THE RS EVO­LU­TION

FORD’S PER­FOR­MANCE TIME­LINE

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Lach­lan Jones Pho­tos: Adam Croy

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.

Her­itage col­lec­tion

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.

RS1600 Es­cort

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.

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