Why It's Time To Love The Ford Mondeo

Once found on every street corner, the first-generation Ford Mondeo is now rarely seen. Here's why you should put aside your misconceptions and relive the 1990s in true Ford style

“You seriously want me to photograph that?” said our man, who’d been tasked with getting strong images of the AutoClassics' Ford Mondeo. Working in the sharp chill of a late winter morning, I’d watched him set-up various lights and reflectors before moving into position without a grumble of complaint.

Yet, as we rolled a 1995 Ford Mondeo into his crosshairs, there was a confused look cast my direction. Used to more prolific vehicles, even the jaunty angle we’d posed the Ford didn’t seem to convince him. The shutter begin to whirr away busily.

Embarrassingly, despite my several years of work within motoring media, I couldn’t say much to defend the Mondeo. As the low morning sun glinted from the faded blue oval, all I could do was conclude that familiarity breeds contempt. We both felt it.

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Once spotted on every street corner, the first-generation Ford Mondeo blended into life's backdrop like a telegraph pole or roadside kerb. And stimulation upon photographing these items is far from riveting. For its entire production life, the Mk1 Mondeo was mostly, well, just there.

Yet,as everyday vehicles from the 1990s slowly find favour with a new generation of enthusiast, global classic car publications are strangely devoid of Mondeo presence. Known as the Ford Contour stateside, the number of road legal examples fall with dramatic effect each year.

Tasked by the team to find merit in Ford's stalwart from the Spice Girl-era, a 1.8-litre Verona – in a dusky shade of blue – waited roadside upon arriving at AutoClassics HQ. I climbed into the car without bias, a complete blank slate, shameful in my lack of knowledge surrounding such a common saloon.

As the chunky outline of London slid away into the door mirror, my consciousness trapped thoughts of instant negativity. 'I probably ought not to like the Mondeo too much', only to wonder where that particular mantra had come from. Just because there was no turbocharger under the bonnet or four-wheel traction system shouldn't mask the car's merit. Yet, if I felt this way, do contemporary car collectors?

The Mondeo weaved lightly from one corner to another with precise ease. Brown hedges flashed by the window. Planting the accelerator yielded a healthy burst of revs and gruff response from the engine, gradually building pace without mechanical protest.

Adopting a racing line through some of Cambridgeshire's twisting undulations, tucking the front end of the Mondeo in with a yelp of tyre squeal, cabin composure was far from lost. Dabbing the brakes to slide through a tight B-road curve didn't bring the fear factor so common with its' rivals, either. A Rover 600 feels wayward in comparison, whereas a Vauxhall Cavalier returns little feedback through the wheel.

Shifting through this Mk1’s transmission with an ever-growing sense of satisfaction, the Mondeo brought confidence to each tarmac manoeuvre, underlined with a thick lashing of retro affection. Going by any natural inclination to reject something lovingly accepted by the masses, I’d very clearly waded into unfamiliar territory. Catching sight of the shape and stance reflected in shop windows, the Ford's handsome looks were growing on me faster than I could care to admit.

Ford’s many design teams had researched, considered and corresponded at length as to what made a car fulfilling. Not only did they want to produce a successor to the ageing Escorts and Sierras of the day, Ford also wanted to produce a model that would appeal on a global level. The programme was known as CDW27, whereas the model name would borrow from the Latin ‘mundus’. That's ‘world’ to the likes of you and me.

Ford wanted a model that was ahead of the curve in both overall design and safety development, while appealing to both American and European markets in equal measure. The Mondeo also had to come endowed with enough mechanical competence to cope with rugged terrain and harsh weather. Put simply, Ford were attempting to produce a vehicle that attracted customers from all spectrums of society.

Did it work? Judging by the sales figures, we'd say so. Available in more specifications and trim levels than you can shake a spindly gearstick at, regardless of the variant, the Mondeo never failed to live up to its brief or to be what it was supposed to be. A bit like a Digestive biscuit.

Something that has been principally designed to appeal to ‘everyone under the sun’ will normally find challenges in working its way into my heart. Yet, the further I drove, the more I began to revel in what the Mondeo had to offer. The urge to deliberately shun its details had dissipated.

I noticed that my grip upon the steering wheel was far looser than it had been earlier in the day. I couldn’t quite explain why, but I simply felt more at home within the Mondeo that most cars. Instead, the Mk1 felt surprisingly light and agile, remaining impressively balanced even when we progressed along an uneven, rippled surface that is so characteristic of Cambridgeshire’s back roads.

Meanwhile, likely thanks to the front and rear suspension mounted on separate sub-frames, road noise within the cabin was considerably more muted than expected. I concluded that the Mondeo was a superb driving package, given that it can now be picked up for next to nothing. Even healthy examples seem to change hands for less than an evening at the pub.

By the time the Mondeo’s stint in front of our cameras had drawn to a close, I have to confess that I’d experienced a complete change of heart. I’d foolishly decided not to like the humble Ford simply because everyone else did. The ideal that so many are force fed to the scrap man had brought an initial air of desperation to proceedings. There was an unspoken rift between myself and the Ford originally - 'age old saloon with little following because it's aged terribly'.

Well, that entire mantra is wrong. The Ford Mondeo Mk1 offers a charming blend of functionality, performance and comfort the likes of which would be trumpeted under an Italian or German brand. Instead, the Mondeo largely dissolves into the cultural ether. We are all missing out.

Upon reluctantly handing the Mondeo back, I pondered the petrolhead joke about what being a ‘Mondeo man’ was all about. Given the strong credentials of the Mk1 that stood alongside me, I found myself scanning the classifieds for a Mondeo in need of love. I was converted. You can now call me 'Mondeo woman'.

Photography courtesy of Matt Howell

All credit for the ‘Bangernomics’ term goes to journalists Steve Cropley and James Ruppert

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