Add to these those cars that have simply fallen apart over the past 26 years and it’s clear the number of clean, original Cosworth hatches left standing in this country must be a few hundred at most. And how many of those are actually on the road is another matter.
It is the last piece of the puzzle we’re here to find. Is it still good to drive? Just locating a clean example is difficult enough, but thankfully Ford retains a development car that’s standard in every way save the fitment of a roll cage.
What strikes you first is how small it is. Forget its true descendant, the Mondeo, and instead compare its size to that of a Focus ST from the class below. The Sierra is a fraction longer but 10cm narrower, over 6cm lower, 140kg lighter and 4cm shorter in wheelbase. Relative to expectations, it feels tiny.
The interior looks spartan and cheap by modern standards, but remember it cost just £15,950. For a genuine 150mph car, that was astonishing, even in 1986. Besides, all the important stuff is there; the huge Recaro seats are fabulously supportive and comfortable, the driving position is excellent, the dials are clear and the leather-bound steering wheel is ideal in size, location and shape.
The engines never sounded any good in these. It had a twin-cam, 16-valve head, but it was bolted to a Pinto block, known for its strength and little else. With a Garrett T3 turbo, it produced a genuine 201bhp for the road, but track versions of the RS500 would see outputs pass 500bhp.
In every area it is as good or better than you might expect. There’s less lag than I remember, and when the power arrives the Cossie still feels quick even by modern standards. It could still hit 60mph in 6.1sec, even on skinny 205-section tyres with a slow gearchange in the middle. That’s better than you’ll get from a Focus ST today.
But it is the way the car handles that really reveals its pedigree. Frankly, I was expecting a bit of a nightmare. Being old enough to have driven these things when they were new, I remember progress being characterised by poor ride quality punctuated by interludes of rather too entertaining snap oversteer. But that’s not how it feels today.
If I thought this car was a bargain when I met it, it’s nothing compared to what I thought when our time was up. Here is a rare, distinctive race and rally stage refugee that’s still genuinely quick and fun to drive yet comes with the bonus that you can get your entire family and all their luggage in the boot. You’ll drag attention off every street corner you pass – the rear wing alone will see to that – and it can sit in your garage (it’s probably still not a great idea to leave it on the street) until the world wakes up to what wonderful value they represent.
I’d still not suggest buying one purely as an investment, because there’s no knowing when the market might respond to its charms. So buy it, drive it and enjoy it instead, because it’s a rare, capable, fun and practical family car with an exceptional competition history. And if its value goes through the roof while it’s yours, see that as an additional bonus.
Other 'sleeper' classics to consider
1. Porsche 968 Sport
A few years back I’d have suggested watching the Club Sport version of the 968, but they’re already moving out of sight. The Sport, though, is essentially a Clubbie but with a few comforts such as electric windows and central locking. Crucially, and unlike the Club Sport, it has rear seats, which are useless for everything save persuading the other half that it’s actually a practical family car. All 968s are fabulous to drive, too.
2. Alfa Romeo SZ
When new, the SZ was one of the greatest cars we’d ever driven. It had completely mad Zagato styling and sat on a shortened 75 platform with a beautifully balanced chassis. A tuned version of Alfa’s 3.0-litre V6 produced 210bhp in a car weighing just 1256kg.
Its collectability is sealed by its rarity. Fewer than 1100 were built, of which just 36 remain on British roads. In the light of that, does £24,000 seem like so much to pay?
3. Honda Integra Type R
Considered by some to be the greatest-handling front-wheel-drive car ever and powered by a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine offering 104bhp per litre without a turbo, Honda’s first Type R product has dropped out of the nation’s car enthusiasts’ collective psyche. There are a few around, but many have been extensively modded. Nice standard cars are less than £5000.
4. Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9
Recently named by us as the greatest hot hatch of all time, the 205 GTI 1.9 always was beautiful to look at and wonderful to drive. To its assets it can now add rarity. Some 2200 GTIs remain known to the DVLA, but that includes 1.6-litre cars as well as 1.9s. Avoid later cars with catalytic converters and detuned engines; clean cars cost around £5000.
5. Lotus Esprit GT3
The Esprit is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Prices of mint Series 1 cars are now over £40,000, as are those of Sport 300s, which are widely regarded as the best of all. But we think the lightweight GT3 is the very next best thing to a Sport 300, yet they cost a lot less money.