Tuning Test

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Crayford’s 3-Litre Escort

Driving to work the other day I spotted, in the opposite lane, a rather hairy-looking Ford Escort with a bulge on the bonnet and the word Eliminator embossed on it. What a fabulous name for a tuned car, I thought, but I really was not at all sure who had tuned it or what was lurking underneath that bonnet. But in one of those strange coincidences, of which life seems so full, I received a telephone call only a few hours later from Crayford Auto Developments Ltd., of Westerharn, Kent. They wanted me to try their new Ford Escort conversion which entailed fitting a 3-litre Zodiac V6 engine. You have it . . . The Eliminator.

Unfortunately, the test had to be a shortish one, but nevertheless I had the car long enough to be sure that it is one of the fastest and most manoeuvrable machines I have ever driven. Apart from possessing acceleration enough to put you in the awards at Santa Pod drag strip, it is also the ideal car for completing long distances in the shortest possible time and the maximum comfort. Not only is the car extremely quiet for such a high performance vehicle but with so much torque one can drive it in a very lazy fashion, using only second and fourth gears, and still obtain staggering results.

Crayford are best known for cutting off the roofs and dropheading just about anything they can get their hands on, but I was glad they had resisted the temptation with this particular machine as I like a roof over my head when I have to tame the sort of performance the Eliminator was offering. In fact, the Eliminator is a new departure for Crayford, introduced this month. They will also be offering a highly-tuned version for race and rally use which could become quite a threat in competition circles.

When Ford introduced the Mk. 4 Zodiac with the V6 engine a lot of people took notice, for this compact power unit would obviously fit under much smaller bonnets than that of the Zodiac and Zephyr range. The first person to get down to the job was Jeff Uren and his Race Proved firm are now well established as market leaders with their excellent Cortina Savages. At present Mr. Uren is concentrating on fitting the V6 engine into Cortina, Capris and Transit vans and has left the Escort alone. Two firms, Crayford and the Ilford company of Superspeed Conversions, have taken up the challenge of shoehorning the 2,994 c.c., 136-b.h.p. engine into the appropriate compartment.

Crayford start with an Escort GT and the first job is to dispose of the 1,300 c.c. push-rod engine. If the car is going to handle at all, the heavier V6 engine has got to be fitted fairly well back to retain a similar front-to-rear weight distribution as the unadulterated version. This necessitates considerable modification to the front bulkhead, including a couple of bulges into the cockpit either side of the transmission tunnel, although these hardly reduce the effective leg room.

Obviously a standard Escort gearbox would not take the 181½ lb. ft. of torque delivered at 4,750 r.p.m. so the engine has been mated to a Corsair 2-litre gearbox which seems quite happy with the association. The shift is more baulky than a normal Escort box, as expected, but is still up to the high Ford standard and easy and smooth to use.

Considerably modified front McPherson struts are fitted to stand up to the additional weight and lower the front slightly, but the rear suspension is more or less standard apart from lowering. Cooling, with this kind of modification, is a problem, but Crayford have not skimped in this respect and have fitted a special large cross-flow radiator which has a separate header tank mounted at the back of the engine compartment. A couple of additional ducts have been cut under the grille to allow more air for cooling.

The compound Weber carburetter fitted to this unmodified V6 engine is fed via an air box and trunking to an air filter mounted sideways on one side of the engine compartment. Accessibility in this overcrowded bonnet is good until you want to start changing the plugs. A plug spanner with a u/j will be a must. But, of course, this is not a highly-tuned engine needing the plugs changed every five minutes—it should be more like 10,000 miles—so let your garage worry about that one. The battery has been moved to the boot, which is the best place for it anyway.

Standard Escort GT brakes are fitted—discs at front drum at rear—with harder linings and a servo to help. They seemed to do the job fairly well, although pad life must be very short and the hard and fast driver may prefer Escort Twin-Cam specification brakes. The prop-shaft is a shortened Escort GT unit, although Crayford expect to go over to a two-piece shaft when they get into production with the car. The final drive ratio is raised to 3.54:1 by using an Elan crown-wheel and pinion.

The normal 12 in. wheels are discarded in favour of 13 in. x 5½J Minilites fitted with 175 x 13 Goodyear radials which squealed when provoked more than a pig going to the slaughter house. The wheel arches are flared out, but not quite enough, for the tyres caught when cornering hard with four people aboard.

The bulge on the bonnet with the word Eliminator on it, plus the Minilite wheels, a natty two-tone paint job with carriage stripes down the side, all bring attention to the car helped on by “3-litre” badges front and rear and the two large exhaust pipes sticking out of the rear. Somehow the engine note does not sound quite the same either! Personally I would have preferred the car in a standard colour scheme so that it was not so striking, and I am sure Crayford will be happy to pander to such customer requirements.

Internally the car is remarkably standard Escort GT. The only changes are the addition of bucket seats with headrests and a leather-bound steering wheel which is not only too small but does not have the correct dish either. The gap between the wheel rim and the edge of the facia panel is very narrow, but this fault would be instantly solved by fitting another wheel.

The performance is in one word—sensational. The figures are tabulated below, but do not tell the full story. Crayford did not tell us a rev limit so to be safe rather than sorry we restricted our revs to 5,500 r.p.m. in the gears and were further hampered and thus cautious because the rev-counter had a nasty habit of sticking at 4,000 and then jumping round the dial. The Crayford people have tried harder than us and by keeping in second and revving to 6,500, have got the 0-60 time down to under eight seconds, which is very much in the Jaguar E-type bracket. But our relatively subdued runs produced figures which would put an Escort Twin-Cam to shame and give a Porsche 911S quite a hard time.

But the great thing about the Eliminator is its tractability. We did some acceleration runs starting in second gear and recorded a time of 4.4 sec. to 30 m.p.h. and 9.8 sec. to 60 m.p.h. So in fact starting in second you could keep up with a standard Escort Twin-Cam or blow off a Lotus-Cortina. In fact, with a fit of judicious clutch slipping it is possible to move off without judder in top gear while starting in second is the norm, unless one is particularly keen to leave streaks of black rubber from the traffic lights. All this shows just what a lazy car the Eliminator is, for one can drive about very happily using only second and fourth gears. Top speed is about 115 m.p.h. and high-speed stability is not the car’s best point.

Motoring is not all straight line stuff, thank goodness, and this Escort proved just as sensational around the twisty bits. There is the neat, tidy and quick style or the hairy, tail-out spectacular method, either producing excellent results. The car basically understeers, but has so much power and is so well balanced that one can change this at will. A flick on the wheel and a bootful of power will thrust the tail out for a demonstration of opposite-lock motoring. Breakaway is progressive and the car can really be drifted through corners in safety. Altogether very exciting! However, after a fair bit of fierce driving at the test track, it was definitely decided that most people would prefer the competition uprated steering, although this would make manoeuvring from parking spaces a tough man’s job.

But the only real fault we found with the car was the vulnerability of the exhaust system. If an Eliminator is going to fare well on the rough roads of the Continent Crayford will certainly have to think about tucking them in a bit.

The price tag on this extraordinary Escort is fixed at £1,495, including purchase tax and with the full Ford warranty retained. You could pay a lot more for similar performance, although in the long run a Cortina V6 may be a better bet unless ultimate performance is your maxim.—A. R. M.

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