THE RS EVOLUTION
FORD’S PERFORMANCE TIMELINE
This year is proving to be a watershed year for Ford. Not only does 2016 mark the 50th anniversary of an all–blue Oval podium at Le Mans (taken out by Kiwi duo Bruce Mclaren and Chris Amon in the number-two car, with Denny Hulme coming in second with US driving partner Ken Miles in the number-one car), but it has also seen the company market a new breed of vehicles has proven to be not just a success but a revelation.
There was the announcement, in late 2015, that Ford would produce a new version of the GT. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company later made it known that it was taking it to Le Mans in an attempt to recreate history. It didn’t fare too badly either, taking first and third in the GT-E series.
On the ground here in New Zealand, we saw the release of the new Mustang earlier in the year, and we managed to spend some time with both versions (the 5.0L V8 and the 2.3L four-cylinder Ecoboost) and were impressed with the advances made while keeping the Mustang heritage alive.
And now, Ford has released the latest in a long line of gravel- and track-bred monsters — the brand new Focus RS. The Focus has been built up by the Playstation generation more than any car in recent history. One of the reasons for this may be Ford’s relationship with Youtube star, driving genius, and all round good guy Mr Ken Block. If you’re unfamiliar with Block’s work, I encourage you to fire up the computer and search Youtube for his name — I personally guarantee that you’ll be in awe of his skill. It will also give you some understanding of what this new Focus is all about.
As magazines and websites across the globe proclaim hot-hatch perfection, we decided to take a slightly different tack and look at how we got here. We set out to find a few old Fords that did in their own time what the Focus is currently doing to the market now and explore the mark the Rallye Sport (RS) sub-brand has made on the motoring landscape.
We were put in touch with the New Zealand Ford RS Owners Club and ran the idea of exploring the lineage of the RS by the club, suggesting a few of its members might be able to come and meet us for a photo shoot and a chat about their cars. From there, we’d piece together a history of the cars, spend some time with each owner, and write this article. The club soon came back to us with a better suggestion.
There is a man not far from Classic Car Towers, the club told us, with a collection of Fords that fits the bill and more. As we learnt of the contents of said shed, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with these cars (as well as a couple of Model As, a few more Escorts, and a Falcon worth more a than Westhaven gin palace that we may write about another day). The owner of the collection asked for anonymity, but, suffice to say, he is a passionate fan of the marque and simply loves his cars.
We had a lot of correspondence from readers regarding Donn Anderson’s view on Escorts in our last issue. The timing was good. So far this month, we’ve spent time with not just the RS1600 pictured here but also another Escort with a huge amount of motor sport heritage in New Zealand. We’ll keep that one under our hat at this stage, but it’s fair to say that that car has instilled itself into the hearts and minds of many Kiwi petrolheads, and it’s something we wholeheartedly agree with.
The RS1600 represents the point when the RS badge became all-important for Ford. The relationship between Ford and Cosworth remains strong, and this was when it all began.
Initially, a race-bred version of the Escort was an opportunity for Cosworth to put an underused engine from the Lotus Elan to work. The body was strengthened and given a wider track, via those famously recognizable
The RS1600 continues to appeal to a broad crowd … Our photographer was so fond of it that he would’ve happily snapped it solo all day long
flared arches, to be made ready for the track. In 1968 and ’69, Aussie driver Frank Gardner would take out the British Saloon Car Championship in the Escort.
The initial twin-cam production engine was put on hold when Cosworth introduced the 1601cc BDA (Belt Drive, A-type) engine. If you think 1601cc is an odd displacement figure, you’re right: it was a homologation-beater for Ford, and allowed the company to chase outright race and series victories rather than just class wins.
Ongoing development saw the RS1600 spawn the Mexico (following success in the London to Mexico World Cup Rally in 1970), which replaced the BDA engine with the lower-displacement power plant from a Cortina. A number of Mexicos made their way to New Zealand in the early 1970s, as new car stock plummeted and the government dropped import tariffs for a short time.
The RS1600 continues to appeal to a broad crowd. In the time we spent with our feature car, a previous owner popped in for a chat, and we kept finding ourselves standing beside the Escort between photos. Our photographer was so fond of it that he would’ve happily snapped it solo all day long.
The values of Escort 1600s continue to rise, with an example in Australia recently going under the hammer for over NZ$125K.
Sierra Cosworth (RS5000) / Cosworth RS500
I imagine some of you are asking why there are two Sierras involved in this story. I asked the owner of the collection the same question, and the answer came down to progression, racing, and a little bit of sentimentality. The RS5000 (the Sierra Cosworth) was the owner’s first racing Ford, so it plays a major role in the collection. The RS500 was the follow-up to the original Sierra, but it was built with a very different purpose in mind: winning at any cost.
Sierra Cosworth (RS5000)
Walter Hayes CBE was integral in the development of the 1966 Le Mans–winning GT40S, a move driven by Henry Ford II to compete with Ferrari on the track. Some years later, he would receive a call to reignite this passion from Stuart Turner, who had just taken over Ford Motorsport. It had been a long time between drinks as far as motor sport success went for Ford, and Turner was determined to see that change.
With Hayes’ full support, engine-builder Cosworth was commissioned to build an engine to go into this new project. Cosworth was on board but on the basis that Ford order 15,000 of the engines. Because homologation requirements only demanded 5000 cars, this was quite an undertaking from Ford, but it eventually agreed.
As the racing project progressed, the Sierra body was chosen as the mule. An issue soon became apparent — the Sierra body, boxy and stunted as it was, suffered from body lift at high speed. When designer Lothar Pinske presented the prototype, there was some resistance to this new-look Sierra. Eventually, however, the concept was green lit, and production began. What culminated was, in hindsight, the Sierra’s most defining feature: a gigantic rear wing to hold the car on the road at speeds of up to 300kph.
Initial reservations from dealers regarding the RS5000 were soon put to bed following drive days. Production began in 1985 with just over 5500 cars being built in total. In an effort to keep costs down, the Cosworth was only offered in black, white, and Moonstone Blue and one interior colour (grey), with just two options boxes that could be ticked: central locking and electric windows.