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?

Classic Ford - - CONTENTS - Words Daniel Be­vis

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…”

Twin-cam time

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”

Pho­tos Adrian Bran­nan

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.

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