Under the Knife – Rounding Error

Today DTW recalls the 1994 Ford Scorpio Mk2, a car that defies any attempt at rational analysis or explanation.

Not ‘conventionally handsome’… (c) autoguru-katalog

When Ford launched the Scorpio* Mk1 in 1985, it did so in five-door hatchback form only. This surprised some observers, knowing the resistance that Ford had faced to the hatchback Sierra three years earlier from conservative buyers who preferred the saloon format. Even more surprising was the absence of an estate version, given the popularity of the Granada estate in both Mk1 and Mk2 forms.

Just as with the Sierra, a three-volume booted version was added to the range in December 1989. Estate buyers had to wait until January 1992 for the launch of that version, which coincided with a facelift of the whole range. The facelift was a competent if relatively minor overhaul, comprising a smoother front end with larger light units and smoked tail lights with a matching filler panel at the rear. The saloon forwent the hatchback’s concealed C and D-pillars for a more conventional six-light DLO and was a handsome and imposing design. It was also well equipped and remarkably comfortable over long distances, making it an excellent executive (hire) car.

Then something very strange happened:

The pre-surgery, 1992 Ford Scorpio (Granada) Saloon. (c) autoblog.nl

At the Paris Salon in October 1994, Ford unveiled a very heavily facelifted version of the saloon and estate**, dubbed the Scorpio Mk2. While based on the platform and underbody of the Mk1, every exterior panel was altered. Reactions to the new car varied from hilarity to incredulity. Nobody could quite believe what they were seeing.

Up front, the sleek front end of the outgoing model was replaced by a huge chrome-ringed oval grille and two large bug-eye headlamps. At the rear, the lighting was confined to a narrow full-width horizontal strip just above the bumper, topped with a flourish of brightwork, above which was a cliff of unadorned metal. The body had no feature lines whatsoever. Its fulsome curves looked more reminiscent of a sofa or an inflatable boat than anything automotive. Only the rubbing strip broke up the deep and otherwise unadorned flanks.

(c) autotrader.co.uk

The reaction was almost universally negative and hostile. Six months prior to launch, Ford had begun to worry about its controversial new design, so organised a focus group of automotive journalists to preview the new Scorpio at its design centre in Cologne. Despite the company’s best efforts, the journalists could not be persuaded to like the design, and almost all would go on to slate it publicly as soon as they were free to do so. For Ford, it was already too late to make any changes.

The press and public reaction was scathing right across Europe. Even those who had no interest in cars knew about the Scorpio, for all the wrong reasons. It was to Ford Europe what the Aztek would later become for Pontiac and GM. As with the Aztek, beneath the bizarre bodywork lurked a competent and capable vehicle, but nobody cared.

What. Were. They. Thinking? (c) favcars

The Scorpio Mk2 limped on for four years. There was a half-hearted attempt to tone down some of the more controversial aspects of the design by minimising the chrome highlights, but this only served to make the bodywork look even more rotund and featureless.

Ford has never revealed the name of the individual(s) responsible for the design. As for sales, the company insisted that the Scorpio Mk2 had net expectations without ever revealing any forecasts. The car was Ford Europe’s swansong in the large saloon market, although inflation in the size of the Mondeo made it into a de-facto replacement. We are unlikely ever to understand what drove Ford to replace the handsome Scorpio Mk1 with this monstrosity.

* The Scorpio Mk1 replaced the Granada Mk2 and continued to be called Granada in the UK and Ireland, where the Scorpio name was instead used as a suffix to denote a high-line trim level.

** The hatchback version was dropped, so mercifully spared this indignity.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

42 thoughts on “Under the Knife – Rounding Error”

  1. I recently read an article in an Italian magazine about the big flops and together with the Scorpio the Lancia Thesis, the Citroen C6, the Renault Vel Satis and the VW Phaethon were listed, the common denominator of these cars seems to be their excessive size, either
    you are Audi, BMW and Mercedes or it´s better not to venture into this territory.

    1. Good morning, Marco, and welcome to DTW. That rule has certainly applied for more than the past decade but, ironically, the Scorpio had decent sales until it was disfigured by this awful facelift.

    2. Why ‘venture into this territory’? Large cars were a Ford, Lancia or Citroën territory for decades, and Granadas or CXs were ubiquitous. For VW, this term is more true.
      But starting from the late eighties, early nineties, the market began to change dramatically, and large, but not especially luxurious cars were not in customers’ favour any more. And it were also the customers that changed: no longer they were individuals, but companies and their fleet managers, who tend to stick with a conservative choice of German cars.

  2. Recently I expressed a particular affection for the FOE generation commonly credited to Claude Lobo, but I took a longer view attributing Ford’s lengthy ascent in terms of market share and landmark design to Jack Telnack, thus overlooking Uwe Bahnsen’s contribution. My perspective was rightly questioned.

