Driving Ford's Heritage Greats
Ford has been market leader in Britain for so long that nearly everyone has owned one, or had a family member that did. How do the Fords you grew up with stack up today?
1978 Granada 3.0 GL
With the film of The Sweeney about to appear on our screens, this hero of the original TV series seemed a good place to start. It still looks pretty good from the outside: a basic three-box shape, but the kicked up waistline and smart front and rear ends give it some visual interest. The inside is a feast of velour and shiny plastic – not quite so good.
The driving experience is a pleasant surprise, though. The 3.0 litre engine produces a measly 138 bhp – barely more than the current 1.0 Ecoboost engine, but it has plenty of torque (pulling power) and the Granada weighs much less than a current car of similar dimensions. Performance is actually quite strong and almost effortless up to about 60 mph. The downside is that in general use this car would give about 18 mpg, which is less than half of a current 140 bhp Mondeo diesel.
On the plus side, the handling is way better than you would expect from the soft suspension – float and wallow are absent at normal speeds, although we would not fancy chasing villains in one of these. If you push it, the handling falls apart pretty quickly. Overall though, a charming way to cruise about – preferably while smoking a fat cigar for the full 1970s football manager effect.
2000 Racing Puma
This was never a commercial success because it looked, on paper, underpowered and overpriced. 155 bhp and £23,000 was a hopeless combination to try and sell, especially when it belonged to a humble Ford. However, it is one of the most fun cars we have ever driven. As soon as you start, the urgent engine note and ultra-firm (but not crashy) ride make you think you should be putting a helmet on – it feels like it belongs on a track.
On reasonably smooth country roads it is absolutely brilliant: quick, darty and as agile as any car with four seats, although it gets pretty busy on rough roads. We can't think of any other coupe or hatchback that has such an insatiable appetite for attacking a twisty road. At first you notice that it really is not fast in a straight line and think it should have more power, but that feeling only lasts 10 minutes. You gradually realise that any more power would be too much for the chassis.
Yes, it takes a while to build up speed, even compared to a 180 bhp Focus Ecoboost, but once you are there, there is hardly anything better to throw around a country lane. Underpowered? No. Overpriced? At the time undoubtedly, but its resale value is so strong, its cost of ownership proved not too bad. It has the relentless energy of a Jack Russell, but it is no more likely to turn around and bite you than a Golden Labrador - a rare gem.
1974 Escort Mexico
This is one of the most collectible Fords of all - £20,000 is not unusual for a good Mexico. Ours had the optional "custom pack" which tried to turn it into a mini luxury car, with a vinyl roof and wooden dashboard. It was a terrible idea, but fortunately makes no difference to the way the car drives.
The big surprise is how easy it is to drive. The Mexico had a barely-tuned 1.6 litre 88 bhp engine, as opposed to the cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof RS 1600 with 115 highly strung horses. However, it had the same chassis and stiffened body as the RS, so it can certainly handle. Amazingly, for a 1960s car, it can also brake (just about, anyway). If you drive anything older than 25 years, remember you only have half the braking of a modern car (and none of the ABS) – but the Mexico, with its rally-bred brakes, at least attempts to stop on command.
The Mexico is not fast – just over 100 mph flat out - but it is small, light and beautifully balanced. You can feel everything that is going on, because almost nothing has assistance. The steering is manual and is light and direct once you are above walking pace, has more feel than almost any modern car.
The handling perfectly matches the performance, which hardly sounds like a great endorsement until you think about it. The Mexico has enough performance to enable the rear end to slide gently at will. It doesn't have enough performance to tip you into a ditch, unless you do something really stupid or you are very unlucky. Now think how many modern cars have just enough performance to enable you to slide them around, should you so wish – and at road-legal speeds that mean you should not get into trouble. Nope, we can't think of one either.
The Mexico is amazingly small inside: you can easily wind down the passenger's window from the driver's seat, but there is enough room to be comfortable. The reason is the total absence of safety equipment that takes up so much space in a modern car. A great piece of history and prone to giving middle-aged men the delusion that they are Hannu Mikkola competing in the London-Mexico rally that gave the car its name.
At the end of a great day, we were charmed by the Granada and impressed by the sweet-handling, easy-to-drive Mexico, but the Racing Puma is one of the half dozen cars of any age we would put in our Lottery winner's fantasy garage. It really is that good.