Second Division

A tale of two Toni’s.

Image: ford.co.uk

For the Sierra, the path to stylistic approval was lengthy and difficult. Given the Ford Motor Company’s scale and multi-national status, it was normal procedure to involve its myriad international styling studios to submit proposals for commercially significant models. We therefore know that innumerable rival proposals for the Toni programme were evaluated before the Merkenich scheme was green-lighted in 1979, but less known are what they were like.

For decades, Ford of Britain designed and engineered its UK model offerings. However, by the latter part of the 1960s, Dearborn management elected to bring these two entities together, eyeing reduced development costs and a more unified offering to the public. In 1967, an engineering and style centre was opened at Dunton Wayletts, near Basildon in Essex. Here, engineers and stylists would work in concert with their equivalents in Merkenich, Cologne to produce pan-European Ford vehicles – although tensions over hierarchy would manifest themselves – a matter which would take some years to smooth over.

One reason for this was that the market requirements across mainland Europe and in Germany in particular, versus that of the United Kingdom were somewhat different, not least Britain’s strong reliance upon the business user. The fleet market was not just a hugely important component of Ford UK’s business, but was itself riven by insecurities around perceived hierarchies. The bulk of Ford UK’s sales were to fleets, and the model mix tended to reflect that bias. The cornerstone of this success would become codified by a single word: Cortina.

The 1976 Cortina/Taunus was the first to be visually unified for both UK and European markets. Designed in Cologne and credited to Patrick le Quément, under the supervision of Uwe Bahnsen, the 1976 design was particularly accomplished given that it was essentially a reskin of the outgoing Taunus model, sharing much of the inner structure and even (it appears) the doors[1]. The precise, clean lines of this fourth generation sealed its visual appeal, while the proliferation of trim levels and engine sizes ensured a distinct and rigid social stratification.

A tough act to follow. Image: storm.oldcarmanualproject

A year later, with this fourth generation in production, Bob Lutz axed its mooted replacement. Starting anew, project Toni was planned as a more advanced product, reflecting the new, more high-tech image Lutz had in mind. But while the German studio was proposing a radical streamlined hatchback shape, inspired by Porsche’s Car of the Year winning 928, Ford’s rival satellite studios had altogether different ideas.

Jack Telnack’s Dearborn studios made a number of attempts, while Fillipo Sapino’s Ghia studio also submitted proposals. The Dunton design team however, led by Trevor Creed, presented the styling scheme seen below. A clean-lined, sober looking three volume saloon with a low waistline, tall canopy to body ratio and a prominent wrap-around rear screen, à la Orion[2]. Viewed alongside the Merkenich proposal, it was a world apart in execution, but although it looked contemporary and ‘safe’, it was blandness personified[3].

The Dunton Toni proposal. Image: (c) Steve Saxty.

According to historian and author, Steve Saxty, this design, well received by senior management, was subsequently massaged at Merkenich, lending it a revised nose and tail, the latter now with a hatchback arrangement. If anything, it was worse than the earlier proposal[4], but to Lutz and team-Bahnsen’s undoubted dismay, it was subsequently favoured by Henry Ford II.

Wiser council prevailed, for the market reception to the Dunton proposal risked an equal, if different backlash from customers, disappointed by a car which not only replaced a well-loved old stager, but failed to advance upon the well-regarded style of the Erika Escort. Merkenich’s Hohenester proposal eventually got the nod and the rest is infamy.

It could of course be argued that Ford’s Dunton styling team better understood the British customer, who was still deeply suspicious of anything bearing a whiff of the Avant Garde. Keeping up appearances, whether in the office car park, at the local Sainsbury’s or simply in the driveway of his suburban semi-detached on an overcast Saturday morning, while sponging down his three-volume chariot of aspiration mattered far more than being seen at anyone’s cutting edge.

The revised Dunton Toni proposal, this time a hatchback. Image: (c) Steve Saxty.

