Disposable Heroes: #1 The Ford Mondeo

Time, I’ve decided, is a right bastard. Ten minutes ago, in 2004, I graduated University. The Chris Bangle era of BMW was getting into full swing; Rovers were still trundling out of Longbridge and Mercedes-Benz found a new niche for the banana-shaped car with the CLS. Put briefly, a terrifying number of things have happened in a very short period of time. This point rather erupted in my cerebral cortex when it occurred to me that the Ford Mondeo has now been with us for twenty-two years.
I vividly remember the explosive fanfare which accompanied the Mondeo when it arrived back in ’93. It’s difficult to comprehend just how much impact it had back then, and even harder to assimilate the media hoop-la that surrounded it. Sadly, today we see it as Just A Mondeo, and that’s just a tiny bit unfair.
So let’s start what promises to be a thoroughly edifying series in which we celebrate those cars which were celebrated as phenomenons when they were first released, only to later be rendered disposable by a combination of ubiquity and indifference. Mondeo, take a bow.

“Beauty with inner strength”
This was the strapline found on Mondeo marketing for the first couple of years, or until Ford realised that the one thing that didn’t particularly move people about the Mondeo was its styling. “Professional belly-achers are so distressed at there being nothing much to criticise they’ve been reduced to calling the styling “too Japanese”” was Autocar’s take on things, and they had a point. Yes, the Mondeo was anodyne, but was such a resounding quantum leap forward from the Sierra that people questioned whether Ford’s research team had access to alien technololgy.
Fully independent “quadralink” rear suspension, incorporating passive rear steering, was eons forward of the semi-trailing arms of the past. The shift to front-wheel-drive may have upset traditionalists and those who looked forward to a Sierra Cosworth follow-up, but the ride and handling of the new car was worshipped like a new, metal messiah. Adapting damping could be had on certain models, too, though it was hardly necessary.
Safety was a massive selling point on the new car and this was never really an area in which Ford had ever excelled in. But the new car had it designed-in. There was a safety-cell and impact beams not just in the doors but also below the windscreen, which contributed towards a bodyshell so rigid that the Mondeo has actually been banned at most Banger-racing circuits for being too cheaty. Inner strength, indeed.
Being tough enough to withstand impacts is great, but no good at all if your occupants are reduced to meat paste, so bundles of passive safety goodies were included. Mondeo was the first European car to have a drivers airbag plus front seatbelt grabbers and pretensioners on every model, as well as anti-submarine seats.
New twin-cam, multi-valve engines, too, replaced the old 8-valve CVH and I-4 post-pinto units, and a few years after launch came the Porsche-assisted  Duratec V6, all creamy power and sonorous voice (if not enormous amounts of torque), giving the car the motivational credentials to contest for sales from the BMW 320i. In comparative reviews of the day the V6 Mondeo out-pointed German rivals in a number of compelling ways, and then delivered a knockout punch in value for money.
Yes indeed. For a few years “Ford’s new family car hero barely puts a foot wrong” was the one-line review in the back of Autocar. Strong rivals like the Nissan Primera were forced out of the limelight and never really caught up. Vauxhall’s ’95 Vectra was soundly whupped by the Mondeo at their first meeting. Of course, something must have been lost in translation when the Mondeo’s world-car cousin the Contour started squirting out of the Kansas City plant, never receiving quite such a rapturous reception. Maybe it’s was because the medium-large car sector in which it fought so hard in Europe wasn’t even a thing in America. Contour was hardly bigger than an Escort, and smaller than the Tempo it kind of replaced, so I can understand confusion as to what the Contour was supposed to be all about.
Anyway, we loved it over here.
“For build, finish, standard of interior appointment and design, zestful performance and terrific chassis, there’s nothing to touch the Mondeo for the money”
Yet, today, scenes like the above are commonplace. Surviving MK1 Mondeos in daily service are dwindling at an alarming rate. They’ve ended up in the “cheapest possible transportation” sector and are probably being driven by people who have absolutely no idea of their capabilities. Ubiquity has lead to the syndrome of “it’s just a Mondeo”.
Nobody, it seems, wants to save these things from disappearing altogether.
(Scrapyard images from a guy on Flickr called “Andrew”. Thanks! All other images from original manufacturer press material)

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  1. Vavon Avatar

    The contour of that Mondeo hasn’t improved by smashing it up

    1. Alan Cesar Avatar
      Alan Cesar

      Is this a pun on the U.S.-market Mondeo? I hope it is.

      1. Vavon Avatar

        At Hooniverse we Aspire to make people laugh, but sometimes we just lose Focus…

        1. Sjalabais Avatar

          Yet, every time you make it work, it feels like a Fiesta?

        2. Citric Avatar

          I briefly owned a ZX2, and whenever there was a major repair I would write “Escort Service” on the cheque.

          1. ptschett Avatar

            I was always partial to Cougars, myself.

          2. Sjalabais Avatar

            Yet, sometimes beer goggles are like not checking your shoes and stepping on a Scorpio.

