Into the Vortex – Part Three

The vortex claims its sacrifice.

Double-sided full-size Toni styling model – 1979. Image: (c) Steve Saxty

Despite what Uwe Bahnsen later stated publicly, both he and his design team were placed squarely in the firing line as Sierra’s disappointing early sales figures were thrown in their faces, as Patrick le Quément recalls: “Design was the centre of acrimony, we had designed a car that started slowly in the UK, the cash-cow land of Ford in Europe. We entered very difficult times”.

Having taken something of a leap of faith with Sierra rather than their usual practice of exhaustive market research, Dearborn’s executives wanted someone’s head. Bahnsen would be a convenient choice and at a Star Chamber interrogation at Merkenich, chaired by Detroit Ford executive, Harold A. (Red) Poling[1], and witnessed by a horrified le Quément, they got their man. “The end of Uwe Bahnsen’s career was a tragedy and they almost managed to break him, but he left, dignified and became head of Art Center Europe in Switzerland”. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Three”

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 Continue reading “Second Division”

Into the Vortex – Part Two

The headwinds intensify.

The Merkenich team discussing strategy at a Toni design review. Right to left: Uwe Bahnsen, Friedl Wülfing (Studio Chief), Patrick le Quément, Ray Everts and Dietrich Tenner (Chief modeler). Image (c) Steve Saxty

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[1] 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 Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Two”

Sierra Shock (Part Three)

The Sierra’s troubles mount, forcing a radical rethink.

Sierra XR4i. Image: definitely motoring

In the run up to the Sierra’s launch in September 1982, the external design had been previewed with the Probe concept, aimed at lessening the shock of the new. However, few observers believed Ford would put anything so radical into series production, a perception the automotive and general press did little to discourage. When Sierra arrived in the showrooms however, the stunned disbelief was palpable.

Additionally, there remained large stockpiles of unsold Cortinas, which required significant discounting to clear. This gave wavering customers an opt-out, which many gratefully accepted, delighted by the opportunity to Continue reading “Sierra Shock (Part Three)”

Not For Sale: Car Museums

A sermon about why car museums are to be avoided if you like old cars.

Ford Sierra Laser. Image source: The Truth About Cars

Originally published on 31st January 2014, the editor has selected to re-issue this piece, partially because it carries a fine profile shot of a Ford Sierra (making it vaguely topical) but primarily because it is an amusing, well crafted article – even if the author’s principle argument is somewhat debatable.

Every car museum I have visited in the last 2.25 decades has been a disappointment. Cars are inherently space-consuming selfish monsters and even when they are caught, killed and pinned to plinths this quality does not diminish. They need plenty of room, alive or dead. Alive, the car needs sufficient space for portly passengers to open the doors and affect egress without having to close the door behind them, at a minimum. And dead, in a museum without sufficient space, the car can’t be assessed properly. You need to stand back, fold your arms (essential) and try to Continue reading “Not For Sale: Car Museums”

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. Continue reading “Adding Some Fleet to the Repmobile”

Ford Builds A Passat

“Ford builds a Passat!” was a typical reaction when the Mondeo Mk3 was unveiled in October 2000. Beneath its conservative Germanic skin was a well-engineered, competent and capable car.

(c) The Car Connection
2000 Ford Mondeo (c) The Car Connection

The 1993 Ford Mondeo Mk1 was a transformational car for its maker. Its predecessor, the Sierra, for all its futuristic aero looks, was resolutely conventional and exemplified Ford’s tradition of producing (no more than) adequately engineered and carefully costed cars that sold on showroom appeal, value for money and low running costs. If one wanted to Continue reading “Ford Builds A Passat”

Vetiver And Almond, Bergamot And Cinnamon

Ford has announced another turnaround plan. Five thousand jobs to go in Germany, others in the United Kingdom.

Hello, you! Source: Ford, Germany.

The news is reported here and here and, of course, here. “Some of the losses in Germany come from ending production of the C-Max minivan, one of the products Ford will stop making as it reduces its portfolio to more profitable models,” said the FT**.

Why are Ford hacking at the payrolls? Ford’s market share has declined roughly two percentage points of the EU market, from a little over 8% to just under six. That’s actually quite bad because it represents a 25 % drop in absolute terms. Only the fact the market grew a bit overall mitigates that decline.

Commercial vans represent perhaps one bright spot and Ford plans to Continue reading “Vetiver And Almond, Bergamot And Cinnamon”

Can’t, and Will Anyway

After sighting a few dark and tatty examples I saw this conveniently clean and pale W-201 yesterday. Where’s quality hiding?

You’ve seen it before

I asked this of a BMW 3-series (E-30) recently. Both came out the same year, 1982 (as did the Ford Sierra). So, presumably the cars gestated at the same time and without a large likelihood of designers and clay modellers migrating between studios. First let’s take a close look to Continue reading “Can’t, and Will Anyway”