The most obscure Fords ever sold

Ford is one of the longest-established manufacturers in the motor industry, and many of its vehicles are famous throughout the world.

We won’t be talking about any of those here, though. Instead, we’re diving down to Ford’s equivalent of Davy Jones’s locker, where strange and unfamiliar creatures dwell – some of them long-forgotten models, others very rare examples from popular ranges.

Our alphabetical list includes cars wearing Ford badges, and some from brands the company created, but none from those it acquired from other sources.

PICTURE: Ford Bantam

Edsel Roundup

It’s often thought that the Ford’s Edsel was a disastrous car, but this isn’t quite true. In fact, Edsel was a disastrous brand which Ford believed – quite wrongly, as it turned out – would increase its sales in the late 1950s and on into the following decade and help it counter a then-rampant General Motors, which held a slightly unworldly 50% of the US car market at the time.

Seven Edsels were introduced for the 1958 model year, though you’d be doing well to name any of them. The Roundup, along with the Bermuda and the Villager, was one of three station wagons, and the only one with two rather than four passenger doors. Varying production numbers are quoted up to the point (shortly after launch) where Ford realised it shouldn’t have bothered, but they are all in the high three figures – a terrible result even by Edsel’s standards, and quite calamitous for what was intended to be a popular car.

Ford Aspire

If you are in your late 20s, you were alive when it was possible to buy a Ford Aspire in North America, but it’s very likely that you’re hearing about it now for the first time. It was the saloon version of the little Ford Festiva, co-developed with Kia, built in South Korea and sold there as the Avella. As the Aspire, it was launched in the 1994 model year, but sales were so poor that it was withdrawn in 1997.

Lack of popularity, along with the closure of the factory where it was built, also put an end to a later, Ka-based Aspire in 2021, but unless you live in India you probably weren’t aware of that one either.

Ford Bantam

In our view, the Bantam counts as an obscure Ford not because it wasn’t popular but because it of its limited geographic range. Produced only in South Africa, where small, car-based pickup trucks – or ‘bakkies’ as they’re known there – have traditionally been popular, it existed in three forms, the first (pictured) based on the third-generation Ford Escort, the next on the sixth-generation Mazda 323 and the last on the fifth-generation Ford Fiesta (pictured at the start of this feature).

Bantams were produced continuously from 1983 to 2011, and were therefore a common sight on South African roads, though they are almost unknown in other parts of the world.

Ford Centurion Classic

If you have no more than a passing interest in the North America motor industry, you might easily believe that it was possible to buy a large, four-door Ford SUV in the early 1990s. And you’d be quite correct, except for one thing – Ford didn’t actually make it.

All Broncos built in the 20th century had two doors, and there was no sign of a four-door equivalent. Centurion Vehicles of White Pigeon, Michigan, decided there was a gap in the market, and created something to fill it. The resulting Centurion Classic was based on an F-Series crew cab chassis, but its roof and back end were taken from the Bronco. The vehicle was produced for nine years until the introduction of the first-generation Ford Expedition made it unnecessary.

Ford Comète

Ford’s French subsidiary, known as SAF, produced several models of its own design after the Second World War. The most stylish of these was the 1951 Comète, a relative of the Flathead V8-powered Vedette saloon with a sporty body created by Facel, which would later build the luxurious Facel Vega.

The problem with the Comète was its cost, both to buy and to tax. The resulting low sales didn’t help the fortunes of Ford SAF, which was sold to Simca in 1954. The Comète was sold for one more year with Simca badging before being discontinued.

Ford Consul Classic

Although it was a mainstream British Ford, the Consul Classic was so odd, and produced so briefly, that a passing pedestrian might exclaim, “What is that​?” in the unlikely event that they happened to see one today.

This extravagantly-designed saloon was launched in 1961 and lasted for only two years. A coupe version – the first Ford to be given the Capri name – survived for only a year after that. By comparison, the Corsair and Cortina, introduced slightly later in the 1960s, had far longer lives, perhaps because they looked far more conventional.

Ford Del Rio

The Del Rio was a large station wagon with six seats but only two passenger doors, an arrangement which seemed more sensible in the late 1950s than it does now. Despite the fancy name, it was essentially a flashier and better-equipped version of the low-cost Ranch Wagon.

Sales were limited, which led to Ford abandoning the car after 1958, only its second model year. That’s enough for us to consider at an obscure Ford, though as we’ll see it actually remained on the market for longer than its immediate predecessor.

