Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile

A South African twist on hot Fords.

Images: gumtree.co.za and carmonkey.co.za

The mildly derogatory term ‘Repmobile’ conjures up images of a medium-sized, medium-specification saloon or hatchback hammering along some endless motorway on a dreary weekday under leaden skies. The driver is a man sporting a shirt and tie, his suit jacket limply hanging from the coat hook behind his ear. Whether they be Vectras, Cortinas, Mondeos, Carinas or Sierras, for the motoring enthusiast, such cars represent a mostly barren field of interest. But far away and many years ago, Ford South Africa turned at least some of them into decidedly more stimulating steeds.

In Britain, Ireland and Continental Europe, the 2.3 litre V6 was as far as it went for the Cortina Mk5 and its Germanic twin, the Taunus TC3. Most sales reps would remain confined to the 1.6-litre four, although, if they exceeded their targets consistently and by a sufficient margin, a 2-litre version fitted with some extra trinkets might be their reward.

Ford South Africa, however, enjoyed a degree of independence from its parent company which sometimes resulted in the creation of interesting mutations.

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The Cortina MK5 was introduced in South Africa in 1980. Its engine line-up was mostly identical to the European model, but here a top of the line performance version carrying the XR6 suffix was also available. This had Ford’s venerable 3-litre ‘Essex’ V6 under the bonnet, delivering 136bhp (101kW) and enabling it to reach 100km/h (62mph) in nine seconds. Colour-keyed bumpers, some satin black paint, alloy wheels and sports seats visually set the XR6 apart from its lesser stablemates. The rear suspension was also upgraded to a five-link setup, which replaced the trailing arms under its European cousin in an effort to make the car cope better with the sometimes harsh South African road conditions.

Like the Citroën Traction Avant and Jaguar Mark II before it, the relatively benign looking XR6 became something of a favourite with those who added to their means in nefarious ways. The XR6 was also used by the police, however, and there was one notorious episode where its two roles were ingeniously combined: a police detective named André Stander robbed banks during his lunch breaks, using his unmarked XR6 as a getaway vehicle, then returned in it to the crime scene as investigating officer!

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The South African public’s love for motorsport prompted Ford to develop a limited edition homologation(1) special in 1981 in order to compete in the popular Group One racing series. This would become the rare XR6 Interceptor. Only available in Wild Coral (a pink-ish red), the Interceptor received special exhaust manifolds, more aggressively profiled camshafts, modified cylinder heads and pistons, and three downdraft Weber carburettors. The resulting 158bhp (118kW), combined with the relatively light weight of the car, gave it a top speed of 197km/h (122mph) and 0 to 100km/h (62mph) acceleration in just over eight seconds.

Outwardly, the Interceptor looked similar to the regular XR6, but it had unique decals on each C-pillar denoting its individual production number, as just 250 were made to satisfy homologation requirements. The XR6 Interceptor would prove quite capable in Group One competition and the limited edition of roadgoing versions sold out quickly.

In 1983, an XR6 TF (Team Ford) model in a white-with-blue-stripes livery mimicking the racing cars was introduced. However, as the homologation requirements had already been met, the XR6 TF was fitted with just the regular 3-litre V6, making it something of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. When the successor to the Cortina arrived in 1982, the same Essex V6 would continue to be used in the new Sierra XR6.

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With the Sierra, Ford Europe certainly had a few variants of its own beyond the usual repmobile range, including the XR4i and RS Cosworth, and even a homologation special, the RS500. Ford South Africa would, however, once again produce its own Group One homologation special, thanks to some resourceful international parts bin browsing. This model was almost a match in the horsepower stakes for the Cosworths and it beat any European Sierra in terms of cylinder count. It was called the Sierra XR8.

As the model designation implies, the Sierra XR8 had an eight-cylinder engine under the bonnet. In this case it was the well known US 5-litre V8 as used in the Ford Mustang. With 215bhp (160kW) of power and 276 lb ft (374Nm) of torque at its disposal, the XR8 achieved a top speed of 231km/h (143mph) and sprinted to 100km/h (62mph) in just under seven seconds. This made it one of the world’s fastest five-door hatchbacks in 1984: unlike its European cousins, the South African performance variant was only available in five-door hatchback configuration.

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As with the XR6 Interceptor, just 250 XR8s were made to satisfy the homologation requirements. Even if they had wanted to, Ford South Africa could not have made any more as they had made a ‘one-time-buy’ deal for the component sets. Surprisingly, the engineers had little problem slotting the V8 into the Sierra’s engine compartment, although a two-inch (50mm) extension had to be constructed to accommodate the radiator. This necessitated a different nosecone with a larger front grille to allow enough air in to feed the four-barrel Holley carburettor.

Fifteen-inch Ronal alloy wheels, stiffer springs, AP Racing four-piston calliper disc brakes, a heavy-duty Borg Warner T5 gearbox and unique front and rear spoilers completed the XR8 package. All XR8s were white with a blue pinstripe and grey interior. Perhaps surprisingly, apart from sports seats, there was virtually nothing inside the XR8 to distinguish it from a run of the mill 1.6-litre Sierra.

