The problem of having been too often snow-bound on my own house-drive -two years ago we only got food replenishments by resorting to the old grey Ferguson tractor -turned my thoughts towards 4WD cars, such as the Subaru and Fiat Panda 4X4. The Alfa-6 I was using was good on slippery main-road hills, with its de Dion rear-end and limited-slip differential, but would give up on ice or snow before even reaching the gate and while, among front-drive cars, a Saab 900 Turbo was impressive, nevertheless after trudging to the house, perhaps in the dark, lugging luggage, 4WD seemed attractive.
So when Ford announced the new Sierra XR4x4 the answer automatically presented itself. Admittedly, after the Alfa-6 I would have to learn to change gear again but at least the engine would still be a 60-deg V6, which, if antiquated and with push-rods instead of an oh-camshaft and cross-pushrods valve gear, manages to give 150 (DIN) bhp at a modest 5,700 rpm in its oversquare, Bosch fuel-injected, 2,792 cc form, and I hoped to get more than 19 mpg and better acceleration, judging by Ford’s claimed 0-60 mph in 8.1 sec (Alfa-6 = 10.3 sec, GTV6 = 8.2 sec), and top speed from the Sierra of 130 mph.
I took the new Ford over at 471 miles, colleagues having obligingly partially run it in and delivered it to a convenient place, in fact, yards from Stratford Motor Museum. It had been supplied by Cleales Ltd, Ford Main Dealers, of Haverhill, Suffolk. I gather it was returned for a blemish to be rectified but now seemed in 100% good order. Immediately I began to compare it with the Alfa I was sad to see depart; the Sierra had a much harsher ride with its 12% stiffer (all-independent) suspension and revised damper settings over lesser Sierras, and at first the all-round disc brakes seemed to need a hard prod. The power-assisted variable-rate rack-and-pinion steering (under three turns, lock-to-lock, with a notably small turning-circle for a car of this length) functioned well but seemed quite heavy after the Alfa’s, but the close-ratio five-speed gearbox was up to Ford’s high standard when one got used to the long movements of lever and. clutch· and remembered to depress the latter fully, to avoid baulking too badly in first and reverse. The engine started instantly (no manual choke as on the Alfa) and ran smoothly and quietly, and I was delighted to get 26.8 mpg over the initial three tankfuls, with a best of 27.3 mpg, before the engine was run-in. The fuel gauge is accurate unlike the Alfa’s. Running-in is no chore, because you only have to go reasonably quietly for the first 1,000 miles; the free seryice-check then becomes due at 1,500 miles.
Other good aspects of this Sierra were the commendably quick engine warm-up, the comfort of the sports-type driving seat with adjustable lumbar support, the wellcontrived instrumentation and controls, with Ford’s effective heating and ventilation, the selectors, but not the vent knobs of which are illuminated, and the single “spot-light” key for all services. The five doors have centre-locki,ng which works with a reassuring “clonk” and there are useful “keeps”. I have yet to find a bonnet that is easier to open, as it the lockable fuelfiller cap and the Hatchback panel. On the first after-dark run the Cibie headlamps were found to be effective, at all events on full-beam, and they are supplemented by Ford fog-lamps. There are tow-hooks front and back and if the sun ever returns I shall appreciate the draught-free Ford manual opening roof, with anti-dazzle panel. I read somewhere that you can only get this Sierra XR in white but the Standard House car is a rather anonymous metallic grey, which is apparently an extra.
Naturally, the most interesting factor of this new Ford, developed by Special Vehicle Engineering at Dunton under Rod Mansfield, is the permanently-engaged 4WD, the drive split 34/68% front-rear, through limited-slip silicon-fluid-filled viscous couplings, the contents of which have been cleverly likened by Roger Bell of Motor to a child’s magic clay. I am still learning, but the system enables one to take sharp corners very fast, opening up as you come out of them, which seems to embarrass some of those drivers trying to follow you in two-wheel-drive cars! And there is no apparent roll. I have also taken the Sierra over hummocks of wet grass in my fields, which it takes as if on the level; now I await avidly the snows of winter! In rapid cornering there is no pronounced understeer and no drive-train noise can be heard to give away the undoubted sophistication of this latest development from Ford of Europe. Nor is there much outward indication of this, apart from the “4×4” badges and the RS sports alloy wheels, shod in this case with Uniroyal Rallye tyres, the wear factor of which I shall watch with interest, in view of the 4WD. Incidentally, there is a single rear spoiler, so you can no longer pretend to be a biplane pilot, as when driving a Sierra XR4i ….
On the way to London in this interesting Ford I passed the estate at Stow-on-theWold where the late Harry Ferguson, millionaire, developed the four-wheel-drive system it uses, as continued by former racing-driver Major Tony Rolt and his son at FF Developments Ltd in Coventry, using the aforesaid ingenious differentials, made in Britain under licence by GKN and FF. I well remember being summoned to Stow many years ago by Tony, for a Press conference called by Harry Ferguson, the journalists being told to come early and bring gum-boots. In the library we were given a rather elementary lecture on 4WD and skidding, during which Maurice Smith dozed off. He was awakened by a sharp tap delivered by Ferguson; not, I thought, a good omen for publicity in The Autocar, of which Maurice was then the Editor! Afterwards we went out to watch various cars attempt to climb a hose-watered steep grass bank, which the Ferguson Rolls-Royce wouldn’t even look at, but up which a VW Beetle went rather well, almost too well, considering that the object of the exercise was to demonstrate the effectiveness of the FF 4WD system …. From that came the short-lived Jensen FF and now I am driving an £11,500 Ford Sierra XR4x4, which undercuts an Audi 90 quattro by · some £2,000, and which promises to be a very interesting and useful all-terrain car. More later … I predict that it will not be long before all cars of this class with two-wheeldrive will seem out-dated, with Alfa Romeo, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Porsche, Lancia, Renault and Volkswagen, etc all said to be looking closely at all-wheeldrive. -W.B.