- 1983 Escort RS1600i: brilliant!

Every once in a while Ford teases us here in North American with visions of what could be, by showing us the brilliant engineering work of Ford of Europe with ST, RS, and Cosworth versions of equally brilliant Ford of Europe designed and built cars. Performance versions of the Cortina, Capri, Sierra, Escort, Fiesta, Mondeo and so much more (the RS200!) - all offered with significant performance and handling innovations and offered in limited production runs. And all enthusiastically received by performance buyers as well as significantly contributing to the engineering reputation of Ford of Europe. All offered only to Ford of Europe customers (with a few exports to South Africa, Australia, Mexico and even a few to Japan).

And all looked at from afar - and with great jealousy - by North American enthusiasts. Whom Ford has occasionally, and cruelly, teased with quick glances.

Many years ago, in 1983, we encountered this European Ford Escort RS1600i in person – in the United States - brought to the United States for testing and press drives. While working at the 24 Hours of Nelson Ledges endurance race (follow the link for the story of the Mustang SVO prototypes that Ford tested for 2 years at this event), we woke up one morning and to our great surprise found this RS1600i parked outside the tent. Unbelievable!

1983 Escort RS1600

1983 Escort RS1600

We immediately recognized the car and sought out it’s owner. This car was brought to the track by Heinz Prechter of ASC. We had a chance to talk to him briefly.

It was road tested by AutoWeek, amongst others, and was very well received. AutoWeek briefly reported some discussion about bringing the car into the country, although in the end Ford decided instead to add some minor performance enhancements to the North American Escort (which was built on a slightly bloated version of this identical chassis. The European suspension bits and wheels were later available to North Americans from Bat Inc. - since everything under the skin was identical to the North American Escort, everything fit and worked).

Note the mechanical fuel injection below, developed exclusively for the RS' 1.6 liter SOHC inline 4 cylinder "CVH" engine.

1983 Escort RS1600

1983 Escort RS1600

The European Escort was a far more serious Escort than the American model. It was also the full equal if not superior to the then-new (to the US - Canada got it 2 years before the US) VW GTI. Ford could have established legions of American FWD car enthusiasts with this car – and with follow-up evolutionary enhancements all along.

So we were thrilled to see the RS1600i, and mad that it wouldn't be offered here. Instead we started collecting books and sales brochures of the great Fords of Europe that we thought we would probably never have an opportunity to own.

But Ford finally listened to North American enthusiasts because in 2012, 30 years after the RS1600i teased us, the all-new global Ford Focus ST came to North America, which then enabled the fabulous 2016 Focus RS. So Ford finally came thru... 30 years late... only to pull the plug again after 2018.

There had been previous attempts to bring these cars to us. In 2001 Ford federalized the Ford of Europe Focus ST170 as the “SVT Focus”, although it was almost immediately obsoleted by 200 HP Hondas. As Ford’s fortunes then went down the drain, and as SVT began to crack from the SVT Mustang’s engineering pressures (and quality issues), the follow-on Focus with an improved chassis and more power was cancelled for North America. Further attempts yielded the SVT Contour (simply a federalized Ford of Europe Mondeo ST200, it was too small for our market and in Europe was about to be replaced by a larger model anyway - Ford tried to do too much too late) and the failed Merkur lineup (hero's work again, but with wrongly conceived products for our market and in a bad economy). Further complicating these attempts were multiple and often redundant engineering centers across the world... an issue that Ford has struggled with ever since.

Meanwhile, Ford of Europe moved ahead without us with the 1st generation Focus RS in 2002 and the 2nd generation in 2009. Both were limited small-production runs, since the potentially much larger North America market was closed.

2nd-gen Focus RS, driven by a Mexican Student studying in the United States

2nd-gen Focus RS, driven by a Mexican Student studying in the United States

Note that Ford very briefly tried to financially justify legalizing the 2009 RS for a short run of imports for North America, certainly a hero's effort internally, but it was too late since Ford was already gearing up to launch the all-new 3rd-generation Focus worldwide in 2011. Which was itself a very smart move: the "One Ford" dictum meant that the all-new "world" chassis was shared with partners Mazda and Volvo, both controlled by Ford at the time (Mazda would introduce the FWD MazdaSpeed3 in 2007, although it was hobbled by inherent torque steer).

