Ford Telstar AR / AS Generation 1
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
Ford introduced the Telstar (AR) to the Japanese market in 1982
on the new front-wheel drive Mazda GC platform, in sedan and hatchback forms. In Australia, the Telstar filled the gap in Ford Australia's product line-up, left by the Cortina
. The Australian produced AR Telstar began production in May 1983
. There was only one engine on offer - a 70 kilowatts (94 hp) 2.0 litre carburetor. The car boasted many distinctive features, such as push-button adjustable suspension
(which it shared with its Mazda 626 sister car), and a digital instrument cluster (which it did not), and was Wheels magazine’s Car of the Year for 1983
The hatchback TX-5 was only available with the five-speed gearbox. In New Zealand, the Telstar, like the Laser, was assembled locally from 1983
(replacing the highly successful Cortina
range) at Ford's original Seaview plant near Lower Hutt and later at the Ford/Mazda joint venture plant in Wiri, Auckland, called Vehicle Assemblers of New Zealand (VANZ). The mechanically identical European specification Mazda 626 and Mazda 323 were initially assembled separately by Motor Holdings in Otahuhu but later joined the Telstar and Laser at VANZ.
The first generation Telstar was available in New Zealand in both sedan and TX5 hatchback forms, using Mazda 1.6 and 2.0 litre four cylinder engines. However, the absence of a station wagon version, in a market much like Australia where there was strong demand, prompted Ford New Zealand to introduce a locally-assembled Sierra wagon in 1984
. As a result of this, New Zealand was the only major market in the world where the Telstar and Sierra were sold alongside one another. A facelifted model (the AS) arrived in late 1985
A Cortina Replacement?
When the Telstar was launched Ford
claimed that the Cortina
replacement was very nearly sourced from the UK, and the brilliant Sierra
(New-Zealand, as mentioned above, were lucky enough to get both). Rumour had it Ford Australia also looked to the USA in the form of the front wheel drive Topaz Tempo. Instead we got Toyo Kogyo’s 626 - partly because of Ford’s existing relationship with the Mazda
/Meteor range, and partly because adapting the Sierra for Australian compliance and roads would have been a little more expensive. There Telstar represented Japanese state-of-the-art design – and definitely gave Ford a Camira
Ford Australia, dealing through the FASPAC organisation, started talking with Toyo Kogyo about a Cortina
replacement in 1979
. In 1981
it went into engineering, in 1982
the name Telstar was chosen and it went into programme implementation, with a release to the public in May 1983
, just a short while after the Japanese Ford equivalent was released. That meant it went from mere talk to a fully localised car in around four years, which was impressive.
To judge a Telstar you only needed to read any review of the 626 – and while Mazda’s car was not without vice it remained an outstanding car in its class. But Ford needed their Telstar to be even better. The Falcon kept Ford's local content programme percentage in the high 90s, so the Telstar had the advantage initially in that maximum local content figures weren’t necessary to keep the overall Ford figures up and so Ford could bring the car into the country in virtually all-Japanese form. That meant that the early Telstar’s were virtually all-Japanese. Local content was expanded "on the run".
The first pre-production Telstars arrived in Australia in June 1982
, where they were subjected to testing in Australian conditions. To differentiate the Telstar, Ford incorporated a XE Falcon-style grille and a slightly longer nose than the 626. From the back the differences were not so clearly defined but, like the Laser/Meteor, a different tail-light treatment made it a little easier to tell which was which. As mentioned, the initial cars were virtually entirely Japanese, but over the following years Ford introduced local suspension components.
But regardless of what was used, the Telstar always had the same characteristics as the Mazda - and that meant a certain ride harshness over rough surfaces. Another major criticism of the 626 was the lack of headroom in sunroof-equipped hatchbacks - Ford's fix was to simply remove the sunroof from the options list. Back in 1983 original-equipment sunroofs were not all that popular an option – and even Mazda removed sunroofs off all but the 626 coupe's options list.
Engine/transmission and general structure were again, of course, all 626. The engine was the advanced, lightweight 1998 cc unit of square bore/stroke ratio, putting out 70 kW at 5000 rpm and 158 Nm at 3500 rpm. Precisely the same as the Mazda. Overall dimensions were the name, except for a 20 mm increase in length in the Telstar due to the use of longer nose panels. Comparing weights with a manual four door 626 Deluxe, the Ford was quoted as being slightly heavier in GL form, weighing in at 1030 kg as compared to 1016 kg for the Mazda.
