Sierra – Model Introduction

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    Kim Warner
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      My personal favourite Ford, released in South Africa late 1983 it was another of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” designs. Ford of South Africa again created a uniquely South African recipe with the new Sierras, where the rest of the world got a space age chassis, futuristic design and new drive-train technology, we grafted the 1600 Kent and the 2000 Pinto into our initial Sierra’s, the only “new” engine was the 2.3 Cologne V6, which was in itself a dated design, which never proved to be popular with South African buyers.

      Release in January 1983 the initial model line up was a 1600GL, a 2000 GL and a 2300 GLE each available as either a 5 door hatchback or 5 door Estate, like the Cortina before, it was deemed that South Africa was denied the gorgeous 3door version.

      In 1984 a 3000 Essex V6 engined XR6 was added to the line up as a performance flagship. Later a 3000 Essex engine GLX Wagon and Hatch were added to the lineup. Since the Sierra was designed primarily with aerodynamics in mind, the Essex engine models were given very long legs to take advantage of the prodigious torque of the Essex motor and as a result there was very little difference in the fuel consumption of the 2.3 Cologne and the 3000 Essex, this, and the fact that the 2300 was not as well supported led to the demise of the Cologne engine models, the 2.3 GLE was replaced by the 2000GLE powered by the familiar Pinto four.  Since we did not receive the giant killing Cosworth engine cars, a locally developed 5.0 XR8 was released as a limited homologation edition, featuring the 5.0 Windsor V8 from the Mustang paired to a T5 gearbox, dubbed “The Animal” this machine blazed a winning streak in local saloon car racing and the street versions have become priceless collector’s items both locally and abroad. The animal produced 154KW and a claimed top speed of 225km.

      The 6 cylinder versions featured larger headlights, with a solid grill and auxiliary lights set low on the front airdam. The 4 cylinder versions (with the exception of the 2000 GLE received smaller headlights and a slatted grill.

      After a slow start, the Sierra started to make up lost ground, while never achieving the sales success of the Cortina, South African’s loved the mix of futuristic chassis and tried and proven old-school mechanicals.

      Late in 1989 the Sierra range received a facelift, bigger front lights across the range, an upgraded interior, 14” wheels and smaller detail updates too numerous to mention. A 4 door sedan model, the “Sapphire” was also introduced at the time. The model lineup was rationalised slightly 1600 (Kent) L models available as Hatch or Sedan, 2000 (Pinto) GL models available as Hatch, Sedan or Wagon, 3000 (Essex) GLX (sedan, hatch, Wagon) GL (hatch) and XR6 Hatch.

      There was also a 2000 and 3000 LX model with more basic appointments to cater for budget conscious buyers. The luxury flagship of the range was the Sapphire Ghia offering among other refinements leather upholstery.

      Towards the end of its production life, the Essex was uprated, now producing 100KW, and from 1992 a locally developed fuel injection system was produced for the Essex, pushing power up to 117KW. These Fuel injected engines were fitted to the 3.0i RS (which replaced the XR6, and to the Sapphire Ghia (which replaced the GLX).

      The 1600 Kent motor remained unchanged throughout its use in the Sierra/Sapphire range.

      The 2000 Pinto was revised numerous times, first by adopting electronic ignition and an electronically controlled carburettor, and later receiving fuel injection by which time the Pinto was producing 85KW. The Sapphire GLi was groundbreaking in its time, in that the digital management system combined control of the engine and automatic gearbox to maximise efficiency and performance.

      Grosvenor Ford offered a 5.0 V8 version of the Sapphire Ghia, or conversions to any other model with a similar deal to the X-ocet Cortina, the conversion was factory approved, so the balance of the factory warranty was not affected, these conversions were only available in automatic transmission since the manual transmissions able to handle the torque of the V8 were either too expensive or too agricultural to appeal to the average buyer.

      Basil Green produced a Perana version increasing the capacity of the Essex to 3.4litres, this is not to be confused with the later 3.4 version produced by Ford for the Courier bakkie, Basil Green’s conversion concentrated on performance, while the standard 3.4 was profiled for torque in line with its fitment to a 4×4 vehicle.

      In hindsight, the Sierra/Sapphire range became a transition model, carrying Ford from its earlier conservative saloon based image to the new Fords with cutting edge styling and advanced technology. Unfortunately for South Africa, we were denied the models to come, since the political and economic situation at the time had led to a merger with Mazda, and the replacement to the Sierra was the Telstar, which was a badge engineered Mazda 626.

      Personal Notes: My first sighting of a Sierra in 1983 remains clearly etched into my memory, it was a 4 cylinder version and with its jelly-mould lines, solid wheel covers and small headlights, I was not impressed! It was only later in 1984 that I rode as shotgun passenger in a new XR6 over a 250km journey that I fell in love with these cars. The interior was like nothing else that was offered at the time, that driver-biased dashboard, the instrument pointers that lit up internally, the comfort and effortless power all made a lasting impression on me.

      Of the available models I always preferred the look of the Estate subjectively it looked “just right”, and mid-2001 I was privileged to become the owner of a 1990 3000 GLX Estate. I had done my homework and chose the bigger engine version because the fuel consumption was only negligibly higher than that of the 2000, but the public perception was that a 3000V6 was a monstrous gas guzzler, so a used GLX cost less than a used GL!

      I was immediately impressed by this machine christened “Suzie”, the Pierburg Carb that replaced the 38 Weber smoothed out the lumpy V6, and after being used to a Toyota Corolla 1600GLE, the low down power took some getting used to, my first days behind the wheel of the Sierra were punctuated by accidental wheelspin!

      My first impressions too were that this big, softly sprung wagon would corner like a ship, but I was pleasantly surprised that I could take clover-leaf exits from the freeway much faster with Suzie than with my previous small cars. And then there was the LUXURY, velour cloth upholstery which proved to be extremely durable and stain resistant, power steering, electric remote controlled heated exterior rear-view mirrors, a VERY effective air-conditioner and a quirky, but effective pneumatic lumbar support system adjusted by means of a rubber ball pump! And could she GO! Cruising on the open road necessitated constant vigilance otherwise one quickly found oneself far into the wrong side of the speed limit.

      My career took a wild change of direction around that time, and I suddenly found myself working as a carpenter after years of office work, and Suzie hauled loads of timber and completed projects, the cavernous interior with the rear seats folded flat and the strong roofracks proving to be a boon in this regard.

      Early in 2006 my time with Suzie came to an abrupt end when an out of control Mercedes collided with her where she was parked, wrapping her around a pole, damaged beyond repair. Another 3000GLX wagon remains high on my wishlist of future cars, but they are becoming scarce.

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