David Evans: The biggest mistake of my career

DirtFish's head of media reveals the moment he took leave of his senses and declined the chance to co-drive Colin McRae

Colin Escort 2.17

Which is it for you? Is it POO 505R? Or maybe POO 504R. Anybody in for DKP 191T? What am I talking about? Your favourite Ford Escort MkII. The best RS1800 around by registration plate.

In the 1970s, the letters POO were much sought-after. They generally designated a Boreham-built factory car. 505R was Roger Clark’s 1976 RAC-winning Escort; 504R a Hannu Mikkola version from a couple of years later.

DKP 191T will forever be Ari Vatanen’s championship-winning Rothmans car that became Black Beauty in 1982.

All of the above can justifiably lay claim to the title of the world’s most famous MkII.

But what about ONM 804V? The plate’s less well known, but for many it’s the only Escort that matters.

It’s Colin McRae’s Escort.

Acropolis Rally Athens (GR) 01-04 06 1981

This was the final rally car owned by the 1995 world champion. It was his take on what a MkII should be. A 2.5 Millington Diamond engine replaced the more conventional Cosworth-engineered BDA and was placed under the bonnet lower and further back than ever before.

The motor was mated to a six-speed sequential gearbox and run with independent rear suspension courtesy of Colin’s friend Gordon Birtwistle, the man behind Proflex.

The car’s most famous outing was also Colin’s last competitive rally: the 2007 Manx National. Co-driven by Campbell Roy, the pair were running an astonishing fifth overall and showing numerous World Rally Cars a clean pair of heels when the rear differential blew. Man, men and machine deserved more than that on the famous island.

Fortunately for Colin, he was ahead of the similar car of his main rival – and good friend – Phil Collins when the transmission failed. The sight and sound of Colin in a MkII, the Ford he’d been fascinated with as a youth, on the Isle of Man was something few would ever forget.

Rally RACC Catalunya Costa Daurada Salou 04-07 10 2007

Not far into the car’s development, a couple of years earlier, my phone had flashed the famous name. A call from Lanark wasn’t unusual in those days. More relaxed with more time on his hands, McRae was enjoying life.

So much so that he was going to the football…

When his location was relayed down the phone, I told the atmosphere must be terrible on the terraces. There was no noise.

“David, I’m not outside,” he said. “I’m in the box, drinking pink champagne – but I’m told the football’s good!”

The all-important call came in early May 2005, McRae was ready to run the Escort and had targeted an event Birtwistle himself was sponsoring: the Proflex Stages at the Leyland Test Track in the north of England.

The intention was to run as zero car and test the Escort’s Proflex suspension. The question: did I want to co-drive?

Test Rally Dicembre 2002

Of course I did. But I had plans for that weekend. Sensing my hesitation, Colin said: “No probs, another time – we’ve got plenty to do with the car. I’ll get the old man in with me.”

Colin and Jimmy shared driving and co-driving duties and had a ball in this most special of Escorts.

Me? I’ll forever regret that decision. Whatever I was doing that weekend couldn’t have come close to being as important as what I should have been doing.

I’d missed the moment I would never have forgotten.

And that very Escort will go under the hammer at Silverstone on Friday. Further details are available here.

Words:David Evans