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Ford Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth | The Brave Pill

Remember when these were three grand? Not any more...

By Mike Duff / Saturday, November 23, 2019

Is there a more evocative word in the petrolhead's lexicon than Cosworth? To those of a certain age the name of Northampton's most famous engine builder will always be linked primarily to the DFV V8 that powered several generations of Formula 1 contenders. But to those of us who did most of our growing up in the eighties and nineties Cosworth - and its Cossie diminutive - is all about the fast Fords.

I'm a total, unashamed fanboy. As a teenager I could see the appeal of supercars in the same way I could see the attraction of supermodels - as bedroom poster fantasies rather than the sorts of dates you were likely to take to McDonalds. But the Cosworth was a much more accessible dream, a blue collar hero with genuine motorsport pedigree and performance that made it one of the fastest things on the road. Unlike true exotica, it was also a common sight in the wild.

While most adolescent dreamers of the period preferred the whale-tailed two-door version, I was more drawn to the subtle appeal of the later four-door Sapphire. One lived outside a pub near to where I lived - wearing the private plate JAT28N - and although passing it added at least half a mile to the walk home from school, I'd opt to do so most days just to have a quiet gawp. Hell, most of the reason I ended up owning a rival Cosworth-engined three-box is that I couldn't afford (or insure) a Sapphire in similar condition.

Values of RS Cosworths have been rising strongly for years, with some of the most desirable specimens long since leaving the gravitational field of planet sensible. In 2017 a mint RS500 sold for £120,000, but earlier this month a much more common two-door Sierra RS made £80,000 at Anglia Car Auctions, that valuation underwritten by it having covered just 7000 miles and having been parked in a garage since 1991. The Sapphire is much more common than the two-door, Ford building more than three times as many, and being less desirable to collectors means that prices have climbed a much shallower slope. The £14,000 being asked for our Pill being is close to the bottom of the market for a genuine Cossie these days, especially a 4x4.

It's impossible to write about the Ford Cosworths without making at least a brief detour into the life of crime that so many of them were inadvertently drawn into. Ford's decision to sell early RSes with no more security gear than was fitted to the standard Sierra quickly proved disastrous, the car becoming a favourite of scroats and joyriders everywhere. Suffice to say that pretty much no RS was immune to it - several of Ford's press demonstrators were nicked and the RWD Sapphire that was used for filming Jimmy Nail's early nineties detective show 'Spender' was stolen off the set by some Geordie scallies and later found burned out. Nail was upgraded to a 4x4 version in the next series, but from then on the car always had its own bodyguard.

The thievery made all RS models hard to own - our Pill is still wearing the Stop Lok that most had in addition to various alarms and trackers - with insurance premiums soon rising to the level normally reserved for supertankers heading into warzones. Depreciation became brutal and values for Sapphires were soon in the basement. In parallel the tuning potential of the engine was becoming obvious; it used a heavily modified Pinto block with an all-new 16-valve Cosworth-cast cylinder head and a Garrett T3 turbo and was delivered to customers in a conservative state of tune; this 4x4 would have left the factory with 217hp. With a ready supply of both cheap cars and cheap parts - many of which had been harvested from stolen vehicles - the RS soon at the centre of a major tuning culture.

Our Pill is being sold with a fair number of the mods that were commonly applied to a generation of RS models. Highlights include a polished head and meatier head gasket, a puffier turbo, a variable boost controller, plus bigger AP Racing brakes, coilovers and some supplementary dials. The under-bonnet view also reveals the familiar presence of the blue aftermarket hoses it seemed every RS that reached the pages of Fast Ford or Max Power magazines used to wear, as well as a substantial strut brace. The vendor reports the car is making 353hp, which is actually a fairly modest tally for a tweaked Cossie. While originality is more prized these days, this isn't a car that's trying to hide its history, and as the seller points out it would be a relatively simple - if time consuming task - to put it back to standard.

More importantly, it looks pretty much stock, which is more than you can say for many of its siblings and the various visual horrors that were frequently wrought upon them when they were cheap. Beyond aftermarket wheels and a lowered stance our Pill looks pretty much exactly as it would have left the showroom, still having all of the proper badges that were often prised off by tea leafs wanted to upgrade their 1.8 LX Sapphires. Flint grey has always been a colour that suits the Sapphire particularly well, too.

There are more issues in the cabin, as the current owner admits. The door cards need refacing, there are nineties style aftermarket speaker pods and dials plus a non-original stereo and a temperamental alarm remote. All of which are solvable for anyone with the time and patience. The MOT history also backs up the vendor's claims that the car is pretty much free of rot, having recorded a clean pass last month. The last advisories were as long ago as 2013, with the tester warning that "outer sill sings of corrosion." A tune that many of us know well. It hasn't recurred since and, on the visual evidence of these pictures, the exterior looks good. Beyond the grot that affected all Fords of this era, the Cosworths are widely reckoned to be pretty tough, although gearboxes struggle to digest big power increases and rarer parts are hard to find and expensive.

While a relatively leggy Sapphire will never be among the most desirable members of the clan, it's not hard to see the cultish appeal of the RS brand continuing to grow. This is a car that could be used as-is while being sympathetically restored, not one that would need to be kept wrapped in cotton wool to maintain its value. Having blokes of a certain age says "phwoar, Cossie!" every time you park up is just a bonus.


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