Ford’s New Supercar
AFTER eighteen months of speculation and rumour, Ford has released details of the RS200, the “homologation special” which is expected to form the basis of the company’s rally programme from the end of 1985 onwards. Four cars have already been completed with two more shortly to follow but, at the time of writing, the decision to complete the further 194 examples to qualify the car for Group B has yet to be made, though few within the company doubt that it will go ahead.
The car shown for the first time to the public at the Turin Motor Show is the fourth to be built and the first to have the finalised body shape and transmission. Originally styled by Filippo Sapino of Ghia. Ford’s own engineering department at Dunton has made a number of alterations in the light of testing and the car now features a revised front end and a large dished aerofoil at the rear. The six pre-production prototypes are all the work of ART of Woolaston, Northants, a company jointly owned by Tony Southgate and John Thompson. If the decision to proceed further is made then the remaining 194 will most likely be built by either Tickford or Reliant, two firms which have had a hand in supplying parts for the prototypes. Current schedules call for the 200th car to be completed by September 1985 at which point production will cease.
Stuart Turner, Ford’s Director of European Motorsports says, “We do not want to build two hundred cars for homologation purposes and find most of them rotting in a field, so our aim is to produce an exclusive high performance road vehicle, properly certificated Co meet European government requirements, which will go on general sale. To that end we have been careful to make a sensible production car with proper customer back-up. We will operate a hot-line for customers who will automatically be enrolled in an exclusive club and each car will come with a massive workshop manual and, even, a video tape of the stages in building a car.” With that approach firstly fixed in mind, a chassis has recently been crash tested as a trial before committing a complete car (it passed with flying colours and was still steerable after the test) and a number of compromises have been made in the final specification. Aluminium fuel tanks, fire example, are used instead of rubber bag tanks on the grounds that the rubber tanks have a guaranteed life of only five years and this is not satisfactory for a production car. When Turner was appointed to his present position in February of last year, one of the first things he did was to axe Ford’s two current competition projects, the
C100 Group C car and the rear-wheel-drive Escort-based rally car, the RS1700T. “So far as a company like Ford are concerned, Group C means Le Mans. We were perfectly happy with Tony Southgate’s design and John Thompson’s execution of it, but we had our doubts about the 3.9-litre turbocharged Cosworth DFL engine. It seems there were X number of problems to be solved in the Y number of weeks before Le Mans, and we could not see how Y could go into X and give us a satisfactory answer. “At the same time it was clear that to go rallying successfully we would require a four-wheel-drive car and subsequent events have confirmed this view. It is not easy to steer a project like this through a large company, even though Ford is committed to competition, and had we not scrapped the 17001′ at that time it would have been much more difficult to steer through the RS200.” All the same, the decision to cancel surprised most observers and everyone waited to see what Ford would come up with next. Soon afterwards plans were announced of a project in conjunction with Cosworth Engineering to produce a new generation Ft engine. Then came the announcement of Formula Turbo Ford and wise heads nodded and predicted this was part of a new Ford strategy to project a “turbo image” rather like Renault has done. Turner, however, offers a more prosaic explanation, “We were approached with the idea and snapped it up because we would rather have Ford involved than another manufacturer.” Meanwhile rumours began to circulate about a new Ford rally car. One said it was to have a DFV engine and, indeed, this possibility was seriously discussed. Another rumour was that it would be a four-wheel-drive Sierra turbo. Again, this formed part of the thinking at one stage. Within Ford there was some support for the idea of either a steel or kevlar-bodied Sierra derivative.
Another rumour had it that Ford had set up design teams in different countries each producing its own idea of a rally car with one to be selected for the final version. This, in fact, was not the case though there is a verm of truth in the story Ford first approached Brabham to design the car (it would be interesting to know whether the Fl engine played any part in the negotiations) but the overture was rejected. A number of designers were then commissioned to produce drawings to a concept laid down by Ford Motorsports’ chief engineer, John Wheeler. The designs were then evaluated by Turner and others at Ford with the advice of Gordon Murray and Keith Duckworth. The winner of what amounted to a secret competition was Tony Southgate, ex-BRM, Shadow, Lotus, Arrows etc, now a freelance designer.
The end result then, is a Southgate design to a concept by John Wheeler who also oversaw mechanical design and development. It is therefore a true Ford not a “bought-in” design (like the DFV engine) though Ford has used the expertise of the British motor racing and specialist car industry, the whole operation co-ordinated by Mike Moreton of AVG.
The car is a mid-engined two-seat coupe powered by the RS1700T engine (which is a Cosworth-developed all-alloy variant of the BDA) with a choice of either two or four wheel drive. Rather than use the Sierra shape, the solution was to use the windscreen and cut-down doors from the Sierra to give the RS200 a family resemblance while allowing an entirely new shape. The body, which is hinged fore and aft to allow easy access, is made of a composite of carbon, aramid and glass fibre and the detail engineering on it has been executed by Mike Pilbeam of Pilbeam Racing Enterprises. Giving the car a unique shape also gave Ford three other advantages quite apart from the strictly technical ones of the body
fitting the design and not vice versa, and allowing the designers greater freedom with aerodynamics, access etc. For one thing, since the body is not that of any current Ford produced anywhere in the world, it allows all divisions of the company to identify with it, even though the content of the car is almost exclusively British. Then it does not tie the competition life of the car to the production life of any Ford model. Had it had an Escon body, for example, the competition life of the RS200 would cease if a new model Escort was introduced, for a major manufacturer cannot be seen rallying an obsolete car. Finally, the continuing prestige which the GT40 still lends to the company is a lesson which has been noted. Ford hopes that the RS200 will follow in the tradition of the GT40 which is a good reason for limiting its production to the bare 200 units required. The go ahead to build the first car was given last July and the completed prototype was shown to Ford’s management on March 12th this year. Given that large companies now schedule up to eight years for the introduction of a new model, that eight month span is remarkable for the car shown was not a raw racer but a properly finished pm-production model complete with a finalised interior (designed by Ford at Dunton and executed by Tickford). The management were much taken with the car and decided to proceed with a further five. Car number one might properly be called the Mark One for it differed in many important respects from the two cars which followed. Car number four might equally be called the Mark Three for it has body and transmission differences but if the decision to go into production is made, it is expected that further alterations will be very slight. With his background in Formula One, Southgate’s Mk I car made few compromises but once it had been evaluated by the rally specialists a number of changes were made. One is that all important components are now secured by a standard sized bolt, 12 mm. Rally mechanics like to drop components from the car whereas in Fl cars are worked on from above. This required a re-design of the floor pan which previously had been flat. To counteract possible loss of stiffness, a one-piece composite moulding to fit the transmission tunnel and rear bulkhead was designed. One of the concept parameters, incidentally, was the ability to change the transmission in just ten minutes.
