Ford’s would be Fiero Ferrari-fighter

1986 Ford Cobra 230 ME conceptA production version of the 1986 Ford Cobra 230 ME would have been a formidable challenger to Pontiac’s Fiero. But its sights may have been set much higher.

The Cobra 230 ME was introduced as a concept in early February of 1986 but by October of that same year some automotive reporters were speaking about it as though production was a given.

Built by French coach-builder Chausson
In late 1986, Popular Mechanics magazine said Ford’s two-seater would give the company an entry in the high-priced Cadillac Allante, Chrysler-Maserati, Buick Reatta market. Unwilling to restrain their ambition, they went on to state, “If the finished car is quick enough, it might even slip over into the Porsche-Corvette high-performance market.”

It would have been nice and certainly would have transformed the upper-end, two-seat market. But it didn’t happen.

So, while it’s entertaining to judge the predictive abilities of writers of yore, with all of the historic outcomes behind us, I’ll stick to the facts as presented by Ford. (My gratitude to Ford for providing me with pictures and documentation.)

1986 Ford Cobra 230 ME conceptFord’s then vice president of design, Donald Kopka, stated, “The Cobra 230 ME has everything that’s needed to qualify as a world-class sports car” and that “its contemporary styling would be just as distinctive in a shopping mall parking lot or suburban driveway, as the new Aerostar and Taurus models are.”

While the Taurus was a design that broke the mold and Aerostar was no brick, I’d have to say the Cobra 230 ME would have been more than “just as distinctive.” A two-seat, mid-engined sports car in and of itself is distinctive but there are a few things here that are exceptional and some, not so much.

By making comparisons to Fiero, I’m not implying that was its intended competition. But one can’t get past the visual similarities. However, even though they cast a similar shadow, the differences are in the details.

For instance, the wheel wells are slightly angular. Honestly, I don’t much care for the look, particularly at the rear. The skirted rear wheel wells apparently work wonders for aerodynamics but, visually, it’s too imposing for my taste.

Like the Fiero’s single side inlet, there are intake scoops on both sides of this concept that direct air for cooling, but the Cobra 230 ME also has a wide integrated intake located at the rear of the roof. Notice also the rear’s “bi-plane spoilers” that invoke the Merkur XR4Ti’s. Headlamps pop-up, also like the Fiero’s, but the front parking and signal lamps appear to be located at the rear of the hood.

It’s at the tail end where the Cobra 230 ME most differentiates itself from the Fiero.

1986 Ford Cobra 230 ME concept

The tail lights somehow manage the feat of simultaneously appearing distinct and anonymous; in my opinion, this is the most dated part of the car. But, all of the panel lines meet up nicely with each other, giving it a completed look.

Although I didn’t procure any pictures of its “plush carpeted” and leather trimmed interior, I did find out what was lurking beneath its rear bonnet; a 2.5-liter DOHC I4.

The little engine generated an impressive 230 hp and 275-ft.lbs. of torque. Peak horsepower was found at 6,000 RPM and torque at 4,000, even though the engine could run all the way up to 8,000 RPM. That power could thrust the car from 0 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds and push it to a top speed of 130 mph. As you’d expect from a two-seat sports car, handling was excellent; it could achieve 0.9 g on the skidpad.

Ford concluded their press release with this quote from Mr. Kopka, “What we have learned from the cobra 230 ME may be applied to production models of the future.” It’s a shame they never applied what they learned to this model.