Ford made a real effort to develop a reputation for design technology in the 1980s, and the Eltec was one of the outcomes
Matt Burt
3 September 2015

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.”

While Ford’s top brass emphasised that the Eltec didn’t preview a specific production model, Autocar’s man wasn’t altogether convinced, and noted that “a brand-new Escort is due in 1991”.

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

26 June 1906 - The first French Grand Prix

9 July 1907 - The beginning of Brooklands

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

4 July 1925 - Citroën lights up the Eiffel Tower

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

6 July 1934 - A tour of Cowley

1 June 1935 - Introduction of the driving test

22 June 1945 - Driving through post-WW2 Europe

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

25 August 1950 - The evolution of transmissions

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

17 November 1961 - TVR Grantura road test

19 August 1966 - Four-wheel drive on test

6 May 1971 - Driving Ford's Supervan

12 June 1976 - Cars for under £100

10 July 1976 - Land's End to John O'Groats on one tank

13 May 1978 - Ferrari 512 BB road test

19 January 1980 - Talbot Horizon road test

13 February 1982 - 4x4s tested on the farm 

17 April 1985 - Secrets of a lost British supercar

15 August 1990 - Giugiaro's vision of a 1990s Jaguar

28 April 1993 - BL's unseen concepts

16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

4 April 2001 - 0-260mph in 6.0 seconds

25 July 2001 - 180mph in a Chevrolet Corvette

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Join the debate

Comments
5

3 September 2015
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'.

3 September 2015
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.

3 September 2015
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.

3 September 2015
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.

3 September 2015
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?

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Lexus LC500
    Car review
    20 October 2017
    Futuristic Lexus LC coupé mixes the latest technology with an old-school atmospheric V8
  • Maserati Levante S GranSport
    First Drive
    20 October 2017
    Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it’s always needed
  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK