Improved trio of RS Escorts tested

Just over five years ago Ford were busy establishing, and producing the first high performance Escorts, from a new Advanced Vehicle Operation at South Ockendon in Essex. Almost a year ago, in January 1975, it was announced that the last F.A.V.O. Escort had been made at Ockendon, but that there would be more Escort RS types, based on the new Escort shape (all the Ockendon cars were encased within the earlier Escort body shape) and these cars have now materialised. As before there is a four valve per cylinder derivative (the 1845 c.c. RS 11300), a 2 litre Cortina-engined model (RS2000) and a 1.6 litre capacity for the Mexico, but this time that model has the s.o.h.c. motor as well. To complicate matters further there is the far cheaper, but much less sporting, Escort Sport, sold through all Ford dealers in either t 300 c.c. or 1600 c.c. crossflow engine capacities.

We have tried all three of the successors to the F.A.V.O. Escorts and were relieved to find that the cars still do offer considerable improvements over the normal production Escorts, though the RS 1800 has an even more dubious roadgoing future than the rorty RS1600 had. As before all these Rallye Sport Escorts will be sold through a 70 strong network of selected Ford RS dealers.

Both the RS2000, which now carries the distinctive twin headlamp “beak”, and the Mexico, are excellent road cars. This makes it particularly sad that they are likely to be the last such Escorts to offer genuine engineering improvements over mass production models. The process began with the closure of F.A.V.O.’s separate production facility. Today the RS2000 and Mexico are manufactured in West Germany at one of Ford’s major car plants in Saarlouis. Thus the old practice of extra attention to paintwork and quality (in effect a second complete quality control check) can no longer be counted on as part of the extra purchase price.

The second rather disturbing point is that the team of engineers, who developed all the cars from the original RS1600, through to the three models driven for this test, are currently under pressure to disband and accept alternative employment on a variety of projects. This does make one wonder what the future of such cars will be, and it seems likely that. Ford will attempt to slide smoothly from beneath their original high performance ideals. Thence, into a series of matt black paintwork S designated models, like those currently offered as replacements in the old GT lines: i.e. Granada S and Capri ditto.

Such a move might well result in better profitability for a company that is already embarrassingly efficient in money matters, compared to other British-based manufacturers. Incidentally the man to charge of F.A.V.O.’s activities these days is former German competition manager Michael Kranefuss, who succeeded Stuart Turner in that task, and the job of Competition Director for Ford in Europe. Turner is now the Public Relations Director for Ford in Britain.

After establishing who does what and to whom, let us explore the cars. First, the components they all share. Number one is the bodvshell, which is the normal Escort unit carrying strengthened mounting plates to the top of the front struts, and a stronger rear crossmember to carry the nearly vertical rear shock absorbers. The floorpan, including the re-aligned dampers, is exactly as in the late model Escorts of the previous shape.

The RS2000 uses a bodyshell that is further modified in respect of the front wings, which are cut back 10 cms. and properly flanged to accept the polyurethane nose. This streamlined front adds about 20 lbs. and carries quadruple Cibic 5 in. headlights compared to the 7 in. diameter Lucas H4 units installed on the Mexico and RS 1800. The latter two cars carry deep glassfibre front spoilers, while the 2000’S is part of the new front end treatment: all three have polyurethane, boot-mounted spoilers. The cars are all stable in a crosswind but it would be preferable to have the back spoiler painted in the body colour on all models, instead of just the 1800.

As with all Escorts, the suspension system comprises MacPherson strut i.f.s. and leaf sprung live axle. Working with the objective of improving the ride a little, and bettering an already sporty set of handling mannerisms, the F.A.V.O. engineers have transformed the feel of their cars. At the rear the bent bit of wire which serves as a roll bar and traction arms (similar in concept to a Capri) went out in favour of twin axle location rods. Front end castor angles were decreased an specialist damping from Armstrong (front) and Girling (rear) ensures the cars have a lot more feel for fast driving. Just about every combination in spring rates has been tried in the various Escorts over the years and the final compromise on these cars was arrived at with 130 lb. front rating and 115 lb. sq. in. rear leaves. Theoretically the minor changes in front end weights should have little effect. The 1800 is lightest, the Mexico carrying 30 lb. less over its MacPherson struts than the 2000.

All three models have 9.63 in. diameter front disc brakes (as fitted on Capris of 2. litres) and 9 in. by 1 1/4 in. back drums. A larger capacity servo-assistance unit is incorporated.

