THE CURIOUS ORANGE FORD MK2 ESCORT / #Vauxhall-engined #Ford
dares to be different!
Our cover star is an Escort with a difference. You’ll find no Pinto, or YB under the bonnet of this tasty saloon!
There are a lot of orange Mk2 Escorts out there. So how do you make one stand out from the crowd? Simple: you pay attention to the details… Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Damian Hock.
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. Too much exposure to any given thing can inherently bleed out any genuine passion for it, leaving a void of disinterest – or, worse, actual animosity. This is something that rears its head here and there in the old car ecosystem. Look at the watercooled VW scene, for example; the values of Mk1 Golfs and two-door Jettas are spiralling, with incredible detail and effort going into making each build stand out from every other quite-similar car on the scene. Engine bays are shaved and smoothed to absurd degrees, wheel choices and fi tments are agonised over, anything to escape that contemptuous judgement of having not put quite as much effort in as others might. It can all get a bit nasty. Cars that appear superb in isolation get swallowed up on the showground.
Of course, this is only something you need to worry about if you care what other people think, rather than building or speccing a car for yourself because you like it that way. Once you’re free from the constraints of other people’s egos, you can just do what the hell you like, can’t you? And if you do the job properly, the car will stand out all by itself, without any need for you to lose a wink of sleep over it.
Slotting neatly into this line of thinking is Retropower, a company that will no doubt be familiar to regular readers. They build the sort of cars that we like, in just the way we like them, but there’s never any sense of trophy-chasing or backslapping: they’re just very good at what they do, they won’t let a car out of the door unless it’s perfect, and it’s all centred around the customer’s commission. So when they were briefed back in early 2012 to build a trackday-oriented Escort, there was no fevered headscratching along the lines of ‘Goodness, how can we differentiate this Escort from the thousands of other ones out there?’, they just knuckled down and built the car right. It’s testament to their skills that the car’s come out the other side as one of the fi nest Escorts on the retro scene today. Who cares if familiarity breeds contempt? There are always fresh ways of doing things, new ways to shock. Fight malaise with passion.
“The Escort was bought as a complete, running car and looked fairly tidy,” says Retropower’s Callum Seviour, an artistic soul who clearly has a genuine passion for this citrusy Ford, “but as is almost always the case, there were a lot of horrors lurking. It was still a reasonably good shell, but there was a lot of previous botching to undo – things like the turrets being welded in an inch further forward one side than the other, and the inner and outer arches joined only with expanding foam and underseal – standard old car stuff, sadly!” The heavy tone in his voice suggests that they come across these nightmares all too often, although the smirk indicates that it’s all in a day’s work…
“The car was already a stripped-out fast road/ track day car, but cobbled up and rough round the edges,” he continues. “The asthmatic Pinto completed the somewhat lacklustre experience! The brief was to completely strip the shell and make sure it was perfect in terms of metalwork, and then rebuild to be a faster, more precise and more exciting machine, but with the same intended use. Of course, as is often the case we all got carried away with the ideas as the project progressed, and it ended up dangerously close to being a full-on Group 4-spec rally car!”
Well, yes, it is easy to get carried away, isn’t it? Particularly in a garage full of oldschool petrolheads and an eagerly enthused customer. This is where Retropower’s approach really starts to make sense, keeping the client close to the project at all times to chew over ideas and see what’s realistic, desirable and, naturally, affordable.
“The joy of a Mk2 is the ability to chuck around a lightweight and stiff shell with pinpoint precision, so they have to be as strong as possible,” Callum explains. “There’s the usual Group 4 kit which gussets from the chassis rails into the bulkhead, and the extra plate over each strut top which are then welded to brackets attaching the strut brace, so that is all mega-stiff. Then we seam-welded all the critical areas, and also double-skinned the front of the chassis rails so that they could be jacked without damage, adding jacking points under the rear chassis rails. The rear bulkhead is fully welded in too, and tied into the fabricated arch tubs and turrets so there’s a lot of stiffness added there. The cage then ties everything together, so it does feel pretty epic to drive in terms of precision, accuracy and predictability of steering input.”
The effort that’s gone into the chassis draws upon decades of motorsport-derived evolution, and is very much the ultimate spec in terms of this kind of intended usage. So what manner of motor powers such a creation? Are the 1600 Sport decals a clue?
“Er, no,” laughs Callum. “It’s a C20XE, a 2.0-litre Vauxhall Red-Top, which was chosen for various reasons of cost, power, and tuneability. There were a few ideas being considered – Honda S2000, Duratec and so on, but they all have their complications, and the Vauxhall unit is a fantastic engine – it was designed by Cosworth at a similar time to the YB. It’s easy to make enough power to shift an Escort pretty fast, and it’s the most compact among the aforementioned list of engines, making the fitment that little bit more straightforward.
