When talking about extreme rally cars, particularly those with a Ford badge on the boot lid, it’s easy to get bogged down discussing the works programs, the rally assaults that gave as the snorting Group B RS200, the be-winged Group A Escort Cosworth, or the technological tour-de-force that was the Focus WRC. There’s no doubt that these were ultra-impressive machines that allowed FoMoCo to lock horns with other car giants like Lancia and Toyota, but to focus on these cars entirely is to miss an incredibly cool sub-category to the WRC, one that spawned some of the finest rally cars of the ’90s; F2, or as they’re better known, ‘Kit Cars.’

The Escort RS2000 you see here was Ford’s Kit Car challenger, and though some of you might scoff at the fact it’s a naturally aspirated, front-wheel drive Escort from an era when Ford were also competing in the full-blown Cosworth variant, you’d be underestimating the technological marvel that cars like this truly were. Free from the restrictions imposed upon Group A and WRC cars, F2 machines were lightweight and incredibly specialised, honed and focused on a specific type of rally. There were several distinct evolutions of the Escort F2 (see the box out for more info), and this car, owned by long time rally man Kevin Monaghan, is one of the earliest, though it’s subsequently been upgraded to the ultimate, Maxi specification.

“The earliest cars were Group A with standard Mk5 RS2000 bodies, then they evolved into F2 Kit Cars, before Ford eventually realised they needed more power and grip and homologated wider arches and a developed engine to make the final Maxi cars. This is a ’95 car, so an early Kit Car variant, but it was previously owned by Andy Hewitson and he oversaw its upgrade to Maxi spec,” explains Kevin.

What this means is that Kevin is now the owner of perhaps the ultimate front wheel drive Escort; a real NA screamer, capable of revving all the way to 7800RPM, with only the threat of the valves making a bid for freedom stopping him going even further! That engine is Ford Motorsport version of the 2.0 found in the road going RS2000, good for 270bhp and with bags of torque to boot. That said, the car wasn’t in its current, stunning condition when Kev bought it early in 2014, with several key components looking decidedly worse for wear. Kev and his team eventually ended up re-commissioning the car, sending the sequential transmission off to DP Rally Services for a rebuild, and stripping the suspension and hub assemblies down, the former being modified slightly to fit Proflex three-way adjustable uprights.

“Due to the car not being used for a long time prior to me buying it, we pretty much went through every nut and bolt to ensure everything was good to go. We gave the engine a compression check and found it was in great condition, so that was a massive relief,” Kev recalls.

That engine is quite something in itself, with forged Omega pistons and Arrow rods, a full Maxi spec head with aggressive cams and a suitably strengthened valve train, an enlarged sump and, perhaps strangely, a standard crank. (albeit one that’s been knife-edged and heat treated) Kev explains that though forged cranks were used in the final run of Maxi cars (like the one Gwyndaff Evans used on the 1997 Manx rally), they tended to allow the valve train to rev itself to death, so retaining the earlier part is something of a useful safety restriction. Keeping that high revving DOHC company is a sequential Xtrac gearbox and torque biasing differential, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this really is the key to the Maxi’s success. It’s a seriously clever bit of kit, right up there with modern diffs in terms of strength and capability, doling out power to the front wheels, adjusting for loss of traction and generally ensuring this front wheel drive Escort has the power and traction to give some four wheel drive opposition a run for its money!

“That really does make all the difference, and you can see where so many millions were spent in the car’s development back in the day – there’s no fuss, it just distributes power really evenly in any gear”

Kev upgraded to this car from a Super 1600 Corsa B, and though that was certainly no slouch, he has noticed several key areas where the Escort is far superior, thanks in no small part to it being a professionally built car, with massive manufacturer budget behind it. Those brakes really are huge, a full 380mm in diameter at the front, with six-pot calipers and, in works trim, a trick water-cooling system. (You need that if you’re putting nearly 300bhp through the front wheels of a rally car, especially on a hot, twisty Corsican stage.)

“They’re amazing brakes, but they’re hard to master. After our first event at Crail I was convinced they were rubbish, but it turned out I wasn’t braking hard enough to bring them up to temperature. It’s classic case of the car working better the harder you push, but to do that you first need the confidence in the hardware’s strength and capability,” Kev explains.