But was bland the answer? After all, we should not forget that the Cortina in its ultimate form was not a bland design, even if over-familiarity led to something less than fascination. In fact, it was rather handsome, if starting to look rather dated by early 1980s standards. In some ways, what Creed and his team created was a dry-run for the 1994 Mondeo. But while a less radical style might have succeeded in Britain, it was less likely to do so elsewhere in Europe.

We should also not lose sight of the situation Ford of Europe found itself in at the time. By the late 1970s, Ford’s mainstream rivals were moving wholesale towards front-wheel drive, for reasons of efficiency, rationalisation and because, to a large extent, it was the direction of travel. For reasons of cost however, FoE were denied the investment which would have allowed engineers move with the times.

Had Ford introduced their Cortina successor with a conservative body style to match what was considered by then a dated technical layout[5], they would possibly have faced a critical mauling of a different variety from the automotive press. The Sierra’s radical shape however, meant that such matters would become secondary, since all anyone wanted to talk about was the style.

In 1982, there remained a sizeable gulf in perception between British and European tastes. A decade later, this had narrowed considerably. The 1994 Mondeo was a thoroughly modern design, cloaking a sophisticated chassis with a body style as anonymous as anything from the Far-East. Despite the criticism of the styling from elements of the UK press[6], the car was a success – although how much of a success is debatable, given the enormous cost of development. Times had changed, as had customer expectations. But at Ford, the divisions would remain.

Dunton remained a key part of Ford’s European operations. The XR cars, and models like the Capri 2.8i were developed there. Dunton was also home to SVO, the motorsport operation, and the RS division. Later, the previous generation Fiesta was designed there. Latterly, it has become Ford’s centre of excellence for commercial vehicles.

[1] The UK Cortina Mark III had different external pressings to the equivalent Taunus, so the advent of the ’76 car was a bigger step-change there.

[2] Hardly a coincidence; Trevor Creed was also responsible for the Orion exterior design.

[3] Patrick le Quément: “… it was just another model which I vaguely recall. For you see, there were so many models done to oppose the onward march of Sierra.”

[4] Perhaps this was team Bahnsen’s intention?

[5] The irony being that the press routinely lauded the likes of BMW and Mercedes for their technical sophistication, yet criticised mainstream makers for retaining rear-drive.

[6] There’s no pleasing some people.

Thanks to author, Steve Saxty for the Toni images. 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

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

31 thoughts on “Second Division”

  1. Perhaps not in Britain and the rest of Europe, but certainly in the further away former UK colonies of Australia and New Zealand, there was another car that mirrored the Cortina’s mechanical simplicity and matched it’s styling maturity and detailing finesse. And though traditionally engineered it had balance shafted engines, ( later licensed to Porsche and Lancia ), and smooth five speed gearboxes. The styling was down to the exceptional and often under-attributed work of Italian, Aldo Sessano, who did absolutely stellar work for Mitsubishi at this time. Mitsubishi’s Galant/Sigma was released in 1976 and after some very successful facelifts lasted right through to 1983. At this point it’s competition from Ford wasn’t the Sierra on this side of the world but the badge engineered FWD Mazda 626, the Ford Telstar.
    The Sierra was seen as a risky step too far for Ford Australia and New Zealand, if not just from a design and styling viewpoint but for a currency exchange and freight logistics one, (Especially when compared to the increasingly competent Japanese sourced competition from just across the Pacific Ocean.) In NZ it came just in time to replace the Rootes Group cars, the Avenger and Hunter assembled locally by NZ’s Todd Motors and becoming increasingly outdated against the increasing competition. In Australia it filled in the bottom of Chrysler Australia’s range and was marketed at first under Chrysler badging until it’s huge success led Mitsubishi to take over the whole operation and become Mitsubishi Australia.




    1. Good morning David (and apologies: your comment ended up in the manual approval queue, a quirk of WordPress when there are more than two photos attached to a comment).

