The Big Sleep

It’s been hid­den away un­touched for over 30 years, but now the owner of this gen­uine, Haynes Of Maid­stone Group 2 rally Fi­esta reck­ons its time to shine has come again.

Classic Ford - - MK1 FIESTA -

W TF! is not a very retro ex­pres­sion, but when it comes to this clas­sic Ford’s story, it’s a very suit­able opener. Why? Well, be­cause what we have here, is a Mk1 Fi­esta Group 2 rally car that did just one event, broke down, passed through a cou­ple of hands in the early ’80s and has been tucked away in its cur­rent owner’s garages pretty much ever since. But now, thanks to a nod from Mitesh Par­mar (the main man at www.fi­esta-mk1.co.uk), who dis­cov­ered the car’s ex­is­tence, we have been able to un­earth this ul­tra-rare piece of Ford mo­tor­sport his­tory…

Those three open­ing let­ters are also ap­pro­pri­ate, be­cause past those ba­sic facts, Ray O’Neil, the afore­men­tioned owner, knows only very lit­tle more about his con­stant com­pan­ion of the past 30-odd years — he can’t even re­mem­ber quite how many years that is now, but does re­call that it has moved home with him three times. Ray’s hop­ing that this ar­ti­cle may stir a few mem­o­ries in Clas­sic Ford read­ers, who can fill in some of the blanks.

Go­ing back

Here’s the pot­ted his­tory bit first… By 1978 the Mk2 Es­cort was (wrongly) thought to be get­ting a bit long in the tooth by Ford’s com­pe­ti­tion men, as was the ral­ly­ing ca­reer of leg­endary rally driver, Roger Clark, who had been with the firm since 1966. With other driv­ers signed up for the Es­corts that year, Bore­ham de­cided to use Roger as a guinea pig in the front-wheel-drive Fi­esta. Thanks to the US mar­ket hav­ing a 1600cc ver­sion of the car (this was in pre-XR2 days) a 1600 Cross­flow could be used in some Group 2 Fi­es­tas that Ford was hop­ing were the fu­ture of its ral­ly­ing pro­gramme. A num­ber of cars were built, ral­lied and de­vel­oped dur­ing the 1978 sea­son.

To cut a long story short, the Fi­esta wasn’t a great suc­cess. His­tory will show that there were more break­downs than fin­ishes, and the sea­son was, sadly, the last one for Roger at Ford. The Fi­esta pro­gramme limped on for a cou­ple more years but with lit­tle en­thu­si­asm it was soon clear that the new front-wheel-drive Es­cort would be the car to con­cen­trate on for the fu­ture.

Work­ing in con­junc­tion with Ford dur­ing the Fi­esta ex­per­i­ment, how­ever, was one of the big names in Bri­tish ral­ly­ing at the time, namely Roger Tay­lor and his Haynes Of Maid­stone team. While all the Ford fac­tory cars used the Kent en­gine, Haynes, had a go at in­stalling 16-valve BDA en­gines in to the Fi­esta’s bay. Sadly, these cars didn’t have much suc­cess ei­ther, as de­spite (or per­haps be­cause of) the en­gines’ ex­tra power, the front-wheel-drive and short wheel­base made for a car that wasn’t par­tic­u­larly nice to drive or tame in the han­dling depart­ment.

Keep­ing faith

And here’s where the early his­tory of Fi­es­tas in ral­ly­ing crosses with Ray’s Group 2-spec Fi­esta, as it was built by Haynes Of Maid­stone in 1981. So de­spite the prob­lems with the BDA-en­gined cars, the firm ob­vi­ously kept faith with the small hatch­back for some time af­ter Ford had given up on it. But this time they stuck with the Cross­flow for power de­liv­ery, with DTW En­gines of Har­low build­ing and sup­ply­ing the 1600cc dry-sumped race mo­tor on twin We­bers, which would have been around the same 150 bhp out­put that the works cars were mak­ing a cou­ple of years be­fore.

An enig­matic hand-writ­ten card that came with the car states that this racer was built for Tim Brise to use on Euro­pean events, but never used. Why? Ray hasn’t a clue. What is known, though, is that later on that year Ul­ster rally star, Dessie McCart­ney and co-driver, Peter Scott were en­tered in the Manx In­ter­na­tional Rally in the car… but if the pair were ex­pect­ing to turn the rep­u­ta­tion of the Fi­esta round, they were sadly mis­taken. It lasted just six stages be­fore re­tir­ing, with what Ray thinks was a bro­ken gear­lever.

And that was it for this Fi­esta. With just over 1000 miles on the clock and some stone chips from the Isle of Man, it was flogged off by Haynes to mo­tor­sport en­thu­si­ast and

Words Pho­tos

Marc Stretton Adrian Brannan

In­te­rior of the car is as-bought. Ray has done his best to stop ro­dents from chew­ing their way through the fab­ric...

1600 Cross­flow was orig­i­nally built by DTW En­gines, and Ray’s not touched — or even started — it in the 30 years he’s owned the Fi­esta.

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