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1974 Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000: Legend Series

By David Morley, 13 Aug 2018 Features

1974 Ford Escort Mk1 RS2000: Legend Series

Ford's pint-sized rally ace achieved cult status in Europe, but a small batch made it down under...

Mention the term `RS2000' at a barbecue, and thoughts will turn - briefly - from beer and burnt bangers to the Escort Mk2 with the distinctive droop-snoot and black rubber rear spoiler.

This feature was originally published in MOTOR’s April 2011 issue

See, that's about all we know about hot-shoe little Fords, but over in Europe (where even today a proper performance car is a hot-hatch, and not a blinged-up taxi on 20s) the whole Ford RS family is a revered one.

Right from the moment the Mk 1 Escort was launched in Europe and Great Britain at the bitter end of 1967, Ford figured it was on to some kind of winner with the boxy little `Scort. I mean, compared with the antiquated Anglia it replaced, the new car was some kind of glimpse into the future.

The Cortina, meanwhile, had done what so many cars before (and since) had done; it grew into a bigger car with aspirations and marketing to match.

Legend Series: 1966 Ford Lotus Cortina

Sure, the original Escort was a volume-selling mum-and-day model first and foremost, but that didn't stop the Ford boffins turning the little bloke into a world-beating rally car. And along the way, somebody also figured that spinning a range of fast road-cars off the back of that success was a pretty bright idea. They were right.

Of course, none of this would have been possible had the Escort not been such a huge sales success. While it sold strongly across Europe, it was the UK market that really took the thing to its heart. During the last couple of years of  the 1960s, the Escort was Britain's hottest selling new car and, in the middle of 1974, less than six years after its launch, the two-millionth Escort rolled off the line.

Mechanically, the Escort subscribed to the keep-it-simple-stupid principle. Front suspension was a simple independent set-up but differed from the pack by using rack-and-pinion steering. At the rear, cart-springs supported a spit-simple live-axle. And that was pretty much that.

By the time the early 1970s had rolled around, Ford had the RS1600 and the Escort Mexico on the go.

The RS1600 was the full-fat rally-car homologation special and represented Ford's first ever double-overhead camshaft, multi-valve production engine. It kind of elbowed the Lotus-powered Escort Twin Cam sideways, too, and was both faster and more robust than the rather fragile, eight-valve Lotus unit.

The secret was in the now-revered BDA engine which was simply a better, tougher mousetrap than anything that had gone between a Ford's chassis rails to that point. It was refined over the years, but in its first incarnation ran a cast-iron, crossflow Ford block under the head developed by Cosworth. It made 120 horsepower and instantly started to dominate motorsport events around the world.

Oh, and here's how to win beers at the pub: How did the engine get the name BDA? It stands for Belt-Driven A-series (the twin camshafts were driven by a toothed belt).

The Mexico, meanwhile, was a raw, stripped-out little number built to celebrate (cash in on) the Escort's success in the London to Mexico World Cup Rally with Hannu Mikkola at the wheel. The idea was to provide Ford dealers with a hero car but without the cost and complexity of an RS1600 or Twin Cam.

Essentially, then, the Mexico was an RS1600 without the Cossie mill. Instead, it got the 1.6-litre pushrod motor and even though it boasted just 86 horsepower, with its sub-800kg kerb weight, it could still get to 100km/h in under 11 seconds and would all but top 100 miles-per-hour. Not bad for the price.

Inevitably, however - and this just proves that car companies have always been looking for the marketing lever - Ford decided that it needed a model that fitted in somewhere between the exotic RS1600 and the bare-bones Mexico. And that car was the RS2000.

And without wishing to condone the work of the world's marketing men, you can see the sense in it all. In fact, we can see precisely why a cashed up young bovver boy might want something with more clout than a Mexico but with less projected garage time and fewer insurance dollars than typically demanded by the RS1600.

Even so, the RS2000 was pretty much a pure marketing exercise and didn't actually become a motorsport homologation model, but we'll forgive it that.

