When DriveTribe shut down on January 28, 2022, many great articles were lost. In order to celebrate the great content and hard work of DriveTribe creators over the past few years, AlphaGearhead decided to run a special series for the “Best of DriveTribe”.
The first entry in this series comes from Daman Matharu, with his history of Ford RS cars, unedited, exactly as it was on DriveTribe!
The working man’s dream
Ford has had a rich history of performance vehicles. In America, they had the Mustang, the GT40 (later GT), the Lightning trucks and many more, however, in Europe, there were 2 letters that meant business on a Ford, RS. We’ve had RS badged vehicles for 50 years, and thanks to the axing of the Mk4 Focus RS project, it may be the end of the legacy. But before we get to that, let’s start where it all began.
That title out of context doesn’t warrant a great meaning, but I guarantee you would have more fun with these Escorts, and are less likely to get locked up (unless you get carried away).
The Ford Escort Mk1 quickly found rallying success using a Lotus Twin cam powerplant, however would not bear the RS logo until 1970. The First RS was the RS1600. It used a Cosworth BDA engine, which used a block similar to the standard car, but with a special Cosworth head and some tinkering. That all brought the power up to 115hp, 10 more then the lotus-derived twin cams, and 30hp more than the OHV design on the Escort Mexico. They later released the RS2000, which actually developed less power than the RS1600, but was less highly strung and generally a more usable engine. It was more road oriented then the near race engined RS1600. All of the Mk1 RS models received strengthened chassis, as did the Mexico, and were successful rally cars. They also partook in British touring car events.
The Mk2 Escort saw a lot more intent from ford. The RS1800 was, like the RS1600, more powerful than the RS2000, and were made for rallying. The RS1800 had 115hp from the BDA Cosworth engine, this time 1835cc and had a 0-60 of 9 seconds; this was a force to be reckoned with. The RS2000 had a distinctive slant nose as pictured, and made 110hp. It was more road-bound, but still packed a good punch and could be made into a competent rally car. The base of the RS range was now the Mexico, it had a pinto 1.6 making 95hp.
The Mk3 escort was a huge departure from the Mk1 and Mk2, being front wheel drive and having independent suspension, to meet the market gap of the civic and the golf. This meant no more tail happy slides, however it still had some great performance models. The RS1600i was a homologation car, being only a little faster then the XR3i and a lot more expensive, so it wasn’t a big sales success but was still cool none the less. The king of the Mk3 was the RS turbo, which made 132hp, and had an Limited slip differential. They looked similar to the RS1600i, but were all white, only in white, unless you were Princess Diana.
The Mk4 was more of a reskin of the Mk3, and this wasn’t much different with the RS. The RS1600i was dropped, and the RS turbo was made permanent, which meant the car grew more refined more subtle and had a whole host of colour options, even YOU could get one in black!
The Mk5 escort departed from the Mk3/4, and wasn’t greatly well received comparatively, however the RS2000 was still the peach in the range. This had 150hp, which although was great hot hatch territory, wasn’t a great send off for the performance Escort. Although the Mk6/7 were similar to the Mk5, Ford never bothered with RS models for them. In 1994, the RS2000 4×4 was released, being a little slower but having 4WD traction, However, this wasn’t the send off of the performance escort….
The RS Cosworth was the king of fast Escorts. It made 227hp, and was notoriously tunable. Forget your GT-Rs, your Evolutions, your NSXs, this was Britain’s entry to the tuner fight. It was also the entry to the rally stage, being a homologation model. While the car was an Escort on top, underneath the car used Sierra Sapphire mechanicals which is why it has a longitudinal engine placement. The early ones required for homologation had huge turbos with accompanying lag, although the later ones had smaller turbos in a bid to make the car more drivable.
The Escort was probably the lifeblood of the RS range, consistently being around in one form or another, only to be superseded by the Focus RS, however that didn’t mean it was all that was Built with the RS badge, hell, not everything with an Escort RS badge, but we will get onto that later…
The other car that is synonymous with Cosworth was the Sierra, Starting in homologation form, it moved to a more conventional body style later on. Unfortunately it never saw the rally success of other Ford models due to the Delta Integrale and the Toyota Celica, however it was still an a great car and a British icon.
The Ford Sierra RS Cosworth was originally launched as a homologation car for Group A touring car racing. It was reasonably successful on the track, and was the most powerful car partaking at the time. While the race car had over 370hp, the road car made do with 204hp, both using the Cosworth YBD engine. The early cars used a T3 turbo, but then Ford wanted a more powerful car, so they took 500 RS Cosworths and made an evolution model (RS500), with the Garrett T4 turbo, which when in racing application made nearly 550hp.
The later Sapphire Sierras were a more marketable 4 door configuration.
Outside of this, the underpinnings were similar to the 3 door, so it was still a rocket ship with a number plate. In January 1990, they released the 4×4, which mated the YBD motor with 4WD to make a rally monster. Unfortunately under the Sierra name it wouldn’t see the success it deserved, however its underpinnings went on into the Escort RS Cosworth, which shortly became a rally legend. It also became quite a prominent car on TV, as a car easily capable of out running damn near everything the police had with door locks and looks of a family saloon was going to be stolen and used as getaway cars. These cars are partly the reason British car insurance is so crazy
The Ford Capri itself was an important car. It was the European mustang, its Cortina underpinnings at its sleek fastback looks made it a working mans dream, and with the RS badge.
