In the eighties it brought supercar performance to the masses. Ollie Stallwood drives the Sierra RS Cosworth...
If you heard the words ‘insurance’ and ‘premium’ in the Eighties it’s a good chance the conversation would be about a Ford Sierra. Not just any Sierra of course, it would have to be the three-door version with ‘Cosworth’ written on the back, just below one of the biggest whale-tail spoilers ever fitted to a production car. The Sierra RS Cosworth was outrageous, plain and simple.
Although the Ford Sierra’s slippery looks had created a stir in 1982 for being oh so futuristic, by the mid-eighties it was happily settling into the role of jelly mould repmobile. Sales had been slow at first, with the conservative scared off by the styling, and oddly the car retained rear-wheel drive, whereas competitors such as the Vauxhall Cavalier had front drive. Had it not have been for this quirky aspect of the Sierra however, one of the lariest cars to wear the blue oval may have never existed.
What Ford basically did in July 1986 was launch a supercar, based on the slow-selling three-door version of a slow-selling repmobile, with seemingly the most outlandish styling that the company’s designers thought they could get away with. The Cosworth’s spoiler alone looked like the product of a game of dare with the designers of the Porsche 911 Turbo, and the bonnet grills would be glued on to family hatchbacks for years to come. I clearly remember going with my dad to look at a Sierra XR4x4 and the dealer showed us a car draped in a sheet hidden in a garage out the back. He said the car was brand new and not yet launched, before pulling off the cover to reveal a Moonstone Blue Sierra Cosworth. The only problem was £15,000 seemed like a hell of a lot in those days and unfortunately it never ended up on our drive.
Ever since then I’ve always loved the Sierra Cosworth. The small, spoked alloys look perfect, the car’s proportions are spot on, and the styling is fantastically 'up yours'. The car is an ASBO with four wheels, the council estate hero that made its name on the world stage. Even today 204bhp is respectable, but in the mid-eighties, in a lightweight body, it made the car a riot. 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds and a top speed of 149mph is still quick, and twenty years ago it meant this Sierra was taking chunks out of supercars. The 2.0l Pinto-based block with Cosworth 16-valve aluminium head was designed to be tuned and soon owners were arriving at track days with talk of 400 to 500bhp under the bonnet. The car had of course been developed to win on the track, which explained the faintly ridiculous styling, and Ford was rewarded by success in both touring car championships and rallying.
To find out what all the fuss is about I decide to head over to Dagenham to have a go in their mint 30,000 mile Sierra Cosworth. When it was released the wild Cosworth quickly developed a fearsome reputation, with tales surfacing such as journalist David Vivian’s long termer being totalled before he even got to drive it. With this is mind I’m keeping one eye on the black clouds overhead as I head towards Essex and am relieved that the rain has failed to materialise when I arrive at Ford’s Heritage Centre in Dagenham. Waiting for me is a white D-reg Cossie, wrapped in a plastic dust-sheet like a stored museum piece, serving to remind me of just how precious it is. I pull off the sheet and get comfortable inside. The car is small, seemingly smaller than a Golf and is spartan by today’s standards. The only addition is a roll cage, which I’m hoping I won’t need, and the Recaros are a very snug fit indeed. The leather wheel harks back to the days when such things were seen as a luxury and there are electric windows.
Turning the key makes the whole car jump into life. The shell seems to buzz with anticipation, the 2.0 litre lump sounding purposeful if not tuneful, and there is definitely an underlying competition feel to the Cossie. The car pulls away cleanly, the clutch is light, the gearchange long but direct and not at all heavy. I quickly find a back road and with the car suitably warmed up, squeeze the throttle. The turbo whistles loudly and the four-cylinder throws the car forward; the old school power delivery is not refined, more a kick in the back as the car fires towards the red line. It sounds frantic and raw, the acceleration coming in a series of explosive hits, accentuated by traditional eighties turbo lag. I’m left in no doubt that this is a seriously quick car, even by today’s standards.
Coming into a village I soon realise that the Cosworth is a bit of a local hero. People stop and stare, while others give me the thumbs-up or nod approvingly. It’s like Rocky running through the streets of Philadelphia; the car gets great respect from the locals in a way no Ferrari or Porsche would. Out of the village I start to push on again; the Cossie feels nicely damped compared to some modern sports cars and flows over bumps, making progress easy. You might expect the car to crash through potholes or be unsettled by changing camber but it takes it in its stride without rolling too much in the corners. The steering has plenty of feel without being overly heavy and the car feels lively and compact as I hussle it down narrow lanes.
Third gear at about 3,500rpm and the Cossie really starts to fly, and this is where I can imagine getting caught out by the lively tail. Plant your foot down through a corner and the car will squat on the outside rear wheel. Get it right and the rear can be brought round to balance the car nicely; get it wrong and it feels like the back end will snap out very quickly indeed. There is great balance to the chassis and even off the race-track there is huge fun to be had. I dread to think what would happen if I overcooked it in this beautiful white Cossie so I retreat to a more sensible pace.
It was around this time that I get completely lost. But driving through endless suburbs, looking for my way back to Dagenham, is when this thinly-veiled race car throws up its biggest surprise. It is astonishingly easy to drive, the engine is perfectly tractable, humming away off boost and making driving in town an absolute doddle. As I pass one man he looks around at the car like he has seen a long-lost friend, and I remember quite what this car means to Ford and those who remember its glory days in the eighties.
Ironically the Sierra Cosworth was its own worst enemy. The car’s performance meant it was a joyrider’s dream and insurance premiums hit the roof. The Escort Cosworth continued the legacy but in the end the Sierra Cosworth may have been the beginning of the end. Ford had to tone down its performance range towards the end of the nineties and the Cosworth-badged Ford all but disappeared. But the Sierra Cosworth is certainly not forgotten and goes to show that even Dagenham can have an exotic side.
PH Hero Rating: 8.75/10