    Scorpio 2 in particular suggests that Telnack as emperor may well have been naked and barren. While the sorry thing is wholly miserable, it’s bag end reveals the probable source of discord, an inappropriate essence of eau de Dearborn. The vacuum left by Bahnsen’s departure couldn’t more blatantly apparent than here.

  3. My only memories of these cars are lots of room in the slightly smelly back of ‘Windsor radio cars’.
    This Scorpio was a trend setter with Mercedes’ ‘stoned guppy’ W220 S-class and Citroen C5 Mk1 following the same design route.

  4. The cover of CAR, and the article that supposedly inspired the redesign, that was infamously brandished by Ford executives at the Scorpio launch:

    https://www.carmagazine.co.uk/features/opinion/gavin-green/gavin-green-on-copycat-styling-car-archive-july-1990/

    The story goes that Ford was genuinely influenced by this article. With the benefit of hindsight and maturity one rather suspects that this was a conveniently-arranged cover story after the spectacular bombing of the car in clinics. But I also perhaps wonder if Ford could see the writing on the wall for mass-market exec cars. They might have been a little ahead of their time but the projections weren’t entirely wrong – I can see a certain managerial logic in betting the farm on a distinctive love-or-hate look. The mistake was to forget the ‘love-or-‘ bit.

    Perhaps oddly, I don’t really think my biggest objection to the Scorp ever really was the front or rear as standalone items, weird and conventionally unattractive as they might have been. The biggest problem really was the total incongruity with the turret section which despite the facelift was still, unmistakably, a Granny. But then again, I canna be too harsh on these. Confession time: the pleb in me always did think that a Cosworth Ultima with the full-house Recaros was a cool ride…

  5. Good morning Daniel. Not Ford’s finest hour, but they did have form; this was not the first time that they brought about the demise of a model by an apparently incompetent update: witness the Mk4 Zephyr & Zodiac. Unless, of course, that was the whole purpose of the exercise?

  6. Good morning all. This was Ford’s attempt to make the design more palatable with a facelift in 1998, the year production ceased, which seems a strange thing to do:

    The facelifted car is in the right. Instead of the wide chrome grill, it had a body-coloured oval instead with a much slimmer chrome insert. The headlamp lenses were also darkened, and the rear chrome trim deleted entirely. The effect was simply to make dark coloured examples even more amorphous and blobby looking.

    Since writing the piece I’ve discovered that Ford manufactured 98,587 of them over the five years they were on sale.

    1. Sales numbers aren’t too bad compared to 23,000 C6s over seven years or 300,000 XMs over fifteen and I’m sure Ford had far lower production costs and spent a lot less on warranty claims.

    2. According to German press reports at the time, Ford never intended to develop another Scorpio after this one, but planned to import a US-model instead. I assume the effects of the Contour/Mondeo saga, as well as the Scorpio facelift’s unimpressive sales figures put and end to such considerations – if those press reports were true at all.

    3. My recollections are similar to those of Christopher, in that I recall Ford employing a policy of centres of excellence; the thinking seeming to be that from that point onwards the US arm would have responsibility for large cars, in the same way as Merkenich did the bulk of the development on the Mondeo programme. I’m not sure how many minutes duration this policy lasted, but it can’t have been long.

      One must also bear in mind that by then, Ford controlled Jaguar, and the plan was to boost the leaping cat’s sales dramatically in excess of 200,000 cars per annum. The investment this required, coupled with the sales retreat from Ford-badged E-segment cars in Europe, was probably a major factor in Dearborn’s decision not to replace the Scorpio. That’s before we even begin to talk about the styling.

      The immediate post-Bahnsen period was clearly a very confused one, with a strong sense that Andy Jacobsen, who was appointed design chief in the wake of Bahnsen’s ‘departure’, being something of the wizard’s less impressive apprentice. There is no doubt that Ford of Europe were stung by the overwhemingly negative reaction (in particular) to the 1990 Escort design and to a slightly lesser extent, the Mondeo (dubbed Mundano in some quarters).

      Certainly the cars from the mid 90s, while considerably better cars to drive than their predecessors, were no stylistic paragons. The attempts to sex-up the styling around this time were visually arresting, if not terribly attractive, suggesting further interference from the likes of Telnack in Detroit. Matters improved notably by the decade’s end, under Claude Lobo, but it took the best part of a decade for the blue oval to regain its confidence in design.

    4. I wonder if a high percentage of those sales were the estate version, which looked relatively normal apart from the bug-eyed front end:

      As opposed to this:

      Here’s the facelifted rear end:

      The facelifted model is as rare as hen’s teeth. They only sold around 6,000 in 1998 and not all were facelifted models. Does that make them desirable? Of course not, only kidding!

