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Ford Escort RS1800

Published: 10th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Escort RS1800
Pentti Airikkala with the bashed Rothmans car in 1981 Pentti Airikkala with the bashed Rothmans car in 1981
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Fancy owning a motorsport legend? Paul Davies looks at true classics that made their names on rally stages and race tracks, and still provide fine drives today

It’s the car that keeps winning. Roger Clark took Ford’s Escort RS1800 to its debut rally win on the Granite City Rally back in 1975, a few months later he repeated the feat on the Welsh International, and at the close of the year Timo Makinen triumphed on the RAC Rally. Thirty-one years later Jim McRae won the 2006 running of the ‘other’ RAC, the Roger Albert Clark Rally, in a similar car. The humble Ford Escort - in all its forms from 1300 Sport to RS status - can justly claim to be the most successful rally car ever, but it was the second-generation Mk2 version that did more than any other to forge such a formidable reputation. After Clark and Makinen’s early triumphs, the RS1800 went on to win the Lombard RAC Rally a further four years in succession. In 1979 Bjorn Waldegard achieved the greatest goal of all - victory in the World Rally Championship - a feat repeated by Ari Vatanen in 1981 with his privately entered, David Sutton run, car. And don’t forget Russell Brookes, the gritty Englishman won the British Rally Championship in ‘77 and scored a third placing on the RAC, was third again in ’78, and second in ’79, in Ford’s finest. It was a fair racer too: in Europe the Capri RS3100 was Ford’s flagship, but in the UK it was always on the front row of the grid - who can forget Dave Brodie’s sinful black ‘Run Baby Run’ Special Saloon of the early 1970s? The RS1800 was Ford’s 1.8-litre BDA powered ‘homologation special’ for motorsport.
Regulations demanded 400 should be built within 12 months, but the highest estimate for production cars in a two-year period peters out at just 109… Still, everyone else played the same game in those days. With two-cam, sixteen-valve, Cosworth power the road car delivered 115bhp, but works rally cars soon had in excess of 250bhp with alloy block, two-litre, engines and upwards of 300bhp was quite possible with a further increase in capacity and the addition of fuel injection. Few cars remained standard for long… The RS1800 was in fact a Mk2 Mexico, sharing the same heavy-duty bodyshell, with the 88bhp 1.6-litre Pinto engine swapped for the 1.8 BDA (Belt Driven ‘A’) unit. A close ratio, fourspeed, gearbox and heavy duty axle completed the specification. Cars were built initially in Halewood, Lancashire, and later at Ford’s Saarlouis plant in Germany. When Waldegard became world champion, the Mk2 Escort was out of production, and its front-wheel drive replacement deprived Ford of motorsport success for many years. But, that didn’t stop the Mk2 from winning. With thousands of available bodyshells (any Mk2 will do) and a ready supply of engines, self-built rally cars appeared from garages and lock-ups all over the country to race, rally and win. Even now anyone, well almost anyone, can build a competitive Escort and get results. It’s currently the weapon of choice in the British Rally Championship, and - believe me - there’s no finer sight than a Mk2 Escort going sideways at speed in a Welsh forest (and he should know-ed)!

Ford Escort RS1800 Summary


1975-77: 109 (estimate). Many more competition cars were built over the decades though!


Engine: Four cylinder, 1835cc with belt driven twin overhead camshafts operating 16 valves.2 x Dell’Orto carburettors.
Power: 115bhp (production) up to 270bhp (rally).
Gearbox: Four-speed close ratio (Pinto base).
ZF five-speed competition.
Drive: Rear wheels.
Suspension: McPherson coil/strut front, rigid axle rear with leaf springs.
Brakes: Disc front, drum rear (rear discs on some competition cars).
Steering: Rack and pinion.

Claim to fame

Won almost any rally (and many races) you care to mention. RAC Rally winner 1975-79. World Rally Championship 1979 (Waldegard) and 1981 (Vatanen). British Rally Championship (1975, ’76, ’77, ‘78, ’80)

Famous names

The late Roger Clark, Hannu Mikkola, Timo Makinen, Bjorn Waldegard, Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen, Billy Coleman, Pentti Airikkala, Gilbert Staepelaere, Bertie Fisher, Malcolm Wilson, Austin McHale, Don Heggie, Gareth Lloyd, Jim McRae.

Where to buy

Genuine RS1800s are very scarce (try the RS Owners Club) but replicas and competition cars readily available in the specialist and motorsport press. Not often seen in the local newspaper!

What to look for

If it’s supposed to be a pukka car get an expert to check it over. Most cars will be bitzas from standard Mk2 shells and so may not be strengthened. If you want a turn-key rally car, go for one with history - often available complete with spares. Don’t expect a concours car, these are for serious motorsport use.

What to pay

Ex-Ford team cars go well into six figures when they (occasionally) appear at auction! A good competitive car can be from £10,000 but expect to pay a lot more, a standard car for a project perhaps hundreds.


Ford RS Owners Club:

Classic sport

It’s really got to be stage rallying! The BDA Escort was made for Category 3 (1976-81) of the British Historic Rally Championship, but it’s also capable of showing much more modern machinery the way home on any club event.

Maintenance, tuning and sport

Was an engine ever more tuneable than this Cossie? Ford specialists such as Burton Power (020 8518 9125;, Specialised Engines (01375 378606; and well known QED Motorsport (01509 412317; can provide all you need. A two-litre unit can deliver an easy 250bhp, and there’s more to come.

Competitive Rating: 9

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