'Once behind the wheel, I felt I'd jumped back into my own rally car'

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Bjorn Waldegard road tests the new Ford Rallye Sport ‘Series X’ kits. This month, the Ford RS 2000.

The RS 2000 in this road test is the one I would have built for myself. Not literally, of Course, but simply by specifying modifications to a standard RS using Ford’s new Series X kits. They’re so flexible you can make changes, either devastating or slight, to an RS 2000, Capri, Cortina, Fiesta or Escort. It’s rather like designing your own car. You look down a long list of dealer fit options and specify as little or as much as you like.

Take the RS as an example. Improvements were made to its performance, handling, roadholding, braking, steering, transmission and appearance. How big were the improvements and how worthwhile? To find out, Ford let me loose with a Series X RS 2000 for a day

The engine

One of the more impressive results of specifying the Series X engine modification is that you bring the performance up to Group One specification.

You get two downdraught Weber carburettors, big valves, and a higher camshaft. This all helps to unleash an extra 35 b.h.p. bringing the power output up to 145 b.h.p. DIN. Consequently, you’ve got power on tap throughout the rev range. In top gear, for instance, I found it possible to accelerate from 30 mph to 125 mph with amazing smoothness. The smoothness, in fact, could lead you into bad ways. Unless you check the speedo, you find the car ‘running away’ with you over the legal limit. It wants to be driven fast.

The transmission and axle

It would be a shame to restrain a car like this with ordinary gear ratios which is why a Rocket gear kit is such an asset, as part of the Series X modifications. It gives you an ultra dose ratio box which turns the raw power into impressive performance (see left). OK, so a very high 1st gear isn’t ideal for heavy traffic. But it’s far from unmanageable and as my Ford engineer said, who buys an RS just to amble down to Sainsburys in?

Series, X also offers you a limited slip differential, which proved to be a worthwhile option. Only boy racers appreciate wheel spin prefer to keep the power on the road. And that’s what happens when you put your foot down in the RS, under virtually all road conditions, including loose chippings.

The suspension

I can imagine how, if you’re not a professional rally driver, just sitting behind the wheel of the RS will make you feel like one. The moment I gripped the wheel I felt as though I’d jumped back into my own rally car. Would the handling betray the illusion? I hate ‘soft’ cars: I don’t feel confident unless I can feel the road. Series X suspension was used to ‘toughen’ the RS, which, admittedly, in standard form ingenvekling (no softie). Result: a car that was one inch lower and a lot stiffer.

The Series X modifications give you virtually the same suspension as the Group One set-up I use on some of my recce cars except that for road use, the ride is lowered. You, get gas filled front struts and rear shocks, stiffer front springs and single leaf rear springs.

Does it make the ride too stiff? Will it scramble your brains every-time you hit a pot hole? Over most surfaces I found the ride comfortable, and acceptable over poorer surfaces. On tarmac and motorway, where suspension movements are short, you’d think you were in a standard production saloon. Once you take on a corner at speed, however, everything tightens up beautifully and the car displays its rally breeding. Roadholding in fact is tremendous. So is the handling. It’s so well behaved, so predictable you know exactly what’s going to happen in all situations.

The wheels and steering

If you specify the handsome 7 1/2 x 13 lightweight alloy wheels, you can fit ultra low profile tyres. I had a set of 225/55 x 13s. They’re-one of the reasons the car corners so perfectly. But be wanted if you do have the fat wheels, you may be happier with the standard steering rack. I had the Series X option which reduces lock to lock from 3 1/2 turns to 2 1/2. turns. It’s a tremendous aid to precision driving, because you need less effort to drive quickly. But at low speeds, souse got to have strong arms.

The brakes

Brakes on the standard RS 2000 have always been good, by production car standards. If you fit the Series X ventilated discs you get brakes that are good by any standards outstanding in fact. Throughout 250 miles of hard fast driving I never experienced fade. ‘Feeling’ in the pedal was perfect and did a lot to inspire confidence.

My car also had the Series X anti-dive kit fitted to the front suspension. Under heavy braking it helps you keep the ear under control when you’ve been fierce with your foot. You get a lot more stability and a lot less nose diving.

The body

Series X is mainly about performance and handling. But there are some pretty harig (hairy) looking cosmetics included as well. My RS had a front airdam, rear spoiler and Zakspeed wheel arches, which follow the style developed for the successful Zakspeed team in Germany.

Everything’s been aerodynamically styled airdam and spoiler, for instance combine to give you greater stability at speed. But to me the real advantage is the added panache you get. Without Series X it’s a stylish enough motor. With Series X, it looks mean and purposeful.

Conclusions

As you’ve probably gathered, I rate the Standard RS 2000 very highly. With Series X, the car is even more rewarding to drive. The kit seems to bring out the car’s full potential. You find yourself with such reserves of power, handling and cornering ability, you can make it do virtually whatever you want. Perhaps the highest compliment can pay the Series X RS 2000 is to say that it’s one of those cars that is genuinely a lot of fun. Driving it made me feel 21 again.