They say that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Of course, if you live next to a landscaper that might actually be true, but by and large it isn’t. Humanity has a perverse streak in it; it seems always to think that what it doesn’t have must be better than what it does have. This odd racial psychological tic, this built-in inferiority complex, is, and always has been, part of our make up. You can see it even in ancient times, with the Roman “absorption” of Greek culture, and the mixing of cultures in the Middle East as just a couple of examples.
It’s no surprise, then, that this continues unabated into some of our more modern undertakings, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the automotive industry! For ages, American companies have tried to make their offerings more sophisticated, and the general way to do that, it is felt, is to be more “European”. Now, why the creators of such asphalt-destroying legends as the legendarily superlative SD-455 Trans-Am, the AAR ‘Cuda and the Boss-series of Mustangs would want to aspire to such things can be hard to imagine. I mean, why would companies that could create such cars ever want to be associated with the part of the world that gave us the Austin Allegro, Renault Dauphine and any pretty much any Fiat? What possible value is there in even contemplating emulating such makers’ dreck?
Well, there are three parts to that answer: 1.) Not all European cars are that bad (although it pains me to say it), 2.) the aforementioned “inferiority complex” makes European things seem so much better than whatever North America has, and 3.) there’s a possibility that North American cars really WERE that boring, soulless and inferior. Of course, when it comes to the Automotive Dark Ages, that crippling period from about 1973 to 1987 in which cars became but lustreless husks of their former selves, it’s actually viable to see that Number 3 may be the case!
By the time that the Dark Ages were in full effect, cars had, by and large, become so unexciting, so uninspiring to drive and so gutless that really anything seemed better. It’s hard, as a driver, not to agree that an early ‘80s European sport sedan is a far cry better than an LTD II or a Volare, whether or not it’s sporting the “Road Runner” package! Add to this that cars had become stylistically stagnant, their forms being apparently only dictated by their most basic functions, and it’s even more apparent why car makers were looking to add sophistication from anywhere they could find it. Like gang of stumbling drunks in a world of back alleys, car makers were glad to find relief wherever they could get it.
This led to a number of cars actually not only being given European styling touches (like flat-black trim, odd alloy wheels and, well… that’s all I can think of), but to cases of actual European cars being sold in North America. Volkswagen had been doing it forever, by this point, so the Big 3 knew it could work, and so we started to see the “captive imports” and later “World cars” like Escorts and Chevettes among others. Ford, with the well-selling Escort, began to look even closer at its European arm for additional help. Thankfully, Ford’s direction in both Europe and North America seemed to coincide…
In 1983, Ford shocked the North American automotive market with the new Cougar and T-Bird. Far from the boxy, super-stodgy “old man mobiles” they had been just the previous year, the new incarnations were sweepingly aerodynamic, almost futuristic, looking. They followed this with newer, sleeker vehicles like the Taurus and Sable and even cleaned up the Mustang, phasing out the egg-crate grille for ever-smoother contours. By 1984/85, Most Fords had a relatively “slick” appearance, and that wasn’t the end of it. The Mustang SVO took European styling even further, with a new nose profile, new (odd) headlights and a crazy “double wing” that was certainly odd for a North American Car. However, there was another car that was similarly styled, sharing a lot of the Mustang SVO’s stylistic DNA; that was the Ford Sierra.
The Ford Sierra was a line of European Fords that came out in 1982. It created the same kind of shock that Ford’s new swoopy T-Bird/Cougar did, so much so that it took a while to get people won over from the previously-sold boxy Cortina. However, In Germany the car sold well, and its futuristic looks, with large, faired over and integrated headlamps, aerodynamic front clip and smooth wrap-around tail lights did help it to avoid aging in comparison to its contemporaries. The sporty model was the two-door XR4i. This had an even more extreme, nearly-grilleless, front facia as well as something the SVO became well known for – a double wing. In fact, stylistically, the XR4i looks a lot like an SVO that just happens not to be a Mustang. Indeed, the XR4i is even rear wheel drive!
Given the car’s stylistic fit and European bent, it was no surprise that Ford brought the Sierra over to North America. However, they only brought the XR4Ti, the two-door turbocharged version, since they didn’t want to compete with the Taurus and Sable. They also brought it over as a “Merkur”(the German word for “Mercury”) and sold it though the Mercury dealer network. Sadly, while it was overflowing with “European-ness”, the oddly-marketed Merkurs didn’t sell all that well. Not only was the name perhaps a bit TOO European, but the styling of the Sierra was like that of the SVO on steroids, and since the SVO wasn’t a popular seller, this didn’t help. Granted, the Sierra has an almost bulbous, frog-like bent to its styling, and clearly that, the double wing and the weird extra rear window pillar didn’t persuade a lot of prospective buyers. That it was expensive due to modifications to be sold in North American didn’t help either, I’m sure…The Sierra’s stay in North America was a scant 5 years, and it had little impact.
