Ford Escort RS2000 MK2 Review

By: Dave Morley, Photography by: Alastair Brook

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According to Morley the RS2000 Escort makes the point that the hotties from Ford Oz weren't all V8-powered

 

Ford Escort RS2000 MK2

The Mark 2 Escort RS2000 story in Australia starts back in 1976 when Ford imported a batch of 25 German-built RS2000s. That bought the brand a ticket into the two-litre class of local touring car racing where guys like Bob Holden, a former Bathurst winner, went on to duke it out with other two-litre contenders such as Celicas and Dolomite Sprints.

The German cars were snapped up by race teams, and since only 25 were imported (the minimum number to satisfy the Aussie touring-car homologation rules of the day) not many are around these days. That said, a couple have surfaced having been returned to road trim, but they copped a hard life and the last one I saw was only half an RS2000 (it was a cut and shut). They were also a pretty serious weapon with twin carburettors and extra radius rods at the rear to keep the live axle under control. The other way to spot a German RS is to check the grille: The German cars had `FORD’ script across the grille, while the locally-made RS2000s had the Ford blue oval.

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Mind you, you’d want to scratch a bit deeper than that before paying the huge bucks any seller will be asking for a German car.

With a Bathurst heritage and the sort of exposure that racing brings, the RS2000 earned a huge reputation in Australia, spurring Ford into action. And for those who enjoy putting off mowing the lawn until next week, breathe easy, because it took Ford a full three years to get its rear into gear. Since it was already building the Escort Mark 2 locally, it was a pretty neat fit to dovetail a few batches of RS2000s into the mix. But really… three years?

The difference, of course, was that the RS2000 we got was not the full-fat German-spec little monster. Nope, we got what was essentially a standard two-litre Mark 2 with the cosmetic bits and pieces, but nothing in the way of mechanical or driveline changes to make it a true hot-rod. Mind you, with 70kW and a torquey delivery, a relatively close-ratio four-speed gearbox and a weighbridge ticket of about 1000kg, the Mark 2 RS2000 could show just about any other four-cylinder car the door. Back in the day, it was really only rotary-engined Mazdas that could stay with a two-litre Escort.

| Reader resto: Ford Escort Mk1

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Any Mark 2 Escort with the two-litre engine (and there were GLs, Ghias and even a panel-van) got a bigger fuel tank which, in the RS2000 was fitted under the boot floor. In the smaller-engined car, the tank stood upright in the wheel-well in the boot, so the under-boot tank needed a different filler point. That was solved by hinging the number-plate for a truly annoying refuelling experience. But what about the hole in the rear quarter panel where the original filler neck was located? Fill it on the production line? Stamp a new panel? Nope, Ford slapped a plastic bung in the hole in the quarter panel and declared it job done. Simpler times.

The other design quirk becomes apparent when you want to change a camshaft (a pretty common thing to do in a rorty little car like the RS where extra carbs and old-school hot-up methods are the go). For some obscure, never-explained-satisfactorily reason, the camshaft in the ‘Pinto’ engine can only be removed via the rear of the head. So, changing a camshaft means lifting the cylinder head, neatly negating one of the more obvious workshop advantages of having an overhead-cam engine.

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Although you didn’t get the Euro-spec go-fast driveline and chassis bits, buyers of Aussie RS2000s did at least get the visual cues that started with the plastic, shovel-nosed panel with its quad headlights that predates the Falcon XR6’s similar four-eyed theme by a good decade and a half. Known as the droop snoot, the plastic nose-cone was uber cool on road cars, yet didn’t catch on in the rallying scene where competitors tended to stick with the flat-nose of the stock Escort which was easier to find and cheaper to fix after the inevitable Escort-tree interfaces.

Inside, the local cars missed out on the sexy Recaro front chairs with their too-cool fishnet headrests, and instead got a pair of Scheel seats which were cloth covered and were still pretty good to sit in with decent lateral support. A specific RS steering wheel was also fitted but even that couldn’t hide the fact that the Escort’s steering column was seriously on the drugs. The column stuck out of the firewall at a weird angle and was offset to the left (in right-hand-drive cars) making for an odd look and feel the first time you sat (almost) behind it.

| Buyer's guide: Escort RS2000

Ford -escort -7German cars had FORD spelled out in the grille while local RS2000s had the blue oval

The RS2000 treatment also included the goofy ‘RS2000’ script, the window-frame black-outs that are more 80s than an early Madonna track and a dashboard with a tacho and oil pressure gauge over and above the standard temp/fuel/speedo layout. If it all sounds like a bit of a hotch-potch, forget it; the RS2000 was about as bitchin’ as a little car could get in 1979. Teenagers (like me, just for starters) were nuts for the thing.

But if the Aussie Mark 2 RS2000 was a bit of a short-change compared with the Euro model, there was one thing we could have that the rest of the world couldn’t: A four-door RS2000. Yep, for reasons known only to Ford Oz’s Product Planning department back in the day, the brains trust figured there’d be a market for a pocket-rocket with four doors. Pardon? Yep, a four-door RS2000. And they sold them, too, but you can’t help but think that with less than 2500 RS2000s made here, the dealer kind of had you where he wanted you. So you took what you could get.

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I bought my RS2000 about six or seven years ago, picked it up from the seller, handed over the cash and immediately drove it interstate. Big call? Probably, but because I’d tracked down the best example I could afford (one of my oldest car-buying rules) I was pretty confident I was on to a good one. And so it has proved. Until the studio photo-shoot you see on these pages, the return journey from which involved a blown radiator and – I think, because I haven’t pulled it down yet – a cracked head. But I can’t blame the car for that; the culprit was surely a radiator with duff joints.

In any case, I’ll fix it and continue to Escort onwards, because this is one of the most fun little cars I’ve ever owned. I ran it at the Geelong Sprints a few years back and I often take it for decent runs into the bush. Yes, the ride on the lowered suspension is too hard and, yes, the stiff rear makes it oversteer more than it should (although in stock form, they were notorious for understeer) and, yes, I wish it didn’t have the aftermarket sunroof. I’d also like a genuine RS steering wheel, but finding a good one at a price that doesn’t involve selling a kidney is probably out of the question these days. Sadly, the price of steering wheels is a metaphor for the whole RS2000 thing and, as prices go silly, fewer and fewer of them see regular duty on the roads. Which is a shame, but a trap that I’m determined not to fall into.

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Ford MK2 Escort RS2000 Specs

BODY 2-door sedan ENGINE 1993cc SOHC inline four cylinder
POWER & TORQUE 70kW @ 5200rpm, 148Nm @ 3800rpm
PERFORMANCE 0-100km/h 10.9 seconds Top speed 175m/h
TRANSMISSION four-speed, all synchromesh manual
SUSPENSION Front – independent MacPherson struts, telescopic shocks Rear – live axle with semi elliptics, telescopic shocks
BRAKES disc front, drum rear power-assisted

 

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