Just 6000 original two-wheel drive Cosworth hatchbacks were built
Of those 6000, just 1600 were sold in this country
With 201bhp on tap the car became a firm favourite with performance enthusiasts
Most cars have fallen apart in the past 26 years, but this development car is wonderfully original
So many road cars have been crashed or turned into race cars
When seeing the Cossie car for the first time in a while, you're reminded just how small it is
That rear spoiler quickly became the calling card of the Sierra RS Cosworth
Other style details, such as the functional cooling vents, speak to its motorsport heritage
The Sierra is still a performance car you could live with every day
The interior is smaller than modern Fords; the rollcage fitted here hampers practicality further
That said, both function and form are present in the cabin's structure
Track versions of the RS500 would produce over 500bhp
The way the car handles is a testament to its pedigree
This car is a bargain through and through - it simply ticks all the boxes
It's as much fun to drive today as it was in its heyday
The Alfa SZ backs up that dramatic styling with a 3.0-litre V6 and 210bhp
The styling was by Zagato - and it was one of its most outrageous road car designs
The Integra Type R is possibly the greatest handling front-driver ever
All you need and nothing else: Integra's focus was on the driving experience
The 205 GTI was once a common sight, but few standard cars remain today
The Max Power generation saw off many GTIs, but good ones cost around £5000 today
The long-lived Esprit deserves to be more of an icon than it actually is
The lightweight Esprit GT3 did without many creature comforts
A few months ago their catalogue thumped onto the door mat.
I thumbed through it in the usual way until I turned a page and my fingers froze. There was a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth in Moonstone Blue, with a guide price of £10,000-£14,000. Was this a car the market had missed?
I’ll explain. There are certain qualities a car must have before it is likely to become an appreciating asset, and the more of them it has, the more likely it is to appreciate. These include great beauty, being fantastic to drive, rarity and boasting competition intention in its original design. See how many boxes it ticks and you’ll no longer wonder why the most recent Ferrari 250 GTO to be sold went for £23 million.
So let’s spare the Cosworth’s blushes and skirt around the beauty issue. Is it rare? You bet. Forgetting the Sierra RS500, which is already out of sight, just over 6000 original two-wheel-drive Cosworth hatchbacks were built, of which just 1600 were sold in the UK.
Now consider how easy they were to crash, nick or simply ruin. Because you could get up to 400bhp from their engines, such classifieds as you can find often feature cars that have been wound up to within an inch of their lives.
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.