Ford packages the performance part

If head-turning appeal is the seal of approval for the recently released Ford X-series parts, then Ford are sitting on a new success. What the company have done is to latch onto the Continental emphasis on a racing look for a production car, importing the look, but not the panels themselves. This means that you can now buy an Escort, Capri or Fiesta that not only handles, stops and goes better, but also looks as though it is capable of these things. But that is pure enthusiast talk, the commercial success is likely to lie in making the cars look purposeful. The flared wheelarch, front and rear spoiler proliferation, and a set of big wheels are all that many will want, judging front the pattern set in America and West Germany.

Having driven a Capri 3-litre S equipped with the full cosmetic treatment to the body and the extremely effective spoiler/wheel offerings, I know a little about the car’s crowd appeal, but the X-series idea goes a lot further than that.

The point is to try and clean up Ford’s high performance parts marketing. The majority of customers do not really want to wade through a partos book sorting out which, of the five front strut combinations offered for the Ford Escort, is the one for them. Here we are really talking of the public road customer. Many competitors will still derive unseemly joy from weeding through part numbers to find something that will give them just that edge over their rivals… who will be doing the same thing, so Ford storemen will continue to bear that pained look for much of the time!

Every model in the Ford range, except the Granadas, can be catered for in this package manner. What Ford have done is to select likely combinations and put them together, though we should all be aware that this method of buying parts is the way in which legislation has forced the high performance “add-on” industry to follow, or go to the wall. The spectre of stricter type approval, i.e. selling a car only in strictly recognised form with the permissible options listed, can be expected in Britain, though it would be hard to enforce.

All that means is that the manufacturer is increasingly likely to be the purveyor of high performance parts in the future, for only he will have the resources to go through the paper and test work necessary to gain approval. Thus the Ford move is a clever anticipation of the future in Britain, based on their experiences elsewhere.

That is not to say that Ford have been too clever about the X-series introduction in this country. When Standard House staff talked to dealers about the new series, most of them frankly did not know what the hell was going on. So far as they were concerned the list of FAVO parts continued as before. Most of them (90% of the 67 dealers we had on our lists as RS people) had yet to receive the newer bits, like the wheelarches, never mind study their role to the customer as: “Ford’s experienced ES Dealers will do the rest.”

So the launch shows signs of being premature, but that does not mean the idea is not a good one. The Capri I drove demonstrated the potential beautifully. That S model carried the Spa-coded wheelarches over 7 1/2-in. rim Ford four-spoke alloy wheels with huge 235/60 VR 13 Pirelli C536 SM tyres filling those freshly created extra inches admirably. The glassfibre extensions had been blended into the metal body superbly, using plenty of filler over the basic rivet attachment twixt glass and cutaway steel. Details included the incorporation of a new filler cap flap, closed by magnetic catch. The front spoiler acts both as an integral part of the wheelarch extensions, and is home for brake cooling ducts.

In this form the car’s cornering powers were far beyond the now tamer Essex 3-litre engine and the brakes (like those of a modified BMW 633 CSi driven recently) went soggy in the face of their extra work load. The big wheels and tyres put so much rubber on the road that the driver is braking later and harder with less drama than the standard car: the chances are that the car is arriving at corners significantly quicker as well, despite the un-tuned engine.

After a terrifically enjoyable morning – taking in the Col du Boxhill hill-climb classic – I studied the other equipment on offer for the Capri with exceptional interest. Ventilated discs for the front, using Granada calipers seemed high on my personal list. To match the brakes I would then go for the engine kit. Here the company have used their Group 1 racing experience and simply offered the bigger twin-choke carburettor and the Rover 3500-size valves: the standard exhaust is quite efficient and a competition camshaft installation would be expensive, as well as ruining the V6’s charming laziness. Now we ought to have 170 horsepower.

