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Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Slip Into A Cossie Published: 21st Oct 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Lux
  • Worst model: Anything dodgy
  • Budget buy: RS2000 4x4
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes (some have cat)
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4140 x W 1740 mm
  • Spares situation: Good
  • DIY ease?: Typical modern
  • Club support: Very strong
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, if original
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A true road racer great
Generally durable but badly modded ones willl cause meltdown. Head gaskets are another main problem Generally durable but badly modded ones willl cause meltdown. Head gaskets are another main problem
Various trim packs were available – leather is popular. Mostly Escort, but those RS parts are becoming scarce Various trim packs were available – leather is popular. Mostly Escort, but those RS parts are becoming scarce
Watch for tuned and customed cars because originality will become more critical in the years ahead Watch for tuned and customed cars because originality will become more critical in the years ahead
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RS Escorts are always serious stuff – and the last of line model is the most ‘focused’….

Pros & Cons

Handling and roadholding, usual Ford ease of use and maintenance, future classic status
Many thrashed and crashed examples, badly tuned models, turbo lag – boy racer looks?

A Sierra Cosworth 4x4, but with a high downforce three-door Escort body tacked on, this big-winged supercar mauler is more than worthy of wearing the coveted the RS badge, yet can be serviced as simply as an Escort LX. Who needs an Impreza Turbo!


The Escort replaced the Sierra Cosworth in 1992 and was more tailored for motorsport use, unlike the Sierra, which metamorphosed from a raw-cut hatchback to a swish executive saloon in the BMW mould.

Most of the Sierra Cosworth’s all-wheel drive underpinnings were shoehorned into a slightly lengthened Escort shell, although the former’s wheelbase was cut by almost three inches.

By now that fantastic detuned racing Cosworth YB engine had evolved over the years, with numerous guises, and was now in YBT tune, meaning that it differed from the Sierra 4x4 unit by way of different valve guides and a new big blow Garrett T34 turbo, set at 0.8 bar pressure and rated at 227bhp and 220lb.ft of torque.

Three trim levels were offered at launch – the standard model, the plusher Lux and a special Motorsport pack (where a seven-speed gearbox was just one of the options). A special edition Monte (to celebrate the Ford winning the Monte Carlo rally after 41 years of trying!) was also made available, featuring special competition rims and a racing interior trim.

In 1995 the Escort was revised with a more rounded frontal look and revamped cabin. More importantly the engine was retuned, with a smaller T25 turbocharger and remapped engine ECU for better driveability and throttle response. Also, to appease boring countries such as Switzerland, the winged look was toned down, by replacing that massive twin deck wing with a small duck tail. This was also made optional in the UK, for introverts, but most still liked the big winged look best! By 1996 the RS Cosworth was removed from the price lists and we had to wait the best part of a decade before that badge made a longawaited return on the Focus.


The Escort Cosworth is possibly the last of an era of great untainted drivers’ cars devoid of any fancy eectronic aids to traction control, other than all-wheel-drive grip.

The RS Cossie was – and still is – pure wholesome fun, especially across country, where it’s much more secure and stable than the old Sierra of the same name. That said, the RS Escort can still bite the handthat feeds it unleaded – or preferably super unleaded – if driven badly; many have been crashed as a result.

It’s a bit of a roughneck, that old Pintobased engine, but few Ferrari-beating repmobiles are so user-friendly and civilised in everyday use with 25mpg easily attainable. Of the two engines, the smaller T25 turbo engine is that bit more responsive and not so ‘laggy’ as the earlier big blower type. Even so, the Escort Cossie isn’t quite as quick as the Sierra, which was actually lighter and more aerodynamic.

Naturally, being based upon an ordinary Escort Ghia, it’s family sized and as practical as a family ferrying LX, but a lot more comfortable due to those superb Recaro seats (Ford always gets the basics so right). Despite being 15 years since it departed from the showrooms, the RS Cosworth feels extremely modern, yet continues the Rallye Sport bloodline with distinction by providing classic old school boy racer driving thrills.


The Cosworth is still listed in dealer price guides but don’t be fooled by the values they publish. In theory you can pick up an early, average one for £7000 or so, but that’s both unlikely and undesirable. It’s better to pay as much as you can for a top example and this means around £12,000, according to dealer bible Glass’s Guide, although truly great, concours cars can edge towards £20,000 in the real world – not far short of its £22,000 showroom price when new! Don’t be bounced into paying a lot for heavilymodifi ed examples. Unless it’s a special from a respected company, tuned ones won’t command higher prices – despite what’s been shelled out on them by past owners.


Despite the car’s already creditable pace, few Cosworth owners were content with the power fi gures from the factory. The competition-based engine has lots in reserve and 500bhp or is possible with the right mods – and a good number of enthusiasts run close to this for the road! There’s almost unlimited potential at the touch of a laptop; initial tuning of up to around 320bhp is easy, with the right electronic engine chip and better injectors (usually Bosch ‘green’ types), while ditching the cat with a freer fl owing exhaust (Mongoose designs are popular) also liberates a lot more power. There’s a varied choice of bespoke turbos to be had, with the T34/T38 hybrid being a common pick, along with suitable RS500 upgrading and better intercooling, before you even seriously touch the bottom end.

