The Ford Laser was a restyled version of the Familia / 323 models produced by Mazda in Japan from 1980
onwards. Ford had acquired a 25% stake in Mazda
. In Australia, New Zealand and Europe where Ford was seen as a 'local' brand, the Laser outsold its Mazda twin, but in neighbouring Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, as well as Japan itself, the reverse was the case. However, pooling resources with Mazda
allowed Ford to maintain a foothold in the region. This was also the case in South America, Africa, and the Caribbean, where the Laser was also sold, in many cases being locally assembled.
The KA Laser, built under license from Mazda, was introduced in March 1981. In January 1983 it underwent a facelift to become the KB. Light changes were made to the rear, while the front was redesigned in a more modern style, aligning it with Ford's corporate look of the era. Originally sold only with the 1.3, the little 1.1 engine was never available in Australia. Later, 1.5 litre versions were added, eventually even a turbocharged version. Aside from being built in Australia and Japan, some Lasers were also assembled in New Zealand. New Zealand-built Laser hatchbacks were available with the 1.1 (Ritz), 1.3 (GL), and 1.5 (Sports) engines, while the Laser sedan (L, Ghia) was not available with the 1.1. In some countries, such as Australia, the four-door saloon bodystyle was marketed as the "Ford Meteor".
The Meteor was introduced in 1981 as the sedan version of the Laser. When the Meteor was released in Australia in 1981 as the GA series, it replaced the larger Cortina, although this was a temporary measure before the Telstar was introduced. The Meteor grille differed slightly and was available on one other model: a home-market Mazda Familia sedan. Replacing the Laser's amber indicators were white ones, and the grille had more of an "egg-crate" pattern than the plain black slats of the Laser. The Meteor also had larger headlights than the Laser, which had smaller ones "sunken" into the body-shell. In Australia, it was only available with a 1.5 litre engine at launch, in GL and Ghia trims - the 1.1 or 1.3 were not offered. Naturally, it had a hard job replacing the Cortina, which had engines beginning at 2.0 litre, up to a 4.1 litre six-cylinder, as well as a station wagon option. The mid-term face-lifted model of 1983, coded GB, brought the range closer together, though Meteors continued as a separate and slightly more premium line.
The 1985 KC Laser/GC Meteor was the model's first major redesign. All body styles were carried over, with the addition of a station wagon (badged as "Meteor", like the sedan) from 1986. A new "TX3" variant, which was at the top of the "Laser" models in specification level and designated 'KC2', replaced the "Sport" variant from the KB series. Unlike the Sport, the TX3 was only available as a three-door. The "L" & "GL" models were no longer available as a three-door. A notable change was the introduction of engines capable of running on 91RON Unleaded petrol (this became mandatory in Australia from 1986). The 'E5' 1.5-litre SOHC carburettored engine that was optional on GL, and standard on Ghia in the KB series was replaced with the new 'B6' 1.6-litre 4-cylinder SOHC.
For the first time, Electronic Fuel Injection was available as an option on Ghia models, and was standard on TX3 models. Buyers who ordered automatic transmission with this engine received an electronically-controlled 4-speed unit, which was quite advanced for a small car in 1985. The 'B3' I4 SOHC 1.3-litre engine was standard on the "L" (hatch-only – the wagon had a 1.6-litre engine). The 1.6-litre engine was standard on GL, Ghia & TX3, though some early GL models were equipped with a 1.5-litre SOHC carburettored. A version of the KC Laser, the Mercury Tracer, was marketed in the US and Canada, available as a hatchback and wagon only. The Tracer hatchback shared its bodyshell with its Laser counterpart, but the wagon was a distinct design based on the Laser hatchback, rather than the sedan, as was the case with the Meteor wagon.