      That Sigma also made it to the UK and it was a much more finely engineered and built car than the Cortina, but a traditional bias towards the familiar and lack of name recognition made for minimal sales. Datsun did rather better with this, the Bluebird 910:

      This was the last RWD Bluebird. I inherited one as a company car from my predecessor and it was actually a nice drive and looked better appointed than the Cortina. I thought it was quite a handsome looking car too.

    2. Weren’t some of these Australian Mitsubishis marketed as Lonsdales in the UK in the mid-80s?

    3. A friend of mine had such a Sigma.
      He used it to travel between Germany and his home town Huddersfield several times per month, accumulating more than half a million kilometres in a relatively short time before his premature death (the driver, not the car).
      The car was extremely reliable (if maximum bland) and resisted the daily dose of eighty to hundred Harrod’s cigarettes smoked in quite very well.

    4. Yes, it was the boringly reliable build quality combined with what some saw as bland, but others saw as well resolved, styling and engineering that made the Sigma such a huge success in Australasia. It knocked the Cortina for six, ironic because it didn’t come with a six at all, but those balance shafts meant 2.4 and 2.6 litre engines were available, bigger than the 2.0 litre fours everyone else had and with the bigger capacity power offered by the opposition’s sixes without the weight and fuel consumption penalties. Ford had shoehorned the long, very heavy 4.1 litre ohv iron six from the Falcon into their Mk3 Cortina, and this was continued for the Mk4/5. This gave Ford an entrant in the ‘light six’ class invented by the Holden six powered long bonnet Vauxhall Viva known as the Holden Torana, (itself inspired by a Holden designer having noticed the work Nissan/Datsun/Prince had made in developing the Skyline/Laurel range of cars.)
      Though it had it’s fans, the Cortina six wasn’t a big seller, partly because Ford couldn’t really hide the weight of the all iron motor up front- these cars really defined the phrase ‘plough understeer’ particularly on wet roads. They only ever sold a handful of Cortina Sixes in NZ, NZ buyers valuing steering and handling more than the Australians- something Toyota would later exploit very astutely.

      https://carsales.pxcrush.net/carsales/cars/private/1ax2w6cd5l30190ttzds50s8y.jpg?pxc_method=fit&pxc_size=1795%2c1195
      https://carsales.pxcrush.net/carsales/cars/private/9nlri8549zpczsq291fqsvwvp.jpg?pxc_method=fit&pxc_size=1795%2c1195

      And yes Andy, these were the Japanese car quota beating Lonsdales marketed in the UK, with the big balancer shafted fours

  2. Good morning Eóin. Taking a proper look at the Taunus TC1, it’s pretty easy to see how the Cortina Mk4 / Taunus TC2 was a straightford reskin:

    The TC1 was a rather more conservative design than the Cortina Mk3, with only a hint of the ‘Coke-Bottle’ waistline that was such a prominent feature of the British model:

    That makes me wonder if the TC2 was regarded as something of a non-event in Europe? That said, it does again demonstrate Ford’s expertise at re-skinning existing designs to maximum effect, also evident in the Granada Mk2.

    As to the two Toni proposals, thank goodness neither made the cut.

    1. At least in its home country the TC2 was seen as an overdue step in the right direction. It was part of a trend of getting rid of excessively US-influenced car design – see Rekord C to Rekord D, Granada Mk1 to Mk2, TC1 to TC2. The TC1 always was criticised for its Knudsen nose and its dashboard with instruments mounted too low.

      BMW and Mercedes got applause for their technical excellence because they combined RWD with IRS. Cars lije Opel Rekord, Taunus TC, Fiat 131/132 were criticised for their ox cart rear suspension designs. For the Sierra Ford would not have got away with a rigid rear axle so they only could go with IRS or front wheel drive.

    2. I had a friend who owned one of the Cortinas in the early 2000s. A lowly 1.6 in purple it was widely and greatly admired by everyone who saw it.