Thankfully, despite the failure of the Merkur in North America, there is a kit of the Sierra XR4i! If you’re thinking it’s likely an AMT, since they did the Taurus, you’d be wrong. Amazingly, the only injection moulded kit of the Sierra was made by Tamiya! For reasons I’ll never really know, it was this Japanese maker, renowned for their quality kits of pretty much any kind of Japanese car that gave us the Sierra in plastic. Sadly, this kit is NOT easy to find; it’s been on my grail list for years, and I’ve never seen even a box for one. However, that kind of thing has never deterred my intrepid brother, who managed to find me one as a gift. To emphasize the rarity of this kit, he found it in, and had it shipped from, Japan!
So, how does Tamiya do European Ford sport sedans? Well, let’s find out!
There’s not much special about the box. It’s the typical Tamiya white background with a front three-quarters view of the Sierra comin’ at ya! You can tell right away that this is not a normal car, even for its day. The Sierra is very distinctly styled, and those big, flat headlight covers and buckets of grey-black lower-body cladding are dead giveaways. Add a large, featureless front panel and a thin slit grille, and you can see why the styling was a bit… divisive. Just like the SVO, though, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Ford Sierra, and can remember seeing a Merkur in 1985 while shopping for my mom’s Grand Marquis. I was 9 at the time, and have liked the XR4 ever since.
There’s little on the box in English, save for some very small print under the box titling. However, there’s something there that’s very interesting. Notice it says “Complete Engine Detail”? Yeah… that’s not something you see in a Tamiya very often. Most, like my Skyline, Today and Civic, are curbsiders, with only rudimentary engine detail moulded on the chassis. So, just from the box, it appears as though this kit might be something pretty special!
The one side of the box has a three view of a red Sierra – front, side and rear. The aerodynamic shape (familiar to those who have owned late ‘80s Escorts) is clearly evident, as is the size of those headlight lenses! On my box, the red is very faded – this one looks like it might have sat near a window for quite some time! I can image it with this side to the window in a small hobby shop somewhere in Japan, gathering dust for 35 years, only to be rudely awakened half a world away!
The other side of the box reminds me a lot of a brochure; it has a top view as well as a neat cutaway top view, that shows not only the interior, but also the engine bay! Even better, nowhere on this box does it mention motorization! Maybe this thing is an honest-to-goodness kit, and only a kit. With a full engine and no power option, it looks like this could be the best Tamiya kit I have yet owned!
So, upon opening the box of this long-distance traveller, what did I see? Well, it was pretty much “business as usual” for a Tamiya kit. There was the separate compartment for the body, which was, of course, nicely bagged to keep it safe. Then there was everything else on the other side, with lots of separate bags, including ones for the tires and windows. See, MPC? This is how you package a kit! You DON’T just let the tires do whatever they want, and melt their way into every window they can get their hands on! You don’t just throw all the racks in a bag and let the parts fall (off) where they may. I mean, C’mon! If only MPCs were packaged internally like Tamiyas but kept their awesome box art… Sigh…
I wasn’t going to just leave this thing in the bags, I intend to get on this one, so I popped everything out, and was amazed to see that yes, there was indeed an actual engine and transmission on the rack! This is pretty amazing stuff for Tamiya! However, what I did note is that even though it does have a full engine, it’s not up to the standards of either an MPC or a later-generation Revell. There are a couple of engine accessories (alternator and power steeling pump) that are included, but nothing like I’m used to on American or German kits. The engine is also lacking in that subtle texturing that makes painting engines so satisfying, and that those other companies do so well.
Like so much about Tamiya cars, the engine is good, but somewhat sterile and a bit soulless. There are basic details not only on the engine, but for the drivetrain too. Many of the suspension components come moulded as one piece, but I like this; it’s more fun to paint and make one piece look like a lot of different ones, so I’m digging that! Also, the chassis is nicely detailed, and at least doesn’t have the exhaust moulded into it! (Cough… I’m looking at you… Monza… Cough) Now, just like the engine, the chassis doesn’t have the same level of ‘realness’ to it that MPC ones do, but maybe in the ‘80s in Europe, chassis were smoother? Regardless, it’ll look good in primer with black, and that’s all that counts!
On other area that suffers badly from lack of detail is the underside of the hood. Despite the novelty of an actual engine bay, Tamiya really dropped the ball on the detailing end of things; the underside of the hood looks like the underside of the roof! By this I mean it looks, well, raw. There are injector marks and a bit of roughness to the plastic, but that’s it. If you’ve built an MPC, then you know how much detail there can be on the inside of a hood. Go pop the one on your real car – it doesn’t just look like the forgotten side of a stamping run; there’s a lot there! That’s a lot to miss.
