Blue-chip blue ovals… Revisiting Sierra RS500 and Escort RS, as the market wakes up to the Fast Ford. Boost Brothers. Everyday supercars turned competition heroes, Cosworth’s homologation specials are now surefire collectibles. Words Paul Hardiman. Photography John Bradshaw/Cosworth.
FORD’S GIANT KILLERS Cosworth showdown, as mighty RS500 faces Escort RS
It was all about the numbers, wasn’t it? Back in the day, Cosworth owners would show you the little dial under the dashboard from which they could easily summon “300, 400bhp” from their chipped turbo cars – just like the racing cars. Lord knows what it did to their Pinto-derived bottom ends.
Now that the best RS500s have officially passed into Blue Chip territory, those days are far behind us. ‘Standard’ and ‘original’ are the new benchmarks, not the swell of your dyno chart. And so we’ve put together the very first RS500 with one of the last of its Escort RS sisters to see how the ‘Cossie’ evolved from raw homologation special to civilised hot hatch, crossing the £100,000 mark along the way. You’d think that, being based on the same floorpan, they’d feel quite similar, but far from it. You sit high and narrow in the Sierra, which has a rather raffish feel, full of cooling vents at the front and trailing its lip-and-strake coat-tails over a touch of negative camber at the rear.
‘The RS500 is somehow pointy at the front and loose in the tail at the same time, with a race-car enthusiasm to constantly stick its nose into tramlines’
To drive, it’s somehow pointy at the front and loose in the tail at the same time, with a race-car enthusiasm to constantly stick its nose into tramlines – fortunately, its steering is pretty fast. In its stance and body language – and through the seat of your pants – come faint echoes of the Lotus Cortina racer.
The Escort is a more aloof device; better finished, more refined, more controlled, safer, with more grip. That all-wheel drive system keeps you in check, though it responds well if you upset it with a lift and bung into a corner, provided there’s room to plant it immediately afterwards. It’s more rounded – but, after the Sierra, just a little remote. Which is where it needed to be in order to sell cars after the job of homologation for competition had been done.
Backtrack to where it all began and, as with so many great Fords, the trail leads to Stuart Turner. Appointed head of motorsport in 1983, he realised that the Blue Oval was lagging behind. The Sierra, launched in 1982, had not been well received thanks to its unusual ‘jellymould’ styling, but it did have class-leading aerodynamics and was handily rear-wheel drive.
The plan was that motorsport would give it – and Ford – a boost, and was supported by Walter Hayes, the vice-president of public relations at Ford, without whom the GT40 and Cosworth DFV would never have happened. Turner instigated a Cosworth twin-cam project based on Ford’s own 2-litre Pinto block, the YAA, which would form the basis of what Turner needed to power a Group A winner.
A request was made for a turbocharged version, which became the YBB after Cosworth said yes, promising a motor that produced more than 200bhp – but only if Ford agreed to take at least 15,000 of them. Turner only needed 5000 for homologation into Group A, and the rest would go into the four-door, second-generation Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth, with enough left over for the Escort RS Cosworth.
Lothar Pinske was given the job of styling the new Cosworth’s bodywork, his mission to make the slippery Sierra stable at high speed. After wind-tunnel work and test runs at the Nardò circuit in Italy, a prototype was presented to the management – who were, reportedly, horrified by its looks. Pinske stuck to his guns, however: the rear wing was essential to keep the car anchored to the ground (the standard shell produced lift at the rear), the opening between the headlights was needed to feed air to the turbo’s intercooler and the flared arches would accommodate 10in-wide rear wheels for racing. Under the muscular new skin, the Sierra’s Type 9 five-speed transmission was swapped for the stronger Borg-Warner T5 from the Mustang. Though dealers originally estimated that they could sell only 1500 cars, some 5545 were made between 1986 and 1992 at Ford’s Genk factory in Belgium. To keep the price down, there were only three colours: black, white and Moonstone Blue; and two equipment options – with or without central locking and electric windows.