An Escort Sport axle, carrying a 3.45:1 final drive ratio is common to the range, but there are very important gearbox differences. The Mexico and RS2000 have Cortina ratios:first, 3.65:1; second, 1.97: 1 ; third, 1.37:1 and direct 1.0:1 fourth. The RS 1800 has the same top gear (and therefore an identical 18.6 m.p.h. per 1000 r.p.m. figure) but closer ratios that trace their ancestry back to the American Pinto 2.3 litre “Compacts.” Spacing on the first three gears is:first, 3.36:1; second, 1.81:1 and third 1.26:1.

In practice this means the 1800 has the long ratios of a competition car, first carrying you to 37 m.p.h., second to 70 m.p.h. and third to 97 m.p.h. Very nice indeed, but the other two Escorts are quite sporting on gear speeds of 32, 60 and 84 m.p.h. appearing at the optimum gearchange points for our track tests. On the road one tends to settle for lower gear speeds on the overhead camshaft cars. It is a disgrace to report that Ford are still penny-pinching by not indicating a redline on the tachometer. This is stupid, especially in the case of performance cars like these, which most definitely do not have indestructable engines when liberties are taken! We used up to 6200 r.p.m. on the Mexico and RS2000, and 6500 r.p.m. for the RS1800.

Which serves well enough to remind us that instrumentation is common to all three models. Based on the usual Escort style, the single pane viewing panel covers a speedometer, tachometer, and a clearly visible trio of minor gauges for oil pressure, water temperature and fuel contents. The pressure gauge is not marked with figures, but the markings are consistent with 20-40-60-80-100 lb. per sq. in. readings. Doubtless German customers can interpret in possible kilogramme indications. Our 1800 had a genuine leather rimmed steering wheel, the others used the same wheel, but with a sticky synthetic plastic of some description.

From the outside it can be seen that Ford have rummaged in their Child’s Book of Fancy Striping again, producing a different combination for each model. The RS2000 is the luckiest, with just a single black stripe, while the RS1800 owner gets pretty colours, but they were peeling beautifully as well!

Only the RS2000 has the aluminium 6J by 13 in. wheels as standard. Mexico and RS 1800 owners have steel 5 1/2J wheels, or they can spend £117 for a set of five such alloy wheels. All the test cars were served by 175/70 HR x 13 Pirelli CN36 radial ply tyres. As a further aside on costs it is worth remembering that the prices we quote in the panel do not include delivery charges, now back in the Ford armoury at £35, or inertia reel seat belts, which cost £27.

We drove the RS1800 within two separate test weeks, one in blazing June when the performance figures were taken, while the second occasion was over Christmas. On the later date the car had been totally rebuilt, following a multi roll-over accident at a test track session for another magazine. It was hard to tell that JJN 981N was indeed the machine we had tried in Summer, for then our impressions had been of a superb road car, imbued with enough spirit to make a respectable weekend competition car. Over Christmas it struck as a harsh and noisy beast, with brakes that vibrated and a poor driving position.

The four cylinder d.o.h.c. engine is a development of the 1601 c.c. Cosworth Ford four valve per cylinder unit. The alloy cylinder head and block are retained but the larger 86.75 mm. bore accounts for the extra capacity when combined with the original 77.62 m.m. stroke. A single Weber 32/36 DGAV twin choke carburetter was installed instead of the double 40 m.m. side-draught units previously obtained from Dellorto or Weber. Quoted output is down just 5 horsepower on the RS1600 with 115 b.h.p. at 6000 r.p.m. Torque is increased from 112 lb. ft. to 120 lb. ft., though you still need 4000 r.p.m. to obtain that peak.

As with the other RS Escorts, the gearbox is hued with a new linkage to halve the movements of the stubby gear lever. As we now demand a super gearchange from Ford as a right, this merely puts a little dressing on the package, for one very soon accepts the lightning changes that result.

The competition-orientated ratios are superb: the gears have some spare torque capacity, owing to extra width and the shot-peening process. Second gear is very effective at hurling the car along narrow gravel roads, third gear’s nigh-on too m.p.h. ability adding to the fun with panache. Unfortunately top brings out the beast in the machine under motorway conditions. Engine noise over 70 m.p.h. is a throwback to the days of hot Mini Cooper S types.

On the test track, or under country road conditions, the 1800’s advantages are crystallised in sheer speed. Where the RS2000 is quietly trying to shove its way past 105 mph, the 1800 is bellowing grimly past 110, intent on recording its eventual maximum of 115 m.p.h. Under the same conditions the Mexico is very hard put to exceed 100 m.p.h.

Nobody has said anything officially about the 1800’s future, but insiders have said to us that no Ford mainstream plant wants to build it, and the engines are known to be in short supply in this specification. I have seen just one privately registered car on the road, and Ford have their homologation for the model in International Group 2 form, so it looks as though it will be quietly dropped. Potentially the 1800 could be matched up against the Dolomite, but Triumph’s ingenious single camshaft 16-valver holds such an edge in cost that Ford look certain to lose money on every RS1800 sold on a competitive price footing with the Triumph.