Ford Durango

Not to be confused with the completely unrelated Dodge of the same name, the Ford Durango was a car-based pickup truck similar in concept to the Ranchero, which came to an end after seven generations in the late 1970s.

The Durango was designed by California-based custom car builder Jim Stephenson, using the Fairmont saloon as a base, and put into production by National Coach Works. Quoted production figures vary substantially, but it seems that fewer than 400 (and possibly not much more than half that) were ever made.

(Coach works)
Ford Escort GTi

During the more than 30-year life of the (European) Escort, Ford gave high-performance versions names like Twin Cam, Mexico, RS1800, XR3, RS Cosworth and so on. Unlike other manufacturers, it avoided the GTi tag (which was created by Volkswagen and became a very popular badge for hot hatches) – or so you might think.

However, for a brief period in the late 1990s, there actually was an Escort GTi. It wasn’t particularly exciting, having a 113bhp 1.8-litre engine and bearing a resemblance to the contemporary, and more powerful, RS2000, but it’s of interest because it was the only European Ford to ever bear the GTi name.

Ford Escort RS2000 4x4

The last Escort ever to wear the famous RS badge was a derivative of the 2.0-litre 16-valve RS2000 introduced in 1991. The four-wheel drive version was introduced three years later.

In all its generations, the Escort was extremely popular, but the RS2000 4x4 was a rarity. While motorsport versions made sense because of their superior traction, the standard model was slower and more expensive to buy and run than the front-wheel drive car, so it wasn’t worth building more than a few hundred.

Ford EXP Turbo Coupe

The EXP was a not particularly successful compact sports car based on the North American Escort and sold during the 1980s. The rarest version was the Turbo Coupe, which had a turbocharged version of the regular 1.6-litre CVH engine which produced around 120bhp and - good for the time - gave the car a 0-60mph time of under ten seconds.

It was produced only in 1985, right at the end of the first generation. Later EXPs were never turbocharged, though the need for that was less pressing since they were all equipped with the more powerful 1.9-litre CVH.

Ford Falcon Cobra

Famous in Australia but little-known in most other parts of the world, the Cobra was a muscle car based on the Falcon XC. It was partly a tribute to the Falcons which finished first and second in the 1977 Bathurst 1000 race, a lap ahead of the closest opposition, but there is also a story that Ford had a surplus of coupe bodyshells and wanted to find a use for them.

Only 400 Cobras were built, all of them in 1978, but there were several variations, including a choice of 4.9-litre or 5.8-litre V8 engines.

Ford Freda

For many years, Ford and Mazda had a close relationship which at one point involved the American manufacturer owning 33.4% of the Japanese firm.

This led to a lot of technological crossover. Perhaps the simplest example, and undoubtedly one of the strangest, was the Freda – a Mazda Bongo Friendee eight-seater with Ford badges. There’s very little reason why you should know about this unless you’re familiar with large Japanese MPVs, in which case you almost certainly do.

Ford Landau

Ford used the Landau name for several versions of the Thunderbird, but also for two distinct models produced outside the US. By far the rarer of them was a powerful and expensive two-door luxury coupe marketed by Ford Australia from 1973 to 1976. During that period only 1385 Landaus are understood to have been built, suggesting that this wasn’t the sort of thing Australians were interested at the time.

Ford of Brazil had much greater success with its own Landau, a full-size four-door saloon produced throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s.

Ford Model 48

Unlike some of the other cars mentioned here, the Model 48 was very successful. Our accusation of obscurity is based solely on the fact that it was produced only in 1935 and 1936.

It was a more aerodynamic version of the Flathead V8-powered Model 40, which dated back to 1932. A further update of the Ford range in 1937 led to the name being changed again in that year.

(RM Sothebys)
Ford Model F

Most articles about Ford history refer to the 1903 Model A, the first car ever produced by Ford Motor Company, and of course nearly everyone knows about the Model T which came along five years later.

There’s less reason to be aware of the several models introduced in the intervening period. One example is the Model F, which was derived from the Model A but was more expensive. Ford built around 1000 units in 1905 and 1906, and it’s estimated that approximately 40 survive today.

(RM Sothebys)
Ford P7

Ford of Germany used the Taunus name for a variety of cars produced from 1939 until the early 1980s, by which time the model was almost indistinguishable from the UK’s Cortina. The name was briefly suspended for the generation built between 1967 and 1971, which was known instead as the P7.