The RS2600 was the first of these special editions. It was the first Euro Ford to receive fuel injection as well as a bunch of other upgrades. These were all in a bid to get the car ready the European Touring Car Championship which it won in 1971 and 72. The car only came in LHD.
Right, so the LHD market had an RS, now the RHD. Instead of using a 2.6L the RS3100 used a 3.1L Essex V6 making 148hp. The car was competitive in motorsport, but with its high £2500 price tag it didn’t shift. They got enough to homologate the car and shut the doors which made the RS3100 rare. This lead to it becoming the holy grail of the Capri family, with one selling in October of 2019 for over £52,000.
The RS 2.8 turbo was a special ran by German RS dealers. It had a 2.8 Granada engine with a T4 turbo and other bits to make 188hp. It also had the aggressive widened fenders and a bunch of suspension gubbins to make it corner. Some where from a 155 to a touch over 200 are thought to have been converted to the 2.8 RS turbo.
While today the range toping Fiesta is the ST with RS reserved for the WRC car, way back in 1990 for the the third generation of the supermini, you could get an RS.
The First Fiesta RS was the RS turbo. In 1990, ford decided to shove the engine from the Escort RS at the time in it. After fitting a smaller turbo to it, they had put 128hp in the little Fiesta. It also had Recaro seats and styling cues from the Escort RS with its bonnet vents and little rear spoiler. It also has some very 90s 3 spoke wheels. Like the other performance fords of the time, it was easy to steal and a target for joyriders of Britain in the early 90s.
Like the Mk1 Escort RS, the smaller engine was more powerful but more temperamental, so Ford ditched it for a bigger 1.8l unit creating the RS1800. It made nearly the same power as the RS turbo, and had similar performance. The styling was slightly muted loosing the bonnet scoops, the large spoiler and opting for more conventional looking 5 spokes. This was probably an effort to mitigate the number of cars stolen.
The holy grail of rallying saw the blue collar heroes enter the rally stage. The path forged in the 70s with the escort was set to continue, but a 4WD German Thorn put an end to that and Ford had to develop a monster.
Ford’s first attempt at Group B was the Escort 1700T. The Mk3 Escort was FWD, except this one, which was converted to RWD. It used a Cosworth 1.8l engine making 300hp and it was meant to continue the Escorts rallying success, however When Audi debuted the Quattro, The RWD 1700T was horribly out classed, and ford scrapped the project.
Not wanting to give up on group B, Ford went mad. They, from the ground up, built a 4WD mid engined supercar. The 1.8 BDT engine from the 1700T was put behind the drivers seat, and the fibreglass bodywork was actually delegated to Reliant. In an attempt to make it look like a ford, the Windscreen and the rear lights were lifted straight from the Sierra. The doors were too after some modification but it didn’t matter, the car still looked like a custom built spaceship. Unfortunately the insane car didn’t have time to see success, and soon after being introduced was involved in a fatal accident and very much sped up the demise of Group B as the FIA only saw the cars going faster and faster and being more and more dangerous.
And all of that was just in the 20th century, as Ford moved forward they focused there motorsport efforts on the Ford Focus, making the current lineage of RS cars.
After the end of the Escort RS, it was another few years until we saw the RS badge again, this time on the Focus. The 2.0l turbocharged engine made over 200hp, it handled well and it had distinctive looks with the flared arches, the inlets on the side of the bumper and the metallic colour. You could have it any colour you like, as long as its Imperial Blue.
The Second Generation of the Ford Focus RS is a true mentalist. 300hp from a 5 cylinder turbo unit made for a beautiful sound as the power was sent through the front wheels while a clever diff removes some torque steer. This is a thoroughbred drivers car, and often overlooked for its competitors like the Subaru WRX STI and the Golf R. It doesn’t have the 4WD of those cars but packs a punch. The RS500 badge was resurrected in 2010, where 350hp was placed through the front wheels. All of the 500 cars were panther metallic black, but with a special film placed to make it matte black, which gave a stealthy looks.
Both times with the earlier Focuses, Ford promised 4WD but never delivered. Now, with 4WD and over 350hp the classic hot hatch had become something of a super hatch, and just in the nick of time as VW and Mercedes had brought similar competition the Evo and STI brought to the Cosworths of the 90s. Ford had entered one of there greatest marquees into a hot dog fight against German enemies and for the next 8 years we would see some serious battle….
Except we didn’t, as the A45 and RS3 went through there next phases with the new generations of there pedestrian counterparts, Ford were gearing up to do the same thing. It was already a precarious act, with the praise the Mk3 garnered the team couldn’t afford to mess up, but they also had there backs against the ropes with tailing in emissions standards and the slowing sales of hatchbacks in favor of small crossovers. This all created a storm and with the increased CO2 taxation, Ford pulled the plug.
It seems ford have given up on the badge for this generation, and the Mk3 Focus RS will most likely be the last fully petrol RS ever made but for the next generation of focus (after this one), maybe with a bit of luck, we will see a partly electrified RS, to once again stick the middle finger up to the more established classic German brands.