Richard Dredge
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Richard Dredge
Author

Richard Dredge

Ford Eltec

The Eltec was more innovative than it looked, and it gave us a glimpse of the 1990 Escort

It may not look especially cutting edge in these photographs, but when the Ford Eltec made its first appearance at the 1985 Frankfurt motor show, this five-door hatchback represented a glimpse into Ford’s future; it looked remarkably like the universaly disliked Escort Mk5 of 1990. Just the name Eltec, which was short for Electronic Technology, hinted at what the purpose of this concept was: to showcase how electronics could be used to make a family car of the future safe, comfortable and clean.

Much of the technology incorporated into the Eltec has become commonplace since the car was first shown, but the fascinating thing is the level at which much of the equipment is now fitted. Whereas the Eltec was a mid-range hatch, cars of all sizes are now fitted with anti-lock brakes, continuously variable transmissions and electronic control of all of the engine’s functions from the fuel injection to the ignition.

But it wasn’t just the technology hidden under the skin that was important to the Eltec; that skin (which was designed by Ghia) was also of major importance. Not only was the glass flush, but it was also on just about every surface above waist height. Even the roof was glazed, but instead of having just a simple glass roof there were five louvred panels which could be angled upwards to provide ventilation. Alternatively, it was possible to slide the whole lot back to open the car right up. But if that made the interior too breezy (or noisy) they could be kept shut, and the cabin wouldn’t get too hot because all of the glass was tinted.

Although the overall lines don’t appear to be particularly adventurous, there are some quite nice touches. Perhaps the most useful is the rear light positioning. Years before Volvo started to stack its upper rear lights either side of the rear window on the V70, Ford did it on the Eltec. The lower rear lights incorporated multiple bulbs for safety and to improve aerodynamics the nose-mounted grille was dispensed with, although this then gave the car rather a bland front end.

Making the most of all that computing power there was active ride, which meant the suspension was computer-controlled to provide the best possible balance between ride and handling. Conventional wisdom dictates that if a car has a soft and comfortable ride it’ll wallow like a barge in a gale when it comes to the corners. But by using active ride it’s possible to have compliant suspension on the straights but for it to be stiffened up on the bends so that it corners more flatly.

Alongside the electronic anti-lock brakes fitted to the Eltec there was also traction control. Although this electronic form of wheelspin avoidance technology is now fitted to all production cars, when the Eltec was revealed the only form of traction control was mechanical, in the shape of limited-slip differentials.

The all-alloy 1.3-litre engine was produced specially for the Eltec, and it produced 80bhp. It was a lean-burn unit which meant it ran more cleanly thanks to less fuel being injected into it. It also featured three valves per cylinder to help reduce emissions and there was just one overhead camshaft. While all these specifications have now become standard – or even exceeded – on most cars, the variable-length inlet manifold was truly pioneering.

Also designed to cut emissions by reducing any sudden throttle inputs, there was drive by wire. This replaced the more usual throttle cable with a potentiometer which signalled to the car’s electronic control unit (ECU) exactly how much fuel and air to inject into the combustion chambers. Again, it may be usual now, but in 1985 there was nothing on the road using such technology.

 

Vital statistics
Debut Frankfurt, 1985
Engine Front-mounted, 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder
Transmission Continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive
Power 80bhp at 5000rpm
Torque 88lb ft at 2500rpm
Top speed 105mph

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