For years Ford have held a January conference at which they tell an often amazed audience about their competition plans for the coming season. Of late this has really slid down into a parochial British affair of more benefit to the specialist rallying journalist than the media at large.
For us at Motor Sport it has always been interesting to be able to talk to the Ford personnel at these occasions, for at these informal affairs one can pick out what really happened last year, and what to watch out for in the coming season.
Approaching Stuart Turner, now the Director of Public Relations in Britain, on the theme that the sporting plans had lost their “we’ll take on the World” flavour, Turner agreed our challenge was valid. We asked how the amount of money spent now compared with previous years, and he confirmed that the competitions side had yet to recover in real monetary terms to the amounts spent pre-fuel crisis.
With a typical Turner twinkle he added, “When I arrived I remember seeing a well-known name appended to the bottom of an order for ten Alan Mann competition-prepared Escorts … I cannot imagine us acting on that scale again in the foreseeable future.”
The news content of the conference was low this year. Clever wording disguised the fact that Russell Brookes had been “turned loose” to follow his own Escort programme with Andrews, rather than run as a full factory entry. The rest of the drivers are retained: three Scandinavians (the Finns Hannu Mikkola and An Vatanen, with Bjorn Waldegard representing Sweden).
Roger Clark, now an MBE, will drive and develop the Group 2 Fiesta from the Monte onward. His programme will include predominantly tarmac events at the beginning of the year, switching to further loose-surface development in British forest events later on.
Other Britons who will drive on the rallying front are Malcolm Wilson (the youngster who won Britain’s national series this year) and the man best-known for his rallycross achievements, John Taylor.
Ford will not be contesting all the World Championship rounds. “I expect to do between five and seven,” commented Competitions Manager Peter Ashcroft, but they expect to run Waldegard and Mikkola in most events in the further-developed Escorts: for some events Vatanen will also be employed.
Ford in racing
Racing is not a priority with Ford of Britain and this was evident at their annual London press conference. It was confirmed that the Shell-supported Escorts would be withdrawn – a familiar sight at many British race meetings driven and regularly crashed by an assortment of “celebrities,” but otherwise there was little of note.
It was a little disappointing that young Jeff Allam, a Grovewood award winner, was not immediately amongst those nominated for Capri support. This especially as the Competitions Manager commented forthrightly that he thought British saloon car racing featured too many old cars with too many old drivers! This would have been the golden opportunity for Ford to do something about it.
The main support for racing 3-litre Capris goes to 1978 Spa 24 hours victor Gordon Spice (and Chris Craft, though he keeps threatening to retire!) and Stuart Graham – who is also to repeat his French forays with Faberge sponsorship.
Fiesta competition engineering
As we went to press, on the Monte Carlo rally there was to be quite a FWD confrontation between mass-manufacturers Ford, Fiat and Renault. Ford’s weapon, the Fiesta, was to make its factory international rallying debut and a few details about the development of this car were available prior to the event.
Although a proportion of the testing for the Monte was conducted by the FWD Fiesta in 2-litre Cosworth BDA-engined form, the Group 2 factory cars that were to appear on the event have 1600 pushrod engines of the crossflow Kent series. Equipped with double Weber carburetters the works rate them at 155 b.h.p., Brian Hart having built the works units for the Monaco event.
The whole front end of the vehicle has been redesigned and fabricated to take outputs of up to 250 b.h.p. The geometry must certainly be special, for Vatanen is said to have commented that the steering of these competition FWD devices is lighter than that of the Escort. Reflecting the all-change theme of the Fiesta is the fact that the Allan Wilkinson (of Boreham) and Len Terry suspension system calls for eight inch wide front wheels and tyres on tarmac, coupled to wheels two inches narrower at the rear.
A special set of Hewland gears is incorporated in the four-speed transmission, which also has new driveshafts and hub carriers. Braking features large ventilated front discs, and solid rear disc brakes.
The complete Clark car is very smartly turned out in BMW-style stripes on white coachwork, with aluminium wheel-arch extensions. Overall weight is 800 kg. (some 1,600 lb. plus), rather heavier than Ford at Boreham had hoped.
A front-wheel-drive rallying Ford, they will be offering colours other than black next!
Ford aim for a legal Mustang
Some confusion over the precise interpretation of recent UK vehicle regulations aside, Ford hope to put the first of an anticipated 500 Mustangs on sale in Britain as from February.
Initially the cars will all be the LHD, four-speed manual transmission models with Garrett AirResearch turbocharging for their 2.3-litre SOHC motors.
The price, including the Cibie quartz lights and Rover 3500-type door mirrors, will be £7,200.
Introducing the latest Mustang (it is the fourth major change since the launch in 1964 of the original set new World car sales records) Ford UK import executive John Hackworth made some very interesting points about American car exports in the future.
There are journalists who believe that the American economies of scale and their swing to FWD (all GM cars bar Corvette will be built on this pattern later in the eighties) will mean a flood of imports to the European scene.
Hackworth feels this is not so likely to happen as a gradually increasing sale of specialist vehicles – off road, luxury or the so-called “personal cars” (Ford Thunderbird and the survivors of the original Pony Car cult). Over Europe as a whole he feels the total number of American cars sold will not exceed 50,000 units, which is still a very healthy figure.
Back in America the current situation is that car sales have reached 13.8 million per annum, two million of these imported. Ford provide 22% of the cars purchased by Americans at home, General Motors an awesome 46% and Chrysler have 11%.
The latest Mustang has a number of features that are fairly new to Ford in the American market, amongst them rack and pinion, variable ratio power-steering, coil-spring suspension all round (struts front, live axle rear) with Michelin TRX radials (like those we first received on the Granada S) adorning aluminium wheels.
Later on RHD will be available, but there was no promise of us obtaining either the V6 2.8-litre engine or bigger V8 offered on the American market. Meanwhile the turbocharged version offers 120 b.h.p. – enough to give 110 m.p.h. and 0-60 m.p.h. in less than 10 seconds according to Ford.
The turbocharger itself is limited to a maximum of 6½ lb. boost before the wastegate operates: but the timing is also automatically retarded as boost pressure builds toward that point. Another detail is that the overall styling was by Jack Telmack, the man who gave us the Ford RS2000 “soft nose” and the same feature is echoed in the Mustang. Incidentally, in America Lincoln Mercury also sell the model as the Capri.
Ford’s Fiesta million
On January 9th at Saarlouis in Germany the one millionth Ford Fiesta should have left the production lines. Since it was then only a year and two months ago that the model was introduced, Ford are delighted with the speedy acceptance of their FWD “baby”.
It has been the fastest growth to a million sales recorded by any European Ford. To mark the occasion the company will be offering a number of special Fiestas with a number of standard features (such as a radio/cassette player) which will go on sale in March. – J. W.
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Fabergé and Ford are combining to promote a motorsport championship for ladies, using Fiesta 1.3s. Six rallies and six races are included and each of fifteen Fiestas – bedecked in yellow and Fabergé’s new Kiku product logo – will have a driver and co-driver. Each car will be run by a Ford Main Dealer.