Let’s start off by saying that the use of the word Ford is most definitely advisable when Google searching for Top Five Escorts (thanks to Paddy McGuiness for that one!). The search results we got back weren’t quite the Mexico we were expecting. Anyway… the mighty Dagenham, Cologne and Essex parts bins have collectively churned out some truly awesome Escorts over the years. From rally heritage heroes through to the ultimate cruise culture cars, Ford has produced a relentless stream of cool, rear wheel, all-wheel drive and hot hatch legends since the 1960s, but some of the specific models hold a place closer to certain hearts than others.
Whether you agree with the following list is very much a matter for debate – let us know if your opinion differs? Here goes
Mk1 Escort Mexico / RS1600
Both mythical creatures that stem from the Ford Advanced Vehicle Operations skunkworks in the Aveley Plant in South Essex. Both the Mexico and the RS1600 featured strengthened bodyshells in high stress areas that were built for competition and rally purposes following the success of Finnish legend, Hannu Mikkola on the 1970 London to Mexico Rally. His success gave rise to the Mexico road car, a 1599cc special edition with 85hp in honour of the rally cars. The crossflow engine was an OHC 8v lump with a 9.2:1 compression ratio that produced 91ft.lbs of torque. The RS1600 on the other hand was much more technically advanced, if often troublesome affair. With the now incredibly famous BDA (belt driven A series) engine onboard, the Cosworth 16v twin cam cylinder head was mounted on a crossflow block that had a capacity of 1601cc. Both of these cars pre-emptied the hot hatch by a number of years as production ran from 1970 – 1974, but they lay the foundation for affordable performance cars that the masses could jump in and drive every day, for that reason alone they deserve reverence.
Mk2 Escort RS1800
Some say this is the Mk2 Equivalent of the Mk1 Mexico. Much mystery surrounds the whereabouts of the 109 cars that were produced in total, but production ran from 1975 – 1977 and thanks to a 1834cc Cosworth BDE (belt driven E-series) engine, they were capable of 112mph and 0-60 in 8.3seconds with 115hp on tap.
The press cars and the very early road cars were British built using the same body shell as the Escort Sport from Halewood, with the exception of approximately six cars which had the new German RS bodyshell in November 1975.
A handful of these early cars began their conversion at Halewood before moving to the Aveley Pilot Plant to be finished off. Body plates denote RS1800, though engine codes are for a 1600 Kent crossflow.
All RS1800`s were produced in Diamond white with the exceptions of one Geneva Motor Show car and one press car JJN 100N that were produced in Carnival Red, and to date another road car leaving the factory in Venetian Red XYD 992S.
In many ways the RS1800 can be considered as a BDA powered MK2 Mexico. It shared the same heavy-duty body shell, brakes, suspension, split-propshaft, differential, and rear axle.
One of the most famous Ford rally cars of all time was based on the RS1800 – the Rothmans Mk2 – a multiple WRC winner for Fprd at the time and arguably one of the best rally car liveries ever seen. From 1975 – 1981 the rallying success of the RS1800 was almost unprecedented until the arrival of the monstrous four-wheel drive, group B era.
S1 RS Turbo
Have you seen how much these are going for now? They’re crazy expensive and seriously desirable. It’s probably best we don’t mention that this author put into a field and has regretted it every day since, particularly now they’re trading hands for such a ludicrous sum and you simply don’t see them anymore. Anyway, the S1 RS Turbo was, nay, still is a legend. The 1.6-litre CVH engine in the Mk3 Escort saloon body made a fairly insubstantial 132bhp, by modern day hot hatch standards it is nothing, but it came equipped with a viscous LSD from the factory, shorter final drive in the gearbox and those all-important RS graphics and stripes. Diamond White paintwork with only a few very rare one offs in other colours with a colour coded grill, XR3i rear spoiler and Recaro LS bucket seats made it a hooligan special during the ‘84 – 86 production run. If you find one nowadays in mint condition, buy it immediately as the prices are sure to reach Mk1 – Mk2 Escort territory eventually.
One of the most iconic cars ever to have a Ford badge attached to it. Quite simply, sublime! The RS500 was a skunkworks project from the boys at Ford Motorsport that was built in association with Tickford. Only the first of the 500 vehicles were built by Ford itself, and that vehicle was recently auctioned for £115k. With over 80% of the production run specified in Black, the white colour adds considerably to the exclusivity of Ford’s most popular motorsport hero. The 2.0-litre (YB) engine quickly became the stuff of tuning legend and there are very few left that haven’t been fettled well beyond the factory output. The RS500 was a significant upgrade over the factory Cosworth as the cylinder block was thicker for improved strength, the turbo upgraded to a Garrett T04, a larger intercooler and better oil cooling system featured, along with a revised induction and injection setups, for a maximum output of 222bhp. Visually it also gained a lower spoiler below the whale tail and a redesigned front bumper – and all were right-hand drive.
If you want the ultimate RS500 lookout for D112 VEV as it was the only one to ever roll off of the Ford Production line as a prototype and was re-shelled before heading over to Norway. Recently It has been auctioned in the UK again.
Built for Group A rally homologation purposes the Escort Cossie should need no introduction. Homologation requirements being what they were, the standard Escort – front-drive, transverse-engined – wasn’t the ideal platform from which to start. All its rivals, from the Japanese trio of Celica, Lancer and Impreza, to the Lancia Delta Integrale, had all been developed from the outside with the necessary all-wheel drive in mind, and refined further from there.Ford did have something suitable however – the Sierra Cosworth. Squeeze that car’s innards into a marketing-friendly Escort body (Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering division, also known as SVE, did the squeezing) and you have the basis of the Escort Cosworth. The body needed work too, of course – while it might look like ostentatious decoration, the enormous rear wing (and the low front splitter) were both designed to assist the car at the high speeds it was expected to reach in rallying.
The familiar 2-litre turbocharged engine also saw tweaks – in went a new Garrett T35 turbocharger and a two-stage intercooler. In original form this developed 227bhp at 6250rpm and 224lb ft of torque at 3500rpm. Figures dwarfed by even today’s Focus ST, but the big turbo meant big lag and then big boost, for a startlingly exciting power delivery. Ford did tone this down a little with a smaller T25 turbocharger in 1994, and peak power dropped by 10bhp. Those early cars are more tunable, the latter more driveable in standard form.
Prices for good ones nowadays? You’re looking at around £40,000+k for a decent one or £70,000k for a special edition Monte Carlo offering.
Sunny Howard’s RSR recreation
A very controversial one here, but GRP maestro, Sunny Howard, has offered something called the Escort RSR for a number of years. There’s even a car that belongs to a customer of Sunny’s that partook in the Time Attack series that sports a Radical Sports Car V8 in it – a mash up of two Hayabusa bike engine apparently. If you seek all of the retro looks but want spaceframe racecar performance the good folk over at Sunny Howard’s might be able to help you out. You can go as mild (3.0 Cosworth V6) or wild as you like with this divine spaceframe GRP creation.