The salesman's spaceship that saw into future

THE 24th running of the Ayrshire Vintage Tractor and Machinery Club's annual rally was held recently in the middle of a sweltering heatwave. But that didn't stop a horde of enthusiasts from turning up to join in the fun.

Held at the Eglinton Country Park, near Irvine, the event attracted over seventy entrants along with the usual side shows and trade stands. The jamboree is one of the biggest rallies on the west coast, and is affiliated to the Scottish Vintage Vehicle Federation.

The event has a distinctly rural theme, but lurking among the tractors I found a classic boy racer that would warm the cockles of any petrolhead's heart.

The much-maligned Ford Sierra had its fair share of critics, but in XR4i guise was a force to be reckoned with.

Right from the word go, the long-awaited Cortina replacement attracted its fair share of controversy. Unlike many of its rivals, Ford opted to retain a rear-wheel drive layout, albeit using fully independent suspension in place of the Cortina's live axle.

More surprisingly, the early models were only made available in three-door hatchback guise.

But the biggest bone of contention was the car's looks. While management waxed long and lyrical about "aero styling" the Sierra soon acquired nicknames like "jelly mould" and the "salesman's spaceship", a snide reference to the car's popularity with fleet buyers.

Yet hindsight has shown that the model was way ahead of its time. Sales steadily improved as buyers got used to the shape, and over the next decade most of the competition would be forced to follow suit.

Ford had already seen the benefits of tapping into the boy-racer market with the extremely successful Fiesta XR2 and Escort XR3, and wasted no time introducing the XR4i just a year after the Sierra's launch.

Using a restyled version of the three-door body shell, it was kitted out with the same 2.8 litre "Cologne" V6 engine as fitted to the Capri 2.8 injection.

Early cars suffered from their fair share of teething troubles, including problems with cross wind stability, but this was finally rectified in 1985.

Unfortunately, the car was never destined to achieve the cult status of its smaller brethren, as potential buyers were put off by the multi-pillared rear windows and extravagant double spoiler.

In 1985 Ford changed tack with the XR4x4 in an effort to cash in on the growing fad for four-wheel drive performance cars. This time the new model was based on the five-door hatchback, but was still powered by the original 2.8 litre engine. The model was a moderate success, and during its five-year run 23,540 cars were built.

From 1990 to 1993 a new XR4x4 was introduced with a choice of two engines, the revised 2.9EFi and a standard two-litre injection. The original XR4i also made a brief re-appearance, this time in 5-door guise and two-litre trim, although both cars were forced to play second fiddle to the much more potent Sierra Cosworth.

David Dougan from Lockerbie owns one of the early models built in 1984. He bought the car ten years ago, and it has been completely stripped down and repainted in eye-catching metallic blue. The engine has also been fitted with a supercharger, and according to the owner can reach 0-60mph in 7 seconds.

In his spare time, Mr Dougan is a member of one of the many Ford clubs based throughout the UK. Some owners still like to drive their cars to the limit, and he is no exception.

"I'm just about to make a trip down to Silverstone for my fourth spin around the racetrack," he explained.

A true enthusiast if ever there was one.