To give the race teams the best-possible weaponry, a more extreme Cossie was developed: the RS500. Converted by Tickford, all 500 were based on right-hand-drive cars, and all were white or black – bar the last 50 or so, in Moonstone Blue. The changes were mainly in the motor, both for extra power (up from 204 to 224bhp) and greater resilience at sustained high revs in competition. There was a bigger Garrett T04 turbo and intercooler, a thicker-walled block, a second set of injectors, plus an uprated fuel pump to drive them. The mountings for the semi-trailing arms were extended on the rear axle beam, though these were only used on the racers. Exterior changes were subtle, but enough: the front foglights were replaced by extra ducting to cool the front brakes, the ‘whale tail’ got a small lip on the trailing edge plus an extra lower spoiler on the rear deck, and there were diamond-cut cross-spoke alloys.
The RS500 was homologated in August 1987 and the cars took pole in the following six World Touring Car Championship events, winning four and securing the team prize for the Texaco-sponsored Eggenberger Motorsport outfit. The following year it began to sweep the board in domestic series, dominating the 1988 and ’1989 Australian Touring Car Championships – including Bathurst 1000 wins in both years, and the 1990 Australian Endurance Championship. Victories in the 1988 German DTM; 1989, ’1990 and ’1992 New Zealand Touring Car Championship; and 1988 and ’1989 Japanese series were also added to the trophy cabinet, while in the UK it became a British Touring Car Championship legend. Andy Rouse claimed the over-2.5-litre class in 1988 and ’1989, with Robb Gravett taking the overall title in 1990 before rule changes handed the advantage to the BMW M3.
Touring car racing job jobbed, the Escort RS came about when Ford wanted a smaller car for rallying. The Sierra had been a stopgap that never shone on the loose, though Jimmy McRae took the 1987 and ’1988 British Rally Championships, and Didier Auriol/Bernard Occelli won the (Tarmac) 1988 Corsica Rally outright.
‘There’s more civilised power delivery – no big jumps, just more urge from 3500rpm when the boost gauge begins to move from negative to positive’
By late ’1988, the four-door Sierra Sapphire Cosworth had replaced the three-door, and from 1990 it received four-wheel drive, using the Ferguson system with the central front driveshaft running through the sump. It made sense, then, for Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations to develop the new car around the latest floorpan. Stephen Harper styled the RS, which was in essence a silhouette with little of substance from the Escort in it. But the model’s crowing glory, an evolution of the ‘whale tail’, was added by Frank Stephenson, the production version toned down from his original ‘triplane’ proposals.
Launched in 1992, initially as a run of 2500 to secure Group A homologation, the Escort used a hybrid Garrett T3/T04B turbocharger developed from that used in the RS200 rally car.
Unfortunately, this gave Group B-style refinement, so from late 1994 the second-generation road car got the smaller T25, which is friendlier in everyday driving. At the same time, the famed spoiler became a delete option – though few were. During production lasting from February 1992 until January ’1996, 7145 were built, including the stripped-out Motorsport edition and the Monte-Carlo special sold in France and Italy. The latter marked François Delecour’s ’1994 win on the Monte, yet the Escort failed to achieve the longed-for World Rally title. It did land 10 Group A and WRC wins, however, along with a British Rally Championship for future team boss Malcolm Wilson in 1994. The Sierra is a homologation special and looks it, with lots of mods and tack-ons to the standard three-door body, and any aerodynamically troublesome gaps plugged with rubber.
After in-fighting at Ford it ended up with everything the racers needed, including a bigger turbo and an extra set of injectors on RS500s – everything except large-enough tyres. Drivers always complained that it was too heavy for its tyres, but width was limited because the road cars only had to accommodate 205-section rubber.
You notice the most striking change as soon as you flop down into the bucket seat. That wing and the lip below obscure most of your rearward vision; just what you needed in a screamingly obvious 150mph car that looked like a spaceship in the mid-’80s. The interior is utilitarian Sierra, with cardboard-box dash mouldings that could have come out of a 1.3L (actually XR4Ti), the gearknob shared with the P100 pick-up and the famous Raven velour seats that go baggy as soon as you look at them. There’s a massive graphic equaliser and, yup, it all rattles a bit.
