1984 Ford Sierra XR-8 – Reader Ride

By: Iain Curry

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Only 250 Mustang V8-powered Sierra XR-8s were built for the South African market. Keith Maricich’s has found a Queensland home.

You hear Keith Maricich’s Ford Sierra before seeing it. There’s a recognisable American V8 rumble, so you turn around expecting a classic Mustang of some type. But no. 

Instead, here’s a sensible-looking unfamiliar family sedan with the Blue Oval on its nose. It burbles past and you spot a mighty rear wing and, yes, an XR-8 badge on the boot lid. What is this thing?

The Sierra XR-8 is the rarest production version of the model. And, as is often the case, we have a performance-hungry market and motorsport homologation to thank.

Unlike Falcon-dominated Australia, Ford South Africa sold the five-door Sierra with its flagship having a 3.0-litre Essex V6. The Sierra XR-6 had its fans – Keith’s mum had one when he was a boy – but South Africans are as partial to bent-eights as we are.

The UK sold the hot (for 1983) Sierra XR4i three-door with the Capri’s Cologne V6, but neither this body shape nor engine were available in South Africa.

The badge says it all.

Importing the XR4i was too costly, so Ford South Africa took matters in to its own hands, with ready access to the 5.0-litre (302 cu in) small block V8 from Ford’s Mustang, so you can guess the rest.

In 1984 and 1985, Ford South Africa built 250 Sierra XR-8s. To go Group One touring car racing, 200 were needed to satisfy homologation rules – the extra 50 became export specials.

"I believe from the 250 built, 50 went to the UK," Keith said.

"Who knows how many survive, maybe three dozen? Only 10 or 12 of those remain unmodified originals, and I reckon mine’s one of only two in Australia."

Rare Sierras achieve hefty amounts today, including ones more ubiquitous than Keith’s XR-8. The UK produced 500 giant-winged, turbocharged RS500 Sierras from 1987, built for Group A homologation.

You probably recall them winning Bathurst and the touring car championships in 1988 and 1989, steered by the likes of John Bowe, Allan Moffat and Dick Johnson. Even Peter Brock raced one.


XR-8 versions only rolled off the South African production line, and it was their hero Sierra.

"I went in to partnership with my dad and a mate, Swanny, running a V8 shop," Keith said.

"Swanny owned five XR-8s, so I got to know the vehicle then. In 2004 he had a contact in Botswana selling one, so I snapped it up."

Keith needed a daily driver, but also something to take to the drag strip and local Kyalami race circuit. 

The XR-8’s Mustang-sourced pushrod engine may only be good for 161kW, but peak torque of 374Nm ensures it’s no slouch.


Seven seconds from zero to 100km/h was rapid in 1984, but its skinny 6x15-inch Ronal wheels with 195/60 tyres mean XR-8s can easily wag their tails. Spinning rear wheels in every gear isn’t difficult. 

"XR-8s were incredible for an off-the-production-line car in the 1980s," Keith said.

"My first driving impressions was that it was insane, and once I put coilovers on, its roadholding, especially on the circuit, was unbelievable."

Moving to Australia in 2009, there was no question about the Sierra coming too. It’s of huge fascination to enthusiasts, partially as it is a sleeper.

Well, V8 noise and biplane wing aside. All 250 were painted white, with the body’s lower trim in Ford Motorsport blue. Keith’s has been repainted.

A tri-blue strip adorns the flanks and boot, and there’s a solitary XR-8 badge.

Familiar Sierra rear wings.

But aficionados will spot this Sierra’s curious grille between elongated headlights. Normal Sierras were smooth, but this has four cooling slats, and twin 305mm electric fans to cool the V8.

Inside, it is dowdy-spec 1980s, with perforated grey velour upholstery and two-spoke Ford steering wheel. A Hurst white gear knob is the only custom touch, on the end of a Hurst short-shift kit.

The short shift is from Hurst.

The mechanicals and chassis are much tastier. The Windsor V8 has a four-barrel Holley carburettor, the transmission is a T5 five-speed manual, while the half-shafts and driveshafts are XR-8-specific.

The differential is a modified Ford Granada part, and the independent rear end is 40 per cent stiffer than a standard Sierra.

Up front are Bilstein coilovers, while AP Racing 280mm ventilated disc rotors are clenched by four-piston calipers. On the current to-do list is replacing the rear disc rotors, but as they no longer exist, Keith had a set built in South Africa.

Owner Keith with his very rare Ford.

Keith says it’s a lovable fast road and track toy, but it demands respect. As a product of the '80s there’s no power steering or anti-lock brakes, and stability control (or lack of) is operated by the heaviness of your right foot. Skinny tyres and the torquey V8 make sure of it.

Keith and his Sierra are now 20 years in to their relationship, and that’s sure to continue in to old age. He’s out enjoying his burbling XR-8 when time allows, but when value is mentioned, Keith bats the question away.

"This is my kids’ car and it’s not for sale."

An enduring trans-continental love affair.

From Unique Cars #484, Oct 2023

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