ZETEC MK3 ESCORT
Darren McAllister has a problem: he just keeps wanting his Escort to get faster. But when you turn a race car into a family car, how do you find the balance between want and need?
Longterm project packs the right mods.
Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. In broad terms, this simply means that the endless cycle of new things being invented is fuelled primarily by a need for them to exist; if you really need to do something, you’ll think of a way to do it. But there’s another edge to this, something more psychological… once you start feeling the need for something, it’s hard to satisfy yourself, to scratch that itch, and you find yourself dropping down into another popular idiom: power corrupts. Anyone who’s done any level of track driving will be entirely on board with this theory. You don’t need a fast car to have fun on track, because the way you behave on a circuit is so entirely different to the way you behave on the road — any car, even a bone-stock 40 bhp hatchback, can be thrown around with reckless abandon and plaster a massive grin across your face. The problem is that track driving is like a drug. Every lap has to be faster than the last, with greater straight-line speed and more neatly clipped apexes, and sooner or later the car in question will need to be faster. So you’ll make it faster, but immediately find that it needs to be even faster.
Why are we talking about track driving when the Mk3 Escort we’re looking at here is so clearly a pristine show car? Well, actually that’s just a natural by-product of a properly-built project. Darren McAllister has put a Herculean amount of effort into getting it to look this way, but it’s ultimately been built to satisfy his lust for power, and it all stems from a deep-seated passion for racing and track hooning.
“I’ve done a lot of racing and always had projects on the go for that — XR3is, XR4x4s and so on,” he explains. “I’ve always been a Ford man too, Sierras, Escorts, you name it. And I have to
admit I was into the big wheels and bigger stereos back in the day, in the Max Power cruising era! Why did I choose this particular Mk3 this time? Well, it was cheap and quick and I needed a car for racing, there was no other reason than that!”
Long time coming
Darren’s actually owned this car since 1999, having spotted it for sale 40 miles from home and snapped it up on the spot. It’s been evolving ever since, and the Escort you see today is very different to the car he first set eyes on back in the 20th Century. “It was Crystal Gold at the time,” he recalls, “standard-looking apart from Series 1 RS Turbo wheels, the rear spoiler and side spats. Oh, and a 5 inch exhaust tailpipe! It had a bored-out 1600 CVH engine running a Saab turbo through the carb, RS Cosworth intercooler and a big cam — the thing went like the proverbial off a shovel, and spun the wheels into third! I just had to have it, so I paid £900 for it, took it home, stripped everything out of it and threw it all in the bin. Then I put a roll cage and a bucket seat in it and raced it on circuits for two years!”
After enjoying the Escort for what it was bought to achieve for a good while, Darren started having ideas about cleaning the Mk3 up a bit. So he set about taking all the race-related dings out of the body as well as chasing away any hint of the creeping tinworm, fitting a new front panel, front wings and bonnet, as well as delocking the doors. Momentum slowed on the project, however, as life has a habit of getting in the way, and the shell sat in primer in Darren’s Dad’s garage for a good few years before he got around to rekindling the flame of enthusiasm.
The original plan had been simply to tidy it up, keeping the cage and bucket seats installed, but by this point a wife and child had appeared on the scene, so reinstalling the rear seats seemed like a good idea. Necessity you see, mother of invention. He had to ‘invent’ more seats. And while ideas were building, the family rallied round to get everything back on track: “My father-inlaw painted it for me one Saturday in my Dad’s garage,” Darren remembers. “We then set about building it back up together; this started out as a cheap project, but that ended up going out of the window as I found myself renewing, changing and upgrading pretty much every part as we progressed! By this time I’d sold the turbo engine and only had a 1600 CVH lying about — my Dad was a mechanic for years and knows the CVH inside-out, and he rebuilt it properly and we put a set of bike carbs on it. I drove it for a while like that, but it wasn’t quick enough…”
There’s that power corrupting again. Darren hunted down an 1800 Zetec block to build the motor into a ZVH, but guess what? That wasn’t quick enough either. So the next logical step was to buy himself a mint, low-mileage Mk1 Mondeo Si with a full Ford service history, then hoik out the 2-litre Zetec and throw the rest away. Needs must.
“My father-in-law helped me put the Zetec in using an Escort oil pump, water pump, sump and pick-up pipe,” he says. “The engine mount needed modifying too. I was going to use the original injection system from the Mondeo, but it seemed very restrictive and too quiet so I
went for bike carbs again. I love the sound of them! My kids now call the car ‘Loudy’…”
The carbs in question are Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R items on a danST Engineering manifold, and they provide a sonorous symphony working with the modified Magnex exhaust system and its old-school rolled-out Scorpion tail. The motor’s awaiting mapping but Darren estimates around 160-170 bhp, which is delivered via a set of Mk4 XR3i gearbox internals hidden in the Mk3 casing. The chassis is gruff enough to cope too, sporting a full Series 1 RS Turbo suspension set-up (standard dampers up front for comfort, sport items out back, plus lowering springs) and a mixture of RS Turbo and RS Cosworth brakes.
Necessity spirited these upgrades into place, corrupting power kept the numbers spinning like a fruit machine, and again necessity changed the nature of the Escort.
It’s been a long and colourful journey and, as fate keeps rolling the dice, so the car keeps evolving. This enduring power struggle is far from over.
“I LOVE THE SOUND OF THE ZX-9R BIKE CARBS — MY KIDS NOW CALL THE ESCORT, LOUDY”
Darren’s owned this Escort for almost 20 years, and in that time has overseen some big changes.
Centre console now neatly houses oil temperature and voltage gauges.
Interior is from a later XR3 and a far cry from this Mk3’s former race-car incarnation.
The 8x16 inch Compomotive TH rims fill the Escort’s arches rather nicely.
The well-detailed engine bay has seen a few engines — the latest is this Silver Top Zetec from a Mondeo.
There’s no doubting that!
Darren had planned to run the Zetec’s factory EFI, but instead swapped to a set of bike carbs from a ZX-9R.