The Escort certainly had the benefit of more design and it looks a lot more finished, in a corporate Ford sort of way, thanks to its entirely new body designed in parallel with its mechanicals and built by Karmann. It might superficially resemble a slightly inflated front-drive Mk5, but if you want a laugh, park the two side-by-side; nothing’s quite in the same place. Inside, it feels more tightly hewn, with a different dash (though not so different as to alienate Escort buyers) incorporating a dedicated pod for boost, oil-pressure and voltage gauges. The air-con is so neatly integrated it’s hard to spot in this Lux-edition car with leather seats and a sunroof. The whole homogenised package is in keeping with its civilised power delivery – no big jumps, just notably more urge from 3500rpm when the boost gauge begins to move from the negative side of the gauge to accentuate the positive. In contrast, the RS500 gets interested at 3000rpm, comes in with a bang at about 4000, then gets more brutal as you plant it. It’s hard to believe they are the same engine, although at higher revs in both you get little nuances in harmonics that give away their Pinto origins. For someone who owns one of those, that’s rather heartwarming.
The reason these, and an increasing number of Cossies, are kept so standard is inevitable: money – the market likes low-mileage originality. These cars have always been collectible, but in the past four years prices have doubled in the case of the Escort, and gone stratospheric for the best (uncrashed, no-stories) Sierras and RS500s.
Silverstone Auctions consistently achieves strong prices for Fast Fords, including cracking the £100k barrier with the sale of a 10,000-mile RS500 for £114,750 in July 2017. Good RS500s regularly make £75,000, with the best Sierra Cosworths and tidy Escorts around £45k. The exceptional Escort pictured here would be more, and we had to insure RS500 001 for £125,000. “It’s partly because they are such usable classics,” says classic car specialist Arwel Richards, who consigned the last Sierra RS Cosworth for Silverstone Auctions. “They’re blue-collar supercars that won’t give you backache like a Ferrari, and you can put the grandchildren in the back. Our buyers tend to be people in their late 40s or early 50s, who lusted after the cars as teenagers but couldn’t afford to buy them, or insure them, and now they can. Of course there’s that motorsport heritage of these cars, too, which keeps values higher than Escorts.”
Like the BMW E30 M3 that was the Sierra RS Cosworth’s racing rival in period, these cars aren’t blindingly quick by today’s standards, but they’re more than fast, offering secure (in the case of the Escort) or entertaining (Sierra) handling within a manageable package that won’t cost a bomb to maintain. And there’s fervently passionate, enthusiastic support, too, in the shape of the RS Owners’ Club. No wonder the Blue Oval is riding again.
The Sierra Cosworth RS500 pictured here is for sale; email [email protected]
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS FORD SIERRA COSWORTH RS500
Sold/number built 1987/500
Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 1993cc ‘four’, with fuel injection and turbocharger
Max power 224bhp @ 6000rpm / DIN
Max torque 204lb ft @ 4500rpm / DIN
Transmission five-speed Borg-Warner T5 manual, driving rear wheels via LSD
Suspension: front MacPherson struts rear semi-trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers; anti-roll bar f/r
Steering rack and pinion
Brakes discs all round
Length 14ft 6 1/5 in (4425mm)
Width 5ft 7 7/8 in(1725mm)
Height 4ft 6in (1375mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 6 2/3 in (2608mm)
Weight 2661lb (1207kg)
0-60mph 6.1 secs (standard RS Cosworth 6.5 secs)
Top speed 154mph (standard 149mph)
Price new £19,950
Price now from £75,000
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH (where different)
Sold/number built 1992-1996/7145
Engine T025 turbocharger, Ford EEC IV engine management
Max power 224bhp @ 6250rpm / DIN
Max torque 224lb ft @ 3500rpm / DIN
Transmission five-speed MTX75 manual, driving all four wheels 66/34 via transfer box, viscous rear LSD and centre coupling
Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
Length 13ft 9 4/5 in (4211mm)
Width 5ft 8 ½ in (1738mm)
Height 4ft 8in (1425mm)
Wheelbase 8ft 4 ½ in (2552mm)
Weight 2811lb (1275kg), Lux 2888lb (1310kg)
Top speed 144mph
Price new £22,050 (Lux £25,590)
Price now from £45,000
Clockwise from bottom right: red cam cover for YBB unit; cabin is more supermarket chic than track ready; story starts with this prototype; best examples are hitting six figures; plaque underlines this example’s status. Clockwise from main: mint Escort’s headlamps aren’t stock; turbocharged ‘four’ has 224bhp; better-integrated dials in the later Fast Ford; muchloved, low-mileage example; the original plan was to fit a triplane spoiler.
