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By Ben Selby
When Ford replaced the much-loved Cortina with the jellybean-esque looking Sierra in 1982, fans of the blue oval weren’t exactly taken in by the replacement for the much-loved Cortina. So, Ford being Ford, knew they had to do to the Sierra, just what the likes of Lotus had done to the Cortina. Make the Sierra hot.
Rather than go to Lotus, Stuart Turner, Head of Ford Motorsport Europe, went knocking on the door of legendary engineering firm Cosworth. The company, founded by engineers Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, had originally shot to fame with Ford, designing probably the greatest Formula One engine of all time, the Ford Cosworth DFV V8.
Cosworth took the Sierra’s standard four cylinder, added a hot twin cam cylinder head, a gargantuan Garrett turbocharger, a bigger front intake, new intercooler, a limited slip diff, and a Borg Warner T5 five speed gearbox. They also spruced up the three door Sierra bodywork by giving it new alloys and the spoiler to end all spoilers.
The latter of these upgrades came as a result of the standard Sierra being quite aerodynamically unstable at high speed. Body designer Lothar Pinske campaigned for the addition of a large rear wing which eventually got the go from Ford management after significant high-speed testing at the Nardo oval test track in Italy.
In 1985, the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was launched at the Geneva Motorshow, with production starting the following year. With 206hp on tap, the Sierra RS Cosworth, more affectionately known as the “Cossie,” made the Sierra very cool.
Here was a car which had the power and go of some of the most aristocratic brands in the car world, but with a price within reach of the man in the street. Pretty soon Barrington in his Porsche was playing second fiddle on the motorway to Bazza in his Cossie.
Overtaking was something the Sierra RS Cosworth was dead handy at, especially when you showed it a bit of track. Stuart Turner had intended the Cosworth to lead Ford’s charge in Group A Touring Car Racing. So, they added a bigger turbo, which in race spec boosted the power to 500hp, and tweaked the bodywork to make it as slippery as possible.
The Cosworth then preceded to sweep all before it, winning countless World Touring Car and Rally events. Closer to home, the Cossie also won back-to-back Australian Touring Car titles and winning Bathurst twice outright in 1988 and 1989. Drivers like Tony Longhurst, John Bowe and Dick Johnson just carved everyone else up.
The Sierra Cosworth’s race and win record is impeccable, winning an astonishing eighty percent of all races it entered, which included a streak of 40 consecutive wins. It is officially the winningest race car of all time.
While providing motorists with an inexpensive way of going flat tack on a Sunday afternoon, the Sierra Cosworth also gained a reputation of a different sort. It was the Holy Grail for UK car thieves during the late eighties and early nineties. Thefts of Cossies got so bad that Ford themselves were even offering considerable discounts off the sticker price to attract buyers, as everyone became terrified their car would be nicked.
Ford built a snip over 5000 Cosworths from 1986 until 1992, but 500 of them were sent to Aston Martin Tickford for some extra go-faster goodness. The car you see here is one of those 500.
Called the Sierra RS500 Cosworth, it was an evolution of the regular car aimed at customers who wanted to get the closest possible experience of going racing while still remaining road legal. Tickford fitted a bigger Garrett T31 turbo, upgraded the fuel pump and cooling system, fitted a larger intercooler and tweaked the spoiler and front mounted intake.
All this resulted in a boost in grunt to 226hp and 277Nm of torque. The car only weighed a snip over 1200kg, so a well driven RS500 could see the far side of 250km/h flat out and reach the national New Zealand open road speed limit from a standstill in six seconds. That is pretty brisk in anyone’s language.
Today even seeing an RS500 is special enough, but when you are given the chance to drive one, you don’t pass it up. This example, number 244 of 500, is quite possibly one of the best, if not the best, Sierra RS500 in New Zealand. Sold new in the UK, it has all the original sales brochures and ownership history. It has also only done 29,000 miles from new, and boy does it show.
Hop inside, and prepare yourself for an overload of the eighties. White on black analogue instruments are recessed behind a traditional sport three spoke steering wheel. Said wheel also feels so good in your mitts, a tell-tale sign of the RS500’s sporting intentions. The lever for the five-speed box is within easy reach. Yet another sign the ‘Cossie’ is about giving you the means to cover as much ground as humanly possible.
The Recaro bucket seats are also some of the most hip-hugging I have ever experienced in a car of this era. It took me a while to find the optimum driving position, but once there, the RS500 wrapped itself around me. A quick gaze around the cabin reveals a showroom cockpit, even down to the cassette player. My only regret at the time was I didn’t bring my copy of Face Value by Phil Collins on tape as it would have been more than ideal.
Though maybe it was better I hadn’t, because the best soundtrack comes after turning the ignition key. Once you do this, your immediate surroundings are engulfed by that epic turbocharged 2.0L Cosworth four pot. That gargantuan Garrett turbo accompanies every blip of the throttle with the sweet sound of induction and turbine whoosh. Honestly, I was giggling at length and I hadn’t even driven forward yet.
First gear selected, clutch out, and we are away. First impressions, once I stopped chortling, was how analogue everything felt. Sure, there are fripperies like air con and electric windows, but apart from that, you get a real back to basics vibe in here. That is probably just as well, as the moment you get on the open road, the unbridled desire to light up that huge turbo and give it hell becomes all too real.
Second gear, foot flat, and nothing really happens. The revs start to climb, 3,000rpm, then 3,500rpm. By now we are starting to make progress. The revs keep climbing. Up to 4,000rpm, then 4,500rpm, the 5,000rpm. The moment we hit 5,000, the Cossie shot forward like a Greyhound on caffeine. Wow, where on earth did that come from? I was expecting the RS500 to be quick, but not that fast.
All of sudden we were passed 7,000rpm and up to the redline, third gear was selected and the process started all over again. If you keep the revs high and the chronic turbo lag to a minimum, the RS500 truly is a fast car.
You can also keep that power on in the corners, thanks to the Cossies limited slip diff and well sorted chassis. The steering is so direct, almost telepathically so. Just feed in the merest suggestion that you are changing direction, and you are round the bend.
Once you get into a rhythm, it isn’t long before you are braking later, turning in harder, and getting on the power sooner. The Cossie really does bring out the boy racer in you.
Also, when you are out in the RS500, you get a range of looks. I received numerous stares and a few big waves from people. Some clearly knew just what kind of car this was, others may never have heard of Cosworth, Dick Johnson, or the World Touring Car Championship, but they new it was something out of the ordinary.
In its day, the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth was just that, completely out of the ordinary. Today, it defines the term “cult following.” Prices for this incredible blue-collar giant killing hot Ford have been well into six figures for a number of years and are showing no signs of slowing down.
Prior to my afternoon with the RS500, I always championed cars other cars of the era like the Audi Quattro and BMW E30 M3. Needless to say, things are now very different. The Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 is nothing short of incredible.