Currently reading: Throwback Thursday - Ford’s electronic tech test bed, 4 September 1985
Ford made a real effort to develop a reputation for design technology in the 1980s, and the Eltec was one of the outcomes

During the 1980s Ford made a big effort to throw off its reputation for producing solid and reliable but hardly innovative cars and increase its focus on design and technology.

Out of that strategy came the Eltec, or ‘Electronic Technology’, an advanced prototype car that pointed to the way in which the company’s top designers and engineers perceived the car of the 1990s.The Eltec was a collaboration between Ford’s R&D departments in Dunton and Cologne, plus the Ghia Design Studio in Turin. It was made to “prove that even small family cars can benefit from electronic co-ordination of all their functions and that electronics can improve a car’s dynamics while reducing fuel economy and exhaust emissions”.

Built in less than 18 months for a Frankfurt show debut, the Eltec was bristling with ideas, as Autocar’s then technical editor Graham Jones described when he examined the car.“The body is a small, four-door hatchback configuration featuring a large glasshouse, a slippery shape and specially designed headlamps,” he wrote. “A glass sunroof comprised five louvres that could be either opened for ventilation or electrically retracted.

“The suspension is of the active ride variety, with its own electronic brain to control spring rates and ride height. The central black box also controls electronic anti-lock brake and anti-wheelspin systems, while the dedicated wheel/tyre combination is of the run-flat type.”The engine and its control system were the stand-out features, presaging today’s trend for frugal downsized units.

“The 1.3-litre unit is brand new and develops 80bhp at 5000rpm and 88lb ft between 2500 and 4000rpm,” wrote Jones. “Designed and built as part of Ford’s lean-burn engine technology programme, the aims were to produce a power unit with compact dimensions, low internal friction and the ability to pull well from low engine speeds at the same time as producing good performance through the speed range.

“The engine is mated to Ford’s CTX continuously variable transmission, using the familiar belt and pulley drive arrangement. Next to the gear lever is a smaller lever which allows the Eltec driver to select either ‘Power’ or ‘Economy’ modes. In the latter, the transmission ratio is controlled so that engine speed is at its most efficient.

“What makes these developments significant is that they are integrated using a modified version of the EEC-IV computer fitted to the 2.0 EFi Granada and Sierra. Unlike conventional cars with onboard computers, which control the engine and transmission as separate entities, in the Eltec the computer regards them as one system.

“The computer not only matches the operation of the engine and CVT to the demands of the throttle pedal but also continuously fine-tunes the engine to provide the best possible fuel consumption. In short, Eltec could herald the age when an engine holds perfect tune permanently.”

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Lanehogger 3 September 2015

I recall very well all the

I recall very well all the hype leading up to the all-new 1990 Escort's launch. And the massive fall out criticism that resulted after the car was tested. And it was justifiable criticism. The car was barely any better than the previous, 9 year old model it replaced. The cabin quality was the same, the handling and steering was shocking, the ride was poor, poor levels of equipment and technology, the engines rubbish and refinement was poor. And from experience I could support these criticism as the 1990 Escort/Orion had barely moved on from my dad's F-Reg Orion at the time. Even the way the car was designed, looked and built not only lacked sophistication but it was built to a cost too and this could be seen in the car's looks such as exposed door handles, some use of gasket windows and exposed fuel filler cap. The only thing the Escort did well on was practicality, ease of use and low cost maintenance which was the norm until until the Rover 200 appeared the year before and raised standards and expectations massively. It took 2 facelifts, 1992 and 1995, to make the Escort remotely competitive. At least Ford learned their lesson which produced the fabulous Mondeo and quite exceptional Focus.
Adrian987 3 September 2015

Rover beat it in group tests

Yup, remember all the hype too! The Orion was being billed as some kind of "Classic", like they were trying to make-believe it was a "premium" car when it wasn't. The Rover 214i oozed class, and showed too that engine-downsizing could be done and still have good performance. And whatever happened to the 4 wheel drive Escort estate that the hype had us believe would be made?
scrap 3 September 2015

Also on the 1990 Escort crime

Also on the 1990 Escort crime sheet: shocking cabin quality, very poor refinement, bland styling, heavy steering and poor grip. One of the worst cars ever made - although the facelifted version was indeed a thoroughly re-engineered and improved vehicle.
scrap 3 September 2015

Ha! Shame the 1990 Escort was

Ha! Shame the 1990 Escort was such a timid and terrible car. I drove one back then and was genuinely shocked at how bad it was. The 94 re-engineered version was much, much better - but hardly innovative. Interesting though that back in the 80s you could call a car with a petrol engine 'electric'.
Adrian987 3 September 2015

Some bad, some good

scrap wrote:

Ha! Shame the 1990 Escort was such a timid and terrible car. I drove one back then and was genuinely shocked at how bad it was. The 94 re-engineered version was much, much better - but hardly innovative. Interesting though that back in the 80s you could call a car with a petrol engine 'electric'.

On launch, it was universally criticised by the press for roly-poly handling, understeer and poor engines. My 1998 version was sort of okay, even if the 1.6 was so weedy that putting the A/c on seemed to sap half its power. On the bright side, the hatchback Granada brought anti-lock brakes as standard to the masses, and was unique with its Triplex heated windscreen.