A serial Fast Ford collector, Daran Haney acquired Sierra RS500 chassis 001, which he co-owns with fellow fan Matt Goode, earlier this year. “I’d bought a Series 1 RS Turbo from Belgium and sold it to Norway, where this car was for sale,” says Haney.
“We checked out the Sierra and were happy with it, though the car had been off the radar for 13 years and since we got it home there’s been a lot of controversy over it.
This is car number one of the four prototypes, and the only one built by Ford, not Tickford. It’s since been authenticated by Paul Linfoot, the leading Cosworth expert. As a prototype it should really have been crushed, but they needed the numbers to make up the 500 for homologation. It’s unique, because it really shouldn’t be here…”
EVOLUTION OF THE MIGHTY YB
The YB engine series has its roots in the venerable Ford Pinto block – a cast-iron, sohc 1993cc ‘four’ introduced in 1970, built in Cologne and first seen in Britain in the Mk3 Cortina. It was also used in the Pinto subcompact in the US, hence its nickname (Ford’s internal designation is T88). Cosworth developed a twin-cam version, the YAA, which was adopted by Ford in its turbocharged form, the YB, with a thicker block and steel rather than cast-iron crank and rods.
Cosworth’s twin-cam, 16-valve head used hydraulic tappets, initially making 204bhp in road and 370bhp in race trims, but the RS500 allowed around 500bhp in BTCC/DTM Group A racers, with claims of more than 600bhp from Australian teams come the end of the Group A era in ’1992. You identify them by the cam-cover colour: red for the YBB (Sierra Cosworth 2WD), YBD (Sierra RS500) and YBJ (Sapphire 4WD, non-cat); green for the catalyst-equipped YBG (4WD Sapphire); blue for the YBT (large-turbo Escort Cosworth); and silver for the YBP (small-turbo Escort).
This mint small-turbo 1996 Escort Lux has belonged to Michelle Yates since 2002 and it’s only done 8000 miles in 16 years, mostly to shows with the RS Owners’ Club. It won a concours with the club in 2015 and the total mileage is now just over 14,000. Aside from the quad headlights (she has the originals), only the exhaust has been changed.
“I’ve been into Fords for as long as I can remember and I just wanted a Cosworth,” says Yates. “I had a Mk2 Turbo before, but I saw this at [dealer] Junction 28 and I paid £22,500.”
Strangely for a pristine car, the gearlever gaiter is tatty, but she hasn’t changed it: “That’s normal. I’ve searched high and low, but I just can’t find one.” And her daily driver? “A Focus diesel – and an orange Focus ST3 for the weekends.”
COSWORTH’S GREATEST HITS…
From the showroom floor to the dizzy heights of Formula One: six decades of winners on road and track Words Paul Hardiman. Photography Cosworth/Motorsport Images/Daimler AG/James Mann.
Cosworth was founded in London 60 years ago, born of a partnership between Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth, former Lotus employees who realised that they could “make a living messing about with engines” – and that messing about quickly came to dominate Formula Three. Supported by Ford in the 1960s and ’70s, and with several subsequent owners, the company collected an exceptional 176 Formula One wins as an engine supplier, the last of them for Giancarlo Fisichella’s Jordan at Brazil in 2003.
Today, it is a global consultancy with expertise in everything from powertrain development to electronics, and has collaborated on engine design with numerous firms – some of them secret. Here’s our pick of the best it admits to.
THE MIGHTY DFV
The four-cylinder FVA (four-valve Type A, with gear-driven cams) of 1966 was a practice run for the most successful F1 engine ever – the ‘Double Four Valve’ V8 (above), developed for Lotus using £100,000 of Ford’s money. Colin Chapman’s genius was to use it as a stressed member in the new 49, and it won on its debut at the 1967 Dutch GP with Jim Clark, the first of 155 F1 victories; it’s still winning in historics today. In 1975, the turbocharged DFX version was launched in the US, where it won 10 Indy 500s in a row and dominated the series for a decade. In the ’80s, the 3.3- and 4-litre DFL long-distance version was successfully used in endurance racing, with five Le Mans class wins.
