Few big saloons of the 1970s had the cool factor in quite the swaggering way of the Ford Granada.
A bold move away from the boxy Zephyr and Zodiacs, the handsome Granada vindicated Ford’s pan-European strategy to build a car as popular in London as Berlin.
The car’s future cult classic status was secured as the conveyance of choice for DI Jack Regan, the hard-as-nails cop in The Sweeney, while fleet buyers were turning to the big Ford in their droves.
We take a look at the car that changed the executive game.
When it was launched in 1972, Ford’s engineering director Alan Aitken boasted that its new executive saloon would be “as happy on an Italian autostrada as in the London rush hour”.
The result of a £50 million development programme lasting four years, said to be the most extensive in Ford’s history, the investment paid off as the Granada quickly wiped away the memory of the slow-selling mark 4 Zephyr and Zodiac.
For the first time, identical models (albeit with different engines) were on sale in the UK and across Europe, as the Granada replaced the German P7-series as well as our own Z-Cars.
Initially, lower-spec models were badged as Consuls because of a trademark dispute with the Granada Group conglomerate, but common sense prevailed – after all, what confusion could there be between a TV station, TV rental business, motorway service station, and a car?
From 1975 onwards, all cars were badged as Granadas, but the sole difference was only ever a badge.
The Detroit-influenced styling proved an immediate hit with buyers, disrupting the large saloon fleet market hitherto dominated by BMC’s Rover and Triumph in the way the curvy mark 3 Cortina had a rung down the executive ladder.
Power for the UK spec cars was provided by the Essex V4 and V6 engines, with the 3-litre V6 the pick of the units.
Under the skin, the Granada featured independent rear suspension with double wishbones at the front, introduced 18 months earlier in the Cortina.
The new car received rave reviews in the motoring press of the time, with Motor Sport magazine comparing the car favourably with some of the best in Europe.
Testing a GLX Auto, they said the Granada “rides bad surfaces with no conveyance of road shock, with a floating rather than jerky motion, yet its cornering qualities are excellent”.
“It was easier to set-up for awkward fast bends than the bigger BMWs, with a contrasting complete absence of discernible roll, and it coped with sudden changes of surface better than a Citröen DS, for although the back-end would sometimes smack back onto the road, there was none of the ‘caught-out’ sensation Citröens give over hump-back bridges.”
The automatic was more of a luxury cruiser than a sports saloon, hitting 60mph in a leisurely 12 seconds, but the manual, 4-speed V6 was pretty rapid for the day, reaching 60mph in under 10 seconds on its way to a top speed of 110mph.
The Consul GT, the original Sweeney car, meanwhile, used its 136bhp to good effect, sprinting to the 60mph mark in just 9 seconds and good for 114mph.
Motor Sport believed the car could “represent the thrifty man’s XJ6”.
“For Ford, the Granada sets new levels of road-holding, ride and handling which are most welcome, and these qualities are allied to the quiet running of the true luxury car,” according to road tester Bill Boddy.
“As the Granada GXL is particularly fully equipped, the value offered for £2,091.61 is indeed remarkable. It seems that Ford cannot fail to do extremely well with these new cars, because they are so enjoyable to drive and to ride in.”
The public agreed, with sales helped by a price point considerably lower than its German rivals, and the popularity of the Ford badge.
The Consul and Granada were offered as four-door saloons, five-door estates and a two-door fastback coupe (from 1974 in the UK), with the higher-spec Granada including more luxurious fittings, including rev counter, oil pressure gauge, ammeter, rear ventilation control, and a larger centre console.
Initially produced in both Cologne and Dagenham, production switched entirely to Germany in 1976, in time for the more boxy mark 2 of 1977.
In 1974, Ford had recently taken over Italian coachbuilder Ghia, leading to the birth of one of the most famous luxury trim levels in motoring.
The Ghia replaced the Executive model and gained a different grille plus wood and leather inside – a financially-driven, scaled-down upgrade from the larger remodel initially planned by Ford.
Testing the rakish Granada Ghia Coupe at its UK launch (an earlier, Coke-bottle design had been available in Germany since 1972), Autocar said the “splendidly opulent” seats were, if anything, a little too ostentatious, their sheer size eating into rear leg-room.
The magazine mentions that inertia reel seatbelts were fitted as standard (different times!), and the big coupe attracted “more than its fair share of admiring glances” on the road.
“The car has inherited from the Granada saloon standards of ride, handling and silence which stand it in good stead in more distinguished company,” it concluded, with only slightly lower equipment levels letting it down against the big Germans and Jaguars.
“This quibble apart, we have no doubt that the car offers a strong challenge in the luxury coupe market and buyers who reject it out of hand ‘because it’s a Ford’ could be making a big mistake.”
Yes, badge snobbery was alive and well in the 1970s.
Ford Granada Mark 2
The coupe was discontinued, however, when the square, straight-lined mark 2 was introduced in 1977, its design adopting the edges and corners of the Fiesta and mark 4 Cortina.
