THE FORD Motor Company has a skilful knack of producing excellent sporting cars based on its current production models. One remembers with affection the first Cortina GT, when the Cortina was closer to present-day Escort-size than the far more spacious, best-selling Cortinas of the 1980s, the exhilarating Escort Mexico, and others of that ilk up to the recently-introduced FWD Escort XR-3, of which a MOTOR SPORT road test report was published last February. The latest ot this happy breed is a new fast Fiesta — the XR-2. A large-capacity engine in a comparatively lightweight car has long been a classic formula for an effortless sporting performance. This is a trend Ford has followed with its current Escort model, with a 1600 engine available in addition to the more-basic 1100 and 1300 engines, and with the present range of Cortinas, using a 2000 o.h.c. power-unit to augment the 1300 and 1600 engines. Now Ford-of-Britain has shoe-horned a 1600, 82 (DIN) b.h.p engine into the compact three-door Hatchback Fiesta, to form the sporting XR-2 model, distinct from the 1100, 53(DIN) b. h p. and 1300, 66(DIN) b. h. p. powered Fiestas.
The result, as we were able to prove fur ourselves last month, during a day’s testing of the new XR-2 based on Hagley Hall near Birmingham, built in 1754, the seat of Lord and Lady Cobham, where an excellent lunch was served in the impressive dining room, after a coffee-halt at the Elms Hotel, Abberley, is everything we would have expected from a race-bred Fiesta — the new 1600 model owes much to the Fiesta 1300S and 1.6-litre Fords marketed in North America, of which more than 300,000 have been sold and to knowledge and valuable experience derived from the past two seasons of those 1600 Fiesta races in this country.
The 1,598 c.c. engine of the XR-2 uses electronic breakerless ignition and a Weber twin-venturi carburetter. With a high-lift camshaft and a special exhaust manifold feeding through twin downpipes into a large-bore exhaust system, a power output of 84 PS is claimed at 5,500 r.p.m., with 124 Nm torque produced at 2,800 r.p.m. The four-speed all-synchromesh gearbox has ratios of 3.154, 1.913, 1.276 and 0.951 to 1, in conjunction with an axle-ratio to 3.58 to 1, so that in top gear the engine is geared for good fuel economy, running as it does at something like 3,500 r.p.nri. at an indicated 70 m.p.h. A top speed of 105 m.p.h. is claimed for the XR-2 and the 1600 tuned engine in this 1,763.6 lb. (kerb weight) car gives acceleration in the order of 0-60 m.h.p. in 9.3 seconds.
Naturally, Ford up-rated other aspects of the Fiesta when making this imprmive performance possible. Special servo brakes with ventilated front discs are used, the alloy wheels are shod with low-profile 185/60 HR radial-ply tyres (Pirelli P6 on the car I tried), these new wheels having a distinctive circular-slot styling, and the suspension damper settings have been changed to suit the car, from the standard Fiesta-S specifications. The engine has been mounted 15 mm. lower, and a 14 mm.-dia. rear anti-roll bar aids road-clinging, together with lowered front-spring seatings and revised front suspension geometry, giving increased castor action to the steering and reduced wheel camber.
Front and rear aerodynamic spoilers arc fitted, together with other external specialities, such as extended wheel-arches, 7″-dia. circular head lamps, and deep-section bumpers providing side body protection and possessing inbuilt front turn-indicators. Inside the XR-2 you find good cloth upholstery, and comfortable seats with fully-reclining front-seat squabs with adjustable head-rests. This fast, accelerative Ford Fiesta is competitively priced, at £5,500, or £5,576.86 if you want a smart black paint finish (shades of Model-T!), with metallic finishes available for a price of £5,584.25, all inclusive of car tax and VAT.
Having driven an XR-2 for many miles around the Worcestershire roads, I can report that it is a highly attractive and desirable little package, a credit to Ford’s new Special Vehicle Engineering Department, whose first product was the much-acclaimed Capri 2.8i. The ride is notably good for such a small car capable of cornering on quickly and safely, the gear change is a delight, as on most Fords, and the pick-up response, even in the high top gear, is very usable. The noise-level is surprisingly low for such a small, quick car. All of which makes this a sporting small-car to enjoy. The instruments are easily read past a somewhat large, thick-rimmed two-spoke steering-wheel. The I.h. steering-column stalk controls the turn-indicators, the r.h. one the wiper settings, which include intermittent wipe, etc.
As a piece of fun in the course of the morning’s motoring, climbs of Shelsley Walsh were on the agenda, for those drivers who wanted to have a go. It would be pointless to compare the times recorded by a small modern saloon with those of the racing cars which normally devour this famous hill, and anyway the start area was muddy and the hill very wet. But I was pleased to find that on my first ascent I clocked the same time as someone who knows the hill very well indeed but who had never before so much as saris an XR-2, whereas I had driven the car to Shelsley but have only driven on the course thrice before and then always in pre-war cars. (In sober fact, this time would merely have broken the course-record set up in 1913 by Higginson’s Vauxhall, and the best time, by a younger journalist, would only have equalled Basil Davenport’s slowest time in 1926 with the GN “Spider”). However, this is by the way. The point to be made after this day’s sampling is that Ford has done it again, by offering a very attractive proposition in this big-engined sporting Fiesta, about which MOTOR SPORT hopes to say more, and quote fuel-consumption figures, after we have done a full road-test. The XR-2 is distinguishable by its body-coloured external door mirrors, waist-lining and XR-2 decals, apart from the spoilers and those wheels, whose styling I am not sure I like. Incidentally, we tried this exciting new £5.5-thousand Ford two days after its public announcement, so it should be readily available from Ford dealers.
That is the new XR-2 in production form. Already Ford Rallye Sport equipment is listed for it, ranging from suspension items and a stronger clutch pressure-plate, to a roll-over cage, 23 items in all, with the 1982 Ford Fiesta Race Championship in mind. This championship will take in 15 inclusive qualifying events, starting on April 12th, at circuits ranging from Mallory Park to the Nürburgring, some races as long as 20 laps. Details are available from Stuart McCrutiden Associates, 3, Plains Road, Little Totham, Maldon. Essex, CM9 8NA, and Pirelli and Townsend Thomsen are lending their support.
Reverting to the Fiesta XR-2s we tried, they were equipped with Ford CB radio, for those wishing to keep in touch or quip with their colleagues. Ford supply this CB radio from £90.66, without aerial. — W.B.