My Rallying Adventures Part 2
Say hello to another rally car...
Yes, it's time for another episode of my rallying adventures and, this time, I thought it would be sensible to introduce you to my “other” Escort. Yes, everyone loves a rallying Escort, so why have one when you can have two? Actually, there are numerous reasons why you shouldn't have one, let alone two, but let's not go there...
So, what's the story with this one?
It looked like this once upon a time. Incidentaly, if you know who took this picture, please let me know.
Well, as you probably gathered from the yellow peril, I am rather fond of Ford's unloved '90s Escort. I know the cooking models were hardly a masterpiece of automotive engineering, but I always thought they looked quite attractive in sporting guise (helped in no small part by the Cossie) and I think the RS2000 version is actually quite an underrated car. I remember seeing a video of that chap Clarkson reviewing one for a certain motoring show in 1991 and commenting that the 2.0 twin cam engine was harsh, but I actually think that gives the car a lot of character, especially when it's been fettled.
My love for the '90s Escort has also been helped by the fact that it was actually quite a successful rally car. Apart from Colin McRae in a Rothmans Subaru Legacy, one of my most evocative rallying memories is of British rallying legend, Gwyndaf Evans, clipping a tree stump in a Group A RS2000 and having a genuinely shocking accident in the grounds of Chatsworth House during the 1996 RAC Rally. Poor Gwyndaf was closely followed into said tree stump by another stalwart of '90s rallying, Robbie Head, who reshaped his Renault Mégane at exactly the same spot.
Nasty accidents aside, and despite living in the shadow of the Escort Cosworth, the RS2000 turned out to be a cracking little rally car, scooping two class wins on the RAC Rally in '95 and '96, along with an outright British Rally Championship win in '96, all with that Welshman Evans behind the wheel.
Being the rally nerd that I am, I have become quite obsessed with the rallying RS2000s and had always had the idea in my head of trying to build something along similar lines. This eventually led to the yellow Escort arriving on the scene, but I still kept thinking that, one day, if I happened to find a big bag of money somewhere, a pukka RS2000 rally car would find its way into my collection.
British rally legend, took the '96 British Rally Championship title in a Group A RS2000. Did you know that?
I hadn't really given a huge amount more thought to turning that idea into reality until I heard through a friend that this car was in need of a new home. The owner already owned an Escort Maxi Kit Car (more on what that means shortly) and had purchased this car as a back-up that would be used to keep his other car going. However, when he sold the Maxi, the donor car was no longer required, so a friend and I decided to buy it. Now, when I describe what I bought as car, that would be a little bit on the generous side. What I actually bought was two pallets. One had a body shell on, the other had all the bits on it. The way the deal worked meant that my friend Mat took the six speed Xtrac sequential gearbox for his own car, while I got everything that was left; so the body shell, engine, suspension, wiring loom and a load of other stuff. It wasn't a complete car, but it was mostly there and, with a few good contacts in the business, I knew it would be possible to bring it back to life given enough time.
This particular RS2000 is what's known as an Escort Kit Car, though it was sometimes called an Escort Super Rally Car back in t'day. Without wanting to bore you all to death with a rallying history lesson; during the 1990s, the FIA wanted to try and encourage manufacturers to get involved with rallying and, to do this, they decided to modify the existing Group A “Formula 2” regulations that governed 2WD rally cars. Group A was actually quite restrictive, as it meant the body work had to be basically standard and the engine had to retain the standard inlet and exhaust manifolds. The “Kit Car” regulations allowed manufacturers to spice up their existing Formula 2 cars by adding wide track suspension, wider wheel arches and, most importantly, ditching the standard inlet and exhaust manifolds to unlock more power. This made the cars more spectacular, got the fans going and, in theory, helped manufacturers to shift more cars.
The most famous of the kit cars are undoubtedly the Peugeot 306 Maxi and the Renault Mégane Maxi, but Ford were involved too, along with plenty of other manufacturers. Ford didn't actually build the cars themselves but, Gordon Spooner Engineering, who had done much of the development for the Group A Escort Cosworth, decided that the FWD Escort had potential and set to work on it in 1993. The Group A RS2000 they created was actually a very successful car, but there were also two distinct variants of Escort Kit Car too. One used heavily modified Escort Cosworth wings to allow for a wider track, while the other used some rather fancy bespoke wheel arch extensions that made the car even wider. This was known as the Escort Maxi as a nod to its French rivals. My example is actually a very early Kit Car, built in late 1996, so uses the Cosworth sheet metal (the Maxi didn't come along until mid-1997) and is actually a rather rare car, as many Kit Cars were later upgraded to use the Maxi wheel arches.
