Cosworth-Ford Escort

Part one of a long loan assessment

THOSE who read last month’s editorial will be aware that we have had some difficulty in laying our hands on a Cosworth four-cylinder, 16-valve, d.o.h.c. power unit as installed in an early batch of Capris and the recently announced 1600 Rally Special. Now that we have an Escort so equipped, registration number GNO 420 H, we will be testing it for some time, so this report, like W.B.’s first instalment on the Alfa Romeo Saloon, is a preliminary one. We have taken a full set of performance figures, including top speed, acceleration and fuel consumption, but as none of these are up to our expectations; subsequent performance data can be expected after the car has visited Ford’s patient magician, Alf Belsen, who looks after the Press fleet. A quick glance at the performance panel should demonstrate that, in spite of the foregoing remarks, this is a very rapid little saloon with the ability to leave anything but Lotus Elan or the exotic GTs a very long way behind. It is also a saloon of considerable character with a unique engine sound similar to that of a supercharged unit, a delightful gearbox (probably the best in any saloon made today), and very agile handling. These qualities, combined with adequate if not inspired braking from a disc/drum arrangement, must put it near the top of the list for the man who must get around Britain in the quickest possible times, without attracting attention.

Aside from the Cosworth engine we found that there was little to set this Escort apart from the Lotus-propelled Twin-Cam models. In performance the Lotus and Cosworth Escorts are practically identical at present, the point being that the Belt Drive A-series engine is in its lowest state of tune with 120 b.h.p. and can relatively easily be boosted to 130/140 b.h.p. for road use, or over 180 in racing trim. The main reason for not using a 130-plus horsepower variant of the BDA at present is that the standard T-C suspension is not really up to this sort of performance when driven by any member of the general public, and Ford are stressing that this car is for sale to anyone with approximately £1,450.

A Group 6 (prototype) 1,800-c.c. BDA has already scored the first success for this type of unit in the Circuit of Ireland Rally, winning outright. The driver was Roger Clark, co-driver Jim Porter, and their Weber-carburated model is said to have 18o b.h.p. The 1,000 examples necessary for the car’s acceptance into Group 2 will be homologated at 1,601c.c., which takes into account any production tolerances which could embarrass those running in Club events with a class division at 1,600 c.c. The production capacity variations are 1,599-1,602 c.c. and it seems probable that when the initial run of cars has been sold we will see more BDA variants with capacities approaching 2-litres.

Back in the land of reality “our” car has only three non-standard items: a mock leather-rimmed steering wheel, push-button Ford radio and inertia reel safety belts. The rest, apart from the engine, is as the T-C with modified Macpherson strut front suspension,including an anti-roll bar and 1 1/2 degrees of negative camber, a live rear axle located by twin trailing arms, 9.6-in, front disc brakes and 9.-in. diameter drums aft, all synchromesh four-speed gearbox with the same ratios et al as the Corsair 2000E and Escort single rail selection, an identical interior to the Escort GT, except for the provision of a 140-mph. speedometer, and even Twin-Cam badges were retained for the test car.

Although we conscienciously wrote twice in one issue about the Cosworth in-line four-cylinder engine in the March issue, a brief resume follows, including some material that was not available at the time. The aluminium crossflow cylinder head has two sections, the top tier carrying twin overhead camshafts. Each combustion chamber has two inlet and two exhaust valves with a centrally mounted sparking plug; compression ratio is 10 to 1. Carburation is h twin sidedraught Weber 40DCOEs, each with two chokes mounted on a separate inlet manifold, unlike the Lotus Twin-Cam on which the inlet manifolding is integral with the cylinder head. The exhaust manifolding is nearly twice the size of that used on the Lotus T-C, and a suitably rorty note is a feature of the car. The block, connecting-rods and five main bearings are all as fitted to the Cortina/Capri 1600 GT crossflow unit. However, different pistons are used of the flat-top variety, giving a bore and stroke factor of 3.188 in. x 3.06 in. The crankshaft is a Tuftrided 1600 GT component fitted with a two-piece pulley at the front to drive a rubber toothed bet which operated the overhead camshafts and the standard push-rod shaft, which in this case operates the distributor, oil and fuel pumps. The outer belt is a conventional one working the dynamo (one might reasonably have expected an alternator on such an advanced engine), water-cooling fan and water pump. At present a Twin-Cam sump is used, slightly relieved to allow for the extra throw given by the Cortina crankshaft; the oil pump is an uprated one giving 60 lb/sq. in. at normal running speeds.

Keith Duckworth finished the production plans of the BDA in 1968. basing much of the engine’s theoretical layout upon the all-conquering EVA Formula Two engine, albeit loosely for the EVA has gear-driven overhead cams, while the BDA has the same sort of toothed belt used on Pontiac, Fiat and Vauxhall o.h.c. engines. None of the major components are interchangeable. In January 1969 Ford had a very small number of BDA-powered Capris manufactured in case the 3-litre version was not developed in time to satisfy public demand for a more powerful “Mini-Pony”. Those who went on the Cyprus Press “Jolly” did not seem over impressed with the car’s performance, and while admitting that the engine was perfectly tractable, most found a distinct lack of torque. The 16-valve Capri never did come into general circulation, or even for detailed Press appraisal, mainly because Ford triumphed over strikes and internecine warfare to bring the Zodiac 3-litre V6 device out on time. At present the BDA engines are assembled by Harper Engineering Of Letchworth in Hertfordshire, with part of the Halewood plant set aside to make the complete motor cars, exactly as they have done with the Twin-Cain Escorts.