          3. Vavon Avatar

            Well, a true explorer likes living on the edge.

          4. Vairship Avatar

            I’m kinda hoping that was a company car…. 😉

    2. Frank T. Cat Avatar
      Frank T. Cat

      It certainly improves the mystique.

  2. Citric Avatar

    The Contour was interesting at the time because magazines were pumping it up relentlessly to a confused and largely indifferent audience. And now for some reason whenever I see a Contour it’s got mismatched doors.

    1. Manic_King Avatar

      My then boss had a V6 Mondeo, hatcback like the one on photo above. And it got doors replaced under warranty(!) Some kind of rust proofing issue with certain body types (Mondeo had 3: sedan, hatch, wagon).

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    Great writing, as usual. I have some respect for the Mondeo, if no interest for it, and as such it probably fits your intended audience from where I stand. I miss a paragraph on performance/enthusiast versions – there were some.
    My uncle had a nice Mondeo, his first new and second Western car after reunification. It was a space ship! The difference between his former Trabant 601 and his Opel Kadett was almost covered again when he bought the Ford. Later replaced by a Rover 75, btw.
    Now, the only person I know with a Mondeo is a single mother in my wife’s network. Short on transportation budget, she bought a mk1 last year. Trouble free transport for now. Flower decals and stripes in bleached 90s colours add to the impression of the Mondeo being an old car now.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Dad had a V6 Ghia X, loved that car until Ford couldn’t / wouldn’t diagnose a slight engine misfire. They pretty much told him “it’s an old Mondeo”. He lost faith and bought his 540i.
      Fault turned out to be a duff plug lead.

  4. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    ” only to later be rendered disposable by a combination of ubiquity and indifference.”
    And it has always been so.
    Where have all the, (pick your era) Model Ts, Model As, Impalas, Mustangs, Cordobas, Marinas, Cortinas, Sierras, Cavaliers, Asconas, Escorts gone?
    Used up and discarded. The only thing different now is that cars are not completely worn/rusted out before their value is higher as scrap metal and they are crushed. They are valueless before they are worthless.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I get that, but from your list only a few could be considered class leaders when they were released. All were commodities, consumed in bulk like bread or milk.
      By rights, excellence should lead to a degree of reverence and desirability for those which have been preserved. Shame it isn’t so.

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Not all. How about this list then.
        Where are all the Citroen GSs, GSAs, BXs, Ford Sierras, Peugeot 205s, 504s & 405s, Nissan Primeras, BMW E30s , E36s, E34s, BMC ADO 16s and 17s, Rover P6s, Renault16s & Espaces .
        I think it could be argued that after the Sierra (excepting the Mk4 Escort) Ford in Europe has not had a bad car. And market competition is such that no-one else has either. The days of Skoda Estelles and Trabants and all iron engines with live axles are gone forever.
        Today, even mediocre cars, (by today’s standards) are actually quite good.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          That’s it. Mediocre and undistinguished have become the new terrible. Fords output in Europe between 1993 and 2005 was probably the best it’s ever been.
          On your new list, I’d say that the surviving GS/A, E30, E34, BMC ADO’s, P6s, Estelles and Trabants (or at least those which don’t live in former communist states) are probably loved and cherished by owners who love them for what they are and not just nostalgia value.
          There are probably far fewer BX, Sierra, 405 and Primera owners who feel the same way. Once a car gets old enough it seems to automatically qualify for some kind of classic status, deserved or not.
          Primera is the best example, actually. Recieved rave reviews when new but, apart from the eGt models, nobody in their right mind will preserve them and they, like the Mondeo, will have their merits forgotten altogether.

          1. Rover 1 Avatar
            Rover 1

            You’re forgetting the JDM fanboys. The Primera was one of the few cars to out-handle the Mondeo, but it didn’t ride quite as well. Some will preserve them if only for these memories from the BTCC

  5. Alff Avatar

    Thanks for the memory…

  6. dukeisduke Avatar

    The Contour/Mystique twins were a disappointment, especially with the V6. And the rear legroom was so poor that Ford responded by scooping out the backs of the front seats, to try to increase it.

  7. crank_case Avatar

    The Mondeo is to Jackie Stewart as the NSX is to Ayrton Senna. If Ford PR is to be believed, he had a major hand in the tuning of it’s chassis. I’ve never driven one to verify those credentials, but I have been a mildy terrified passenger in one over a mountain road being piloted by someone with an excess of sheer bravery over talent and despite a clunking front ball joint it kept us right side up on the tarmac so it seems to be a decent handler.

  8. Dean Bigglesworth Avatar
    Dean Bigglesworth

    When it was time to replace the thoroughly worn out white stripper -89 Fiat Tipo my dad bought a -94 Mondeo in -96, the first “new” car purchase where I was along looking at cars. A white CLX wagon, so in other words also a complete stripper. Plain white, crank windows, no AC, no ABS, no cd-player.. Good car, though some earplugs would have been handy on longer trips.
    Now that i think about it it’s also the last time I went car shopping with dad, he’s only on his third car since 1989.