Timo Makinen’s tarmac-developed Escort RS 1800
Since the introduction of the Escort in 1968, its sporting reputation has been carried by such a host of derivatives that it is sometimes hard, even for the factory, to see which way they are going! In the year that followed the introduction of the small Anglia successor, the Lotus twin overhead camshaft engine found a new home at the front of this thoroughly conventional motor car. The correct homologation procedures were adopted with the FIA in Paris and, voila! We had a new force to reckon with in international rallying, as well as an obviously successful saloon car contender. The combination proved eminently successful in European International rallies, with a string of outright wins that many inside Ford still regard with fond awe. Now, six years later with a string of rough road victories to the credit of the now-Ford Cosworth 16-valve-engined Escort, the signs are that the factory intends to return to the twisting tarmac trails of Europe in pursuit of Common Market honours.
Today the task of beating the Europeans on their home ground is more formidable than ever. In the rallying era of the 1970s it is no longer enough to have a 170 horsepower saloon car that weighs under a ton. The Alpines, then equipped with pushrod 1600 engines, have developed over the years into 1.8 and 2-litre machines capable of winning the World Championship in 1973. For the past two years the World Rally title has been won by the mid-engined Lancia Stratos, the sophisticated two-seaters powered by mildly tuned (240 b.h.p.) Ferrari 2.4-litre V6 engines.
The modified and production-based cars (Group 2 saloons, Group 4 sports and GT) now have to face playing second fiddle to the rear and mid-engined brigade (especially as Renault-Alpine are likely to use a detuned version of their racing V6 in the smooth A310 next season), but that hasn’t precluded an immense amount of development. The point is, as with saloon car racing, that the manufacturer gains a direct benefit from competing with something that looks similar to his massproduction machinery. There are still some direct bonuses to be had from competition to production line (Lancia’s adoption of power steering for the Beta Coupe is the most recent), and it also makes more sense to the accountants who have to assent before a works team appears.
In 1975 Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Opel were joined by Ford Motor Co. in the quest for honour and some useful European rallying prestige. Ford found themselves in very unfamiliar country at first, and there were some mistakes made while feeling out the temperature of European rallying water. Even when the Escorts had been adapted to the conditions, the team were badly let down by a shipment of Dunlops that failed to arrive for Sanremo.
On this year’s Tour de France, an event dependent on tarmac performance (especially at race tracks) Ford made their point when the car pictured here, but driven by Timo Makinen, went into the overall lead. Later in the year Roger Clark took another Escort 2, a car not quite so highly modified for tarmac use, and defeated the previously unconquered private Porsches on the closed public roads that provide the meat of the Manx International Rally. Looking specifically at the Makinen car portrayed here, it was interesting to note that a lot of handwork in the “suck it and see” tradition had been applied, reflecting the need to explore every possibility. The suspension is designed to tolerate the odd spot of loose gravel and rough surfaces, but those glassfibre wheel-arches (as developed by Zakspeed for their Cologne-based Escort racing team) and re-designed rear dampers allow wheel rim widths up to 11 in. and excellent circuit manners. To clear the racing wheels and tyres it has been necessary to mount the body of the shock-absorber on the back parcel shelf, a long rod leading from the damper down to the rear axle. The Capri RS3100 provided single-leaf springs, which were installed with a Panhard Rod and four long axle location links (a parallel pair per side) for our test. On the Tour de France a Watts linkage was used instead of the Panhard Rod, tightening up the back end’s inevitable tendency to slide under the application of over 240 b.h.p.
At the front the MacPherson strut has had the benefit of a locating compression strut, but this is reserved for very smooth going at present so it was absent for the test. We did have a t in. diameter anti-roll bar, complementing a spring rate that is slightly softer than that of the rear. The high-ratio steering rack is coupled to new steering arms, the entire layout working round 4 1/2 deg. of castor, 2 deg. of negative camber and a parallel adjustment of track, so there is no toe-in, or out.
