My 1991 2.3 Ghia - 'Ghia of Fear'
This is - or I should say was - my 1991 (post-facelift) Sierra Sapphire Ghia. Affectionately known within the Sierra owners club and associated forum communities as The Ghia of Fear.
It had been mildly modified - the list extended as far as Chassis Dynamic -30mm springs with "Avo" shocks and poly bushes all round, alloy wheels, smoked square side repeaters and Cosworth front grill, K&N 57i kit, Janspeed four-branch exhaust manifold and Black Diamond "sports" exhaust system, 2000E leather steering wheel, Ford 2028 CD player and - saving the best till last - a hybrid 8-valve 2.3 DOHC engine.
Running an amalgamation of a bottom end from a Ford Scorpio, and the cylinder head from a DOHC Sierra that had been ported, the basic engine was further treated to Piper "ultimate road" 285-degree camshafts, larger injectors and latterly a Megasquirt ECU and EDIS setup. The 8-valve 2.3 DOHC "hybrid" in this car is believed to have been the first of its kind and it was rolling road tested as delivering more power and torque than the 2.9 V6 used in the performance Sierra XR4x4's! Being lighter than the boat-anchor 12-valve V6 it fair shifted too. It seemed the perfect compromised between performance and economy - when not being pushed along it would return sensible 2.0-litre-like fuel economy: 35mpg about town, and up to 47mpg on a run.
But that's as far as the modifications went. There were no super mega-thumping ICE, underfloor neons, massive spoilers or anything like that. Apart from the wheels, grill and exhaust the car looked completely standard - which is how I like it: understated.
For any late-model Ghia such as this one, the factory specification included power-assisted-steering, ABS, electrically operated windows / mirrors / sun-roof, heated windscreen, front fog lamps, headlamp wash / wipe and front and rear headrests amongst other things; in fact it's on a close par with many newer Fords today - all I'm missing is the leather interior, bluetooth with MP3 connectivity and air conditioning.
Hardly worthy of a raised eyebrown on a cruise - not that I have a burberry cap to wear backwards or would be interested in going to one if I did. Besides, I drive a Sierra, not a Corsa or a Punto... er, innit? ;-)
I owned the car from late 2001 until the day I stripped her and sent the sorry - and somewhat rusty - remains to the scrapyard in the summer of 2008. Even though she's long gone, I still think fondly of her.
So, how did I finish up with a 1991 Ghia, and why on earth was it called The Ghia of Fear???
Well, I found the Ghia in the back of a local newspaper advertised as "good condition, spares or repair". Having seen it over several nights, my interest was piqued and I finally rang the owner for more information thinking I'd transfer some nicer Ghia bits to the poverty-specification Sapphire LXi I was driving at the time.
It turned out that the Ghia was a two-owner car (with me being the third). The first owner was NFU Mutual - the insurance company - who kept it as a company car and put just over 80,000 miles on her in the first three years of her life. The second owner had brought her back in 1994 and kept her ever since. Given how popular the Sierra had been with the company car buyers, and how readily they had changed hands on the second-hand market afterwards, it was relatively rare to find an original one with any history, let alone a stack of receipts half-a-mile high and every MOT from new that verified every inch of the 138,000 recorded miles.
Rocking horse pooh then, you might say. Oh yes. Right down to the original (and working!) Ford 2007 RDS radio cassette.
The only minor niggle - and I saw it as that at the time - was that the cylinder head was in a box in the boot.
Having blown the gasket quite spectacularly, her owner had her towed to a garage who stripped the DOHC down and advised him that it was dead. Not worth the hassle.
So he sold her to me for £175.
I couldn't believe my luck. Here I was, the owner of a top-of-the-range Sierra, just about 10 years old and not in bad condition, for less than two hundred quid! What could possibly go wrong?
Having got the car home and had a good look at it, I decided to stick the engine back together with a new set of gaskets with the intention of selling it on rather than stripping it for it's higher-specification parts. I had the cylinder head skimmed and bolted everything back together, and turned the key.
It drove well enough and with my relative inexperience with the DOHC, I pressed on and started driving it instead of investigating the steam coming from the exhaust. Within a couple of days I got the message that all was not well with the twin-cam - sat in traffic, the crack I'd missed in the cylinder head progressed through three cylinders and it boiled itself dry, laying down more smoke than the late Fred Dibnah in the process.
Having briefly driven the car and seen it's potential, I decided to get rid of the LX, keep the Ghia and do what the original garage advised the previous owner to do. Even now I can't understand why I took the decision to send it off for a new engine rather than deal with it myself - but after ringing around, it was sent off for a new engine at a local company called L&S Recon Engines.
And it all went horribly downhill from there. L&S didn't so much recondition the engine as bodge it back together, reusing old gaskets and stretch bolts, packing seals with silicon bath sealant to try and keep the oil in and using scrap components instead of doing the job properly. As you might expect, the reliability of the engine was atrocious - it would randomly lose its coolant overnight, my drive was littered with bolts I could find no home for, and it leaked oil faster than the Exxon Valdez. The clutch pilot bearing in the back of the crank collapsed mid-journey and thanks to a leaking crank rear seal, it would get through starter motors at a rate of about one every three months as they drowned in oil - I got quite adept at changing them in the dark.
It quickly became apparent that the only warranty I was going to get from L&S Engines was the "do it yourself" sort and for about the next 18 months I lived in a perpetual state of paranoia about what I would have to fix next. Most sane people would have just got rid of the car but I was too stubborn to let it beat me - besides, it owed me a significant sum of cash by this point.
Fortunately I had paid for the work on my credit card and things only really started to change for the better when L&S, having had a County Court Judgement against them in Peterborough County Court and feeling the heat from Derbyshire Trading Standards, did a runner and shut up shop leaving the finance company solely liable.
They chose to settle out of court. The car now owed me nothing but by this point had it had understandably gained some notoriety in the Ford Sierra Owners Club, acquiring the name “Ghia of Fear” in response to my almost-daily posts on the club forum asking for advice or blogging the latest drama.
Even after the financial settlement allowed me to sort out most of the problems and return the car to a reasonable level of reliability before she was modified, the name remained with her - as the demons had apparently not been exorcised completely. Even though she would ferry the family around happily and years passed between incidents, from time to time she would grumble and bite and remind me how she came by her name!
Despite those early problems, I'm glad I stuck with it. I enjoyed driving GoF: rear-wheel-drive fun and individuality, a character that stood out in traffic far more than any barried Corsa could thanks to her age making her relatively rare in the rush-hour.
However, like any 80's Ford, natural forces were working against dear old Ghia of Fear - over the years rust claimed one set of sills, both inner and outer, three seat mounts, the transmission tunnel, two wheelarch repairs and a fuel tank and I had gotten to the point where I daren’t peer into the inspection holes in chassis box sections anymore.
Significant effort with the welder would be required to keep her on the road - time I just didn't have to invest in her. Eventually, after a fuel line broke, I finally conceeded defeat: stripped her and sent the shell to the great scrapyard in the sky - replacing her with my current car, a 1990 Sapphire GLXi.
In January 2012, I was invited to write an article featuring Ghia of Fear by Charlie Johnson, part of the R&CC team - to read the piece on the Retro and Classic Cars website, click HERE