MK2 ESCORT SLEEPER
Stealth-style Mk2 from New Zealand.
One of mankind’s most enduring and relatable behaviours is our ability to play the hands we’re dealt, to work with what we’ve got. While we’re a species of dreamers and always have ideas of what we’d like to do if our EuroMillions numbers suddenly come up, we’re also keenly grounded in reality and make the best of what he have available to us. “Two-door Escorts very hard to find and they’re always expensive,” says Brian McIntosh, owner of this sparkling blue four-door, and that’s a case in point. If examples with an extra set of entry points are more abundant, then that’s what you use. And it certainly hasn’t held him back from building a fairly stunning example of the breed. It’s not as if he has to make any sort of apology for it, it vociferously speaks for itself.
“I bought this car a few years ago as a standard 1300 automatic,” he recalls. “It was copper bronze with a tatty vinyl roof, a few dents here and there, and a couple of thumbnail-sized rust holes.” We’ll just give you a moment to compare and contrast the levels of rust you’d find on equivalent, unrestored UK cars. Brian, you see, lives in New Zealand, and they haven’t really acknowledged rust over there. It’s something that happens to other people in colder, saltier countries.
“The car had spent its first 32 years with one family in Central Otago, on the South Island, which has a dry climate — great for the preservation of old cars,” he explains. “I wasn’t particularly looking for a project, but my mate Sean Double spotted it for sale and knew I would be interested. He was right!”
With a solid but basic four-door acquired, a plan rapidly began to form itself on the figurative drawing board of Brian’s garage. The overarching ambition was to keep everything as period-appropriate as possible; given the garish formula that modified Fords often follow, he was keen to do things the old-fashioned way.
“Imagine being 19 years old in 1980, being given a bucket of money and told to modify your mum’s Mk2 Escort,” laughs Brian. “That’s pretty much what I had in mind.”
Step one was to amp up the aesthetics; while Brian certainly didn’t mind the copper bronze, the general tattiness of the roof, bumpers and trim pieces (along with the fact that his wife referred to the paint as ‘fence stain brown’) easily talked him into a revamp, and the choice was made to go with the smooth and slick Nordic Blue along with his interpretation of a dechromed Popular Plus look.
“It had to be a period colour,” he assures us. “You should see the shades people paint old Fords over here — and don’t even get me started on the wheels you see on Escorts.” Thankfully, a keen eye has enabled a canny sidestep here, with an appropriate set of Minilite-alike Revolutions sat under the arches along with the requisite 175/50 rubber.
“I did most of the bodywork, with the final preparation and paint being completed by Andrews & Gilmore here in Christchurch,” says Brian. “I’ve been using them for years for panel and paintwork; they previously did a great job on my bubble-arched Mk1 race car.” And with the aesthetics ticking all the right boxes, our man turned his mind to motive power:
“The running gear had to be Ford,” he says, with some finality. “There are, of course, Japanese alternatives to make your Escort go fast — and do it much cheaper — but it wasn’t the look I was after. With that in mind it could only really be a Pinto or a Crossflow… I’ve got a Pinto in my Mk1 race car, so I decided on a Crossflow for the road car.” And it’s no ordinary Crossflow; working with a 1600 base, he’s slid in a set of +60 1300 pistons to increase displacement to 1658cc; twin 40s take care of the fueling, and a veritable taster menu of classic tuning parts help it to walk the walk: a Kent cam, balanced bottom end, Ashley system, big-port alloy head, the works. And the cleverest part is that it’s all strictly governed by the wagging finger of 123 Ignition management (www.123ignition.nl) — a Bluetooth-controlled slice of wiliness that lets Brian tweak settings from his phone. While the build may be 99
“THIS IS JUST THE SORT OF CAR A YOUNG GUNSLINGER IN 1980 WOULD HAVE TURNED HIS MUM’S RUNABOUT INTO”
per cent old-school, this is a concession to modernity that makes a lot of sense.
“I reckon it all adds up to about 135 bhp,” he grins, rightly proud of what he’s accomplished. “It’s quite entertaining, and makes all the right noises.” Yeah, we bet it does. “I’m very pleased with the engine, but not surprised as I have a very good engine builder in Shane Backhouse,” Brian continues. “Shane also built the race Pinto motor for my Mk1. The gearbox here is a Sierra Type-9 — well, why not when the car has an auto tunnel? The Escort came with a 4.1:1 diff, and I’ve kept that; it’s certainly no open road cruiser, but it does accelerate very well.”
If this all sounding a bit like a retro jigsaw puzzle, don’t go thinking it’s been an easy ride. This is the culmination of a lifetime of Ford fettling for Brian. “I’ve been playing round with cars since I was a teenager,” he says, “and have owned a wide variety of cars including a few classic Fords, the highlight of which was a Mk1 RS2000 which I owned briefly when I was 20. It cost me almost as much to insure it as it did to buy it! Good job it was insured though, as some mongrel stole it six weeks after I bought it, never to be seen again.”
These things are sent to try us, of course, and it’s all stepping stones along the path to reinvention. What’s resulted here, after more than a little experimentation, is a more-door with a genuinely covetable spec: underpinned by GAZ adjustables and the timeless combo of shorter springs up front and lowering blocks on the leaves, you’ll also find M16 callipers in the mix and, for the delectation of the driver’s palms, a deep-dish Springalex. His brief was absolutely bang-on — this is just the sort of car a young gunslinger in 1980 would have turned his mother’s runabout into if some wealthy benefactor had given him the keys to the auto factors and a copy of Street Machine. It’s low, it’s proper, it’s period-perfect, and most of all it makes Brian’s point far more succinctly than a two-door ever could. For that authentic ‘modifying mum’s motor’ vibe, you’ve got to have all the doors.
Recaro recliners look right at home in the revamped interior.
Springalex wheel and pod-mounted tacho a neat touch.
Twin 40 DCOEs now fuel the feisty pushrod. What else?
Classic eight-spoke wheel is actually from Revolution. Gold is a great choice, too.
Single-leafs, polybushes and lowering blocks sort rear.