The normal RS1800 tail spoiler is carried on the boot, but its counterpart at the front is part of the German racing equipment, though 2 in. of vertical depth have been removed for -rallying clearance. Incorporated in the spoiler are ducts for the 10 1/2 in. diam. front ventilated disc brakes with calipers that wouldn’t be out of place in Formula One: at the rear simpler 9 1/2 in. diam. solid discs are installed at either end of the purpose-built axle. Braking balance, front to rear, is adjustable via a bias bar on the foot control pedal box.
Since its introduction in 1970, the four-valve-per-cylinder Cosworth development of the Ford 1600GT engine has grown to a production 1.8-litres with an aluminium cylinder block. In this application Harlow enginebuilder Brian Hart produces 1,977 c.c. from a bore of 90 mm. and the production stroke measuring 77.62 mm. The Cosworth racing cylinder operates on a compression of 11.5 : 1 and breathes in through paired Weber 48-mm. choke sidedraught carburetters. Maximum power is about 245 b.h.p. with excellent torque delivery from 4-8,000 r.p.m. Complete with our fifth wheel measuring device this Escort recorded a dash from rest to 60 m.p.h. in just over 6 1/2 sec. and was comfortably under the 20 sec. barrier sprinting from standstill to 100 m.p.h.
Those are impressive figures for a 2-litre saloon car weighing 19 cwt. but that wasn’t the outstanding impression left after our acquaintance. No, my memory will record how consistent development of the same basic theme has left Ford with the most docile 200-horsepower 2-litre I have ever experienced. Literally, you could send an aged relative out to the shops in it, though I think there would be complaints about the heavy operation of the triple plate clutch in Surbiton High Street. No complaint about the gearbox though ; the latest five-speed ZF is obviously tough and very easy to operate after a series of Boreham modifications that are rather unexpectedly necessary on what is an extremely expensive gearbox.
Because of the low (5.3 : 1) final drive top speed was limited to little over 100 m.p.h. at our r.p.m. limit of 9,200 r.p.m. In turn this meant that the car’s handling was unstressed through our laps on Boreham’s Silverstone GP-style test track. In the slower corners we’d quite often be reaching fourth as soon as the accelerator was depressed. We were surprised how much body-roll there was under these conditions, but it was nice to be able to read all the information we needed quickly from the production RS1800 instrument layout, instead of the old mass of aircraft dials in every corner of the cockpit. The only change to that instrument layout is the installation of a chronometric tachometer in place of the standard electronic device, while the centre console also carries an ammeter.
Once we were able to find some looser going the car’s revised handling could be fully appreciated at lower speeds. Compared with previous works Fords the car has very sharp reactions indeed, responding instantly to throttle or steering correction without the strong initial understeer that used to be such a feature of the Forest Ford Escorts. The same applies to the tarmac Escort’s overall character, it’s lighter, swifter and altogether a very attractive dual-purpose machine.
Now Ford seem to be following some of the development ideals up in the loose surface cars as well. The Escorts on the RAC Rally were shod with a Dunlop rallycross/racing hybrid cover that not only proved puncture-proof in Roger Clark’s case, but also moved the car’s handling characteristics a step toward great adhesion and control, even over mud.
If Ford go into Europe next year they will face the Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT (which may well have the Montreal V8 installed within at some stage!), a new all-independent suspension Fiat 131 and the Opel Kadett with 16-valve power. That is a somewhat daunting prospect, especially as the 2-litre, four-cylinder Alfetta is already an almost impossible car to beat in Jean Claude Andruet’s hands.
Bear in mind Stuart Turner’s elevation to manage Ford of Britain’s Public Relations, leaving the gritty British Competitions manager Peter Ashcroft and the Cologne Competitions expert Michael Kranefuss to look after the fold. That is a pair of gentlemen who will look automatically to Europe for fresh fields to conquer and means there should be some good battles in store next year.—J.W.