The South African Sierra XR8 apparently impressed Ford’s US head-office enough for them to purchase one and put it on display in Dearborn amongst other highly regarded Fords. The XR8 especially has an intriguing ‘Q-car’ quality with its sedate appearance and, for the UK at least, the steering wheel is already on the correct side.

The South African Autotrader or Automart websites are just a mouse-click away. Tempted?

 

(1) The requirement to produce a defined number of road-going versions of the car in order for it to qualify for a racing series.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

12 thoughts on “Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile”

  1. I’ve sometimes wondered why Ford Europe didn’t do either the Cortina or the Sierra with the South African engine choices. Granted the demand wouldn’t have been huge but if the small market in SA could sustain them you would have thought sales Up North would have been sufficient in those distant days when you didn’t have to spend vast sums complying with safety and emissions regulations.

  2. Good morning Bruno. Two more cars unknown to me, thank you. Both seem to be pretty thoroughly engineered, especially the Cortina with its five-link rear suspension. I wonder if it was sourced from another Ford or custom-made. Not sure about the exterior embellishments to the Cortina: it looks like the product of a ram-raid on Halfords!

    1. It seems the rear window decoration is an aftermarket item from Perana.
      This particular car seems to be very popular in South Africa with kind of a ‘sole survivor’ status. Only the window blind and the wheels which are one inch too wide and should not sport black paint are obvious deviations from original condition.

  3. Apparently a film was made, based (no doubt loosely) on André Stander’s exploits. I’m not surprised – it’s hard to think to think of anything more caper movie than turning up to investigate your own robbery…

  4. If it was a relatively straightforward installation, the Sierra XR8 also brings up a question of whether that same V8 could have been used in the short-lived Merkur XR4Ti and Merkur Scorpio had both the Sierra and Scorpio been built in North America rather than brought over from Germany?

    It provides a small window into another more international direction Ford in North America could have gone instead of the Tempo and Taurus, with the additional benefit of providing suitable underpinnings for replacements to both the Capri (via the Sierra as was contemplated in Steve Saxty’s books) and the Mustang (via the mk3 Granada/Scorpio).

    The same goes had Ford in the US opted to build locally produced versions of the mk3-mk5 Cortina and mk1-mk2 Granada in place of the Pinto and Maverick during the early 1970s.

    1. I was thinking the same thing, only taking it a step further and making the hypothetical American-spec XR8 a 5-door only like the South African one in order to protect Mustang sales.

      Apparently at one point prior to the Pinto the MkI Escort was considered. It would make an interesting “what if”, particularly going into the MkII where 5 MPH bumpers might actually improve the looks compared to the too-small-and-skinny Euro ones, and there might’ve been enough money to do a fully reskinned and 5-door-ized (in response to Japanese offerings) wagon.

      The Euro Granada was apparently also considered but would’ve been too expensive to build and sell at the intended price point. Likewise the MkI Fiesta was brought in and pricier than a (US model Falcon-platform) Granada by 1980. The Merkur models – XR4Ti and Scorpio – were both considerably more expensive than domestic FoMoCo offerings and the Scorpio especially suffered from this since it shared showrooms with the much cheaper, similarly styled and also quite nice Mercury Sable.

    2. The Sierra and Scorpio surely would be expensive to make even in the US, at least compared to the Tempo and Taurus, so they only made sense as “luxury imports”. Well, looking at the sales figures they didn´t.
      Also, the “not invented here” stigma was another matter.

  5. From South African factories came out some hooligan´s specials and the Sierra XR8 seems one of the finest kind. Perhaps it would have sold better in the US market than the Merkur XR4Ti with the 2.3 turbo.
    Thanks for your article, Bruno. Next, what about the Alfa GTV6 3.0? 😁

    1. Hello b234r,
      You may have psychic abilities: the GTV6 3.0 -and a couple of other GTV’s with a little extra- will make an appearance on DTW soon!

  6. Hi from Cape Town and thanks for showcasing a local hero. Ford were at the top of their game here in SA at that time offering tough well built cars to a youth audience looking for affordable power. This car’s image was indeed a bit wild and hairy chested, giving rise to the old joke ‘one litre brandy, two litre Coke, three litre Ford’.

    1. Hi Pikesta, reading about the Cortina XR6 and Sierra XR8, and also about the Kadett Superboss and the South African BMWs (333i, 745i and so on), it´s a bit surprising to me that Ford, GM and BMW bothered to make these special (and not inexpensive) cars for a relatively small market. I suppose there were enough affluent buyers asking for them and that performance was a good selling point in South Africa back then.

  7. As well as Basil Green’s Peranas, there was also the Fairmont GT from about 1969-73, which was a local version of the Falcon GT imported CKD from Australia. They had the 351 (5.8) Windsor and then Cleveland V8, initially automatic only but later manual gearbox too, with similar cosmetic add-ons to the Australian cars less the kangaroo (Superoo) on the side stripes.

    Quite a few have been imported back to Australia as the values of Falcon GTs sky-rocketed 20 years ago.

    I’ve heard of a couple of Sierra XR8s too but never seen one, and hadn’t heard of the Cortina XR6 before so thanks Bruno!

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