The headwinds intensify.
Early 1979, and as Patrick le Quément wraps up his assignment at Ford UK’s Dunton research centre for the Ford Cargo truck programme, he receives a summons back to Merkenich from Chief Designer, Ray Everts. [With] “6 months before the Go With Two decision, I was asked to dedicate all my energy to the Toni project, for the battle was far from being won, there was much to do, to convince, to improve!”
Part of what Bob Lutz would later characterise as le Quément’s “decisive role” in the Toni design programme was to help build up a detailed analysis of Ford’s design strategy with a view to providing Uwe Bahnsen with the precise data he required to convince the Detroit board of the necessity for radical change. Using analysis and experience from both Erika and Cargo programmes (the latter a revolutionary design in itself), Everts, le Quément and the team concluded that promoting aerodynamic efficiency was the route to take. “We felt we were ready to appeal to our Lords and Masters for, after all, aerodynamics was to be had for free (or so we thought at the time), but it also gave us the opportunity to invent a brand new formal language and take a divergent route from the Me Too approach”.
Part of Bahnsen’s role here was to play the ‘Devil’s advocate’. While he did not oppose the direction the team were taking on the Toni design, on his weekly visits to the Merkenich studios, he routinely challenged their thinking; after all, as le Quément makes clear, in order to sell the design to a “Detroit soaked culture dominating senior management”, he first had to believe in it. But Bahnsen could be persuasive, because as a consummate professional, he was taken seriously. Having worked long and hard to gain for the design function the respect for which it was owed, the Ford design chief’s intelligence, professionalism and meticulous preparation ensured that “when Uwe spoke, people listened”.
But he was up against formidable opposition, and here, the enthusiastic support of Bob Lutz, who really got behind the Hohenester proposal would prove vital, especially when the Merkenich team was faced with a deluge of ultra-conservative Toni proposals from Ford outposts as diverse as Dearborn, Dunton and Turin (Ghia). Another key supporter of the Merkenich design proposal was senior US Ford Executive, Don Petersen. Departing on a flight back to Detroit, Lutz handed him a small photo of the Hohenester proposal, bearing the legend, “View daily until familiarity is achieved.” His strategy seemed to work, Petersen also coming on-side and subsequently becoming a cheerleader for progressive design in the Dearborn studios.
Despite a less than effusive reaction from God himself at a Toni presentation, Bahnsen, Lutz and the Merkenich design team were able to celebrate their design’s approval in late 1979. During customer clinics carried out prior to Sierra’s introduction, potential customers, shown unbadged prototypes are said to have routinely miscalculated the price, believing it to be a far more expensive car. Yet despite this positive advance data, and the broadly warm response the Sierra received in Europe, the acutely negative reaction following the car’s UK market introduction in 1982 was hugely discouraging for all concerned.
Patrick le Quément however remains quite unequivocal about the leap of faith they were making. “Irrespective of whatever style [was] involved, the Sierra strategy was very risky from the very first day. Namely, it was based on replacing the Cortina, the UK best seller, by a 5 door hatch. Clearly, Ford senior management made an error; it would have been so much easier to launch both a saloon as well as a hatchback, knowing that 5 door hatchbacks were popular in the rest of Europe, [while] the notchback was dominant in the UK where Ford made their big profits”.
As reports of customer dissatisfaction with Sierra’s styling reached the mainstream UK news desks, the press began running negative reports on Ford’s controversial Jellymould. Adding further fuel to the fire were revelations of the Sierra’s aerodynamic instability. As le Quément recounts, Ford’s (former BMW) lead aerodynamicist on the Toni programme, Lutz Jansen, “did not identify any problem during the model development phase.” The phenomenon it would appear, emerged on prototypes during proving. “I do recall the concern over the issue”, le Quément recalls, “the annoyance of Uwe Bahnsen, and having to solve the issue with some tacky add-ons”.
But not all Sierra models we so afflicted, the high performance XR4 model with its novel bi-plane rear wing proving more aero-efficient than the standard hatch. “Indeed the bi-plane rear wing was highly effective by reducing significantly the drag and giving additional downforce. The base car had a cd of 0.32 which was already 20% down on average European cars and, let’s not forget that the Cortina had a cd of 0.45”.
So how did the bi-plane wing work? “The upper wing caused an increase in the flow speed beneath it, resulting in a far better flow attachment down the hatch, thus increasing the pressure on the lower wing which acted as a spoiler. Even if it was a rather bold design, we elected to go ahead, as the trials at the Lommel Proving Ground (with and without bi-plane) were highly conclusive. The car changed into a highly enjoyable well handling car which contributed to stability at very high speed”.
But while the Sierra’s aerodynamic performance would prove a good deal more nuanced than the cut and dried scenario frequently asserted, Ford’s senior designers were not out of the Vortex yet. Not by some distance.
We enter the vortex one final time in part three.
 Patrick le Quément: “In the development process there are 4 key phases, whereby in the first presentation there might be up to 6 or even 7 models shown for Design Direction. At this point 2 designs are selected, called officially Go with Two, whereby it may be asked to jostle together a combination of 2 different models blended into one. There follows a Go with One selection where minor modifications may still be asked, which is then followed by Model Freeze”.
 Petersen would also became pivotal in backing Ray Everts’ Taurus/ Sable design, which proved a huge commercial success in the US. He also (briefly) became CEO.
 Henry Ford II was frequently referred to by his minions as God. He is reputed to have detested the Merkenich proposal.
 Source: Cars : Freedom Style Sex Power Motion Colour everything. Stephen Bayley (Conran Octopus).
 The 1976 Mark IV Cortina exterior design was carried out by le Quément.
Our thanks once more to Patrick le Quément for his kind assistance.
Thanks also to author, Steve Saxty for his assistance with image sourcing. Steve Saxty’s books detail the design and product planning of Ford cars, like the Sierra. Readers can get 10% discount – plus free UK shipping – at www.stevesaxty.com/shop
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