Motoring:Scorpio - the car with a sting in its face

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Ford - makers of the UK's most popular cars - had never put a foot wrong - until, as James Ruppert explains, it launched the visually challenged Scorpio

Not always inspiring cars, Fords have always been sensible, reliable and most of all, inoffensive.

In the executive sector where the previous Granada had successfully won over the nation's middle managers with a ton of standard equipment and restrained styling, the new Scorpio was suddenly a fish out of water. In fact, the form of aquatic life it most resembled was a guppy, with its rounded rump and a sliver of lights that suggested an inappropriate American influence.

All Ford was doing was overreacting to industry criticism that most cars had begun to look the same. These days it knows how to make a distinctive model - see the Ford Ka and Puma - but back in 1995 the Scorpio was seriously deep-sea weird.

Of course, Ford never allowed the Scorpio to become a disaster, offering big discounts for fleets and rental companies, so it did not lose its core market. Hence there are now lots of used examples around. However, the used car market is a harsh judge of anything too wacky, so prices have never been softer, especially as it is due for replacement.

If you want a large, reliable car, all you really need to know is that the Scorpio is spacious, comfortable, lavishly equipped and cheap. And the best bit is, while you are driving it you don't get to see how ugly it is.

Essentially, the Scorpio is simply a development of the old Granada, but the suspension was reworked for a smoother and quieter ride. At the bottom of the range were 2-litre models, but the more powerful 16-valve version is best suited to hauling that big, ugly body around. Executive was the basic trim; the Ghia added an electric sunroof and alloy wheels; the Ultima added kitchen-sink equipment.

After 1996, only the less powerful engine survived, but a 2.3-litre version joined the range. For economy, you could opt for the 2.5 turbo diesel; those who did not care bought the 2.9 V6, or the 24-valve. Arguably the best is the cavernous estate. At the 1997 Motor Show, Ford revealed a minor face-lift for the Scorpio. But the cosmetic surgery was not drastic enough: it's still ugly.

Because so much of the Scorpio is old Ford Granada technology, it is a safe buy, provided the service history exists and the condition is at least tidy.

Arguably the best value I've seen was a 1996 top-of-the-range 24-valve Ultima at pounds 11,495. Brand new, that would have cost pounds 27,500. The sheer value for money of a car with climate control air-conditioning, memory seats, a multi-play CD etc is overwhelming. The new alternative would be a Ford Escort 1.4LX.

The Great Trade Centre in west London had lots of Scorpios to choose from. 1996 2.0 Scorpios in Ultima trim started at pounds 13,499; a later-model 1996 2.3 was pounds 14,999. A higher-miles 1995 2.0 was pounds 7,999; an estate with the 2.9 engine, pounds 8,999. The Trade Centre, near Slough, was slashing its 1997 2.3 Ultima from pounds 16,699 to pounds 14,299. The Centre Group in Weybridge had 1996 2.3 Ultima estates from pounds 15,995. Ford specialist MJA had 95/96 Scorpios from pounds 11,995. In fact, one of the last places to visit is a Ford dealership, which may not have the choice, or low prices.

Scorpios' high depreciation makes them highly affordable, and that trend is set to continue until vulgarity is back in fashion.

The Great Trade Centre (0181-969 5511); the Trade Centre (01753 773763); the Car Group (01932 820022); MJA (0500 699799)