Added obscurity arises from the fact the P7 was the name of the range but not of any individual car. These were known variously as 17M, 20M and 26M, depending on what engine was fitted.

Ford Parklane

The short-lived Del Rio two-door station wagon mentioned earlier was preceded by the even rarer Parklane, which was sold only in the 1956 model year.

Despite this, the name lived on, after a fashion. Split in two, it was used for the Mercury Park Lane, which was built in two generations as a saloon, a convertible and a hardtop. Unlike its Ford-branded namesake, it survived for a full decade.

(RM Auctions)
Ford Pilot

The Pilot was officially Ford of Britain’s first post-War model, though it was closely related to – but had a larger engine than – the 1937 V8. Outside Ford classic enthusiastic circles, it’s no longer well known, since it was produced only from 1947 to 1951, and the name has not been used again since.

There was, however, reason to be familiar with the Pilot during its brief life. The versatile competition driver Ken Wharton (1916-1957) used a Pilot to win the international Tulip and Lisbon rallies in 1950, while King George VI had a long-wheelbase shooting brake version.

(Brian Snelson)
Ford Sierra GLSi 4x4

As with the Escorts discussed previously, there is nothing obscure at all about the Ford Sierra in general, but some individual models are very rare. This certainly applies to the GLSi 4x4, which was produced very briefly around 1989.

Mechanically, it was identical to the much more famous XR4x4. Both cars were powered at this time by the 150bhp 2.9-litre V6 Cologne engine (though the XR had started out with a 2.8-litre version of the same unit), but the GLS was cheaper and less flashy. This doesn’t seem to have helped, since fewer than 2000 examples are believed to have been registered in the UK – far less than the XR achieved in any of its better years.

Ford Skyranger

Every so often, someone decides that a convertible pickup truck would be a good idea, a few are made and the idea is dropped. The Ford Skyranger is an extreme example of this.

Accounts of how the Skyranger came about vary so wildly that we’d prefer not to quote any of them directly, but it seems safe to say that an outside company created (with or without Ford’s approval) a droptop version of the post-facelift first-generation Ranger and produced no more than 20 examples in 1991.

(RM Sothebys)
Ford Squire

The first Ford estate car designed and built in the UK was mechanically similar to the contemporary Anglia and Prefect saloons. Production began in September 1955 and ended four years later, after fewer than 16,000 examples had been built. For comparison, it took Ford only about four months to make that many Anglias.

A more basic version of the Squire was the first of many Fords to bear the Escort name. Perhaps because it was cheaper, it was significantly more popular (though still very much a minority-interest vehicle compared with the Anglia), and survived until 1961.

Lincoln Lido

According to the catalogue published by Ford’s luxury division in 1951, “exceptional luxury is indeed the hallmark of Lincoln Lido distinction”. That was all very well, but at the time this blurb was written the Lido was moving into the second of only two production years.

Based on the EL-Series saloon, the Lido coupe found very few customers. Its only legacy was the Continental Lido show car, an originally standard Continental with various styling upgrades which appeared in 1963.

(RM Sothebys)
Lincoln Custom

The Custom was the largest of the three cars sold by Lincoln in the 1941 and 1942 model years, and was available as either a sedan or a limousine (pictured). Under 800 were built, partly because all production was suspended in February 1942 in response to the US entry into the Second World War.

Another reason for the Custom’s rarity is that, unlike the contemporary Continental, it did not return to production in peacetime. The name was used occasionally in the 1950s, but only within other model ranges.

(RM Sothebys)
Mercury Turnpike Cruiser

Introduced in the 1957 model year, the Turnpike Cruiser from the Mercury division was an expensive luxury car available with two- and four-door hardtop and two-door convertible body styles. It was fitted with large V8 engines (up to 7.0 litres) and was one of the earliest cars available with a powered retractable rear window called breezeway.

Sales were disappointing, relieving Mercury of the trouble of manufacturing as many as 17,000 examples. For 1958, the Turnpike Cruiser was absorbed into the Mercury Montclair range, and by 1959 it had disappeared entirely.

Mercury Voyager

The Voyager was part of Ford’s troubled experience with station wagons in the late 1950s. Available with two or four doors (not including the tailgate), it was a standalone model in 1957 and 1958, and became part of the consolidated Country Cruiser range for a single year in 1959 before disappearing altogether.

Annual production never approached five figures, but at least a few thousand were made each year, making the Voyager a smash hit compared with the Edsel Roundup, if nothing else.

(RM Sothebys)

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