This world chassis set the basis for the 2012 Focus ST and resulted in the ability to offer the ST model in North America because the basic car was already here (same story for the equally terrific Fiesta ST). The 2012 Focus ST was a truly innovative and competitive model, fully competitive in the hot hatch market worldwide and with leading handling and dynamics. And the existence of the ST in turn opened the door to offering the brilliant new RS model in 2016 in North America.

2016 Ford Focus RS

2016 Ford Focus RS

Imported straight from Europe with 350 HP, all-wheel drive, and with a brilliant torque-vectoring rear axle. Ford of Europe's RS model was back for it's 3rd generation - and this time North America would finally get it. Intact too, with the only the only changes being for North American emissions (thankfully not resulting in any losses), slightly different packaging of options, and a very few missing options (door-edge guards, Recaro back seats, and a front Recaro seat option that was never Federalized with side air bags). Terrific, and Ford went all-out promoting this car to enthusiasts worldwide. It imediately built a terrific reputaiton, although it did have one minor quality issue (a supplied sent a box of head hgaskets that were mis-labelled and not caught by Ford manufacturing, resutling in a few months of builds needing an engine fix or replacement).

2016-2018 Ford Focus RS torque vectoring rear differential

2016-2018 Ford Focus RS torque vectoring rear differential

The Ford Focus ST sold from 2012 thru 2018 (with 1 slight styling update), and the RS from 2016 thru 2018.

And then it was gone, again, and this time for good since the Focus itself has been cancelled in North America due to the consumer away from cars and to SUVs and trucks. Gone for good, and this time driving enthusiasts have been left with nothing. No small and lithe performance cars at all. Gone, and apparently gone forever in North America. But maddingly - again (!) - *not* the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, Europe moves on with an all-new Focus on a terrific new chassis with many improvements as well as lighter weight. And an even more potent ST that will be introduced in early 2019 (full images of the ST testing at the Nurburgring have already been seen), with an RS to follow (test models may have already been seen in public, with rumors of a 2.3 electric hybrid engine and a double-clutch transmission). And because the base Focus is not coming to North America, it seems clear that we won't get the ST and RS here. Disclaimer: technically, as of this writing, the Focus ST and RS have not been announced by Ford anywhere in the world... so their pervious announcement that the new Focus will not be offered in North America was legally specific only to announced models of the new Focus at the time those were announced.. and the ST and RS had not been announced. Therefore (admittedly we're stretching here!) we calculate a 0.1% chance that they could still be imported to North America from Europe. The logistical means exist since Ford of North American currently exports the Edge and Mustang to Europe... leaving shipping and warehouses on both shores setup and operating. Hmmm... no, it's probably too good to be true.

What of North America? For 2019 we have a North American-specific ST model of the Ford Edge. The famous ST badge on an SUV... surely an insulting bastardization of the heralded ST and RS heritage. An SUV... what was referred to until recent years as a "mini van". And technically it's just a slightly updated version of the previous Edge Sport model, adding the new 8-speed automatic transmission and updating the the existing 2.7 EcoBoost twin-turbo V-6 engine with tuning developed for the terrific and underrated 2017-2019 Ford Fusion Sport. The torque vectoring differential which Lincoln offered as an option on their MKZ version of the Fusion, and the 3 liter twin-turbo V-6 from that same car, might have at least made this something notable... but those weren't offered. And the resulting Edge ST doesn't even test well in early magazine tests (no faster than the Edge Sport, and with lots of body roll). In short, a quick job of engineering... and shameful stealing of ST, RS and Cosworth heritage.

This SUV now represents the ST heritage in North America

This SUV now represents the ST heritage in North America

So here we are in North America 35 years later, and Ford of Europe performance cars have now come... and gone. It's no wonder that so many performance enthusiasts have left Ford behind. With multiple disappointments over the years, and currently offering only a performance muscle car and truck, there is nothing here for the rest of us.

More reading:

- DrivingEnthusiast.net network: blog, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and more.

- DrivingEnthusiast Pinterest site: 120 Boards, 23,900 pins (!), including 1,1143 Pions specific to the ST, RS and Cosworth.

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