Necessity makes for some strange bedfellows.
In July 1987, Volkswagen and Ford’s Brazilian and Argentinian divisions created a joint-venture company, AutoLatina. The ownership was split 51% to 49% in Volkswagen’s favour. Volkswagen would manage AutoLatina’s passenger car operation while Ford looked after the commercial vehicles business. Autolatina was established in an attempt to defend both companies’ market share in what was a distressed and shrinking market.
Rather than compete with each other directly, the joint venture would produce complementary ranges using each other’s designs as the basis for badge engineered models, as well as some designs unique to the venture. These included the 1990 Ford Verona and VW Apollo, a two-door saloon based on the Ford Orion Mk2, the 1992 Ford Versailles, a restyled VW Santana, and the 1993 VW Logus and 1994 VW Pointer, rebodied versions of the Orion Mk3 and Escort Mk5 respectively.
Apart from badging and a different front grille, dashboard and trim, the Verona and Apollo were identical to each other. The Verona was launched in November 1989, with the Apollo following shortly afterwards. It was a curious hybrid, identical to the European Ford Orion Mk2 from the A-pillar forwards, but featuring the longer passenger doors from the Escort Mk4 three-door.
Behind the B-pillar, the bodywork was all-new and completely different to the Orion. One issue the designers faced was how to marry up the car’s low waistline to its high rear deck. This was resolved (or ignored) on the Orion with a heavily curved rear screen and a visual ‘step’ across the C-pillar, but that treatment might have looked rather odd on a two-door car. Consequently, the bottom edge of the rear side glass was instead curved up from the B-pillar rearwards to align with the base of a new, flatter rear screen.
The tail of the car featured slim horizontal light units reminiscent of (but not identical to) those on the 1987 Ford Sierra saloon(1). Another detail that aped the Sierra saloon was the deletion of the Orion’s conventional rain gutters in favour of inboard rails in the roof pressing.
The Verona was offered with the choice of Ford 1.6-litre or VW 1.8-litre engines, both offered in either petrol or ethanol variants. The Apollo was marketed as a more sporting and upmarket car than the Verona, with (only) the larger engine, stiffer suspension and revised gear ratios. It also had a different, higher quality VW-designed dashboard.
Both cars would remain on the market for just three years. The Verona was replaced by a version of the Ford Orion Mk3, also badged Verona. This time there were no changes to the Orion’s four-door saloon body, but the Verona Mk2 was powered by VW 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines.
The Ford Versailles was launched in 1992. It was a VW Santana with different front and rear ends and D-pillar treatment. The Santana’s vertical front grille and headlamps were replaced with a sloping, faired-in front end. At the rear, one improvement over the Santana was a boot lid opening that extended down to bumper level. In a rather misguided attempt to distinguish the Versailles further from the Santana, the B, C and D-pillars were painted black. Instead of the desired ‘floating roof’ look, this treatment merely served to highlight the awkward junction at the base of the D-pillar.
The Versailles was available in two and four-door saloon variants. There was also an estate version that carried the suffix Royale, based on the (already superseded) VW Passat B2, but initially with only three doors rather than the Passat estate’s five. A five-door version was added in 1995. The Versailles and Royale were phased out in 1996.
The 1993 VW Logus was a two-door saloon/coupé, based on the Orion Mk3, but with a sleeker profile incorporating contemporary VW design motifs. It was designed by carrozzeria Ghia in Italy under the direction of Volkswagen do Brasil’s Luis Alberto Veiga. No external body panels were shared with the Ford original.
At first glance, the 1994 VW Pointer might appear to be an Escort Mk5 with its bustle-back rear end carelessly chopped off but, in reality, every external body panel was new(2). The Escort’s subtly flared front and rear wings were replaced by conventional round wheel arches. The fixed rear quarter windows now covered the C-pillars and were larger and more angular, with a noticeably upswept lower edge. The tailgate had a full-width rear window covering its frame and a neat integral rear spoiler.
The Logus and Pointer featured a front end similar to the contemporary Volkswagen Santana, with slim rectangular headlights and outboard indicators flanking a shallow grille. Inside, there was a VW-style dashboard similar to that in the 1992 Golf Mk3. Both cars were fitted with Volkswagen 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines.
It is a moot point as to whether or not the Logus and Pointer were, in design terms, improvements over the cars on which they were based, but at least they avoided that mutant look that afflicted some other repurposed models sold in the so-called developing markets. The Pointer in particular is strangely appealing to these eyes, being rather more attractive than the dreary Escort on which it is based, while also vaguely resembling the original 1995 Renault Megane, for some reason!(3)
The Logus and Pointer remained in production until 1997, by which time the AutoLatina joint venture had been dissolved, having failed to arrest the decline in either partner’s market share. It was also made obsolete by a relaxation of restrictions on imported motor vehicles, allowing Ford and Volkswagen to compete directly.
(1) Which carried the suffix Sapphire in the UK and Ireland.
(2) Note the position of the door handles, below the indented groove along the flanks. On the Escort and Orion, they are positioned immediately above the groove.
(3) It is the shape of the tail lights, the bodyside groove and rather beetle-backed appearance in the rear three-quarter view that does it, I think.