The first trick, of course, was to get Ford's European dealers interested in yet another sporting model based on the Mark 1 Esky. To do that, Ford's Competition Department built a few prototypes and then invited the German white shoes over to Brands Hatch for a play-date with the RS2000. It worked and by lunchtime, Ford was allegedly holding two-million-quid's worth of orders for left-hook versions.

The RS2000 entered production in left-hand-drive form in mid-1973 and by the end of that same year, right-hookers were filling Brit Ford showrooms. Priced at about 1400-quid, the RS2000 was 200-quid more than a Mexico but 200-quid less than an RS1600. Perfect then.

So what exactly was this piece of marketing genius?

As well as plusher interior trim (if you can call vinyl and hard plastic plush) the RS2000 was most easily identified by the fat stripes that ran up each side and across both the bonnet and bootlid.

Those who wanted a little more subtlety could delete option the big stripes in favour of a slimmer set of stick-ons. Or they could just cut out the middle man and buy an Austin Allegro. Ford's 13-inch, four-spoke alloys were a popular add-on.

Essentially, the RS2000 was an RS1600 without the twin-cam motor, but other differences included a battery under the bonnet (it was in the boot on an RS 1600) and conventional Escort pedals (the RS1600 had a specific pedal-box). But you did get the six-dial dashboard of other hot Mark 1s.

But the biggest alteration from the hot Escort blueprint was the ditching of the old OHV Kent motor. In its place was bolted the two-litre lump with a single overhead camshaft. It's known colloquially the world over as the Pinto engine and you may remember it from such Fords as up-spec locally-made Mark 2 Escorts and two-litre Mark 3 Cortinas.

It's a tremendous little motor with a huge potential for having its nuts tuned off, but even in stock RS2000 form, it was good for just over 100 horsepower thanks to a single downdraught Weber.

Throw in the aluminium sump of the RS2000, close-ratio four-speed box with alloy bellhousing and the taller final-drive ratio and you had yourself quite a thing back when Ernie Sigley and Denise Drysdale were shooting up the charts with a little ditty called 'Hey Paula'.

Speaking of Australia, most people assume that it wasn't until the Mark 2 of 1976 that we were treated to the RS2000 badge down under. Not so. Sometime in 1974, Ford Oz did bring in a batch of 25 Mk1 RS2000s to homologate the package for local motorsport.

The 25 cars in question were all UK-spec, UK-built cars and were imported fully built up. They were also snapped up by enthusiasts. But despite the ensuing decades, those in the know reckon the majority of those 25 are still around, even if some of them are in bits waiting to be restored.

And what would you pay for a Mark 1 RS2000 these days? Well, as we went to press with this, there was a single, private-import (so, not one of the batch of 25 official imports) for sale in extra nice nick with an asking price of $43,000. Who'd have thought a car for young hoons would have turned out to be such a great investment?

Age is only a number on Legend Series

Pros
- How cool are Mk 1 Escorts now?
- Dead easy to work on and maintain.
- Relatively speaking, still an affordable classic.
- Super tuneable.
- You could easily build a replica for all the fun at half the price.

Cons
- Pretty thin on the ground in original form.
- Basic cabin means no air-con or cruise control.
- Its significance is lost on the bogan masses.
- Could do with a five-speed box for long distance work.

The other RS2000

Like we said, the RS2000 most Aussies think of is the Mk2 model. But within that, some Mk2 RS2000s are more collectible than others. The most coveted ones are the 25 that turned up in a single batch in 1976. They were fully-imported cars (built in Germany) and were all two-doors.

Our Cars: Morley's 1979 Escort 

But by 1979 (and into 1980) Ford Australia figured it was on to a good thing (if a few years too late) and managed to get the green light to brew up a home-grown RS2000. Unlike the imported jobs, though, the local RS2000 was more marketing than hardware and was pretty much just an Escort with the Pinto engine and the rubber nose.

It was available as a two-door and a four-door, the latter being the only RS2000 made anywhere in the world with a four-door shell.