280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

Will anyone save the increasingly obscure Orion? Don’t worry, Michael Deary’s on the case, and he’s brought a load of boost with him…

Words and photos JON CASS


ST170 power and boost for the booted Escort

Sadly we don’t see many Ford Orions around these days, but thankfully the often-overlooked saloon still has its fans. Among them is Michael Deary, who just happens to own this stunning 1600i Ghia packing an ST170 turbo punch.

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

Cast your mind back to the ’90s and seemingly there were Orions to be found everywhere you looked. Although it may be hard to believe now, such was the humdrum saloon’s tendency to blend into the background, few onlookers would give them a second glance. Then suddenly the Orion all but disappeared from our streets, but unlike its contemporary cousins such as the Escort and Sierra, did anyone really notice? Even now, at any given meet or show, the Orion name rarely gets a mention. Unlikely as it is, should someone happen to notice none have turned up for the last three years, it seems no-one is really bothered. And that’s a shame because the booted Escort has always possessed bags of potential.

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

Fortunately, every model of car has its fans; apparently there’s a Hyundai Pony owners club out there somewhere and we’ve even heard rumours of Chrysler PT Cruisers gathering in remote car parks. The Orion is no exception, though thankfully its attendance is usually welcome at most car-related events – once everyone else remembers they ever existed, that is.

Former Hyundai Pony and PT Cruiser enthusiast Michael always had a soft spot for the Ford Orion: “My dad owned a few examples when I was young,” he remembers. “I guess my fondness for them must have started there.” It was perhaps inevitable that once the timing was right, Michael would one day follow in his father’s footsteps and began the search to bag a similar car for himself. But he soon discovered that tracking any example of the booted Ford down would be no easy task. “There aren’t many left to choose from these days,” he tells us, “and some have had such a chequered past, you wouldn’t want to go near.” The search was made even trickier as Michael had timed it during the first Covid lockdown, not the ideal situation to trade cars. “I had plenty of time to go out looking at cars, but there were even fewer available than normal at the time,” he recalls. “Then, by chance, I happened to come across this 1989 1.6 EFI Ghia for sale locally.” Knowing he was unlikely to be handed a similar opportunity any time soon, Michael struck a deal with the vendor and the top-of-the-range Orion was his to bring home. “Other than a naff set of wheels the car remained standard,” he says. “It was in in a poor state, rough around the edges, but salvageable.”

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

Some of you may recall that back in the day, the 1.6i EFI Ghia was the pick of the Orion bunch, effectively an XR3i with more luggage space. While lesser models were instantly dismissed, those that bore the Injection Ghia badge did at least gain some respect among fellow Ford fans. Armed with a 105bhp fuel-injected CVH, alloy wheels, plush interior and a tasteful bodykit – if discreet by ’80s standards – the 1.6i Ghia wasn’t a bad car… though in reality it always played second fiddle to those that wore the XR badge.

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo - engine

Michael’s Diamond White ’89 Mk2 model came with an MOT, though we’re guessing that certificate’s authenticity was questionable given the amount of rust it contained. “It needed new sills on both sides as well as rear arches,” he informs us. “These are common weak spots, so I wasn’t surprised to find they were rotten.” True to form, the 1600 CVH was burning oil and smoking too, Michael sourcing a straight-swap replacement unit in order to put the car back on the road as quickly as possible. “Before I slotted in the new engine, I decided to repaint the bay to freshen things up,” he points out. “It made sense to do it then rather than regret it later on.” While Michael carried out the bulk of this work himself, his good friend Paul McAlister provided invaluable assistance throughout the process.

Once the exterior had been fully resprayed in its original shade of Diamond White, Michael’s Orion looked the part once again. Well, almost. “The dated, naff wheels looked awful, so I swapped these for a set of Escort Cosworth alloys,” he says. “These rims suit this era of Fords really well.” Next, the tippytoes ride height needed some attention to fill the gaps between the arches, easily sorted with a set of uprated Spax shocks and 60mm lowering springs which make all the difference. Peek between the Cosworth spokes and you’ll notice the Fiesta ST150 brake caliper upgrade, a clue as to which direction Michael was now taking.

