Ford Sierra Buying Guide
Although now considered a quirky and interesting choice for those hunting down '80s appeal, you must choose a Ford Sierra with care
• Project £200-400 • Good £500-£1000 • Concours £1200-£2500
• Most expensive at auction £114,750 (10,000 mile RS500)
Running Costs ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
Once found on every street corner, with nearly 3.4 million sold over an 11-year period, you would struggle to believe the Sierra caused Ford management all manner of confidence issues. Initially slow to sell and with 'jellymould' aerodynamic styling that caught the public by surprise, it wasn’t until the similarly-styled Granada of 1985 that sales improved. By the time the 1987 facelift arrived, sales were strong enough to keep production going until 1993.
At launch in 1982, the Ford Sierra appeared to be nothing more than a Cortina with new clothes. The Cortina engines were carried over and retained the rear-wheel drive layout that kept fleet managers entertained. But with an overtly aerodynamic stance, the beloved Cortina-successor took far longer to be accepted as a classic. Now a rare find, the Ford Sierra has finally moved away from the pricing doldrums to find favour with Ford purists and those searching for a taste of the 1980s.
Spacious, entertaining and with great club support, it’s hard to find an area where the Ford Sierra doesn’t deserve merit. Just make sure the body isn’t made of rust and the running gear hasn’t been thrashed to within an inch of its life. Parts are still widely available, but prices won’t stay low for much longer – good examples are quickly becoming collectors’ items.
Your AutoClassics Ford Sierra inspection checklist
The Sierra was offered with an array of engines throughout its production run. The overhead-camshaft Pinto engines are reliable old-school units if cared for with regular oil changes and timing belt replacements. They're severely underpowered in 1.3-litre form and now unlikely to be found. The 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre Pinto units are much better.
You will need to listen for top end rattle and watch for blue smoke or smells of burning oil. Engines pre-1985 were not modified for unleaded petrol when new, so check if a conversion has been performed correctly to run on modern fuel. Carb-fed engines are thirsty, and carburettors can be problematic. The late-model 2.0-litres employ the stronger '205' engine block, which are popular with kit engine builders due to the shared Cosworth parts, meaning few remain unmolested.
The Cologne V6 fitted to sporting variants is dependable, but top end noise is a sign of abuse, with timing gear known to collapse with age. 2.3-litre V6s were only available in top spec Mk1s, while 2.8/2.9-litres appeared in the XR4i and 4x4 models. Be wary of poor idling or ‘searching’. If fuel consumption seems high you could have a faulty injection system.
The Pinto was superceeded by the 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre CVH units. If a CVH refuses to run without frequently cutting out, you’ll need to renew the fuel pump as the pushrod will have perished – a common problem.
Diesels – found in Peugeot 2.3-litre and 1.8-litre Ford Turbo form – are strong and trustworthy but appreciate regular servicing. They're noisy and sluggish, though, and need a strong battery and decent glowplugs otherwise starting problems will be rife. Be wary of temperamental turbos as these are expensive to replace.
Very early models utilised a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic gearbox, while subsequent production models were installed with an uprated five-speed or four-speed autobox. Worn manual transmissions will jump out of gear and make significant amounts of noise. Post-89 Sierras received a new MT75 set-up, which can cover galactic mileage – even if the power output is on the limits for this gearbox, and therefore excessive wear is common.
The 4x4's transfer boxes can throw up after long periods of use, and CV joints often expire long before the service schedule. All gearboxes feel a bit notchy, but excessive play indicates a box on its last legs.
Suspension and Brakes
The Ford Sierra operated with MacPherson struts on the front, paired with coils on the rear. Usually hardwearing, you will need to check for the usual signs of wear or damage – especially on the estate, where heavy loads may have exceeded the maximum weight stated by Ford. Accident damage should be obvious if the previous owners have tried any bodging. If the suspension looks awry then walk away – it could genuinely be dangerous. The front suspension almost always wears out faster than the rear, leaving the Ford feeling wobbly and unresponsive.
Listen out for creaks and knocks over rougher ground and tarmac, indicating suspension in poor health, and for excessive screeching or pedal travel when performing an emergency stop. Check the brake pads and the brake discs for signs of scoring. Warped discs are common, and not too expensive to put right again. Also be wary of worn lower coupling bushes on the steering column as these are currently impossible to find (check for knocks and unwanted play in the steering).
Built down to a price, often with metal that was already corroding when new, the Sierra was never manufactured nor designed to last any real length of time. Sills, wheelarches and floorpans will usually have had some welding done to them – with the boot floor often corroding all the way through. Doors rust on the corners and around the edges of the windows, with windscreen surrounds and the bottom of the rear window a prime area for bubbling and rust holes. Check the transmission tunnel if it’s a Mk1 as knocks to the front of the vehicle can crumple the structure.
Don’t look at damaged bumpers and think these are easy to replace either, as with paint fade you will be lucky to find a matching one should they be colour coded. Plastic bumpers can be had from specialists as new, but don’t expect to find Sierra body panels in the scrapyard – the days of finding Sierras ripe for plundering are truly over.
Theft of Sierras was once commonplace, often making them ‘cut and shut’ specials. If there are any suspicious signs of body welding, walk away.
Interiors are largely comfortable and long-lasting, making them prime fodder for young families back in the day, so don’t be surprised to discover excessive wear and tear to carpets and door cards. Tops of the dashboards can crack on early models and replacements are hard to find. Electric windows, mirrors, sunroofs and air conditioning – all optional extras – should be tested before purchase. Ensure the aircon blows cold and that windows don’t have a life of their own. Ensure all gauges function properly, too. Check the carpets for signs damp, especially under the sunroof should the vehicle have one.
- 1982: Launched in showrooms
- 1987: Sierra given major facelift
- 1991: Second facelift arrives
- 1993: Production wraps to make way for the Mondeo
Divisive when new for its looks, top Ford big-wigs were convinced it would be a failure. Yet, it stands today as a classic that faithfully defines the decade of shoulder pads and Brookside. The Sierra’s ability to provide dependability and proper rear-wheel drive excitement set off a revolution in family-car design that no other company dared to try.
Parts availability remains strong, while the club scene is busy and destined to get larger. Practical, nippy in the right form and embedded in British culture, the driving experience on offer is not only eye-wateringly retro but also downright fun.
Check for every trick in the book when it comes to the Ford Sierra – cut ‘n’ shuts, cloned vehicles and clocked examples are sadly common. However, if you bag a solid example you’ll have a certified future investment on your hands.
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