Although S suspension features Bilstein damping there is a better alternative. Remember the RS3100 MkI Capri? Ford simply offer that low riding (at least an inch off ride height) combination which features a single leaf per side, and similarly stiffened front coil springs. Since the RS also featured negative camber, an experienced dealer could also set up the front end geometry with this feature at the same time. New, since those days, is the German inspired anti-dive device, which proved exceptionally effective on the Tour of Britain last year, mounted on the factory RS2000s. Also of interest on the handling side is the offer of a limited slip differential, an item that can transform the 3-litre Capri’s tractional abilities at almost any stage of development.

The Escort is the most popular subject of all for alteration and here, as always, you can really make the car into anything you want. For the road-going owner the new Zakspeed-styled wheelarch extensions should be popular, though it’s a nuisance having to buy another front spoiler, even if this one does carry apertures for brake ducting. It must also mean that the RS2000 carries three different materials up front – glassfibre, steel body panels and the deformable polyurethane remains of the nose! Again the 7 1/2-in. rim wheels, LSD and single leaf suspension are offered. Having completed many happy road miles in a 160 horsepower Group 1 Escort, I can also recommend the close ratio “Rocket” gearbox and the high ratio (2 1/2 turns) rack: unlike the Capri, the ventilated disc brakes are not really necessary on the road. Ford recommends the Pinto engine be uprated to about 145 b.h.p., benefiting from the Group 1 Weber downdraught carburettors, bigger valves for the cylinder head and the competition Group 1 camshaft. In this case the camshaft should be easier to fit and there is no deterioration in road manners in my experience, but that is based on a properly set-up engine. I have tried others that have been nasty, using the same pars, simply because the carburation and ignition were out. Ordinary Escorts can benefit from many of the RS2000 parts, though it’s worth pointing out that there is a simpler wheelarch, also in glassfibre, similar in style to those widely used on the rally cars (though the factory arches are aluminium). No X-series equipment is listed for the 1300 and 1600 crossflow engines, but there should be absolutely no problem in obtaining pretty well anything you want from the tuning industry for these well-known units.

The Fiesta? The announcement of tuning equipment is premature here, for no prices could be quoted at press time. What Ford have developed is a kit for the 1100 engine, boosting output by 20%, but since we will have a 1300 standard version, as promised at the Fiesta launch, that exercise seems a little pointless. A 13-in. diameter wheel – with 7-in. rim – is to be offered, carrying tyres of 205 section. However, the chief point here is to allow larger front wheel disc brakes to be installed, utilising the original calipers.

Rather ugly matt black wheelarch extensions are more practical in offering a degree of bump resistance by their polyurethane construction. Modified suspension (who knows, they might even improve the ride!) is still described as being, “at the development stage.”

The Cortina is tacked rather modestly at the end of the publicity material. One paragraph simply says, “an air dam, rear spoiler, 6-in. alloy wheels and gas-filled dampers are available for all versions of this car.” Since a rather more powerful Cortina will exist shortly, this may be a case similar to Fiesta 1300, where standard production models will create fresh needs.

Prices? Well the Capri I spoke of earlier would have added £800 odd to the price of the car by the time labour, tyres and paint are taken in. The full wheelarches are approximately £140 a Set for RS2000 or Capri, the wheels are £56.11 each and, as with all parts prices, Ford do not add VAT!

On the same basis the V6 engine parts are £111.57 and the suspension approximately £250, for the RS or Capri. The engine components for RS2000 amount to some £400 and the high ratio rack is £97.77.

I hope that I have given readers some idea of what costs are involved in apparently quite simple changes. Compared with the prices that were quoted for the body parts in Germany, the British made panels are bargains. You need an excellent dealer bosywork establishment to make the best of such parts, the other handling and engine pieces being much better known but needing equal sympathy and enthusiasm from the dealer to make the trouble and expense fully worthwhile. Are RS dealers up to the quality of the parts? Frankly some are not and I would strongly advise purchase and subsequent dealings only with those who have proven they know that they are doing. The dealer concerned does not have to be in competition, though that’s quite a good guide, if they prepare the car themselves. No, the reputation you are looking for is conscientious workmanship and interest in your continued custom. -J.W.