The Telstar Lineup
Five models were available at launch, covering two basic body configurations - the four door sedan and the five door "TX5" hatchback. The two door coupe version offered under the Mazda banner did not make the transition to a Ford. The sedan range consisted of the GL, S Pack and Ghia models, five speed gearbox being optional on the base GL and standard in the S Pack and Ghia. Interestingly, both the sedan and TX5 used the same elongated nose, unlike the Mazda which had a separate treatment for each model.
The TX5 range was structured differently and pushed the personal coupe theme by being better equipped, even in its basic form, than the GL sedan. The TX5 came with tinted glass, full wheel covers, adjustable suspension, full instrumentation, rear wiper/washer and doors-ajar alarms. Even further upmarket was the TX5 Ghia, which included an electronic instrument panel, alloy wheels
, power windows, special lights for door and ignition locks, height-adjustable driver's seat, remote boot release and AM/FM radio/stereo cassette.
Inside the Telstar
Details differentiating Mazda and Ford inside the car were subtle, the main changes being the Ford badge on the steering wheel (otherwise the same as 626) and on the GL a wider instrument console that missed out on the tachometer, but got a handy cubby space on the speedometer's left. Layout for the GL was otherwise exactly the same with wipers/washers, lights and direction indicators located on steering column stalks, radio speakers on the dash panel at both right and left and a small centre console with digital clock.
The TX5 instrument panel was also different to anything Mazda offered, with a display of segmented circles covering a wide range of functions on the base model and a full digital display on the Ghia. Outside, the differences included the Ford family grille, and some nice detail tidying-up in the under-bumper area. At the back Ford designers extended the panel right across the boot lid to provide a visual connection between them, making the car look a little sleeker overall, in both five door and sedan form, than the Mazda.
On the sedan the boot lid dropped right down to bumper height, making for easy loading. On the road and the 2 cars offered, surprise-surprise, identical performance. Fuel figures for five speed cars were the same as those quoted by Mazda, at nine litres/100 km city and 6.8 litres/100 km highway. Claims for the autos were 10.5 litres/100 km and 8.5 litres/100 km respectively.
Why Pick The Telstar Over The Mazda 626?
So the only reason to pick a Telstar over the 626 was the price. At launch, the Telstar started at A$9800 for the base GL – which was fully equipped with everything but a five speed box. Checking the list price of the nearest competitors and it was $1200 cheaper than the Deluxe Mazda 626, and only $462 more than the General’s Camira SL/X – and if your reading this we bet we know which one you would have preferred. Option the five speed box and you would need an additional $240, or the auto added $700. The S Pack, which was a GL sedan fitted with five speed gearbox, 70 section tyres, full wheel covers, full instrumentation, cloth trim and fog lamps, was priced at $10,348. The Ghia model in manual five speed form, sold for A$11,035 - or practically the same price as Mazda's base-line car. Moving up to the TX5s, the base car was $11,288 while the Ghia came in at $12,464.
In New Zealand, the Telstar, like the Laser, was assembled locally from 1983
at Ford's original Seaview plant near Lower Hutt and later at the Ford/Mazda joint venture plant in Wiri, Auckland (VANZ - Vehicle Assemblers of New Zealand). The mechanically identical European specification Mazda 626 and Mazda 323 were initially assembled separately by Motor Holdings in Otahuhu but later joined the Telstar and Laser at VANZ. The first generation Telstar was available in New Zealand in both sedan and TX5 hatchback forms, using Mazda 1.6 litre and 2.0 litre four cylinder engines. However, the absence of a station wagon version, in a market where there was strong demand for such vehicles, prompted Ford New Zealand to introduce a locally-assembled Sierra wagon in 1984
. As a result of this, New Zealand was the only major market in the world where the Telstar and Sierra were sold alongside one another.
On a feature-for-feature basis the Telstar stacked up well against the competition. The Camira
entry price was much lower at $8700 for the SL but that only looked good on paper because, once you started optioning it up to a similar level, the two cars came close. The premium for upping from 1.6 litres in the Camira to two litres in the Telstar was, in effect $462 - or just over $1 per cubic centimetre. And then look what you had. A Camira. At the time the Falcon was performing well enough for Ford (in what was, even back then, considered to be a declining big-car market) and the Telstar added the perfect mid-sizer to their range. Not collectable these days, but that should not be the sole criteria on which you judge the car. To our mind, the Telstar was a very good car indeed - and given the price advantage over the Mazda it made little sense to opt for the Nippon unless you had to have the coupe. A facelifted model (the AS) arrived in late 1985