Colin Hunter’s Sapphire 4x4 has inherited features from every edition of the Sierra RS Cosworth – including a conversion to RWD!
Every Sierra Cosworth is special, yet Ford fans far and wide will state their case as to why one incarnation of the brilliant Blue Oval trumps all others. There will be die-hards arguing in favour of the classic three- door, often citing World Touring Car Championship success and dramatic styling as proof that the legendary RS reigns supreme. Others will cite the subtle lines and four-wheel drive capabilities of the later generation car as confirmation of its indisputable aesthetic appeal and technological superiority. But there are also those who don’t have a favourite – the enthusiasts that love all Rallye Sport Sierras, irrespective of the number of doors and colour options.
Long time Cossie nut, Colin Hunter, is one of a rare breed that has been able to weigh up the pros and cons
of owning every edition of the sensational Sierra. In fact, his credentials as a fast Ford enthusiast are bolstered by the appearance of at least two twin-turbocharged XR4x4s and a Series 1 Escort RS Turbo on a list of recent rides, that includes, no fewer than six Sapphire Cosworths and a tuned three- door. “I spent a fortune attempting to transform the early Sierra into the car that I thought I’d always wanted,” he recalls. “I decided to sell up after six years of hard toil and a rapidly declining bank balance. All the same, it wasn’t long until I bought another Sapphire RS!” he laughs.
The car that replaced the punishing project was a Diamond White 4x4 with just 75k on the clock. It had been tuned to Stage 3 by its previous owner and offered an engine with forged internals, although it was the solid state of the chassis and bodywork that proved to be the fetching Ford’s biggest selling point. “I didn’t really care about the modifications or the fact that the car was a four-wheel drive model,” continues Colin. “My primary objective was to obtain a Sapphire Cosworth that was free of corrosion. Fortunately, this car was in perfect condition and hasn’t seen a welder since leaving the factory,” he smiles.
The three- door had delivered a lot of fun in a straight line during timed sprints at Bruntingthorpe proving ground, but its handling abilities left a lot to be desired ( particularly when cornering at speed). In contrast, plans for the Sapphire involved a suspension overhaul that would see the blistering pace of its predecessor matched to a vastly improved ride. Almost as soon as the keys were in Colin’s hand, however, the Hunters had the opportunity to buy a new home, which took priority over other pursuits, and the Sapphire was packed off to a storage unit where it lay dormant beneath a dust sheet for the following three years.
“I was keen to get behind the wheel of the Cossie, but time ran away with itself as I engaged in the mountain of essential maintenance work prescribed by the house. Before I knew it, years had passed and I was still without my beloved Sierra!” chuckles the car’s proud owner.
Fortunately, the Blue Oval’s state of suspended animation was about to come to an abrupt end following the decision to build a garage adjacent to the Hunter family’s Scottish residence. Work on the car began as soon as the white wonder was parked up in its new home, and the stockpile of parts that Colin had built up over a long and fruitful history of Sierra ownership was plundered in an effort to refresh and refine the overall performance of his hibernating Ford.
Of all of the items ready to make their way onto the car, an Adrenaline Stage 2
“This car was in perfect condition and hadn’t seen a welder”
adjustable rear beam and an anti-roll bar donated by a Knockhill-seasoned EsCos generated the most excitement. Colin jumped at the chance to equip his Sapphire with the kit following reports from fellow owners who had raved about the positive influence that the changes had introduced to the traction and handling characteristics of their cars.
steer from the rear
Dropping the Cossie’s rear end triggered a series of considerations regarding other aspects of its running gear. “I loved the way that my three- door pushed from the rear,” recalls Colin. “While I acknowledge the benefits of having power sent to all four corners, I can’t help but feel that the additional weight and the apparent drag that comes with the late Sapphire’s transmission setup has a detrimental effect on off-theline acceleration and top end performance. I thought long and hard about it before deciding that the fourby’s stronger engine coupled to a rear-wheel drive configuration would give me the best of both worlds.”
The car’s propshaft and MT75 gearbox were removed following the eviction of the factory beam. A number of transmission components were imported from a rear-wheel drive Sapphire Cosworth ( including a T5 gearbox and mount, a standard propshaft, and a 7.5in differential), while a lightened flywheel and an Alcon six-paddle clutch have been added for good measure.
Fitting the T5 proved to be less than straightforward thanks to the position of the required speedo cable. “After much head scratching, the solution presented itself in the form of a standard automatic gearbox cradle,” explains Colin. “Ford supplied a brand new part, but I had to drill it in order to allow the cable to sit comfortably. I’ve also had to use the T5’s linkage, gearstick, and a two-wheel drive Sapphire starter motor” he adds, hoping that his findings
might help others to avoid disaster when undertaking the same conversion. The heavily modified YBG had travelled less than 25k miles since its earlier rebuild. This didn’t stop Colin from applying further updates to the forged powerplant, and he lists his contributions to the engine bay as a Turbo Technics T34 turbocharger, a Pro Alloy RS500 intercooler, a GGR breather kit, Siemens injectors and a Level 8 ECU with a daughter board mapped by MSD. There’s a cam cover with a unique paint job too, and the revisions join a Pace radiator, Bosch fuel pump, EsCos airbox, K& N panel filter and a Mongoose enlarged exhaust in helping the lump to produce over 365bhp.
Reducing the number of actively powered wheels on the car soon gave rise to the controversial idea of replacing much of its model specific trim. As a result a set of amber indicators and matching side repeaters now decorate the Sapphire’s minty fresh exterior, although we’ll wager that those gold Compomotive six-spokes have been the first items to catch your eye! The huge 18-inchers are wrapped around huge AP Racing stoppers and sit inside wheel arches that are lower to the ground thanks to genuine Ahmed Bayoo
“It’s a real menace on the roads”
fast road springs and Koni adjustable dampers. The suspension also incorporates Powerflex polybushes, a GGR rear diff mount, MSD solid rear beam mounts and a front strut brace.
A two-wheel drive, three-spoke steering wheel wearing an RS centre piece joins a Collins Performance Pro engine monitor and a stack of Ford Racing gauges in the otherwise standard 4x4 interior. It’s a nice place to be, and it’s easy to see why so many Raven Recaros are left in-situ when the factory upholstery is this good ( other manufacturers could learn a thing or two from Ford’s enduring success in the seat department!).
Laser wheel alignment, camber correction, genuine Ford mudflaps and an imitation RS500 splitter were added to the stunning Sapphire before its recent return to the road. Colin confirms that it now boasts the power of a tuned 4x4, but benefits from the handling and launch capabilities of the earlier two-wheel drive Sierra. “Altering the transmission and adding the rear beam have improved the car beyond expectation. It’s a real menace on the roads, and I would recommend the switchover to any four-wheel drive Rallye Sport pilot questioning the performance of their motor,” he smiles, before we ask him to draw upon his ample experience of Cossie ownership to confirm which edition of the fruity Ford is his favourite. He admits that it’s a difficult question to answer, suffice to say that his radical ride is the product of an attempt to take elements from each model and combine them into a single car. We think he’s nailed it, and look forward to seeing further examples of Blue Oval hybrid hoonery!
Nicely tweaked YB is reckoned to put out around 365bhp
Gold Compo MO6s with APs are a winning combo!
Turbo Technics T34 provides ample boost for this RWD Saph
With RWD, roundabouts are
now much more fun!
Gauges and Collins engine monitor are the only additions inside
The Saph looking resplendent
in front of the Forth Bridge