    1. Hi Marco. The first Scorpio was sold as a Merkur from 1987 to 1989:

      Merkur was Ford’s ill fated effort to import the European three-door Sierra XR4i and Scorpio five-door hatchback and sell them as ‘premium’ cars. Some genius(es) in Ford’s marketing department thought that they could compete with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi because they were designed in and imported from Europe. The venture lasted just four years, from 1985 to 1989. Even the name they chose for the venture was dumb, causing confusion with Ford’s marginally more upmarket Mercury brand.

    2. I remember seeing Merkur cars in the US in the early nineties. Presumably the idea was that the cars were the German equivalent of Mercury that were sold in Germany and imported to the US. What else could they have called them? Still, the idea that Merkurs were on sale in Yurrup (hence the German name) was insulting. Again, cars designed for Europe were wrecked by US road conditions and servicing traditions. Both the Sierra and Granada are good solid cars. In the US they are disasters

    3. The Scorpio’s failure as a Merkur in North America was no fault of the Scorpio itself, nor driving conditions, nor maintenance routines*. It was due to the woefully myopic product planning and out of control costing of the Pinto-engined** XR4Ti, which only looked like the XR4i.

      Somehow Ford couldn’t find the capacity to build the XR4Ti in any of the eight factories around the world that built the Sierra, so it was assembled practically by hand at Karmann’s Rheine, Germany facility. Of course the build quality and panel fit was superb, as befitted the car’s suitably inflated price.

      In light of the XR4Ti’s failure to meet expectations, Ford seemed to lose all desire to promote the Merkur cars, instead choosing to attrit the entire Merkur project rather than attempt to correct their mistakes and persevere.

      *The Scorpio’s Cologne V6,which Ford shunned for the XR4Ti, was in fact very familiar to Americans having appeared in the 1970s Capri and Capri II, and in the new for 1986 Ranger pickup.

      ** AKA the Lima engine, it could make a commendable 205hp when installed in the Mustang SVO, but was detuned by 25-30% for the XR4Ti by dint of lowered boost pressure. In any application this 2.3L inline 4 shook like a wet dog, and was neither particularly eager to rev, nor especially fuel efficient.

  7. The man said to have been responsible for the Scorpio facelift is none other than Gert Hohenester, the Sierra exterior’s designer.

    1. It´s easy to kick the Granada; a counter argument is that Ford tried to be brave with the design and to respond to a wish for more evocative shapes. They also must have seen the writing on the wall about dimishing d-class car sales. Better to reduce investment and retreat than to keep on firing money into a dead sector. The only entrant in that class that succeeded was Opel´s Omega – they served up a straightforward car for a reasonable price. All the other contenders tried to be off-the-wall (and I admire that) and attracted a corresponding number of buyers.

  8. Oh my…Daniel, it’s bank holiday Friday; folk don’t need scaring away with…this.

    I’m not sure which amuses me most; the fact this blob got released, the Agent Provocateur designer whom shall forever be unknown (probably a good thing) or your eloquent description of the cliff of unadorned metal. Sheesh, I remember salivating over the Scorpio Mk1 version and practically recoiling in horror when I first saw one of these at the local Ford dealership in my then hometown. Autotrader has but two examples for sale

    , https://www.autotrader.co.uk/car-search?advertising-location=at_cars&postcode=s103th&guid=67868dac-eb47-4157-8c48-4d87530399dd&model=SCORPIO&page=1&sort=relevance&radius=1501&make=FORD&include-delivery-option=on&onesearchad=Used&onesearchad=Nearly%20New&onesearchad=New#202007091030737

    Somebody out there once loved ‘em! But you have to wonder if they drank from the same, tainted fountain as the designer(s) of this diametrically opposite creature.

    1. Not too late to change your mind and go for a nice Scorpio, Andrew. 😁

  9. Would love to have seen the other proposed styling studies for what became the mk2 Ford Scorpio, perhaps Steve Saxty or others could help uncover this neglected aspect of Ford Europe’s history.

    Much has been said on the viability of mainstream marques being able to compete in this sector, yet it is almost as if Ford Europe deliberately decided to speed up the process instead of waiting till about mid-2000s prior to the 2008 financial crisis before throwing in the towel and retreating from this segment, which in turn prompted GM Europe to discontinue the Omega from 2003 despite selling the related Holden / Vauxhall Monaro and Holden Commodore (VZ) until around 2006-2007 (that was succeeded in the UK by the VXR8).

    Had Ford got the exterior styling of the mk2 Ford Scorpio correct from the outset, it would have been fascinating to see them compete in the sector a bit longer prior to the arrival of the mkIV Ford Mondeo from 2007 with either a RWD Ford DEW based model that was said to have been considered (e.g. Lincoln LS) or some other FWD/AWD based model (e.g. Volvo P2 derived from Volvo S80? smaller Ford P3 platform derived from Ford Five Hundred?).