      Once waiting to be picked up oitside a nightclub I overheard a 20 year old lad say to his mate “I love that car, it looks fantastic”.

      A testiment to a good design?

  3. Good academic write-up again. Thanks DTW.

    Speaking of cash cow engineering, over the same era, the early 1980s Honda Accord and Toyota Camry with their super conservative exteriors robbed the market across the Atlantic. Ditto three-box styling of Audi flag-carrier and so did the BMW 5 series. Both models moved volumes out of dealerships into owners hands.

    So what really matters? Market research input, dealers’ wish, or top floor corner office’s fanciness, as per Phaeton and modern day Maybach?

    I love the penultimate Cortina though, after growing up with 1969 Cortina England World Cup Edition

    1. And me! although I was thinking about an hypothetical mkI with non- sealed beam headlights

  4. The Dunton proposal does seem like it would have been better received in the UK than what was eventually approved for production, if not at least been a suitable canvas for further refining at the front to better anticipate what was due to appear on the mk3 Granada / Scorpio and later Sierra facelift.

    1. Charles,

      Indeed. Apparently those wireframe technical illustrations that appeared in Ford’s printed material back then were all hand drawn rather than being rudimentary computer graphics. Effective though.

    2. Joel – How funny – I love facts like that. Why not use a bit of artifice to make it look how it should.

      I recall seeing a documentary about the moon landings, featuring NASA personnel who said that they used CCTV and displayed (genuine) results on TV monitors to make it look appropriately hi-tech when the technology wasn’t quite there, yet.

  5. One piece of Dunton design for the Sierra that did make it into the showrooms was the progressive “make the driver feel important” interior, which was also a big leap from the Cortina. I believe I’m correct in stating that no switchgear was carried over from previous models.

    It’s interesting how two significant cars both appeared towards the end of 1982 with dashboards angled towards the driver:

    1. Joel, that green and black illustration really needs the ‘digital’ theme that goes with it:

      They’d been using that sort of illustration since the late ‘70s, with the Fiesta.

  6. That’s a fascinating article – thank you, Eóin.

    I too think that the UK proposal would have sold better in the UK. With the benefit of hindsight, they ought to have forgotten about all of the 3-door variants, which just emphasised the Sierra’s ‘oddness’ and put resources in to launching a booted saloon, hatchback and estate Sierra.

    It is funny that there was so much comment about drivetrains – Volkswagen’s Passat and Chrysler’s Alpine had been front wheel drive since the mid-‘70s. It would be interesting to see the pan-European sales figures for that period for D-segment saloons – I wonder what the top European seller was.

    I think all of this comes back to what Ford were trying to achieve with the Sierra – I guess they were at least partly trying to reduce their reliance on the fleet market in the UK and perhaps thought that the Sierra was the answer. Again, I wonder if private sales increased significantly.

    It’s funny looking at parallels with today. The UK fleet market became important as companies sought to get around pay restraint rules, which were introduced as a result of the government trying to clamp down on inflation. I suspect that without that policy, the UK market would have been more like that in, say, France.

    1. Hi Charles. The two-door Taunus TC2 was still a strong seller in continental Europe. If you Google images of the car, most seem to be of that variant. I guess this is why the three-door Sierra was in the product plan, even if they were vanishingly rare in the UK.

    2. Hello Daniel, I’d forgotten that; and the XR4i gave them a replacement for the Capri / a sporty halo car, too I guess. Who’d be a product planner?

  7. The Dunton Toni proposal needed more visual mass around the C-pillar. It looks like something is missing in the image shown. The US-market designs have a look of coarseness about them, as if they were modelled at 1:4 and then simply enlarged. The edges and radii are all thick. In comparison the Euro models are much more refined and precise-looking.

    1. Hi Richard. Quite apart from the aesthetics, one wonders about the degree of torsional stiffness achievable with such slim pillars.

    2. It’s because there are a lot of inner pressings and mechanical bits from the efficiently packaged Erika underneath the puffed-up outer skin of the Tempo/Topaz.