One neat feature in the instructions is that this car can be left-hand or right-hand drive! This necessitates not only the use of a different dashboard, but also a different firewall! Why? Well, the master cylinder moves depending on the driver’s position, so one for each side is required. Oddly, what I found when I unpacked the kit was that there was no second dashboard! Thankfully (for me), the dash is the left-hand drive version, so it’d be for a non-English car. There’s a place for the other dashboard, but it isn’t there. It’s not like someone took it, either. This kit’s bags were all fully sealed. So, your guess is as good as mine! Do be aware, though, if you’re going to be buying this second hand and a right-hand drive version is your passion, that you verify both the dash and the firewall that corresponds to it are in the kit!
The interior is, again, typical Tamiya. It’s good, but a bit spartan. This is not entirely Tamiya’s fault, as real car interiors of this era are not known for being super-exciting. Lots and lots of grey is the standard. However, the Tamiya interior misses what I feel an American kit would catch, which are the textural differences between the door panel insets, floor mats and seats as they compare to the dashboard and other hard surfaces. If you’re wondering, no… the seats don’t have backs to them. REALLY? You can give me an engine, and you still can’t figure out seat backs? Bloody hell, Tamiya…
If there’s one thing the Japanese DO get, it’s wheels. I believe every Tamiya (and Aoshima, and Fujimi) I have does this right; they attach the wheels to the rack AT THE BACK of the wheel. You know, where it won’t be seen if it doesn’t cut cleanly off, or leaves a chunk missing? Not only that, but the finishes on Japanese wheels are generally top-notch. Not just cruddy chrome, but actually metal-looking in terms of depth and finish. The wheels on the Sierra are no exception, although they might be a bit bright, I think they’ll do nicely. As wheels, though, they’re pretty dorky. That’s to expected from a European car, though. Generally, European tastes don’t mesh with North American ones when it comes to wheels. An odd exception seems to be on “racing wires”, like those on the GTA. Everybody loves those, it seems. As they should.
The glass is also beautiful; you get fully enclosed windows, which is another typically Japanese thing, and the clear tail lights seem like a good idea. However, my Civic, which looked great when I took the pictures, has aged badly; something about gluing on tail light lenses painted from behind seems to be a problem. Whether these suffer the same fate remains to be seen, I suppose.
Instructions and Decals:
Often, Tamiya cars come with two sets of instructions; one for the home market and another with lots of English for us “Gaijin” around the rest of the world. Not so here. You only get the Japanese instructions with the Sierra. This is a shame, because it would be nice to have more information about the colour combos. From what I can tell, though, you could get these in Red, Black, Silver, White and Metallic Blue. The rest of the instructions don’t suffer from the “Japanese only” feature – if you can read a picture, you can follow Tamiya’s instructions. They’re clear and well-rendered, and the simplicity of the kit only helps to make them nearly fool-proof.
The decals on the kit are minimal. There are multiple licence plates and a small dashboard decal for the instrument cluster. There’s also a pair of “stripe” decals for the side windows. I personally don’t think I’ll use those, but they’re there if you want them. What is well-thought out though is that there are TWO (2) choices of XR4i script. The silver would do for the red and blue cars, with the red script for the other colours. This means you’re not limited to the colour you choose for the car!
The Ford Sierra took Ford of Europe in a new direction, and created a lasting impression in so doing. That the car wasn’t very successful when imported to North America doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a good car, but just that sometimes, the shade of green on the “other side of the fence” isn’t quite what people want after all. Still, it was important enough that Tamiya kitted it, WITH an engine!
As far as kits go, the Sierra promises to be an excellent model with Tamiya’s usual clean and well-thought out, well-engineered building process. Despite having an actual engine, there’s little different about this kit than most other Tamiya cars. It’s one of those that I can recommend to anyone, and I can’t see too many modellers having issues with this one. If this is a first kit, or even just a first car kit, for a modeller, it should definitely help with building confidence. There’s little to mess up, and even fewer opportunities TO mess up!
Still, this is not a kit I’d suggest giving to someone who might gluebomb it. The Tamiya Sierra is a very rare kit, it seems, and thus it’s expensive and difficult to get. This makes it unsuitable for all but the most affluent beginners. This is a shame, because it is a very nice, if not a bit spartan, kit. It’s a technically well-executed model, and it’s not overly complicated or fiddly. These are two features I do love about Tamiya cars. While the kit is a bit spartan and doesn’t have all the textural cues and varieties that North American kits have, it does have a good positive location for the chassis and promises to build into a good replica of a car many have experienced on both sides of the fence!
If you can find one of these, it’ll make a great addition to any shelf of Fords, European cars or weird ‘80s car collection. Its mix of attractive, but still oddball styling is refreshing, and it has a familiarity that still exudes foreign mystery. It’s a shame that the kit makes the subject more alluring than the real car was, but context is everything! If you see one, grab it and enjoy this cocktail of strange familiarity. You’ll be glad you did!