was so successful. It may not be the most stylish Cabriolet on the road, but on the right road in the right weather, it can almost make you feel a million dollars. Well, a good few hundred at least.

(approx based on a 1992 Escort 1.4 Dash Cabriolet) As you might expect, parts are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A clutch assembly is around £90. Front dampers are in the region of £30 each and a set of rears around £30 each. Front brake pads are around £30, a rear and centre exhaust are about £30 and £40, a catalyst about £235. An alternator is around £170 and a tyre around £40. A starter motor is just under £95, a front wing about £50, a door mirror is around £45 and a tail lamp is about £30. A headlamp is about £60, a radiator is about £160 and a windscreen is around £65. This all makes for a cheap soft top used car experience!

Try to stretch to a 16-valve version. You need a reasonably long test drive to find out why. For a start, the Zetec unit’s much quieter than the ageing engines that soldiered on in the previous models. It’s also got a great deal more pulling power – which means fewer gear changes – and is more efficient – which means better performance and improved fuel consumption. You’ll be able to enjoy a normal conversation with the hood down up until around 40mph but after that it’s gritted teeth time. Late in the Escort’s life, Ford added deadlocks to complement the key code security system. This security feature can be linked to an alarm/engine immobiliser that responds to any attempt to open the doors, bonnet or boot, hot-wire the engine or steal the radio. Not all diesel versions have the same security precautions as the petrol variants, so make sure you check.


November 13, 2007

The Ford Escort Cosworth seems to have entered popular folklore as the car that, for a while at least, killed the hot hatch. Here was a car so quick, so capable and yet so desirable to ne’er-do-wells that the insurance industry threw a hissy fit, made it all but uninsurable and applied the same policy to anything with a GTi badge on it. Whilst history may record a black mark against the Escort Cosworth, anybody who ever drove it could almost understand frustrated young men wanting to get behind the wheel at any cost. It was that good. Even by today’s standards it more than shapes up, making tracking down a decent used example a fascinating experience.

The Escort RS Cosworth was born from a desire within Ford to develop a more compact version of the Sierra Cosworth to homologate in order to go rallying. That it proved to be a hugely successful road car came as something of a pleasant surprise to Ford. Built on a truncated version of the Sierra Cosworth chassis, the RS Cosworth was quite unlike other Escorts. With its 2.0-litre turbocharged longitudinally-mounted engine driving all four wheels it was effectively a sawn-off Sierra with faux Escort panelling and a rear wing that made that sported by the original Sierra RS Cosworth appear almost understated. Designed at Boreham and assembled by Karmann in Germany, this was a big budget undertaking. Two models were available, a standard car priced upon introduction at £21,380 or a Lux version with electric windows, heated screen, sunroof, Recaro seats and rear headrests. With 227bhp at its disposal, the Escort was far from backwards about coming forwards, but purists bemoaned its turbo lag. Ford soon sold the 2500 cars it needed to facilitate its entry into rallying and then set about improving the Escort RS Cosworth as a road car. The ‘big’ Garrett T3 turbocharger was replaced by the smaller T25 unit in May 1994, giving the car a more measured throttle response. The Escort was at the same time decimating rivals in rallying, winning the 1994 Monte Carlo rally in the hands of Francois Delecour, while Tommi Makinen claimed that season’s Thousand Lakes in his native Finland. A limited edition Monte Carlo version was subsequently launched. A mild facelift was visited upon the RS Cosworth in 1995, with a wider honeycomb grille, restyled bumpers, a more attractive fascia and revised alloy wheels amongst the revisions. The car carried on in this form until it was finally discontinued in January 1996 due to ever-tightening Euro emissions regulations. An icon. That and a supremely practical hatchback to go with the loud suit.

First off, ignore book prices when it comes to Escort RS Cosworths and bury yourself in the real world of publications like Auto Trader or Top Marques. Cosworths start at around £7,000 for the first of the late 1992 K plate cars. The first of the more desirable small turbo cars start at around £7,500 or £8,300 in Lux form. Due to the fact that the car is becoming collectible prices will fluctuate largely due to mileage and condition rather than age. Avoid if you can cars that have been extensively modified and if you need to ask what insurance group the Escort resides in, chances are you can’t afford it! Plenty to look out for here. Early ‘big turbo’ models have been known to blow their turbochargers, the evidence being a cloud of white smoke from the exhaust at start up and upon throttle load. Acceleration will also be reduced. The engine block is sound although be wary if the car has been ‘chipped’ without any other modifications. Clutches are good for around 300bhp, whilst the MT75 gearbox can handle 375bhp without too much difficulty. If the car has been modified above these thresholds without extensive accompanying work, walk away. Watch out for cars that have been lowered. Most owners opted for the no-cost Aero Pack, only to divest themselves of their front spoilers at the first sniff of a speed hump. The major issue is bodywork. Pieced together painstakingly by men in white coats at the Karmann factory, the Escort RS Cosworth doesn’t repair easily should you take an agricultural excursion. Look closely at seams, panel and gaps and check that the vehicle is HPI clear and not a stolen/recovered or a damaged repairable. When Cosworths spear off the Queen’s Highway, you can bet they weren’t dawdling. As long as you can afford the insurance and don’t mind the slightly thuggish image, the Escort RS Cosworth is a car that can delight like few others. Despite being the car that temporarily killed the GTi genre, there’s never been anything quite like it before or since. A classic used car in the making.

(approx based on a 1994 Escort RS Cosworth) On the one hand you expect a premium performance car to cost yet on the other you remind yourself it’s a Ford. Well, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Spares for the Cosworth are reassuringly expensive. If you get 8,000 miles out of the 225/45ZR16 tyres you’re not driving it properly, and brake discs are around £150 a pair up front and £140 a pair at the back. Brake calipers are around £90, ignition leads £45 and don’t even ask about body panels…

Superb. The only area in which the Escort RS Cosworth feels a little old fashioned is in its sit-up-and-beg driving position, but otherwise it’s still got the wherewithal to show any of today’s hot hatch pretenders its chubby behind and that includes the cream of the crop like the Audi S3 and the Renault Clio V6. Chalking up performance figures of 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, the Escort feels beautifully balanced at all times, the four-wheel drive split with a rearwards bias to satisfy gung-ho drivers. Few four-wheel drive sports cars are easy to balance in a drift but the Escort Cosworth makes such antics easy. The later small turbo cars are probably the driver’s choice, despite ‘only’ packing 220bhp up front. Top speed was 140mph with the rear wing in place or 147mph should you choose to remove it. Do bear in mind that driving an Escort RS Cosworth still appears to be viewed as an offence by many constabularies.