  8. One of Ford’s great mass-market strengths has been in offering fairly conservative technology in a fairly good looking package, built to fairly ok level.

    Almost all of of the 60s and 70s Fords looked good. They may have been avoided by some because of their build quality (I have had it recounted to by someone that their one experience of Ford ownership was enough to put them off forever) but they looked great. The problem for the Sierra is that it didn’t look good.

    Thank you for those who in previous threads have sought to enlighten me but when I read of the difficulty in persuading management to run with the Tony design I see well founded misgivings put aside in respect of the designers rather than overly conservative management.

    There were plenty of other cars from around the same time that had reasonably radical designs that were welcomed by the public, the Audi 80 and Rover SD1 spring readily to mind.

    In truth the Sierra was rejected because it looked like an own-brand cola of an aero design rather than the real thing.

    I say rejected, it still sold fairly well but to some degree brand loyalty can carry sales of an individual design.

    1. I can understand the “shock” of the Sierra design to a certain extent, many shocking designs have been ahead of the curve and with the benefit of time look very good indeed; I can think of no better example than the E60 “Bangle” 5 series which was truly shocking at the time but looks fresh and current 20 years on.

      The Sierra was shocking and ugly when it was new, and looking at one now it still looks shocking and ugly particularly in the unbelievably naff pre facelift versions with their blobby window frames and that ridiculous front grille and headlight arrangement. Ford clearly agreed because the facelift significantly improved it, but it always looked the least awful as a saloon.

      I also struggle to buy the claims that it was finely honed and engineered; using carry over engines is fine if they’re good (GM Family I and II engines from Mk2 Cavalier to Mk3 Cavalier/Mk1 Vectra) but in the case of the Sierra they were truly crap, the chassis was unrefined, and it had handling quirks that they never resolved. If it was a Leyland product it would be a target of derision and scorn. It seems to be more to be a car developed as cheaply as possible, cynically clad in a body that attempted to cash in on the trend for aero designs to look modern and disguise what a half arsed job it really was, but without putting enough effort in to make it actually aerodynamic, stable, and good looking.

      Ford were very good at aiming their products at “just good enough”, the problem with that is if you fall even slightly short of target you’re suddenly into “just not good enough” which is a world apart; all their 80s and early 90s fall into this category and I can see no reason anyone bought them aside from foolish brand loyalty and susceptibility to marketing. As I’ve said before the best thing about Ford’s output at this time is that it was so poorly made it at least disappeared from our roads very quickly!!

  9. My first Mazda, a GD series ’88 626 Hatchback had similatities to the German-tweaked Dunton Toni, but I’ve always assumed Giugiaro had some input, since it also resembled the first Fiat Chroma around the back. Similar profile to the Sierra, but conventional front end and Audi-style flush glass, which made it look much more modern than the Ford. It had some lovely body-surfacing and was really handsome, but had a drinking problem…
    I bought the 5-door because it had a lower roof than the 4-door and looked much sexier.

    1. That’s possibly because with Ford’s (then) part ownership of Mazda, Ford stylists that worked on Toni also worked on Mazdas. The Sierra wasn’t marketed in Asia/Australasia/Pacific markets, but the slightly restyled, rebadged Mazda 626 was marketed as the Ford Telstar. The Second generation Telstar was based on the GD 626, the five door fastback having a very clumsy ‘facelift’ of the rear lights.

    2. If you look closely at those pics of the Telstar/626 you will notice that the door sill is not actually straight between the front and back – it kicks out before the back wheel. That always made me smile.
      When mine was near the end – high miles, rust around the sunroof, faded red paint – I considered sourcing a fresher one, but just couldn’t live with the fuel consumption ( it was pulling very low gearing, mostly you left it in fifth ).

  10. The 4 door cars in the article photographs remind the Mondeo mark 1 and mark 2. Remotely. It is the line from the front lights to the rear.

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