By Stuart Grant with photography by Mike Schmucker

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We all know that the likes of the Ford Model T, Model A, Galaxie and Mustang come from the USA, while the UK is responsible for some smaller Fords such as the Anglia, Cortina, Escort and Capri. How many of us think of Ford and Germany in the same sentence though? Or how about a Germanic Ford 20M made to order in South Africa?

So yes, the sporty looking 20M you see here is of German descent, and together with the smaller-engined 17M variants replaced a succession of family cars known as the Taunus that had been sold from 1957. The Taunus models were named the P3 and P5 – showing them to be the third and fifth German Ford designs created after WWII. The 17M and 20M were the seventh project and took on the P7 number when released in ’67.

It was at this stage that Ford opted to drop the Taunus title and replace the badge with either 17M or 20M, depending on the engine derivative. For the first time since the war, Ford of Germany had a German MD, and the theory goes that Max Ueber felt that the longer ‘Ford Taunus 17M’ title was too much of a mouthful. Logic would say go with 17M to indicate 1.7-litre vehicle and 20M for a 2-litre. Simple… unless you hang on to the 17 and 20 numbers but slot in 2.3-, 2.5-, 2.6- and 3-litre engines of both four- and six-cylinder layout, and then the numbers game gets seriously confusing. It’s for this reason that most of us still unofficially refer to the P7 as a Taunus.

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To a certain degree, the P7 reflected the styling cues so popular in Western Europe at the time but, although the new body was longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, the car carried over its predecessor’s basic underpinnings. It was also longer and wider than the large German family car class-leader, the Opel Rekord, but failed somewhat in the sales department thanks to (if the media was to be believed) the Anglo-American styling not being in line with the spirit of the then-current European marketplace.  

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In a what seems like a move to increase the P7 market share, an unusual decision was made to offer the P7 in right-hand drive – this was not common for German-penned Fords at the time. But here’s where South Africa stepped up to the plate, and the 17M started rolling off the line in 1968, first in four-door saloon and station wagon format, but soon styling a two-door model aimed squarely at the Opel Rekord Coupé and Ranger Fastback (although South African, the Ranger was essentially an Opel). Just like that South Africans could choose from a trio of similarly priced and styled Germans coupés. The race was on.  

Opel went into coupé battle with four-cylinder 2.1- and 2.5-litre lumps and a 2.3-litre 6-pot, while the Ranger opted for the four-cylinder options from GM/Opel. Ford did it a little differently, with a 1996cc V4 initially offered as the 17M, but a year in the 20M was launched with a 2293cc V6, then a 2495cc V6, and finally a 2994cc – that you and I know as the 3-litre Essex V6.

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Top gun in the 17M arsenal was the 2000-RS (Rally Sport). This saw the 1996cc V4 tweaked up from 93hp to 113, thanks to the addition of a Weber 32DIF 4 twin-choke carburettor and high-lift camshaft. This was good enough to reach the 100km/h mark in 14 seconds and cover the ¼ mile in 18.7 seconds, working through the close-ratio four-speed gearbox on to a top speed of 165km/h. Not bad for a somewhat heavy (for the era and class) 1 140kg machine. The 2.5 Opel Rekord Sprint weighed in at 1 110kg, covered the ¼ mile in 17.9 seconds, did 0-100km/h in 12.2 seconds, maxed at 166.2km/h and cost just R1 more at R2 791.

From 1971, Ford owners could get their own back by throwing some money at the problem (R626 on top of a 2000-RS list price) and purchasing the 144hp/260Nm 20M 3000-S. In manual guise (automatic was offered), this 3-litre V6 was good for a zero to 100 of 11.7 seconds, ¼ mile in 17.5 seconds and maxed out at 170 kays an hour. The basics of the car were the same as standard models but the central section of the bonnet was blacked out, a meaningful air-scoop was added to the ‘power-bulge’ area, rally stripes were stuck onto the flanks and long-range driving lamps were slotted into the grille. Widened wheels, fat radial tyres, black-faced bumper over-riders, and in some cases an optional vinyl roof, completed a racy external aesthetic package.

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The RS’s interior saw a full array of gauges, with the centre console units angled towards the driver in a sporting fashion but the regular 20M was simpler, with a just trio of clocks mounted behind the steering wheel. Both RS and the ordinary 20M got wood-trim veneer finish on the dash but testers of the time often moaned about the RS cabin – which was upholstered in black – being too drab, dark and not conducive to the hot South African climate. There was a solution for excessive interior heat though… unwind all four windows on the pillarless coupé. Not only did this keep the cabin cool, but also the occupant’s image.

Pundits praised the ride and handling of both the 20M and the RS, but surprisingly this admiration didn’t come from the P7 two-door sporting ability, rather the comfort, gentleness and long travel. This meant hard cornering resulted in plenty of body-roll but all four tyre footprints stayed on terra firma, especially when on a corrugated road surface. Think of it as a country-crossing GT rather than a racer and you’ll get the picture. But believe it or not, a 20M V6 did hit the local racetracks with remarkable success – first in the hands of Pat Sonnenschein and then Eddie Keizan.

While the 17M and 20M had been one rung up on the market level from the Cortina MkII, the arrival of the larger and more luxurious Cortina MkIII put pressure on the P7 models. Sure, the MkIII wasn’t as sporting as the German Ford but offered similar performance, more practicality and four doors. If this sensible choice didn’t tick the box, buyers also had the option of the muscular-looking Ford Capri in 1598cc inline four-cylinder, 1996cc V4 and the Essex 3-litre. The result of this was that all forms of the P7 ceased to leave the South African plant in 1972, and the focus was put into a new vehicle that would be one step up from the MkIII Cortina – the Ford Granada.

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