When a car’s launched we can generally be certain of one thing: the way it looks is as close to what the original designer viewed as perfection, within the boundaries of the design brief he or she was given, of course. The images in those original press pictures is the fruit of their labours, months of painstaking honing of clay models, mastering powerful and expensive software and finally getting their masterpiece signed off by the board. It simply cannot be improved upon. So why then do manufacturers insist on a series of measures I call the Joan Rivers Effect?

In this second edition of a potentially never ending series, I consider the most (in)famous of modern automotive aberrations – The Last Scorpio.

Ford had rocked the automotive establishment when the Sierra replaced the rather ordinary Mk V Cortina in the autumn of 1982. It was such a break with tradition, looks-wise, that the market took time to adjust to the jelly mould shape. There was a feeling that Ford might not be so daring next time but let’s not forget, the early to mid 80s was still a time when lead times for car development were long. Changes once a design had been signed off were difficult to implement without adding considerably to costs and enforcing lengthy delays. The eventual styling yawns began with the ’89 Fiesta and most onlookers were asleep by the time the all-new Escort was revealed in 1990.

So, radical was how the third generation Granada (or Scorpio depending on your location or budget) of 1985 was going to be. Mechanically, it was ‘as you were’, but visually it represented a mature evolution of the Sierra shape. A vestigial grille opening sat between large wraparound headlamps and indicators, while the stacked rear lights were sectioned off by black lines to reinforce each element’s function. The glasshouse was interesting too, featuring a window line that appeared to go unbroken from A-pillar to A-pillar, with blacked out trims on the non-glazed panels to emphasise the illusion. It wasn’t a daringly modern style like the contemporary Audi 100 and 200, but this was Ford, and Sierra apart, the shock of the new wasn’t part of their ethos. What was a shock was that Ford chose to replace both the conservative saloon and capacious estates with a single hatchback body style.

Sales were reasonably good but it soon became evident that Ford was losing ground to rival offerings from Rover (the initially saloon only 800 Series replaced the hatch only SD1) and Vauxhall (the Carlton was a saloon or estate; the more luxurious Senator solely with a separate boot). A little over four years passed before Ford succumbed and the Granada/Scorpio became a booted saloon, marketed from January 1990. And what a boot it was too. Hardly subtle is it?

The process of backtracking was well under way by the time the estate body was ready for the market place in early 1992. The rear end of the wagon was transformed by British design consultancy IAD and an effective looking, if not impressively commodious, transformation it was too, despite utilising the Sierra estate’s rear lights. It also marked the first serious facelift for the hatch and saloon bodies, both sharing the same styling theme. The nose was treated to a slightly bolder grille with headlamp units that closely followed the trend set by the 1987 Sierra revamp – so close in fact, even avid car spotters had to double take when one came towards them. The rear end was garnished by that most hackneyed of 1990s styling themes – the smoked grey and deep red tail lights, here further embellished with a full width reflector appliqué panel. It was supposed to make the Granada/Scorpio more contemporary but by now other, more radical and beautifully elegant designs were gracing the roads. It was becoming passé.

The worst was still to come though. And by some margin. Ford’s European design chiefs cited this July 1990 edition of Car Magazine as the zeitgeist moment to strive for something very different. Because Granada/Scorpio sales had fallen short of expectations, not helped by growing consumer demand for a premium badge at this end of the market, the coffers were somewhat short of what would be needed for an-all new replacement for the aging barge. So, a dramatic (or melodramatic) facelift of the existing model was decided upon.

The 1995 Scorpio (the Granada name now consigned to history) was described as trans-Atlantic due to the North American styling elements and chrome laden features which decorated the rounded and bulbous nose and tail. Even the meekest of defendants of US styling would be whipped into an angry frenzy at that charge. And in this most radical of facelifts, that hatchback body style which was for so long the sole choice, was left behind. The market was astounded and devotees of the Blue Oval started to spend their money elsewhere. Even the Mondeo-like dashboard and lavish equipment levels didn’t keep punters’ attention when inside the car – they were too busy worrying about being recognised when out and about. Ford were so ashamed the brochure covers didn’t show the actual car, unlike the rest of the entire range. A last gasp dechroming exercise in 1997 wasn’t enough and it skulked off the price lists before 1998’s summer was over. 

It was a sad end to Ford’s largest European line (forgetting for a moment how enormous today’s Mondeo has become). Even sadder, was that the true inspiration for the Scorpio’s face never gets the credit he deserves. Lest we forget: Martin Alan “Marty” Feldman (1934-1982).

Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got a soft spot for these later Scorpios, especially in Cosworth-equipped Ultima format. Keep it to yourselves.

Photos in this post © of Ford