Also, it’s fun to upset the purists!” Well, quite. Diehard Ford fans will always snort with derision when you lift an Escort bonnet to reveal an XE… but again, who cares about the slings and arrows when you’re building a car for yourself? There’s no need to take it all so seriously, this is a car built for fun above all else, after all. It’s not as if they’ve just slung a bone-stock XE in there, either – the spicy twin-cam features steel rods and forged pistons, hungry throttle bodies, eager cams, hedonistic fuelling, and rorty exhaustery. It all adds up to a nice round 200bhp, as verified by the rollers. More than enough to plaster a grin over the face of the discerning Escort fondler.
The 1600 Sport logos, then, are endearingly tongue-in-cheek. “It’s my favourite Mk2 livery,” Callum admits. “The car did come to us with RS2000 decals, but having intentionally left it narrow-arched – as the owner prefers the look – I think the 1600 Sport decals finish it perfectly.”
There’s precision tomfoolery afoot within as well, from the Sparco Pro 2000 buckets to the raft of functional switchgear and flocking. Hell, there’s a hydraulic handbrake and a bias pedal box in there too – this car may be exquisitely finished, but it’s no show pony. It’s been built to throw around, and that’s just what the owner intends to do.
“The project took a little over three years to complete,” says Callum, eulogising fondly over a car he’s clearly going to be sad to see the back of. “The owner had sourced the engine and axle himself, and also bought a lot of the parts directly with a little advice from us here and there, but he always knew the basics of what he wanted – our role in this build was to execute all the hundreds of little decisions when it came to exactly how everything should look and work, and that’s what adds up to give the overall feel of the car. There were no massive hurdles with this one – we could just knuckle down to making sure every detail looked cool!” And it’s safe to say they’ve pulled that off with aplomb and alacrity. Every angle is a right angle, as it were; each component glimmers with intent – it’s function-over-form, and yet so pristine that form can’t help but follow function to a show car finish. “The owner is fairly local, so had been to see the car a lot during the build,” Callum continues. “He’d never displayed a huge amount of emotion, but there was an occasion, just prior to the final handover, where we invited him over for a final inspection so he could go over the car and point out anything he wanted changing or wasn’t happy with. It was a sunny day and he was absolutely beaming! I think it finally struck him that it was real and the car was his… I took him out for a quick thrash with a little bit of sideways action and that only made the smile bigger. It’s always hugely satisfying to see a proud and happy owner taking delivery of their car.” Imagine having that manner of job satisfaction, eh? Callum and his team truly are dream-weavers, and that’s a sentiment that would surely be echoed by the man who’s now holding the keys – if, that is, you can find him sitting still for long enough. With so much time invested in optimising the performance potential of this Escort, it’s understandable that he wants to give it a good thrashing at every given opportunity.
And that, in a nutshell, is how it’s done. Sure, you can agonise over how to make your car stand out among its peers in a saturated scene... or you can just follow your heart and let it speak for itself. The results we see here suggest that the latter is probably better for your soul.
ENGINE: 2.0-litre #C20XE
/ Red Top , steel rods, forged pistons, QED direct-tohead individual throttle bodies, SBD cams, MBE ECU and Raychem race- spec loom, GRP4 Fabrications radiator, Retropower coolant hoses, cast aluminium ‘big wing’ sump, stainless steel 4-2-1 exhaust manifold, Retropower 2.5in stainless exhaust system, #GRP4
Fabrications fuel tank & base, Bosch 044 pump and -6 Tefl on lines, braided fuel lines throughout, 200bhp.
TRANSMISSION: Ford Type-9 with Tran-X straight-cut gear kit and quickshift, aluminium 7-degree bellhousing, Atlas axle with plate-type LSD
SUSPENSION:, Group 4 #Bilstein
front struts with Bilstein inserts, compression struts and adjustable track control arms, quick-rack with Corsa electric assistance conversion, 5-linked rear axle, Group 4 Bilstein rear coilovers into turreted shell,
BRAKES: AP 266mm vented front discs with AP 4-pot aluminium calipers, 240mm solid rear discs with Sierra-type calipers
WHEELS/TYRES: 6.5x13in Revolution 4-spokes with 185/50x13 Yokohama A539 tyres
EXTERIOR: Complete bare-metal restoration, rear end bulkheaded, arches tubbed and shell modified for full 5-link axle location, front panel modified for larger radiator and welded in Group 4 strengthening kit, welded in strut-brace mounts, all redundant engine bay brackets and holes welded up, full repaint inside, outside and underneath in Ford Signal Orange, 1600 Sport decals
Pro 2000 seats, OMP Corsica steering wheel, flocked dash and centre switch panel, custom aluminium centre console with fusebox, full rewire from scratch, SPA Kitdash instrument panel, hydraulic handbrake, bias pedalbox, heated windscreen, interior heater removed
Discrete exterior belies the changes that have taken place inside.
Simple, clean and detailed to perfection.
(Left) Vauxhall XE powerplant is both inspired and controversial in equal measure.
“The Escort was bought as a complete, running car and looked fairly tidy, but as is almost always the case, there were a lot of horrors lurking”