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Ford Escort Mk1

Published: 4th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Then & Now

Ford’s own competition department marketed a whole range of goodies for the Escort – engine, brakes, suspension, the lot – but the only place you’ll fi nd much of that nowadays is at an autojumble or onebay. Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s the other big names were Cosworth, Holbay, Broadspeed, and Vegantune. They’re all gone, but Piper (, Kent Cams ( are still with us, and Weber carbs are now available from Webcon ( One of the big names remains is Burton Power (, and it probably has the biggest product catalogue of upgrades for the Kent engine.

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Which classics still have the potential to get up and go? Paul Davies remembers the cars, the people… and how to make a classic hot car!

The classic car world owes the Escort a heck of a lot. After all where would we be without the Kent series engine that powered the replacement for the much-loved Anglia, not to say various Cortinas and Capris, the mighty Mexico, the original Fiesta XR2, endless kit cars, and became the basis of one of history’s greats – the sixteen-valve BDA? A block and cylinder head made from cast iron may sound old hat nowadays, but back in the Sixties the men at Ford were known for their strength and reliability rather than cutting-edge technology. After all, they had Colin Chapman at Lotus and Mike Duckworth at Cosworth to do clever things for them. The Lotus Cortina twin cam, based on the earlier of Ford’s overhead valve fours, was just the beginning. The 105E Anglia was a success, freeing Ford from its side-valve, sit-up-and-beg era, and so the car that followed had to be equally special. The Escort of 1968 was bigger, lighter, and even better. And amazingly we saw it first in Twin Cam guise, fusing the new bodyshell with the Lotus Cortina engine; Ford’s competition department at Boreham Airfi eld getting a super-hot version in front of the press before the run-of-the-mill machine made its debut. Here, ‘though, we’re concentrating on the cooking car. Front in-line engine, driving the rear wheels, the manufacturer’s favourite McPherson strut front suspension, and a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear, coupled with disc front brakes on all but the lowest powered models, did not make for particularly exciting reading. But, as is often the case Ford-wise, the tuning potential was always there in buckets. The engine of choice was initially the new Kent series crossfl ow, in capacities of 1100cc (53bhp) and 1300cc (58nhp). The gearbox, a sweet changing four-speeder with synchromesh on all cogs. The go-faster boys go their hands on the car straight away, and Ford were not far behind, with fi rst the 1300GT (75bhp) and then – after success on the 1970 World Cup Rally – the 1600GT (88bhp) powered Mexico. In both factory and private teams, fi rst the Escort TC was the car to beat on race track and rally stage, then in 1970 the 120bhp, 16-valve, BDA – based on the Kent engine – appeared to power the RS1600 to even greater glory. Don’t forget the motorsportbased 1300 Sport or the plush 1300E either.

Get One Now

Zetec engines are now cheap, effective swaps

Despite something like half a million Escorts made, finding a good one is not that easy! You just have to keep looking, and reject the rust (especially at the front strut top mounts). Top-notch TCs, RSs, or Mexicos, attract premiums – we’ve seen a mint TC at £65k – but reckon on £4000-ish for a 1300 and around £10,000 for a good Mexico. Be warned, engine swaps are so easy (see later) you need to be careful what you’re buying. There’s nothing wrong with a 1300 that’s had a bigger engine slotted in, but just check the gearbox, clutch and rear axle will stand the pain as well as your pleasure.

