Ford's European cars in the late 1980s and early 1990s — the Sierra, Escort, Orion and others — were just OK. Generally, they sold well most years, a favorite of bargain-minded company car fleet purchasers but not really competitive with the best-in-class offerings from Peugeot, Volkswagen, Rover and others.
Richard Parry-Jones changed that.
When he became Ford's chief of vehicle engineering in Europe in the early '90s, Parry-Jones focused on making fun-to-drive Fords that consumers actually wanted to buy. RPJ, as he was known within Ford, made his name by focusing hard on getting a vehicle's chassis right and by taking an interest in every part of the car as a customer would.
He died April 16 in a tractor accident on his farm in Wales at age 69.
"I worked with Richard for many years on developing Ford 'DNA metrics' to characterize everything from how the steering should feel, to the comfort of the seats and the cupholder design!" Joe Bakaj, Ford's former vice president of product development in Europe, told me.
The 1993 Ford Mondeo — versions of which were sold in North America as the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique — was Ford's first "world car." Handsome and praised for its fluid handling, stylish interior and superior quality, the Mondeo won a trophy case full of awards. It ushered in a new era for Ford under RPJ that later saw the Ka, Puma, Focus and others generate strong sales.
"I had never met the previous chief engineer of vehicle engineering, who was a fairly aloof old-school manager," Bakaj said. "That changed rapidly when Richard came on board. He would often turn up unannounced at my desk and ask me questions about [noise, vibration and harshness] and talk about how the Mondeo program was going."