Basically a mark 1 with a new skin, the all German-built car used fresh Cologne V6 engines of 2293cc and 2792cc replacing the old Essex units, as well as the 2-litre Pinto unit.
A diesel version, powered by Peugeot engines, was produced almost exclusively for taxi use, badged the GLD.
Performance and trim levels varied hugely across a range that used the now-familiar system of L, GL, S and Ghia – with Bosch fuel injection offered on the higher spec 2.8-litre models.
In 1978, Motor Sport, again alluding to that age-old image issue, said: “It’s a most acceptable luxury car in its own right — there is nothing to be ashamed of in owning a Ford, and Ford fans will surely regard this as a very inspiring example of what this great company can do with European expertise.
“If you are looking for a biggish car that feels unbreakable, not in any way ostentatious, but which will go to 117mph if you let it, accelerating from rest to 60mph in nine seconds, just like the big V8 Rover, and gives 26mpg of four-star fuel in hard motoring, you need look no further.”
A facelift in 1981 ushered in possibly the finest Granada of them all, the sporting 2.8 Injection, which had gave the BMW 528i a run for its money, let alone its big UK rival, the Rover SD1.
Capable of just under 120mph, the 2.8 Injection could do 65mph in second gear and 90mph in third, useful for overtaking, with fuel economy in the mid 20s.
Costing £2,000 less than the BMW once standard versus extra equipment is taken into account, Motor Sport said the Granada made for “a car which is a pleasure to drive and which is just as at home weaving around narrow country lanes as it is bashing along a motorway”.
“The excellent TRX tyres, which provide such superb grip even in the worst conditions make the car hang on in a most impressive manner, and when it does break away, it does so in a very gentlemanly, controllable, neutral fashion. You have to be cornering very hard to unstick the inside rear wheel.
“The interior appointments are verging on the luxurious, with thick carpeting throughout and soft cloth upholstery and trim. Recaro front seats, which have adjustable length squabs (which should please the long legged), are standard equipment and very comfortable they are too.”
The Granada was the larger, and more comfortable, car according to the magazine, which tested the two back-to-back. It was also quieter at motorway speeds.
As a driver’s car, however, the BMW came out on top, but for an extra £2,000.
“The Ford gives more for your money in terms of equipment and passenger comfort, but the BMW comes out on top in terms of driver satisfaction…you pay your money and takes your choice.”
Ford Granada mark 3
Nearly 1 million mark 2s were sold over eight years before the introduction of the mark 3 in 1985, featuring more aerodynamic styling along similar lines to the new Sierra – indeed, it used a stretched version of that car’s floorpan.
Badged as a Scorpio in Europe, Ford maintained the Granada name (Scorpio used as a top-of-the-range adjunct only) so as not to alienate buyers in the same way they had with the controversial jelly-mould Sierra.
The mark 3’s main claim to fame was to offer anti-lock braking across the range, although the prestige German models had been offering ABS on its higher spec models for some time.
Typically well-equipped, the Granada came with leather heated electric seats, air conditioning, electric sunroof, heated windscreen and cruise control.
The Pinto four-pot engines were underpowered for such a big car, but the 2.8-litre V6 Cologne remained a smooth and capable motorway cruiser.
Testing a Scorpio 2.8 model in 1985, Motor magazine said of the styling: “The transformation is, if anything, even more dramatic than that of Cortina to Sierra. But the benefits are just as real: superior versatility, better aerodynamics, improved packaging, better efficiency.
“And if that isn’t enough, the showroom impact is devastating.”
Nevertheless, the new Granada was up against stiff competition, with the new offering from Saab, Mercedes and Rover soon to join the BMW 5 series, the Vauxhall Senator and Volvo 760 in battle.
By the late ‘80s, the old Pinto and Cologne engines were becoming sluggish compared to the competition, but Ford had a trick up its sleeve – Cosworth.
The legendary race engineers extensively reworked a 2.9-litre Cologne V6, the final unit featuring 24 valves and quad camshafts, enough for 200bhp and a 0-60 time of 8.1 seconds with a top speed of 140mph.
It turned the somewhat stodgy car sometimes nicknamed “Grandad” into a genuine fast Ford, completely altering the model’s character, with a lower and stiffened suspension transforming the stodgy ride into a car that was swift and composed through corners.
The only visible clues to the new car’s sporting credentials were larger, 16-inch alloy wheels, an oval exhaust pipe and a 24v badge on the boot.
It proved a cut-price alternative to the BMW and Mercedes sports saloons of the time, and the Cosworth cars are sought-after modern classics today.
The mark 3 proved the last car to bear the Granada name, replaced in 1994 with the bug-eyed Scorpio, Ford’s model-wide ovoid design that – to customers’ tastes at least – proved ill-suited to the big saloon.
Only 95,587 were sold before the model was scrapped in 1998, and the Granada has never truly been replaced since, leaving the Mondeo to compete with its German rivals across the saloon-car spectrum.