Those mammoth arches are home to 18in Compomotives, but they also help chart this particular car’s evolution over the years. Built as a Kit Car, it would’ve initially run the narrower Escort Cosworth arches that Ford fitted, but these have since been replaced by the much wider Maxi ones, with a design directly inspired by the Group 4 Mk2 Escorts, (this is especially clear in the pronounced curve of the rears). This bodywork change was an effective one, allowing the Maxi to compete on an even keel with the likes of the Renault Megane and 306 Maxi, both of which had previously had the beating of it, especially on sealed surfaces.

The rear end is equally trick, Ford having made the most of its expansive Escort road car range and homologating an independent rear suspension layout, something they were only allowed to do thanks to the short lived four-wheel drive RS2000. This proved a wise decision, giving the Escort an edge over some of its French rivals, especially on gravel. The cavernous arches and the rear suspension are just as effective now as they were in the ’90s, allowing for greater suspension travel and freedom to set the car up for specific events and stages.

Of course there’s no point having a car of this caliber if you’re not going to use it properly, though as we all know, motorsport is prohibitively expensive, hence Kev’s decision to team up with a number of key sponsors. Pirtek are heavily involved with the team (as if you couldn’t tell!), along with Millennium Couplings, F&R Belbin Engineering, Jobling Purser and GB Lubricants. This list of committed companies means that Kev and Co-driver, Chris Purvis, can drive the wheels off the car, and though only a few events were tackled in 2014, the pair have signed up for a full assault on the MSA REIS National Tarmac Championship in 2015. It’s a series that encompasses some of the most famous events in British rallying, from the flat-out blasts of the Epynt ranges, to the legendarily technical Manx stages, and you can bet that this car will take them all in its stride.

“We’re feeling hopeful and think the car can be really competitive, especially as we’ve got the hang of how it handles and stops. It’s pretty much the ultimate Escort, and we can’t wait to get out there to show what we can do!”

 

TECH SPEC

Engine
Ford Motorsport RS2000 I4 16v engine, forged Omega pistons and Arrow rods, heat treated and knife-edged crankshaft, large capacity sump, lightweight flywheel, ARP fixings, gas flowed Maxi head with custom cam profiles and double valve springs, carbon inlet tract and air box, Pectel T6 2000 ECU, uprated fuel system, Mocal oil cooler and Ford Motorsport radiator, Pirtek fluid transfer hoses, carbon fibre air box, stainless steel side exit exhaust system

Power
270bhp (approx)

Transmission
Xtrac six-speed sequential gearbox and ATB differential, AP clutch assembly, Ford Motorsport driveshafts and hubs

Suspension
Front: Proflex Jumbo three-way adjustable suspension with remote dampers, fully rose-jointed for adjustable camber, castor and track
Rear:  Proflex Jumbo three-way adjustable suspension with remote dampers, independent rear beam, fully rose-jointed for adjustable camber, castor and track

Brakes
Front: 380mm discs and AP six-pot calipers, competition pads, braided lines, water-cooling system
Rear: 260mm and AP twin-pot calipers, competition pads, braided lines

Wheels and tyres
7x18in Compomotive TH alloys, Michelin tarmac specification tyres

Interior
Triangulated, welded-in, twelve-point motorsport roll cage, Sparco bucket seats with Luke six-point harnesses, remote fuel and ignition shut offs, suede competition wheel, fire suppression system, flocked dash, carbon centre console, data logging system, map pockets

Exterior
1995 Ford Escort RS2000 Kit Car with Maxi arches, lightweight doors, front end and aero package, Pirtek livery, Morette headlights

THANKS
Pirtek, Millennium Couplings, F&R Belbin Engineering, Jobling Purser and GB Lubricants for all their support, and the rest of the team, without whom this whole programme wouldn’t be possible; Chris Purvis my Co-driver, Neil Thompson Logistics and Service Director and Garry Salmon, the Technical Director, and finally thanks also to my wife, Susan Monaghan

 

This feature first appeared in the FEB 2015 issue

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