Settling into the RS2000 was a positive relief. The production seats do not have the disconcerting support roll under the knees, which is a feature of the 1800’s comfort pack seat. You sit higher in the car, watching the bonnet fall away into the smartly-mated contours of the nosepiece. An automatic choke brings the 2000 smartly to life and the mildly modified Cortina unit punches the car along swiftly with a minimum of effort. There is practically the same torque claim (119 lb. ft.) as the 1800 at the same engine speed, while maximum power is said to be minus 5 horsepower, compared to the Cosworth 16-valve unit. However, that maximum is allied to a very flat torque delivery, which peaks at 5,500 r.p.m. So it is very much easier to drive a 2000, and much quieter, than the stretched BDA.

Brakes on this car were superb on any road surface and were very nearly up to the standard of the best all-disc systems. Handling at low speed was slightly marred for this writer by the heavy steering but since his wife (a frail lady, not prone to hammer-throwing or sudden games of hockey) specifically said that it was no trouble to park, further comment seems unneccessary.

On the move the 2000 isn’t quite so dodgem-like as the RS 1800 in its ability to weave and sprint round slow corners, but the high speed (80 m.p.h. plus) handling appears to exhibit none of the understeer that afflicted the 1800 on its return from crash repair. Over B roads the 2000 covers distance just as fast as the 1800, and is a delight to drive, sweeping round the quicker corners with safety and considerable style. In town the 2000 attracts no unwelcome attention, its quiet exhaust masking very accessible, and frequently exploited, sprinting potential. Under the same conditions the 1800 is a clumsy car to drive by comparison.

At night the 2000 has a clear plus over the single headlamp units. Mr Cibie provided definition and range, while Jo Lucas manages as good a dip beam, but a rather woolly main beam.

Both the Mexico and RS2000 have fresh exhaust down and tail pipes, which accounts for their extra quoted power when compared to the standard engines installed in Capris and Cortinas. The 2000 used to have an electric fan, but that has been dispensed with to save money. We are told that such a fan is worth another 5 to 6 b.h.p., which would take the 2000 right into the 1800’s performance territory at low cost.

Although the Mexico lacks the 2000’s beaky snout, it is very similar in its driving mannerisms. Comparatively quiet it is the first Mexico we can recall noticing wind noise above the commotion of the engine at 70 m.p.h. the Mexico is a very well balanced little car that feels a lot tauter than the others, for no logical reason.

In this form the single overhead camshaft motor (87.65 mm by 66 mm versus the RS2000’s 90.8 Mal by 76.95mm) gives 95 bhp at 5750 r.p.m. and 92 lb. ft. torque at 4000 r.p.m. This is enough to produce exactly the same sort of 0-60 m.p.h. times as recorded by earlier Mexicos and there’s no doubt that the car does feel as cornparatively, low as one would expect, when driving it directly against the more powerful versions. On the road the Mexico needs a little more anticipation than you need in the 2000, but it will show very good cross country averages, and keep the driver very entertained within the standard seats, which are of pronounced bucket configuration. Since the Escort Sport is just under £2000, many readers will wonder if the overhead camshaft, better seating, suspension, and braking are worth having. I think they will prove worth every new penny to anyone who enjoys his motoring. Comparing the Sport to the Mexico is about as fair as assessing the Mini Cooper S and the Mini 1275 GT for sporting appeal!

Altogether I covered the best part of 1000 miles in each of the RS Escorts, so there were some pertinent general comments to arise. First of all oil consumption was virtually negligible in the s.o.h.c. cars and 250-300 m.p.p. on the 1800. Secondly the 1800 shrieked for five star fuel, and had a tendency to pink on that when sulking too. Thirdly, we had trouble with all three cars! The, 1800 overheated and the starter motor ring gear came loose. The RS2000 ruined a crown wheel and pinion, the result of oil surge at the test track, so it’s very unlikely to happen on the road. Then, the poor Mexico arrived with a severed pipe to the carburetter emission control system. The latter was easily corrected, but it did make a nonsense of our fuel consumption figures at the time!

When it comes to picking and choosing I feel -there’s only one effective British opponent, and that is the £3086 Dolomite Sprint. The Fords look inure modern and handle far more crisply, but the triumph has the edge in civilisation, ride and a superb engine. I think we can dismiss the 1800 as a competition special, and report that the Mexico and RS2000 have a valid place in the British market, alongside the Dolomite. We should give those F.A.V.O. and competitions engineers a pat on the back for improving already good cars. As for the imports, I would recommend a run in the Audi 80 GT (£2965) and an investigation into the new Asconas and Mantas from Opel, we have yet to drive. – J.W.