29 Oct 2012

Driven - Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth

The Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth is a tricky car to pigeon-hole. I can’t think of any other car that has portrayed so many different images over the years. Or any other car that currently appears so uncomfortable in its own skin. Much like a middle aged man who is torn between hanging on to the remains of youth or embracing his age with dignity, it doesn’t really know what it is.

The Sierra was already one of the most common sights on UK roads when the Sapphire Cosworth came along in 1988. It was touted as a modern day Lotus Cortina by many and for the most part, it was.
Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth

It was respected for being yet another example of what Ford can do when they put their mind to it; make a fast, affordable version of an existing model that will make owners of lesser versions feel inadequate. But, things quickly took a turn for the worst when it became the ultimate car of choice for your common or garden ‘tea-leaf’.

They were nicked, used as getaway cars and also featured in the occasional ram-raid. Subsequently, insurance premiums went stratospherically skyward and unless you kept it hidden under your mattress, you had to accept that there was a good chance someone was going to relieve you of your pride & joy. I know of one person who bought one and then sold it later the same day! He had so many undesirables hanging around his house when he brought it home that he figured there was no point keeping it. Overtime though the dregs of society got bored with the Cosworth (or got banged up) and moved on. So, then came the next phase.

As with many ‘hot’ Fords, eventually the values on the ropey ones dropped low enough for the Max Power brigade to get their grubby little mitts on them. Cue massively oversized wheels, body kits, quad exhausts etc. This harmed the cars image even more. I’ll admit there is something slightly cool about driving a car commonly associated with doing bank jobs (take the Mk2 Jag for example), but who wants to be seen driving something that implies you haven’t evolved enough to lift your knuckles from the floor. But a few, more discerning owners were happy to bide their time safe in the knowledge that all the abused examples would soon end up wrapped around assorted trees and lamp-posts. Sure enough numbers diminished at a rate of knots with many cars suffering a painful and undignified death. Fast forward past the midlife crisis and here we are.

The car that I am driving today is 23 years old and is a mere two years away from official Classic Car status. Sadly however, something’s still not quite right with its image, something I can’t quite put my finger on. This particular example is one that escaped both the clutches of the ‘boy-racers’ and the armed robbers. It’s been with its current owner for 14 years and has covered just 13,000 miles in that time. Apart from a couple of sympathetic under the skin upgrades, the car is pretty much standard. Yet, driving it through a bustling town centre I suddenly become aware that nobody even gives it a second glance. This struck me as very odd. Why is no one interested in this super-saloon of yesteryear? After pondering this for a minute, I concurred that it must be because, to the uninitiated, it looks much like any other Sapphire you’re likely to see. But, that can’t be right, because when was the last time you saw a Sierra of any description? Think about this for a minute. I haven’t seen one for ages; they’ve more or less all vanished. So, why didn’t it attract any attention? Well, to be honest I think it’s because it hasn’t quite reached the full-on classic status currently enjoyed by its older 3dr brother. What’s more, as it doesn’t have any massive wings or huge wheels, it just blends into the background. That’s obviously a big plus for Q-Car fans, but it does make me wonder how long it will take before someone points at it in nostalgic excitement.

Out on the main road the Cosworth doesn’t initially feel anymore like a classic than it does a super-saloon. It rides well, it’s comfortable, it’s easy to drive and everything else is very unremarkable. That is until you go to overtake something. Drop a couple gears, hit 3,000rpm and nail the throttle to the floor and all hell brakes loose. Granted this car has had a stage 1 chip fitted, but all the same the in-gear acceleration is devastatingly fast by any standards. The backend squats down with remarkable force and even in the dry it takes a considerable amount of concentration to maintain the traction. No sooner have you received a full kick in the base of your spin, you’re going for the next gear. The pace you acquire without realising it is staggering. You think that the old girl pulls pretty well, then you look at the dials and realise you’re heading for a prison sentence. What also comes as a surprise is just how composed the chassis is. So much so, you actually forget what you’re driving and just get on with it. It’s only when you back off to catch your breath that you remember that this car is 23 years old. Granted it’s a quite a raw experience, but it does highlight how anesthetised some modern performance cars can feel. It also reminds you of how hard you have to work to keep these things on boost, but that’s all part of the fun. I would defy anyone to drive one of these cars without grinning like a child. It just somehow brings out your inner hooligan.

Forgotten Q-Car, future classic or yesterdays hero, call it what you want, but the Sierra Sapphire Cosworth is still one of the all time greats. What worries me though is the thought that we are going to wake up one morning to discover that they have all gone; and none of us would’ve even noticed. And that would be a great shame.

Article by Chris Small

Pictures by Lee Stutt