And so returning to Ealing after an extremely depressing day when two other road-test cars had packed up. I found outside my home a smart white( the company still operate a limited policy of “you can have any colour you like, so long as it is . . .!) Escort parked neatly. After a pause for food, I could no longer resist the urge to try the car and see if I could change the day’s run of poor luck.

From the outside only the quarter bumpers á la Original Lotus-Cortina, round headlamps (for which we were very thankful) and the squat look of the car perched on 5 ½ rims, make it look any different to the standard GT. The really sharp-eyed will notice the angle of the front wheels as well, but that is really beyond the realms of most observers.

The controls are all conventional, though as with all twin-choke Weber-carburated cars, it is best to ignore the choke completely and dab the throttle to fill the combustion chambers, before turning the ignition key. As soon as the engine catches (which can be on the sixth or seventh attempt, if “ours” is anything to go by), you know that a new era in Ford power is waiting for action. At low r.p.m. the sounds reaching the driver are mainly from the Webers garging 5-star fuel, but from this point on the shrill whine catches on the imagination and the tachometer needle flies round the dial until the ignition breaker spoils the fun at anything from 6,200-6,600 r.p.m.; the official red-line is 6,500 revs. Peak power is claimed at 120 b.h.p., 500 r.p.m. below the red line, while maximum torque is 110 lb. ft. at 4,000 revs. Both outputs are slightly above those achieved by the latest Lotus T-C units fitted as standard to the Plus 2S and the Escort.

The ignition breaker’s erratic cut-out operation made a farce of our acceleration runs, though mainly because of the slightly faster gear change (compared to the T-C’s old standard Cortina arrangement) we were able to knock a mere half second off the 0-60 m.p.h. time returned by the Escort T-C tested in August last year. Top speed was some 4 m.p.h. down on the T-C when run in two directions and averaging the runs. It is fair to point out though that when I handed the car over to our Production Editor, M. J. T., it was going a lot better than when these figures were obtained; on one glorious occasion it even managed to roar all the way up to ignition cut-out point in top gear; a speed of 115 m.p.h.

The fuel and oil consumption with around 3,000 miles on the speedometer were heavy. We put in four puns of GTX and a fraction of Mr. Duckham’s Q20-50 over 1,000 miles of mainly hard motoring; fuel consumption varied from just over 27 m.p.g. in legal motoring, down to under 21 when taking performance figures. You may remember that we said some time ago that the prototype BDA, installed in a Cortina, ran happily for 20,000 miles on 2-star grade petrol. After a short talk to Ford’s Press office we abandoned any such ideas and stuck to the best fuel; we also agreed to routine servicing every 2,500 miles, the same as the Lotus engine. The 9-gallon fuel tank allows a range of 190 miles, according to the fuel gauge.

Boredom is something not encompassed by this car, for the superb gearbox, light precise rack-and-pinion steering and the shrill engine note, coupled to adequate braking and handling; make this small saloon a very exciting conveyance. We found our cross-country times were astonishingly good, for with a modest appearance and compact exterior measurements, we could take the fullest advantage of the outstanding acceleration to nip through any of the light traffic encountered on our mainly B-road route to Thruxton over the Easter holiday.

On dry roads the road-holding limit is good on the wide section tyres and the car can be hustled through country roads with very little breakaway at either end. There is plenty of understeer at first, followed by a short period of neutral steer as the power is applied, continuing into a tail-out attitude when really trying hard on slow bends. The ride is surprisingly good though on the bouncing side for country surfaces.

Wet and greasy roads show up the basic limitations of the front engine, rear-drive layout coupled to nearly 150 b.h.p. per ton power output. All those TR addicts would find the arm-twirling to their taste, and we certainly enjoyed power sliding the car away from slippery roundabouts and the like. This “sideways” approach can be used at higher speeds, but it really is quicker to push through a corner in the same way as one would power a motorcycle through with a minimum of tyre scrub. In the dry this can cause a front wheel to lift slightly but this seems to have no undue effect on the driver’s chosen line. On open stretches of road the car jinks around under the influence of crosswinds, and this combined with the invigorating, but on a long run tiring, engine noise, mean that the best place for this Escort (and the T-C) is off a Motorway providing enjoyment along Britain’s byways.

Our initial assessment of the car is tempered by the price which still leaves the Lotus Twin-Cam-powered model as the best choice for the enthusiast who has no competition plans, because it is approximately £209 less and goes at least as well as “our” car in practical terms. However, it is obvious that Ford can improve both the chassis and power output of the BDA fairly easily, but is it worth it for the small run envisaged ?

In the Meantime the Editor will doubtless enjoy the car and another report will appear in due course, probably with some more performance figures.—J.W.