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo - rear lights

“The second CVH engine was OK, but it was never going to set the world on fire,” he says.

“I really liked the idea of an engine conversion and some more power after making the chassis upgrades.”

Now, we’ve seen many different engine transplants in the mechanically-identical Mk4 Escort along with a few Orions over the years, and Michael had a multitude of options here, restricted only by his budget and time. “I opted for a 1.8 Zetec as they’re easy enough to get hold of and a fairly straightforward fit, but to make things more interesting I fitted a turbo,” he grins. “Unfortunately the piston rings expired shortly after, but it was fun while it lasted!” Though it might have been short-lived, that blown 1800 Zetec conversion proved worthwhile as it provided a taste of what was possible in terms of power. “I went one step further and tracked down a 2.0 ST170 Zetec as a replacement,” he says.

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo - alloy wheel

“This was easy enough to just slot straight in with the correct mounts.” Again, the addition of forced induction was deemed essential, Michael opting for a GT30 turbo this time around. Running RM Racing management along with an Airtec single-pass alloy front-mount intercooler along with blue silicone hoses, Michael now had the rapid Orion he’d always envisaged. With 280bhp on tap, we can assure you it’s no slouch and, combined with those chassis mods and that ST150 brake upgrade, it eats up his local country lanes in time for breakfast.

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

When it came to the interior, Michael didn’t like the idea of messing with the plush factory specification too much; refinement was a priority here. In place of the original front seats, a pair of RS Turbo Recaros take their place along with a discreet boost gauge, keeping that retro old-school ’80s feel. The result, from the occupant’s perspective at least, is just as Michael remembers it from his younger days – only much quicker, with far superior handling and braking. So quite different really, we’ll admit!

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

Michael is the first to confess this has been more of a budget build as opposed to a no-expense-spared project, but we applaud him for what he’s managed to achieve given the constraints. He’s also helped preserve one of Ford’s rarer ’80s models as part of the process, which is no bad thing either – and he’s sure to turn heads and conjure up some distant memories wherever he chooses to take it. And as you’ve probably ascertained by now, Michael’s taste in cars cannot be faulted… and we were only joking about his affiliation with the Hyundai Pony and the PT Cruiser! (Probably.)

280bhp 2.0 ST170 engined 1989 Ford Orion 1600i Ghia Turbo

“I originally opted for a 1.8 Zetec as they’re easy to get hold of, and to make things more interesting I fitted a turbo. Unfortunately the piston rings expired soon after, but it was fun while it lasted!”

TECH SPEC 1989 Ford Orion Ghia Turbo

  • ENGINE 2.0-litre ST170, GT30 turbo, Airtec single-pass front-mount alloy intercooler, 4-branch exhaust manifold, silicone pipes, RM Racing ECU
  • MAX POWER 280bhp
  • TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
  • SUSPENSION Spax shocks, Spax 60mm lowering springs
  • BRAKES ST150 front brake upgrade, stock rears
  • WHEELS & TYRES 16” Escort RS Cosworth alloys, 195/45 tyres
  • EXTERIOR Diamond White, wind deflectors, Sapphire RS Cosworth boot spoiler
  • INTERIOR RS Turbo front Recaros, Motor Meter boost gauge

GT30 turbo gives the more modern motor an oldschool soundtrack

“By chance, I happened to come across this 1989 1.6 EFI Ghia for sale locally. It was rough around the edges, but salvageable”

Ah, remember the days when you could easily find a Saph Cossie spoiler in the local scrapyard?

Escort Cosworth wheels suit everything


  • FIRST FORD Mk2 Fiesta 1.3 Ghia
  • BEST MODIFICATION The wheels and the way the car sits, as they’re so wide
  • TRACK DAY OR SHOW & SHINE? Show-and-shine
  • WRC OR BTCC? BTCC LESSONS LEARNT FROM THIS PROJECT? Not to buy other people’s problems…
  • WHAT’S NEXT Make the wiring a bit neater
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