What To Look For

  • Know your engines. Originally the YB Cosworth was based upon the ‘205’ block but the unit fi tted to Escort RS Cosworths should be the later YBT ‘200’, which was originally designed for the Sierra RS500 and is thicker walled and thus stronger. The quickest check is to measure the core plugs – they are only an inch in diameter on the later engine.
  • What’s the colour of the cam covers? There are four shades; red, blue, green and silver. RS Escorts should have the blue covers (or silver on the smaller turbo design), donating the fact that a cat’s fi tted. Originally, unrestricted non-cat YBs bore red covers and ran on four-star while green cams donate a car converted for unleaded. Has a different engine been fi tted though? 
  • This super tough racing engine, detuned for road use, can handle massive power boosts and many are tweaked but it’s got to be done properly. A stock Cossie can see up to 150,000 miles but highly tuned units may not last more than 25,000 miles.
  • Simple chipping and tweaking of the boost pressure can release well over 300bhp. The biggest danger with a bodge job is a shortage of fuel to cater for that extra turbo boost (most tweaks involve uprated fuel injectors known as Bosch ‘Greens’). Too little unleaded and the cylinders will literally melt without the fuel’s cooling qualities. Too much and the cylinder liners will eventually wear due the oil being washed away. A good indication of the latter is black smoke from the rear signifying an over rich mixture.
  • The Cossie’s biggest failing is head gaskets, which even in standard guise can let go – usually at the back. Look for fresh sealant. Most fi t a Group A spec Ford Motorsport (£65) alternative gasket or, latterly, the uprated Cometic stainless type which comes as a kit for around £160. Also later Cosworth engines used stronger head bolts – aftermarket alternatives also available.
  • Other problems centre around the distributor, fooling the ECU into thinking the timing is out, poor quality spark plugs and leads (around £30 the former, £90 the latter – don’t skimp on these) and worn engine mountings and braces, which when worn promote engine rock and can fracture the exhaust manifold.
  • As on most ohc engines, camshaft drivebelt replacement is critical. It’s not a horribly diffi cult job or pricey either; Cossie specialists sell replacements for around £25 or Ford Motorsport (9095800) types £32 from Cosworth specialist PJ Motorsport (01902 730053).
  • You also need to check the turbo isn’t blowing oil, which could suggest a new unit is needed at a cost of £600 - £1200 depending on type. At operating temperatures, you’ll either see blue smoke when accelerating or lifting off. Incidentally the T25 turbo uses smaller bearings and isn’t so manly if it’s been worked hard and not treated right.
  • When starting from cold, watch the oil pressure light and listen for a rumble, suggesting a worn crank or oil pump. The Cosworth is an expensive engine to rebuild (four grand at least for a decent job although you can use a late Transit van block, as it’s also a ‘200’ spec design).
  • Sadly these valuable blocks are no longer made by Cosworth, so good used ones are at a premium as a result.
  • With all that power (especially tuned ones), the MT-75 gearbox takes a pasting. Third and four gears usually suffer the worst because they take peak engine torque. Expect the clutch to have led a hard life; specialists sell them for £130 for straight Motorcraft replacements, £310 for ‘organic’ items or £365 for competition ‘paddle’ alternatives.
  • According to PJ Motorsport, the standard viscous couping on the 4WD system is good for up to 330bhp but if used hard can fail, meaning that the front tyres do little else but steer. Worse still, it’s hard to determine whether it’s shot unless you drive live a loony on the road. Ideally you need to check it on a rolling road to be sure.
  • Look for cheapskate servicing and repairs on the routine stuff like tyres and brakes. See that good quality tyres are fi tted, with the correct ratios are to the axle and this includes wear rates as any imbalance leads to screwing up the diffs as a consequence.
  • Rust shouldn’t be a worry but crashed and poorly repaired cars are. Have an HPI check (01722 422422/ to verify the car’s past – remember many were stolen and ringed. For future values, originality is everything.


Three Of A Kind

BMW M3 E30
BMW M3 E30
While later M3s were rather civilised, this fi rst of the breed was a road racer, barely changed from the Group A touring cars seen on track. Early cars featured a 192bhp four-pot, but by the end there was 235bhp on tap with the Evo edition. At fi rst there were two-door saloons only, but convertibles were offered too later on. All M3 E30s were lefthand drive.
Lancia Integrale
Lancia Integrale
An evolution of the Delta HF Turbo, which was front then fourwheel drive, all Integrales had power going to each corner. Early editions had eight valves but from 1989 there were 16-valves; all Integrales also featured a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and LHD. Pick of the bunch is the Evo 2 of 1993, but they're big money these days, so an Evo 1 is a good substitute.
Mercedes 190E 2.3-16
Mercedes 190E 2.3-16
While the Mercedes 190 was a worthy but rather dull small saloon, it was transformed by Cosworth, which fi tted a fettled 16-valve 2.3-litre engine – which later grew to 2.5 litres. It was all done in the name of motorsport of course; this was another one of those Group A racers. Another family car turned into a racer by Cosworth it's sturdier and rarer than the RS yet better value.


Like the Sierra Cosworth, the RS Escort is a true modern classic you can enjoy now, as well as cosset for the future. Prices are on the up and will stay that way – so buy now. However, you need to take great care when looking around for those rare sound unmolested examples, as well as being prepared to hang on for the right one to turn up. It will be worth the wait.

Classic Motoring

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