Hotting One Up

With fi ve bearings on the crankshaft (instead of three on the previous four) the Kent is a tough engine that will stand power outputs to 150bhp and well beyond. The bores of all three engines are 80.97mm diameter, the varying capacities obtained by stroking. Original 1600 blocks have the number 681F stamped on the side and are 1.1ins taller than the 105E motor on which they are based. In October 1970 uprated versions were announced (711M marking) with stiffer crankcase, strengthened mains bearing caps, larger diameter cam followers (13mm instead of 11mm) and modifi ed crankshaft end seal. This is the one to go for if you’re upgrading. Some engines left Ford fi tted with over-size mains shell bearings, presumably because the blocks have been line bored to rectify errors in alignment during manufacture. If you don’t spot this when carrying out a re-build and fi t standard size bearings, oil pressure will be depressingly low! Some blocks that were not accurately cast and (very) thin liners were fi tted to allow a re-bore. These will not stand a further re-bore and are suitable only for scrap. The 1600 block, especially in 711M form with stronger (fl at) mains bearing caps, is good and strong, with standard crank, rods and pistons that will handle up to 7500rpm, and with heavy duty connecting rod bolts a heady 8000rpm is possible. Best, without going to specialist steel competition rods, is to use Ford 2737E rods and bolts. The Kent piston which contains most, if not all, of the combustion chamber, is a meaty item that has to deal with a lot of heat transference, and because of its weight is limited on ultimate rpm. The standard piston is okay to around 7000rpm, but beyond that a forged type is needed. Steel connecting rods should be used with forged pistons. 711M blocks will usually bore to 83.5 mm, which with standard crankshaft dimensions gives 1699cc, and an 84.0 mm bore (1720cc) is often possible. The 85.0mm piston size (1760cc) is borderline. A steel front pulley should be fi tted to any high revving engine because the standard twopiece item can shatter. Early (681F block) 1098cc and 58 bhp 1297cc engines had completely flat cylinder heads, whilst the 1300GT and the 1600/1600GT units had a partial recess in the head as well as the bowl in piston combustion chamber. All post-1970 engines had totally fl at heads and bowl-in-piston combustion chambers. Gas fl owing of the ports is essential for extra power, but there’s very little modifi cation that can be done to the shallow combustion chambers in early heads.

Later (totally fl at) are better for modifying as there is more metal available to re-shape the ports. A low cost conversion for 1600 engines is to fi t 1300 pistons and their con rods, which will give a useful hike from 9.0:1 to 10.3:1, but it’s essential to check there is suffi cient cut-out in the piston crown for the valves if a high lift cam is also being used. Otherwise…Original engines utilised either a Ford GPD downdraught carburettor, or on GT specifi cation engines Weber 32 DFE or later 32DFM twostage carbs, specially made for Ford. These Ford Webers, with chokes cast into the body cannot be easily modifed and re-jetted to match varying stages of tune like the original Weber 28/36 DCD. An easy upgrade is the Weber DGV, as fi tted to late model Mexicos and V6 Capris, but if you’re really serious, there’s only one way to go: a pair of Weber 40DCOE or 45DCOE. Most production engines use a cast iron exhaust manifold, which is pretty useless, but 1600GT and Mexico engines have their own 4-2-1 tubular manifold, and the 1300GT has a less effective 4-1 system. The 4-2-1 manifold works well on a road tune engine, while a 4-1 system will show top end gains on a racing unit.

Engine swaps

The fact that all Kent engines have (more or less) the same external dimensions, means that there’s a great deal of interchange-ability between the various bodyshells in the model ranges. Fitting a 1600 unit into an 1100 Escort is always better than trying to wring extra horsepower from the small capacity unit. If you are fitting an engine that was original equipment in another vehicle, check the shape of the sump. Depending upon cross member location, the deep part of the sump may be at the front or the back and whatever you have will need to be compatible. Don’t forget dipstick location (front or back?) if you’re swapping the pans around. Fortunately (for us) Ford produced a number of gearboxes and bellhousings that would fi t each other, allowing more or less any combination. The golden rule is use the housing that goes with the block, and (usually) your chosen ‘box will fi t. Sometimes the pilot bush or bearing in the crankshaft will have to be changed to accept the spigot shaft from the gearbox. For some gearboxes, the transmission tunnel will also have to be modifi ed to allow clearance. Don’t forget to replace the dust shield that Ford fi ts between the gearbox and engine! Also remember, stick to the engine mounts fi tted in the bodyshell not the ones that come with the engine. As for worthy suspension and brake mods, well that could fi ll the whole magazine and we’ll cover those in a later issue!

How Did It Drive?

Jolly well really. There’s no arguing that even the most mundane 1100 car is a barrel of fun. Surprisingly nippy (best word I can think of here!), very controllable, and a joy to change gear. Ford’s gearbox of this generation was a revelation to those of us brought up on BMC’s stiff and notchy cog box. The Twin Cam was, of course, different all round, with stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and the glorious sound of that 105bhp Lotus engine. Ditto, the RS1600. But to me (who rallied one) the Mexico is the favourite Escort, especially with a 1760cc, twin Weber, pushrod, Kent engine under the bonnet!

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