As on most rally cars, the damper travel is long but the problem of damper fife remains. On the Mk 1, springing was by a single coil spring and damper to the top wishbones all round with a parallel damper to the bottom wishbones. Subsequent examples have had twin parallel coil springs and dampen on all corners acting on the top wishbones. Suspension is independent all round by double adjustable wishbones and, at least on the prototypes, blade-ended roll bars. RS200/2 was finished on September 1st, 1984 and immediately taken to MIRA for evaluation by, among others, Jackie Stewart and Malcolm Wilson. Apparently the feedback was extremely favourable. The
third car, with detail changes, was completed on October Its and the fourth on November 5th. The 1700T engine has been used and evaluated this year in Ford South Africa’s works Escort RS1700T rally cars (the South African events do not require the same sort of homologation) and the engine has also been run in a Group C2 Tiga, entered by JQF Engineering, which was responsible for building the first batch of engines, from Cosworth components, last year. Recently the engine has been further developed by Brian Hart and the capacity of this four cylinder, 16 valve unit, has increased from 1,784 cc to 1,803.5 cc. The BOA, on which this engine is based, has been successfully enlarged to over two-litres so a final version of 2.1-litres is likely, for that would allow full advantage of the capacity regulations. A Garret AiResearch T.04 turbocharger running at 0.8 atm boost with a compression ratio of 8.2:1 in the road version, pushes the engine to give 230 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 280 Nm-Din torque at 4,500 rpm. In that state of tune, the car, has a maximum speed of 145 mph and 0-62.5 mph acceleration in under five seconds. The competition version currently gives 380 bhp running on 1.2 atm boost and a slightly lower compression ratio of 7.8:1. A stainless steel manifold is positioned clear of the block adjacent to a duct which draws off radiated heat and exhausts it through the rear spoiler. Southgate himself was responsible for the 4wd transmission on cars one to three but, at Isis prompting, that side of things has been taken over by Ferguson Research. The engine is mid-mounted with the drive going forwards, via a transfer box, to the gearbox fitted with Hewland ratios) at the front of the car. Between the five speed box and the drive and differential to she front wheels is a Ferguson viscous-control limited-slip differential. This allows the car to be driven with three different torque splits to the front wheels: zero (rear wheel drive only); 37% (normal four wheel drive torque sharing) or 50% (equal torque to both sets of wheels). A parallel drive shaft from the gearbox takes power to the rear. At both front and rear are further Ferguson viscous-control limited slip differentials similar to the one nominated for the new Escort RS Turbo. As has been said, the double wishbone suspension is adjustable but, in addition, there are alternative mounting attachments at each pick-up point to give two choices of ground clearance settings. Uprights are of cast aluminium, 111/2 in ventilated disc brakes are used all round and 16 in x 8 in Speedfine alloy wheels are specified as standard in conjunction with 225/50 VR-16 inch Pirelli P700 radial tyres.
Spare wheels may be carried at both front and rear, the idea being to vary the standard weight distribution of 50150 by removing one or the other. In road trim, a tailored luggage capsule replaces the front spare wheel.
The chassis is a stressed platform of aluminium honeycomb with deep box seals and a large stressed front bulkhead. Mild steel box sections front and rear carry the front transaxle, the engine mounts and the rear final driven unit. The wishbones are similarly of mild steel to facilitate easy repair should the need arise.
Ford has had a team from Aston Martin Tickford working in parallel with the designers to ensure that the car cm be certificated for road use in every European country — the American regulations are considered too restrictive to comply with. The company has taken the step of announcing the car publicly so that speculation can cease and the development team can get on with the job of testing and evaluating without scoop photographers popping up front behind every bush and tree. It is now strictly Boreham’s baby, though Southgate remains a consultant until the end of the year.
If the nod is given and if all goes according to plan, the car should be homologated by next September which will see it eligible for the RAC Rally. In the meantime it is possible that examples may be seen in South African events. Prices have not yet been finalised but my information is that the road cars will be in the 00-40,000 bracket with the competition versions, which will be on sale to privateers, at a suitable premium. A full rally programme would go ahead in 1986 but this does not necessarily mean that every round of the World Championship will be contested for Ford naturally wishes to gain exposure in countries where it sells road Cars.
Whether or not the car goes ahead into production, whether or not the car is the success Ford hopes it will be, it is always exciting when a major manufacturer produces a car of this sort. The GT40 is a hard act for anyone to follow but, by a coincidence, Tony Southgate was Eric Broadley’s assistant designer when Lola Cars was acting in conjunction with Ford to develop the GT40. He left midway through the project to join Brabham — he couldn’t stand all the Ford people who kept getting in the way! — M.L.