Over the years, Ford has produced some of the most notable and recognizable rally cars in the world. One of the more iconic cars from the company is the Escort RS1800, more widely known as the MkII. The Escort brand gained huge popularity in rally thanks to the original MkI (RS1600), which was manufactured from 1968-1974 and was the car chosen by most people to be converted into competition cars. During that time the MkI was the car that Ford Motorsports chose to concentrate it’s efforts on for racing. Located at the Boreham Airfield in Essex, Ford Motorsports was situated near the Ford R & D headquarters in Dunton and the Advanced Vehicle Operations in Aveley. This basically gave them first access to Ford’s style and engineering departments, helping them get a jumpstart on developing another amazing rally car to succeed the already stellar MkI.
Dubbed by some as one of the most important and successful rally cars ever produced, the Escort MkII began life as a sort of reincarnation of the original MkI. The biggest differences being the body and exterior styling between the two generations. Ford Motorsports had spent countless hours and races developing everything that went into the original Escort, so being able to essentially take the proven parts from the MkI works car and bolt them right into the new body made their lives that much easier, In-turn giving them more time to focus on improving upon everything that had been previously developed.
While the MkII technically wasn’t a “new” car, that wasn’t much of a disadvantage to Ford Motorsports since they already knew the challenges they would be facing. They also had a pretty good idea of the cars they would be up against which included; Fiat 124 & 131 Abarth, Lancia Stratos, Porsche 911, Saab V4 & 99 turbo and the Vauxhall Chevette. The Stratos and 911 were the only two with more power than the Escort, but were also considerably heavier.
Part of the collection of rally cars that sits in our lobby here at DirtFish is an immaculate, purpose-built replica of the Eaton Yale Ford Escort MkII that was driven by Hannu Mikkola to win multiple rallies spanning between 1978 and 1979. Some of the more notable wins for the original car include; Cyprus Rally Rally Portugal, Welsh, Scottish and Burma rallies, even winning the RAC in 1979.
Don’t even begin to think that this car was only meant to sit in a showroom its entire life… Over the years it has been used for various events in the UK. It was built and finished by amazing BGM-Sport in 2006 meeting the full historic rally regulations with an identical livery to the original Eaton Yale car that was raced by Mikkola. After it’s completion it was first used in 2007 for two training days. The next time it was used was in 2008 by Gymkhana star, WRC Driver and Head Hoonigan, Ken Block, during the Colin McRae Forest Stages Memorial Rally. Unfortunately on his 2nd run during shakedown, Ken Rolled the car. Luckily, the team at BGM-Sport was able to make all the needed repairs in an impressive 12 hours, allowing Ken to compete in rally, finishing 52nd out of 100 entrants.
The next time the Escort was used was just as, (if not more) special than it’s previous outing with Ken. The car was borrowed by Ford Motorports in 2009 for various media and promotional press events including the Goodwood Festival of Speed where it was driven by Mikko Hirvonen and Björn Waldegård. Hirvonen couldn’t get enough of the car, wanting to drive it the entire time. To make that outing even more special, Hunna Mikkola turned up to take a drive in the car that was based on his RAC-winning Escort.
(Hannu Mikkola and Björn Waldegård with DirtFish Owner, Steve Rimmer)
Following the Festival of Speed, the Escort was packed up in a container, put on a boat and shipped across the pond to the DirtFish headquarters in Snoqualmie, Washington, where it currently resides (don’t worry, it has been driven a few times since it arrived here, it’s not just collecting dust).
Now that I’ve given a short history on the car, let’s get into the technical details. Why don’t we start off with the power-maker? The original RS1800 was equipped with a fuel injected 1790cc Cosworth BDE engine, for the Eaton Yale Escort it was replaced with a John Wilcox prepared 2.0 Liter, 4 cylinder, 16 valve BDA competition engine that produces 270 brake horsepower. That is more than enough, considering the car is a lightweight coming in at 1,940 lbs (880 kgs), giving it a great power-to-weight ratio.
Originally designed by Cosworth in 1967 and first tested in 1968, the BDA engine wasn’t actually used in the Escort until January 1970. At the time, Cosworth didn’t have the manpower and resources to build a large quantity of these engines, so the first run of production engines were built by Harpers of Letchworth. In 1972, unbeknownst to Cosworth, Brian Hart engineered a light-weight alloy cylinder block which was applied to the rally cars in late 1972. The alloy block didn’t have the same resizing limitations as the cast iron block and was able to be easily enlarged to a 2.0 liter (which was convenient, since this was the upper limit of what was allowed at the time). Keeping the BDA engine lubricated is a dry-sump oil system. Linking the engine to the driveline is a five-speed straight-cut ZF gearbox.
True to form, the Escort is equipped with Bilstein front and rear struts and has a set of coilovers on the front and leaf springs on the rear (again, “true to form” for the 70’s and 80’s). The wheels are a 13” alloy wheel made by Minilite and are wrapped in Dunlop SP Sport tire that are 200/530R13 on the front and 235/530R13 on the rear.
The Eaton Yale Ford Escort MkII is by far one of the most popular cars sitting in the DirtFish lobby. With the rich rally history of the Escort brand, it is also one of the most notable and recognizable in not only the rally world, but the motorsports world.
(More detail and restoration photos below)
Article by: Trevor Wert (DirtFish)
Photos by: Justin Fitch (DirtFish)/Ian Gwynne (BGM-Sport)