Most radical of the 997cc and 1098cc engines built or modified by Cosworth from 1959 for the 1-litre Formula Three class and Formula Junior was the 997 MAE, or Modified Anglia Engine, of 1965. This dry-sump ‘four’ was based on the Ford Anglia 105E unit, but with intake-port sleeves for downdraught carburettors brazed into the cast-iron cylinder head, and would make more than 100bhp.
The famous XE20 ‘red top’ twin-cam cylinder head was designed by Cosworth to fit on to Opel’s ‘Family II’ engine block that had appeared in 1979 as a cam-in-head design. From 1987, it made the 150bhp Astra GTE 16v (right) a class-leader in performance, and it later appeared with a turbo in both the Calibra and Vectra. As well as powering the Caterham HPC (on Webers, with c200bhp), this versatile unit has been adopted by rallyists as a popular and cheap power source for Mk2 Escorts. Technically, the ‘red top’ is only a true Cosworth until 1991, when the Coscast heads were replaced by GM-branded items from Kolben-Schmidt, which suffered porosity issues.
Following the Lotus Twin Cam (no relation), the ‘Belt Drive A-type’ (above) was another clever twin-cam permutation on Ford’s tough ‘Kent’ bottom end, this time with four valves per cylinder, devised by Mike Hall. Both these engines are technically three-cam, because the original camshaft is left in place low down on the right of the block to drive the distributor and oil pump. Homologated at 1601cc and first fitted in the Escort to create the RS1600 of 1970, it was also seen in later BDG 1975cc alloy-block form in Mk2 Escorts, Caterhams (as the BDR) and as the short-stroke 1300 BDH. The 1599cc BDD and BDM versions were the mainstay of Formula Atlantic in the ’70s. The turbocharged BDT-powered the RS1700T then the Ford RS200, at 1803cc.
MERCEDES-BENZ 190E W201
Cosworth’s WAA twin-cam, based on the Benz M102 ‘four’, was developed to take theW201 190 into DTM racing, and to give Mercedes something to rival theBMWM3 on the road. There were three versions: the initial 2.3-16 from 1984, the 2.5 (WAB) that replaced it (to keep up with the neighbours), then the short-stroke 2.5 (WAC) in the Evo cars, at 2463cc instead of 2498cc. The 2.3 only made 185bhp in road trim, but the oversquare engine was a revver, happy to 7000rpm. Evo II 190Es took the 1991 manufacturers’ DTM title, before ’1991 runner-up Klaus Ludwig took the driver’s title in 1992.
OPEL ASCONA 400
Cosworth devised a 16-valve head for Opel’s Group 4 rally car in 1979, but the firm wanted more power and punched out the 2.0E block to 2.4 litres via an overbore and use of the crank from the cam-in-head 2.3 diesel, resulting in a claimed 340bhp. The Ascona 400 was the last rear-wheel-drive rally car to win the Drivers’ World Championship, with Walter Röhrl in 1982.
…AND A COUPLE OF MISSES, TOO
CHEVROLET COSWORTH VEGA
A John Z DeLorean initiative, the 1975-’196 ZO9 Cosworth Vega’s engine was another of the company’s 16-valve designs, this time a detuned, wet-sump version of the all-alloy EA 2-litre that powered Chevron and Lola racing cars. Sadly, on Bendix electronic fuel injection the mid-’70s emissions regs held it back to just 110bhp at 5600rpm and, while the US press tried to be nice about the handling – ‘better than the V6 and V8 derivatives’ – Road & Track had to concede: ‘Still way down the excitement ladder from what it would be with another 30 or 40bhp.’ Chevrolet used 3500 or so of the 5000 engines, and scrapped most of the rest.
COSWORTH FORMULA ONE CAR
Designed by Robin Herd, with an offset driving position to clear the transmission, this prototype racer’s slab-sided looks came from the use of Mallite, a wood/aluminium composite that doesn’t readily form into curves. It was to be powered by a magnesium version of the DFV, and Keith Duckworth designed its four-wheel-drive transmission, though ridding it of stability issues caused by grabby diffs took some time. A planned entry at the ’1969 British GP for Trevor Taylor never happened, and when Herd left to form March Engineering, the project was quietly retired.