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Trading Up: Meet Our Terrible, Terrible 1997 Ford Contour

Calum Brown
1997 Ford Contour/Mondeo diesel

There is a method in the madness of purchasing this 1997 Ford Mondeo/Contour. Welcome to a new series of articles with a difference!

Meet ‘Moss’, so-called after nature’s green stuff that’s currently oozing from the footwell carpet. As a car, Moss ticks all the boxes. Raise the bonnet and you’ll find an engine, that in turn is bolted to a gearbox and some axles to ensure movement happens.

As a retro styling exercise, Moss also brings the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. But where this machine really excels is in biochemical warfare. Each cabin component is festooned with dirt and grime, while the fabrics sport all manner of lung-crippling spores. You don’t need a driver’s licence to survive with this car. You need a biohazzard suit.

Quite frankly, Moss can confidently lay claim as Britain’s most abused 1997 Ford Mondeo – known Stateside as the Contour. As an ex-taxi, the Mondeo boasts all the maltreatment of Caligula’s favourite watermelon. In every conceivable manner, this Ford is beyond special. 

1997 Ford Contour/Mondeo diesel

Besides juddering with extreme vibration over 60mph, the clutch biting point practically resides in the dashboard, whereas the brake pedal requires more pump action than America’s finest shotgun before bringing the car to a halt.

Then there’s the handling, which certifies that this particular Ford has reversed into a different solid object almost every day of its life. Turning the wheel left seems to have little in the way of response through the chassis, whereas the amount of understeer on offer could floor most rally drivers, as could the emissions spewing from the exhaust.

Starting the 1.8-liter diesel engine takes persistence and stamina, and when it does finally stutter into life, the reek could floor a rhinoceros. Even when warmed, and fed the finest diesel, there is a distinct lack of power underfoot. You can stamp on the gas all you like, but the speedometer won’t budge.

1997 Ford Contour/Mondeo diesel

In essence, Moss is quite ruined. After 22 years upon Britain’s tarmac – and some time clearly spent in a hedge – the prognosis is not good. When changing gear, the entire bottom segment of the dashboard shifts on the mountings. The electric front windows scream like a B-horror movie actress when being lowered, and the rear ‘keep fit’ windows drop into the door should you dare to so much as look at them.

Only a purebred lunatic would entertain the notion of handing hard-earned cash across for the automotive equivalent of a tarnished shed. I paid £275 ($360) for it. However, before condemning me as a tasteless moron, there is method to the vehicular madness. Welcome to the first in a new series that has been christened: ‘Trading Up’.

Basically, we are going to prove that you needn’t have the double-barreled budget of a self-indulgent rich kid to afford your dream car, with plenty of fun to be had on the way exploring the less-respected vehicles of yesteryear.

1997 Ford Contour/Mondeo diesel

Beginning with Moss, we're starting in the lower rungs of the car market, with plans to sell the Ford on for a margin of profit to secure the next car up society's automotive ladder. It could work, or it could go horribly wrong.

This won’t be a gimmick either. It’s not already happened. I don’t have an Aston Martin on the drive. I haven’t already made the target. There are no pieces of writing waiting in the wings to describe how the experience is going. It hasn’t yet been an experience. This will be reported in real time.

Therefore, don’t expect weekly updates. There will be points where I’m stuck under the hood trying to fix something, or the car is wavering in limbo waiting for the next custodian to help Team Motorious on our way.

We aren’t aiming for a Ferrari 250 GTO or a Bugatti Atlantic, either. The goal is to acquire a fully-fledged WWII Jeep or a Dodge Charger; a proper one. Not any of this new-fangled modern nonsense.

It should be pointed out at this stage that we won’t operate a policy where cars are sold with unsung maladies to unsuspecting owners. The Motorious team will be putting our collective mechanical knowledge to the test, ensuring each car purchased on route to our American dream machine is fit for the road, and capable of passing the next garage inspection.

So, with all of that in mind, Moss will be taking the reins as our first vehicle. With 105,000 hard miles on the odometer and all manner of problems, our work is certainly cut out. We've been to collect the Mondeo from its' previous owner (below), who had the car a grand total of a few days (and is in no way responsible for its current state) and spent three days cleaning it. Now, the Ford’s first challenge is already scheduled. See you on the other side…

1997 Ford Contour/Mondeo diesel

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