In October 1987, Ford introduced a facelift of the KC series, the KE. There were a number of notable changes with the introduction of the KE. The "Meteor" name was dropped from the sedan and wagon body styles, meaning they were now badged as "Laser", like the hatchback variants. The TX3 was also now available with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive (AWD) as options. The TX3 Turbo with AWD is now very rare and highly sought after. The AWD was fully imported from Japan, while all other models in the Laser range were manufactured locally in the Sydney suburb of Homebush. The KE was easy to distinguish from the earlier KC, with different grilles, headlights, tail lights, body-side mouldings, bonnet, front guards, and on some models, wheels. The dashboard and instrument cluster received new graphics, and the interior was available in slightly different colour shades to the KC. In mid-1989, in preparation for a new ADR (Australian Design Rule) to come into effect in 1990, all models were fitted with a high-mount rear stop lamp as standard.
When the redesigned KF Laser was introduced in March 1990, the wagon continued in a sole GL specification, with minor upgrades until 1994, when Australian production of the Laser ceased. The "L" is quite rare, as it was primarily aimed at the budget or fleet buyer. It had silver-painted 13" steel wheels, with no centre caps, a large analogue clock in the instrument cluster, no passenger-side rear-view mirror, vinyl interior trim, no body side mouldings, no rear windscreen wiper, and the folding rear seat was only one-piece. The stereo was also AM-only and had no cassette player. Air conditioning was not available. The only engine on offer was the 1.3-litre engine, with 4-speed manual transmission (no automatic was available). The "L" wagon had the same level of trim, except the 1.3-litre engine was replaced with the 1.6-litre unit but still with 4-speed transmission and no automatic available.
The "GL" was the most popular model. It featured the same silver-painted 13" steel wheels as the "L" but with satin chrome half-width centre caps (only covering the centre of the wheel), a digital clock on the top of the dashboard, cloth interior trim, grey body side mouldings, a rear windscreen wiper, grey tailgate and beaver panel garnishes and 50/50 split-fold rear seat. The stereo was an analogue-tuned AM/FM unit with a basic cassette player. Air conditioning was optional as a dealer-fit accessory. Power was provided by a 1.6-litre engine, with 4-speed manual transmission (5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic was optional). Sedan and wagon came standard with 5-speed transmission.
The Ghia was the luxury model. It had black 14" steel wheels with full-size plastic wheel covers, power steering, body-coloured rear-view mirrors and bumpers, velour interior trim, tachometer, centre console with Ghia emblem, lockable glovebox, driver's seat with lumbar support and height adjust, storage drawer underneath the front passenger seat, full-size interior door trims, vanity mirror in passenger sunvisor, ticket holder in driver's sunvisor, felt interior hoodlining and sunvisors, rear headrests, additional warning lights in the instrument cluster, central locking with illuminated driver's door lock barrel, remote exterior mirrors, front door map pockets, front seatback pockets, additional reading lamps, chrome insert strips in the body side mouldings and bumpers, red tailgate garnish and orange beaver panel garnish. Air conditioning and power windows were optional. The stereo was a digitally-tuned AM/FM unit, which featured a cassette player with Dolby enhanced sound. The 1.6-litre engine was fitted as standard, with EFI optional (standard on wagon), with either 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission (EFI automatic was 4-speed).
The TX3 was the Laser 'flagship'. It came standard with 14" satin-chrome alloy wheels, sports cloth interior trim, red insert strips in the body side mouldings and bumpers, black tailgate and beaver panel garnishes, semi-bucket seats with adjustable seat height, back and lumbar support, auto fade interior lamps, and all other Ghia appointings. EFI and A/C was standard, and automatic transmission was not available. The TX3 also had a unique front fascia with quad headlights and the parker lamps incorporated into the indicator lenses (L/GL/Ghia had the parkers inside the main headlight unit) and two-tone paint.
Halfway through KE production, Ford introduced two limited edition versions, called "Redline", and "Livewire". The Redline was based on the GL hatch, while the Livewire was based on the GL sedan and hatch. The Redline featured the TX3's alloy wheels, two-tone paint and red inserts in the body-side mouldings and bumpers, air conditioning, and a tachometer. The Livewire featured yellow inserts in the body side mouldings and bumpers, air conditioning, and a tachometer. Both models had 5-speed manual transmission (as opposed to the standard 4-speed) as standard, with 3-speed automatic transmission as an option.