Two fast Fords

The time has come to write of two fast Fords. First, the 150 bhp V6 2.8-litre fuel injection Uniroyal Rallye-shod Sierra XR4i, which, at the time of writing, I have used for more than 3,700 miles in eight weeks, with every satisfaction and enjoyment and not a trace of mechanical trouble. This came about in a way which is much to the credit of Stuart Turner, now running the competition side of Ford of Europe but then in charge of their British publicity. Just for the fun of looking back a decade or more, I remarked, at the close of my report on the Sierra 2.3 Ghia, that once upon a time the manufacturers who had real confidence in their new models used to offer as cars for long-duration road-tests. I had not expected any response to this nostalgic thought, in these days of very demanding press-car schedules. But the redoubtable Stuart Turner rose to the suggestion — Ford is the only maker who has, in recent times— and I found myself temporarily laying-up the Alfa 6 and using daily a black, bi-plane aerofoiled XR4i.

Suffice it to remark that I am enjoying this XR4i very much indeed, and that it has proved commendably economical, in spite of it being hard not to drive it quickly, while the excellent (that word again!) sunroof is adequate compensation for the Alfa’s air-conditioning. On the fuel economy front, the overall consumption of four star to date has been 27.3 mpg and for some of the distance, making more than normal use of the fifth gear and perhaps coasting a little, I achieved 30.5 mpg. Remarkable, for a car of this power, performance and size — a tribute to its “slippery” aerodynamics provided by the new shape. To this the buying public has become quickly accustomed, proven by Sierras following the top-sales of the Escort in this country, in the January-June charts.

This brings me to the effortless performance of the XR4i. The acceleration is not only very remarkable but also very useful, and even in the fifth speed (which it would be possible to hold onto even in 30 mph areas were one not prompted by sympathy for good machinery to drop into normal top gear) there is quite astonishing pick-up. You can say from this point of view that this sporting Sierra is a one-gear car, in the hands of lazy drivers. Although there will never be anything to quite match memories of the pre-war Ford V8 30, which was a breakthrough in low-price high-performance and effortless top gear acceleration, to the characteristic “waffle-muffle” of the exhaust, the XR4i reminds me of those old V8s, in the easy way it wafts away from other traffic. True, the first V8 30s which impressed so many drivers, WB included, before the war, would only do about 78 mph to the Sierra’s 130 mph, and they took some 4.6 sec to go from 10 to 30 mph through the three forward gears, compared to the XR4i’s 2.9 sec from standstill to 30 mph — but in 1932 a Ford V8 cost but £255, in saloon form. Progress cannot be stilled, so obviously today’s 2.8-litre V6 Sierra out-performs the old 3.6-litre side-valve V8 Ford to an incomparable degree. Yet in its smooth multi-cylinder pick-up, even in its highest gear, I could see a comparison.

With the mileage coming up to 4,000, the Sierra has not been serviced in any way. The only indications of the warning lights that this might soon be due are one suggesting that the front brake-pads will soon require replacement (this being a Press-car, hard-used before it was allocated to Motor Sport, which had run a total of 7,488 miles) and another that showed, after more than 2,500 miles, that the generous sized windscreen-washer bottle needed replenishment. I was continually checking the oil dip-stick towards the end of this period of hard and varied driving, expecting that after 3,000 miles some lubricant would be needed, although the oil warning light had not lit up. But no — the level a well up the stick, proving that modem vee-engines do not have ventilatory problems. Just for a very brief time the engine tended to stall, but this cured itself, so was probably the result of a dose of sub-standard petrol. In fact, the only failure throughout an abnormally hot summer, with the Sierra parked in the open, was the demise of the dial clock — but there is a digital time-recorder on the fascia, anyway. Nothing else has given the slightest trouble. Incidentally, those dual rear aerofoils not only cause small boys to regard this fast Ford with awe but, as Tom Threlfail who has an XR4i says, they are very useful for putting bottles and glasses on. . . A clever touch is the way the rear-window wiper operates between them. The fascia visual check of doors and boot shut is rather bright in daylight but dims with the headlamps or sidelamps in use.

I have absolutely no hesitation in saying I strongly recommend this £9,170 XR4i (£9,780, as tested) Sierra to sporting drivers, even though the Alfa 6 (priced at £12,800) has a fractionally more sure-footed feel to it and more positive (power) steering.

The other fast Ford encountered recently was the 1918 Model-T Speedster constructed by Reg and John Worthing of Orleton, based on a photograph of a racing Ford of that era. We hear a lot about replicas and fakes and recreations these days but this Ford, apart from its steel body, has been built up from genuine, original Model-T parts, so is authentic by the VSCC “code”. It is the third Ford of sporting demeanour that Reg has built up, the other two having been sold. This one looks the part, with its red two-seater body, big bolster fuel tank, and a metal trunk behind that.

It has been lowered five inches by the usual expedient of placing the transverse front spring behind the axle, with the rear spring mounting raised to suit. This chassis lowering increases the wheelbase by a few inches. The car is on bolt-on artillery wheels shod with 30 in x 31/2 in Dunlop cord tyres, the rear-mounted spare having the same size Firestone tyre. This is a lhd car, with the handbrake outside the body, and the expected two-speed epicyclic transmission controlled by the three pedals, engine speed being varied by a hand-throttle. The entire upholstery is detachable after fasteners along the body sides have been released. The only items on the fascia are a JAR ignition switch and a Lucas ammeter, and a single pane screen protects the pilot. There is a self-starter, although this was not standardised until 1919.

The engine has been mildly tuned, retaining its side-valve head but having light alloy pistons, giving a slightly raised compression ratio. The back axle ratio has been raised, but no one seems to know the actual ratio. The brake shoes have been lined with Ferodo in place of the customary steel shoes, and the flywheel magneto has given place to coil ignition, using a Jeep distributor. The performance would naturally be lower than that of a Ford V8 but in terms of maximum speed, well, Reg talks of 65 or even 70 mph. — WB.