RS hits and misses

Not every Ford to have worn the RS badge has been worthy of it

Ford has been putting Rallye Sport badges on its road cars for nearly 40 years. Most, from the original 1970 twin-cam RS1600 to this Focus RS, have been genuinely memorable.

Of those that failed the RS label I have to mention the 1990 Fiesta RS Turbo whose only merit were its Recaro seats, and the Escort RS Cosworth, meant to replace the beloved Sierra RS Cosworth, but actually the most disappointing performance Ford I’ve driven.

The early cars were genuine homologation cars – the Escort RS1600, the very quick RS1800 and the brutal Capri RS2600 and RS3100s. But as the brand developed through the ’70s, Ford realised it had a potential that could be exploited. This it did, first with cars like the RS2000 and then the first of the front drivers: the RS1600i and Escort RS Turbo.

But the Sierra Cosworth remains the most revered of RS products. The early cars were quick but fragile, and the only thing quicker was the speed at which they got nicked.

I know of one car that was stolen, found and stolen again by someone else as police lay waiting to apprehend the original suspect.

The best of the Sierras was not the quick but truculent RS500 (above, in Andy Rouse BTCC guise), but the first saloon versions that appeared in 1988. These sober-looking cars handled better than the hatchbacks and had chassis better suited to the immense tuning possibilities of its 2-litre, four-cylinder turbo motor. Standard power was 204bhp, but you could get them with 400bhp, although they were horrid to drive. But a properly sorted 300bhp saloon was one of the most enjoyable cars of its era – quicker than a BMW M5 for a fraction of the price.

Things went downhill with various Escort and Fiesta RS variants, so it’s no surprise Ford put nearly a decade between the last of these, the Escort RS2000 4x4, and the rapid Focus RS of 2002. It’s taken another seven years to develop a car worthy of the badge, but don’t hope to see another very soon. Instead console yourself with the knowledge that this latest RS deserves its badge perhaps more than any other in the brand’s history – Group B RS200 rally car included.