For this weeks throwback we’ve got the incredibly stylish Ford Orion which at one point was one of Britain’s best-selling cars. A distinguishable cousin of the Escort, the Orion was often a forgotten warrior of the 1980s despite selling over 300,000 units in what transpired to be a fairly short life-span (short in comparison with models like the Fiesta and Escort which seemed almost never-ending)
The Orion began production in 1983 and despite encouraging figures in British markets was not such a hit on the continent. It’s release was somewhat eclipsed by the ongoing success of the original Escort and the emergence of the exciting Fiesta.
However, the Orion still managed to leave a footprint on the market.The vehicle may have faded into the background somewhat but it's designs paved the way for changes to the Escort which would later rack up over 500,000 individual sales.
In the 1980s, Ford was undergoing a dramatic shift in their game plan. The manufacturer had enjoyed wild success with their saloon-type models such as the Escort and Cortina but was trying to begin capitalizing on an incredibly booming hatchback market. The Fiesta was already creating quite a frenzy – particularly in Britain – and the benefit of hindsight tells us Ford were right to place their faith in this new-found goldmine of a market.
As the Escort began to transform into a more compact beast, Ford decided that instead of dispensing with the saloon bodystyle completely, they would produce one in the style of many of their most popular vehicles to plug the gap in the market. The Orion wasn't just a filler though and if anything was a better indicator than anything of the fact Britain still craved an affordable saloon that didn’t sound like a broken drainage system.
The Orion’s biggest criticism was that it was essentially an Escort with a few changes. A vehicle only appealing to those unwilling to buy into the manufacturers new direction. After all, many of the engines were borrowed from that most popular of models, however, the Orion shouldn’t be counted out as carbon-copy. With the initial option of a 1.6-litre diesel engine there was definitely a lot to love about the Orion and the addition of the RS model gave it an iconic status as one of the last Ford Saloon's packing a bit of pace.
The second generation Orion was equally as popular and added a number of trim levels including the exotic sounding Biscane. However, it was by the Orion’s third, and final generation that severe criticism began to creep in. The Orion’s tired design brought a wave of media anguish and the lack of any fresh ideas for the vehicle was essentially it’s death-knell by the end of the 1980s. Having been in the top-ten bst selling vehicles in Britain since it’s incarnation, the warning signs where there when the vehicle slipped out at the beginning of the 90s and then into oblivion and eventual ending of production in 1993.
The Orion a very successful, very underrated version of the Escort was eventually taken over by the Escort range fully and any return wiped out by Ford’s launch of what turned out to be the wildly successful Focus.
These days, the Orion is one of the rarest vehicles in the UK with just a single vehicle on the AutoTrader listings. History remembers the winners and while the Orion was a winner by definition it never reached the heights of Ford's champions of that era; the Escort or Fiesta and that was ultimately it’s demise.