Andrew Jordan and Kevin Turner went to get to
Few machines can even come close to challenging the Ford RS500 as touring car’s greatest monster. Quite apart from the ridiculous power and tyre-endangering performance, Ford’s Group A tin-top won multiple races around the world and was unbeaten in the British Touring Car Championship between September 1987 and the end of 1990, when it was essentially outlawed by rule makers.
Having already tasted success with the Xr4ti and RS Cosworth, four-time BTCC champion Andy Rouse brought the car into the series – improved aero, a bigger intercooler and twin injectors being the big advances over its predecessor. Rouse dominated the 1988 and ’89 BTCC seasons, but missed out on the overall drivers’ crown thanks to the idiosyncratic class-based scoring system. Robb Gravett put that right in 1990, taking nine wins from the 13 races, before Group A gave way to the normally aspirated two-litre category that would become Super Touring.
Given his experience in a range of machinery and love of powerful cars, 2013 BTCC champion Andrew Jordan seemed the ideal man for Motorsport News to put behind the wheel of an original Andy Rouse Engineering-built example. Can the turbocar live up to its reputation?
The RS500 waiting for Jordan to drive on the historic version of the Silverstone Grand Prix track is one of the most original around. Now owned by Andrew Kirkley, chassis 0388 was built for Laurence Bristow’s 1988 BTCC attack. Sharing with future champion Tim Harvey, Bristow took the car to second at Donington Park and scored two other podiums that season.
The car then spent some time in Japan before being rebuilt. Kirkley, who had raced a Ford Lotus Cortina in historic events that sometimes supported the BTCC during the RS500’S heyday, then acquired the car. He used it on track days, but his first experience wasn’t great.
“I came into a corner and I spun,” he recalls. “I accelerated, I spun. If I sneezed I spun! The old road tyres weren’t up to it. Then we put slicks on and the car came alive.
“In the wet I can’t see where I’m going – the wipers don’t seem to work fast enough – but the grip from the Dunlop wet tyres is bonkers.”
Kirkley has raced the RS500 in Ford Saloon/boss races and friend Graham Wait was successful in the 2013 Super Touring series.
The Cam-liveried tin-top still has Bilstein suspension, instead of more sophisticated later set-ups used on some of its historic racing rivals, and a basic ECU. It nevertheless can still produce over 500bhp, Kirkley tending to “run it at less than 2.2 bar [boost] otherwise you don’t get the reliability”. He also admits to softening-off the suspension, away from the “Rouse stiff ” set-up it had before.
When Jordan arrives (he’s also piloting Porsche 911 GT1 and Lola T70 sportscars on the day) he starts getting acquainted with a car different to the front-wheel drive 300bhp Motorbase Ford Focus he races in the BTCC.
“It’s a really cool-looking car,” says the 27-year-old. “I had a little model of a Texaco RS500 when I was a kid.”
Quick briefing with Kirkley – who also prepares the car – completed, Jordan heads down the Wing pitlane in the rear-wheel-drive racer. An oily smell he doesn’t like brings Jordan in after one lap but, once checks have confirmed all is well, he presses on.
It’s not long before Jordan has the tail out, is using the kerbs, and lapping on a competitive pace. He sets his best lap just as the flag comes out and rain begins to fall. We’re already wishing Jordan could have a go at racing the Ford too.
“It’s a f*****g handful,” he says even before climbing out. “That would sort the current BTCC grid out! It 100 per cent would sort the men from the boys.”
Once out of the car and back in the paddock, Jordan is able to give some more extensive feedback. Like many cars of the ’80s, the Ford combines immense power with quite rudimentary technology.
“It’s basic, with an old-school boost gauge and boost knob,” explains AJ. “Compared to now, they look so basic inside, but looks can be deceiving. When it first comes on boost it’s not subtle. There’s nothing and then it’s everything; it caught me out a couple of times, how the boost came on. When I went out the pitlane I got on it and I left a big pair of ‘11’s behind me.
“I can see why you’d have to do a lot of driving input to keep the boost up; building throttle against left-foot braking. It was hard to anticipate when it was going to come on.”
As well as the turbo lag common with cars of the period, Jordan immediately points to the chassis being some way behind the grunt. “It’s basic suspension and damping compared to the horsepower,” he adds.
“There were a couple of times coming out onto the Hangar Straight when it hit the bump there as it got boost and it was arms everywhere. I’m sure it’s
Andy Rouse 20* Robb Gravett 13* Tim Harvey 2 David Sears 2* Pete Hall 1 Steve Soper 1 Gianfranco Brancatelli 1 Jerry Mahony 1 Laurence Bristow 1* Tiff Needell 1* Mike Smith 1*