1979 Ford Escort RS2000: Our shed
An animal encounter makes Morley's Ford Escort a bit more feral...
Ford Escort RS2000
A mate of a mate had built himself a quick Mark 1 Escort with a stout Pinto and big, fat tyres under those too-cool forest flares. And as much as I love the Mark 2 Esky, I have to admit this early girl was a real piece of work.
Things were going well until Old Mate took the Mark 1 for a blast up into the hills outside Melbourne one fateful day. Grunting up through a forest near Healesville, a dirty great kangaroo decided he needed to cross the road at the precise moment mate-of-a-mate and his little yellow Ford were attempting to occupy the same piece of Australia.
One minute life was good, the very next, things were going to hell in a marsupial kind of way. Being a city boy, Old Mate faithfully followed his instincts and gave the tiller a mighty heave to go round the ’roo. Skippy, meanwhile, was following his own instincts and disappeared into the scrub. In one bounce. The Escort, brakes locked, ploughed into the earth bank on the high-side of the road. No bounce.
It arrived home on the back of a truck and it was pretty obvious that she was a write-off. In fact, about the only part of the Mark 1 not bent was the trick little lumpy camshaft. Which is when my mate rang. Did I want the camshaft out of the wreck for my Mark 2? It seemed a shame not to be able to salvage something.
Now, swapping the camshaft in a Pinto is no big deal. Until that same Pinto is installed in an Escort, that is, because the camshaft can only be slid into its bearings from the rear of the engine. No probs on a bench or engine stand, but in an engine fitted to a car, it means the head has to come off. I’ve heard of blokes milling a big hole in the firewall and withdrawing the cam through the cabin, but I can’t see how that would work with the dashboard in place. Nope, head off it was.
With the new cam in, we bolted the manifolds and rocker cover on and hit the key. The engine cranked, coughed and then fired, but man, it was not happy. As well as running rougher than a cheese-grater, there was a tapping noise from the top end that hadn’t been there before. We quickly shut her down and pulled the rocker cover off to check the valve clearances, figuring we had a loose rocker. Nope. We checked and double checked, but the longer this process went on, the more we realised we had a major problem.
Finally we admitted defeat and pulled the head off again, discovering in the process that the cam timing was two teeth out. But we’d triple checked that during assembly, so clearly it had jumped when we cranked her over. That’d be the cough, then. And with the head off, we could see where two of the eight valves had been hitting the piston crowns on two cylinders. The marks were very faint and only really in the carbon on the piston top, but clearly, this was the source of our tapping noise.
The valves weren’t actually bent, but when we leak-tested the head (as we should have done first up) they pretty much all leaked. So, we took the opportunity to lap in the valves and clean things up generally. With a brand-new timing belt we quadruple-checked the valve timing again, wound it over by hand to check for valve-to-piston clearance and bunged it all back together.
Now, when the Pinto is on full choke, it idles like a bridge-ported rotary. Even when it’s properly warm, it has a fantastically lopey idle that suits this angry little Henry perfectly. There’s not a lot happening below about 2500rpm, and you have to be careful with the throttle as the little pumper Weber can overwhelm things. But from 2500 to 6000rpm, the Pinto really comes alive even if, at 6000, it’s all over thanks to the single carb.
Crucially, it now has even more attitude, the head is working properly and the timing-belt is new. And I love it even more.
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