Ford Escort RS Mark I & Mark II - the beginning of the successful story
Back in 1973, when the World Rally Championship was born, there were a variety of cars on rally scene. They were mostly the racing versions of ordinary road cars, like the Renault Alpine A110, Fiat 124 Abarth, Saab 94 V4, Volvo 142, Datsun 240Z and even the Citroen DS.
Ford’s representative on world rally scene was Escort and its sporting version 1600 RS (Rallye Sport). It was the first Ford model with an RS mark, two letters which later became synonymous with all racing Fords until today (Sierra, Focus and Fiesta).
First generation Ford Escort was born in 1968
The Ford Escort MkI was a small family car introduced at the Brussels Motor Show in January 1968, as a replacement for Anglia.
It was produced in Halewood (England), while the cars for left-hand driven markets were produced in Genk (Belgium) and later in Saarlouis (Germany).
Rear-wheel drive was a standard
The Ford Escort had a conventional rear-wheel drive and a four-speed manual gearbox, or three-speed automatic transmission. The suspension consisted of a MacPherson strut front suspension and a simple live axle mounted on leaf springs. Initially Escort was produced as a two-door saloon but later was intruduced as a 4-door model, wagon and panel van.
Lotus prepared 1.6L engine for rallying
The ordinary Escorts had one of the Crossflow engines (0.9L, 1.1L and 1.3L). For rallies and racing a higher performance versions was available. The first version was the Escort Twin Cam, built for Group 2 international rallying.
It had an engine with a Lotus-made eight-valve twin camshaft head fitted to the 1557 ccm block. This engine had originally been developed for the Lotus Elan.
Mikkola won London to Mexico Rally
The Ford’s works team achieved a lot of wins with the Escort MkI. Their greatest victory was in the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally. The winner of that intercontinental race, covering aprox 25.750 km, was Finnish rally legend Hannu Mikkola. In honour of that victory, Ford introduced to the public a special version – Escort Mexico.
New engine developed by Cosworth
The twin Cam engine was replaced with an RS1600 engine developed by Cosworth. The 1601 ccm engine was part of the new BDA Series (Belt Drive, A type), which used a Crossflow block with a 16-valve Cosworth cylinder head. The Cosworth engine was designed for FIA Group 2 and Group 4 in rallying and touring racing.
Successful start in the world rallying
The Ford Escort RS1600 became company’s successful representative in world rallying. In the 1972 International Championship for Manufacturers, Hannu Mikkola and Roger Clark scored two victories. Mikkola was the winner of East African Safari Rally and Clark won at British RAC Rally.
1-2-3 victory at 1973 RAC Rally
1973 was the first year of the World Rally Championship (still only for manufacturers) and Ford again scored two victories with Timo Mäkinen at Finland and UK. The victory at the RAC Rally was special because it was a home rally for Ford and it occupied the podium, with Roger Clark 2nd and Markku Alen at the 3rd spot.
Ford’s team finished the championship in the third place, same as its record in 1974. That year, Hannu Mikkola won 1000 Lakes Rally in Finland and Timo Mäkinen again was first at RAC Rally.
Sucessfull also in circuit racing
Apart from RS1600, Mark I Escort was also upgraded with with a larger 1701 cc Cosworth BDB engine in 1972 and then with a fuel injected BDC. The final upgrade was the RS2000 model with 2.0L Pinto (OHC) engine, which also clocked up some rally and racing victories.
The Escort MkI was successful in the British Saloon Car Championship. Allan Mann Racing, which was Ford’s factory team, ran with the Escort Twin Cam in BSCC in 1968 and 1969 and Australian Frank Gardner became the 1968 champion.
Second generation came in 1975
The Escort Mark II introduced in 1975, was even more successful in rallying then its predecessor. A new model was released, named RS1800, because of fuel injected 1790 ccm Cosworth BDE engine, which was specially created for rallying. The works rally cars were highly specialised machines.
Upgraded engine for 1979 model
The bodyshells were heavily strengthened. They were characterised by the wide wheelarch extensions, and often by the installation of four large spotlights for night stages. In 1979, the Cosworth BDE engine was replaced with a 2.0 L BDG and produced up to 250 bhp. It was complemented by a strengthened transmission, five-speed straight-cut ZF gearbox, five-linked suspension and more minor modifications.
Double world title in 1979 championship
The Ford Escort RS1800 scored 20 victories in World Rally Championship. Ford’s factory team continued domination at its home RAC Rally with five more consecutive wins from 1975 to 1979 (Timo Mäkinen, Roger Clark, Björn Waldegard, Hannu Mikkola 2x) but the most important was the double world title in the 1979 championship.
Waldegaard and Mikkola won five races with Escorts
Ford finally gathered its first manufacturers’ title and Ford’s driver Björn Waldegard became the first drivers’ world champion, ahead of team-mate Hannu Mikkola. They won five of twelve races with Escorts. To emphasize how important is that championship title for Ford, next world title they scored in 2006.
Ari Vatanen conquered the world with Escort RS 1800
In 1981, Ari Vatanen was the world champion with Ford Escort RS 1800, driving for Rothmans Rally Team. It was the only time a privateer won the drivers’ championship. Vatanen’s title marked the end of the story of Escort Mark I and Mark II RS models, which became among the most popular rally cars in the history.
Many of them, although oldtimers, are still running in historic and national rally events around the world.
Video: Some great rally action with Ford Escort RS 1800 at 1978 Castrol Rally
Video: Ford Escort RS 1600 on the track test