Autocross founder John Cross on the Escort’s grass-roots motor sport revolution ‘The Escort MKI really hit the club rallying scene in 1972 or thereabouts, when the new MKII was just about to come out,’ says John Cross. ‘I’d started rallying in a Lotus Cortina MKII, but the Escort was like no car before it, and I doubt we’ll see its like again. It was affordable – you didn’t need an RS to go rallying – and you could tune it in stages, with parts available off the shelf. The aftermarket industry around them was huge, bigger than the Mini, and you could go a lot faster in an Escort. I started home-building rally Escorts in a council lock-up garage, bought and sold a few, and set up Autocross in 1978.
‘Escorts were readily available secondhand back then, especially old police cars, identified by the zip in the headlining for the light controls and the livery, pale blue with white doors. Kevin Videon once entered the RAC Rally in a liveried ex-patrol car and got a bollocking from the organisers for using the blue lights to make up time on a road stage!
‘Things changed in the Eighties, first with the Group 4 RS1800S, then the coming of Group B. The Works-spec RS1800 you’d need to stand a chance of winning a rally cost £25k – the price of a house back then – so many competitors switched to rallycross. Initially I ran Escort MKIIS in rallycross. They were just lightened to start with, but radiators and engines started getting broken so we moved them further back, and shifted the front crossmember forward – you could make modifications like that so long as you kept the original wheelbase, and it was still cheaper than going rallying.
‘They were developed to the point some held their own against Group B opposition – but it wasn’t cheap any more.’
RWD mechanicals in a MKIII shell: the ultimate rallycross Escort