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Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Early cabin was bland but comfortable; three trim levels with Lux the best bet Early cabin was bland but comfortable; three trim levels with Lux the best bet
Big-winged look is most popular but check front air dams for damage due to high kerbs, speed bumps and so on. Big-winged look is most popular but check front air dams for damage due to high kerbs, speed bumps and so on.
Original big turbo YBT Cosworth engine should wear blue cam covers Original big turbo YBT Cosworth engine should wear blue cam covers
Later unit used silver cam covers to donate smaller turbo and new ECU Later unit used silver cam covers to donate smaller turbo and new ECU
Cutaway show car’s complexity but for all that the RS Cosworth isn’t too difficult to keep in tune. Cutaway show car’s complexity but for all that the RS Cosworth isn’t too difficult to keep in tune.
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What is a Ford Escort RS Cosworth?

It’s the gobsmackingly mental, race-bred cut-and-shut family hatchback special that replaced the equally iconic Sierra Cosworth with even more devastating effect.

A Sierra Cosworth 4x4 with a high downforce Escort body tacked on, this big-winged super car 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. 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 in 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 a healthy 220lbft of torque. Three trim levels were offered at launch; the standard model, the plusher Lux and a special Motorsport pack (where a sevenspeed 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 by now 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 as toned down by replacing that massive twin deck offering with a small duck tail; it 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 long awaited return on the Focus.


The Escort RS Cosworth is possibly the last of an era of great untainted pure drivers’ cars.Without any 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 Cosworth. That said the RS Escort can still bite the hand that feeds it if driven badly - and many have been crashed as a result.

It’s a bit of a roughneck, that old Pinto-based engine but few Ferrari-beating repmobiles are so user friendly and civilised in everyday use. 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 more than a decade since it departed from the showrooms, the RS Cosworth feels 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, tired one for £5000 but that’s unlikely and undesirable. It’s better to pay as much as you can for a top example and this is between £7500 and £14,000, according to Glass’s Guide, although the cream edge towards £20,000. Don’t be bounced into paying a lot for modified 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.

What To Look For

  • Know your engines. Originally the YB Cosworth was based upon the ‘205’ block but the unit fitted to Escort RS Cosworths should be the later YBT ‘200’, which was originally designed for the motorsport-biased Sierra RS500 and as a result 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’s four shades; red, blue, green and silver. RS Escorts should have the rarer blue covers (or Silver on the smaller turbo design), donating the fact that a cat’s fitted. 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 fitted?
  • 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 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 enthusiasts fit 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.
  • 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 and bolts.
  • As on most ohc engines, camshaft drivebelt replacement is critical. It’s not a horribly difficult job; Cossie specialists sell replacements for around £25 or Ford Motorsport (9095800) types at £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 type. At operating temperatures, you’ll either see blue smoke when accelerating or lifting off - along with uneven power pulses on a test drive. 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 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) and they 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’ types or £365 for competition ‘paddle’ alternatives.
  • According to PJ Motorsport, the standard viscous coupling 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 like a loony on the road. Ideally you need to check it on a rolling road.
  • Look for cheapskate servicing and repairs on the routine stuff like tyres and brakes. See that good quality tyres are fitted, with the correct ratios to each axle and this includes wear rates as any profile imbalance leads to screwing up the diffs as a consequence.
  • Rust shouldn’t be a worry but crashed and poorly repaired cars will be. Have an £39.99 HPI or similar check carried out (01722 422422/ to verify the car’s past. Remember, many were stolen and ringed. For future values, originality is going to everything but many are tuned and customised - some poorly.


Like the Sierra Cosworth the RS Escort is a true modern classic you can (and indeed should) 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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