Welcome to 365 Days of Motoring

An Everyday Journey Through Motoring History, Facts & Trivia

Belt up and enjoy this 365-day ride as you cruise past the most momentous motoring events in history. Packed with fascinating facts about races, motorists and the history of the mighty engine, this is a must-visit web site for any car enthusiast.

On This Day


Friday 22nd July 1983

35 years ago

The Ford Orion was introduced in Europe. Over 3.5 million Orion’s, which was in essence a saloon version of the Ford Escort, were sold throughout the car's 10-year life. In the early 1980s, Ford's model line-up and image was changing, reflecting shifting patterns in the new car market across Western Europe at this time, as front-wheel drive gradually became more popular than rear-wheel drive and hatchbacks began to eclipse traditional saloons and estates. The company's older saloon line-up was replaced mainly by hatchbacks, starting with the Escort MK3 in 1980 and the new Sierra (which replaced the Cortina) in 1982. By 1985, even the top-of-the-range Granada would offer a hatchback bodystyle, with the saloon and estate models not debuting until the early 1990s, while a booted version of the Sierra was finally launched in 1987. The Orion was designed to fill the market demand for a traditional four-door saloon, which had been absent from the Escort range since the end of MK2 production in 1980, and also in larger cars by the demise of the hugely popular Cortina in 1982. The Orion looked similar to a contemporary Escort at the front apart from the different grille design, but the rear of the Orion had a long flat boot (making the car a three-box saloon design) rather than a hatchback or estate body like the Escort. Although the Orion's length was similar to that of the contemporary Ford Sierra (then only available as a hatchback) it had more rear legroom and a larger boot. This concept was similar to the Volkswagen Jetta, the saloon version of the Golf hatchback which had been on sale since 1979. Ford initially offered the Orion in only GL and Ghia trim levels, missing out on the lower specification levels available on the Escort, as well as the basic 1100cc engine. Only 1300 cc and 1600 cc CVH engine options were available from launch (though with both carburettor and fuel injection options on the 1.6 Ghia). A lower specification L model was introduced in 1984 as was the option of a 1.6 diesel engine on L and GL models. The Orion Ghia 1.6i standard features included central locking, sunroof, sport front seats, electric windows, rear head restraints, tachometer and an information binnacle informing the driver when the vehicle needed maintenance. All of these features were rare equipment on a small family car in the 1980s, giving the Orion upmarket pretensions. The Orion 1.6i shared an engine with the Escort XR3i and offered similar performance and handling without the insurance unfriendly tag that the XR badge started to command in the late 1980s due to its popularity with car thieves - and it was also less frequently targeted by thieves than the Escort XR3i or RS Turbo. The 1.6i was topped by a luxury limited edition called the 1600E in the autumn of 1988, the 1600E name harking back to the Mark II Ford Cortina 1600E from 20 years earlier, as both were considered to be well-equipped saloon cars with decent performance for the working person. The Orion 1600E was available in black, white and metallic grey and had RS alloys, wood cappings on the dashboard and doors, and grey leather seats. Only 1,600 were made, of which 1,000 had leather trim. With the facelift in 1986, Ford brought the styling and engineering of the Orion closer to the Escort's and lower-specification models crept into the range along with equipment levels being brought together between the two cars, and helped Orion sales increase further. The Orion also gained the new 1.4 "lean burn" petrol engine which was added to the Escort at this time. The success of the Orion across Europe, particularly in Britain (where it was among the top 10 selling cars every year from 1984 to 1990), was followed by several other manufacturers launching saloon versions of their popular hatchbacks. By 1986, General Motors had launched a saloon version of its Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra hatchback, which was sold as the Vauxhall Belmont on the British market. Austin Rover, on the other hand, made use of a Honda design for its new Rover 200 Series saloon, which was launched in 1984 and gave buyers a booted alternative to the Maestro hatchback, although with a totaly different platform, as the true booted variant of the Maestro was the larger and more upmarket Montego. The Orion was launched around the same time as the Fiat Regata, saloon and estate versions of the Ritmo (Strada in Britain), although the Regata was aimed further upmarket at cars like the Ford Sierra. The Orion was a strong seller in Britain, peaking as the seventh best selling car in 1987 and 1988 with over 70,000 sales.

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