    1. True – Ford did spectacularly give up on the segment by deciding not to thoroughly redo the car. The centre section is very square in comparison to the rest but the boot is especially unfortunate. However, to have listened to car journalists who understand nothing of design (as a relation between the consumer and the producer) was mistake number one. The whole episode reeks of managerial confusion and I think those who designed the car should not be pilloried for being given a suicide mission such as this.

  10. Spot the Sierra estate tail lights on the Scorpio estate, albeit with amber plastic where the Sierra had white reversing lights. That de-chromed Scorpio rear on the facelifted model doesn’t look too horrendous I suppose.

    Ford’s design confidence seemed to be cyclical for a while. The boldness of the Sierra and original hatchback Granada/Scorpio* following the success of the Erika (Escort). Then retreat into mediocrity until the mid-to-late nineties’ heyday of the Ka, Puma and original Focus.

    * According to Steve Saxty’s wonderful book which I recently acquired, the DE1 Scorpio programme was originally going to be even more radical than the Sierra, a “decades leap”.

  11. A strange time at Ford. The contemporary Taurus has been mentioned, which was sent to Australia with a view to replacing the Falcon but only sold 4500 in 2-3 years on sale.

    The next generation 1998 AU Falcon was also controversially styled, although ‘New Edge’ rather than whatever this blobby style was called.

    The key thing is that apparently the styling team knew that they had a dog on their hands, but someone higher up insisted it had to be done that way, and I expect the same applied to the Scorpio.

  12. Great article Daniel. I loved the Scorpio and it’s interesting to know more details about that infamous facelift. I didn’t hate it myself, there was even a baroque charm to it but the reaction was pretty negative as you’ve mentioned in the article. I’ve mentioned it before, I really liked the mk1 a lot, it was one of those designs that made me be interested in car design as a child.

    1. Thanks, NRJ. Likewise, I liked the Granada Mk3/Scorpio Mk1, especially after its first and very competent facelift. I remember travelling in a few back in the day when they were very popular as ‘executive’ private hire cars (a.k.a. posh minicabs). They were very roomy and comfortable, with soft leather upholstered seats. They made the tedious journey from Heathrow to central London after an overnight ‘redeye’ flight almost bearable.

    1. Something of an understatement, Daniel! It looks excellent and effort´s required to remember its from the middle 80s. Much as I like the XM from around the same time (it was equally modernist) the Grannie looks fresh rather than retro-futuristic as the XM does now. It also has the edge on the Omega “A”. Much as I like the Omega “A” it´s a bit too brittle looking (to do with the depth of the pressings, perhaps) whereas the Granada is as solid looking as a BMW from the same time.

    2. The Granada/Scorpio of this era was a really pleasant car to drive by contemporary Ford standards. I drove a lot of these in the 1988-1990 period, and I always enjoyed the experience. I have said this before, but it was a much nicer drive than its Omega counterpart – especially in terms of steering, suspension compliance and body control. The original hatchback design has I agree, aged really well. Need I remind the readership that this car was developed under the guidance of the estimable Mr. Bahnsen? It shows.

    3. The windscreen wipers are exposed, which they weren’t on the original. Its the Princess and Ambassador all over again!

  13. Having looked a bit at mobile.de I saw “Frog” Scorpios for prices around 5k. People seem to like them enough now. Then I waddled to the Opel section and saw Omega “A”s for five and six and seven thousand euros. Not too long ago these were never more than a couple of thousand and only rarities with super low mileage reached those figure. These late 80s cars are now having their glorious retirement. And 1989-1992 XMs are reaching large sums too now. Gosh.

    1. My brother-in-law had an Omega ‘A’ back in the day, one of the post-facelift models (with the larger front indicators and smoked rear lights) . I really liked the ‘aero’ looks and think it has also aged well:

      There’s an calmness and coherence to the Omega that is such a relief compared to today’s overworked and fussy designs.

    2. The Omega’s big brother, the Senator ‘B’, also was and remains a handsome beast:

    1. Hi David, and welcome to DTW. Were you referring to the Granada/Scorpio, or one of the Opels I mentioned above?

  14. The Scorpio used the same deign language as The Ford synthesis Concept That was shown a year before with it’s bare aluminium body. & I must say-& it might sound like a blasphemy-but I quite liked that concept

    1. Thanks for stopping by Shaked – that’s a good observation. While they are not entirely alike, there are definitely some thematic similarities, although I tend to view it more as a companion to the Ghia Focus concept of 1991.


    2. Eóin, I did not see your comment.

      Lahti’s Contour concept, also from 1991:

  15. Hi Shaked, I think you refer to the “synthesis” of the work of Taru Lahti and the 1986 Taurus/Sable from which the Synthesis borrows most of its glazing and all of its underlying body structure.

    Ford featured the Synthesis prominently in a magazine ad.

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