Anyway, enough history, back to the car itself. While it looks like a pile of bits (mainly because it is), it's actually quite a special machine. Under the dents and many layers of paint, the body shell is exactly what you would expect of a pukka international spec rally car. Every panel has been modified in some way; with extensive seam welding, brackets removed or added, strengthening plates added to all the critical suspension mounting points and a simple yet effective roll cage that ties together all of the suspension turrets. That's not forgetting those extremely rare wheel arches. While they might look like they have just been lifted from an Escort Cosworth, they are unique to the Escort Kit Car and make it wider than its 4WD cousin. The rest of the shell and it's associated bits are typical “works” car, with an aircraft-grade wiring loom, a smattering of carbon fibre and lots of nice bespoke touches.
Mechanically, this was originally built as a gravel car, so came with some pretty hardcore 50mm Bilstein struts, but I am converting the car to tarmac specification, so these have been swapped for lighter Dynamic units. A few of the critical parts were missing from the suspension but, thanks to a lot of help from people in the small but perfectly formed RS2000 rally community, most of those issues have now been solved. The rear twist beam is replaced with an independent set-up, there is a bespoke front cross member, alloy track control arms and compression struts, beautiful aluminium uprights and some rather large adjustable anti-roll bars. Much of the front suspension is actually based around that used on the Group A Escort Cosworth, but modified for the specific needs of the RS2000's front-wheel drive chassis.
Mountune 2.0 DOHC produces a claimed 250bhp.
The engine that came with the car is based around the original 2.0, 150bhp DOHC unit that was fitted to the RS2000 road car. It's a heavy old unit, but quite grunty and pretty indestructible. Mountune built the engines for the rally cars, changing basically everything for bespoke parts. Being an early Kit Car, my engine features a rather lovely sliding throttle arrangement, along with a larger bore exhaust manifold. The engine has been sitting for some time but, with the sump removed, it was found to be in lovely condition, so shouldn't require any more than a good strip and check over. Mountune also gave me a power graph for the engine which claims 250bhp. Whether that's true or not, having driven a car with a similar engine, I can confirm that it will go very nicely indeed thank you.
Power is nothing without control and, in order to make the Escort Kit Car stop, the standard brakes were thrown in the bin. Thanks to being front-wheel drive, there is sod all weight over the rear axle, so the rear brakes are modest 260mm discs with twin piston AP Racing calipers. At the front, big stopping power is essential, so the Kit Car borrowed the 355mm discs and six pot AP Racing calipers from a Group A Escort Cosworth. Some even featured water-cooled calipers, while some later Maxi variants used Brembo eight(!) piston calipers. That's pretty mammoth stopping power for a car that weighs less than a tonne.
You have probably noticed from the pictures that my particular Escort is little more than a pile of bits and there are still quite a few bits to track down, including the rare Xtrac sequential transmission that was sold separately to the rest of the car. This is very much a long term project that I am leaving mostly in the capable hands of my good friend, Mat Lewis (remember him from earlier?). I have known Mat for several years and he runs his own motorsport preparation company, as well as rallying his own home-built Escort Maxi. I attend rallies with Mat, lending a hand maintaining his Escort on events and he has spent time hammering the body shell of my Kit Car back into shape. It's very much a side project, getting work around other, more pressing, jobs. This means it is going to take time for it to come together, but that's fine by me. The shell has had a bit of blasting and priming to clean up the structure and should be painted some time in the coming months.
One day, it will look a bit more like this. I promise.
It's now 20 years since the height of the kit car era and interest in these 2WD thoroughbreds is now slowly starting to grow among rallying aficionados. This means that my car should never lose a penny, so I am happy to let Mat take his time and it will be done when it's done. That being said, having recently driven Mat's Maxi, it's going to be a riot when it is finally together.
Anyone got an Xtrac gearbox laying about?