Ford, Cosworth and the Sierra

The Cosworth name has been synonymous with racing engines since its creation back in 1958 and the company has powered various cars to victory in almost every motorsport category in the world, including Formula One. But it isn't just with motorsport that the Cosworth brand has been inextricably linked to throughout its years; it is to the Ford Motor Company too.

Forgiving the occasional flirtations with companies such as Mercedes and Opel, it was with Ford that they created three of the most memorable and at the time, desirable cars to emerge wearing the blue oval. In 1982 Ford released the Sierra, an aerodynamic marvel that looked like nothing else on the road. Due to the Sierra's challenging looks and availability as only a hatch or estate, it didn't sell as well as Ford hoped and was joined just five years later by the Ford Sierra Sapphire saloon car.

Regardless of its aero achievements and Ford's misjudgment of the market, the Sierra was nothing special. The sporty XR4i version, which used the same 2.8i Cologne V6 engine as the Ford Capri, was an improvement and a rare sight when it was launched, let alone today; but it didn't catch on in the same way as the hot versions of the Fiesta and Escort. It took some geniuses from Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering department and Cosworth to create something truly memorable out of the Sierra.

In 1986, after a half-decade's worth of development, the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was released onto an unsuspecting public. Ford was never one to use the RS name lightly, but if any car was deserving of the name, this was it. It used a 2.0 16v engine with a Garret T.03b turbocharger and produced 204bhp, did 0-60 in 6.2 seconds and almost cracked 150mph! All this from the factory and in 1986! Aside from the ballistic engine and an almost entirely different chassis and running gear, the Sierra also gained an RS body kit and a massive rear spoiler, universally known as a whale tail.

The Cosworth made quite an impression, in fact, if four-wheeled speed machines and local cars were of interest, spotting one on the road was an event on a par with seeing any Italian exotica roll past. Years before any heavyweight Japanese machinery came on to the scene, entire car companies were formed around extracting even more power from the Sierra's four cylinder turbo engine. The sound of fat exhausts and dump-valves echoed around the streets of the UK in earnest for the first time and if you saw one of these beasts in your rear-view mirror; you moved over.

If all this wasn't enough and the 16,000GBP that the RS Cosworth cost was too much of a bargain, anyone with a round 20,000GBP in their pocket could walk into a Ford dealership in 1987 and purchase the RS500 homologation special. This time, the Sierra received attention from Tickford and gained another 20bhp from a larger T4 turbo, more injectors, a different intercooler and other modifications. Externally it took an expert to know the difference between this and the standard RS, as it wore only a revised rear spoiler and new splitters. The real cache of the RS500 was that there were only 500 made and as with the standard RS Cosworth, were available in white, black or moonstone blue.

When the Sapphire was introduced in 1987, it only took a year for SVE and Cosworth to work the same magic on the saloon car too. This time the car was far more subtle; it lacked any gigantic spoilers for a start, but had essentially the same performance. In 1990, a hi-tech four-wheel-drive system was added which slightly slowed the Sapphire's progress, but increased its road-holding capabilities, making it a fearsome point-to-point weapon. However, it would never grace bedroom walls in the way that the hatchback did, thanks to its restrained looks and executive-express image.

Two years later Ford, Cosworth and the SVE group created the Escort RS Cosworth, this time abandoning the shrinking violet looks of the Sapphire and returning to the extremes of the original. Blistered arches covered gorgeous 16 alloy wheels, functional bonnet vents and another incarnation of the famous whale tail spoiler beefed up the MkV Escort looks considerably. Underneath this body was actually the running gear of the outgoing Sierra Cosworth and not an Escort's at all. The engine was also based on the 4WD version of Cosworth's original.

More expensive still than the hatchback or Sapphire, the Escort was available in Motorsport or Lux trim, with a special Monte Carlo edition produced later. The Escort was revised a short while into its production run and was given a smaller turbo and a new ECU program, which made the car easier to live with on an everyday basis. The car had similar performance to its predecessors, putting 227bhp through the 34/66 split 4WD system, which powered the RS to 140mph, with 0-60 gone in just 5.7 seconds.

Driving a two-wheel drive example of the Sierra Cosworth was an experience. So much power through the rear wheels demanded concentration and more than a little willpower to control, but the results were worth it. The car responded quickly and although turbo lag was present, the Cosworth just looked and felt so special that it didn't matter. The four-wheel drive models were a different proposition altogether. Massive grip gave the driver massive confidence and cornering speeds bordered on the ludicrous, as did acceleration. The Escort felt the most refined on the road, but only in small turbo form, the former edition needing a good stoking before it came on boost.

In 1996, the Escort was pulled from production and despite rumors of a Ford Focus RS Cosworth; nothing has appeared since with that name on the boot. In a way, this absence of replacement vehicles only makes the original three cars more special. They represent a period during Ford and Cosworth's collaboration where some of the most exciting and extreme factory road cars where let loose on the streets of Europe; a period that is hopefully undergoing a resurgence with the current production of the Fiesta and Focus ST. Not sure if they will ever appear on as many bedroom walls though.