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It may be his first full Escort project, but Paul Ashton has done himself proud with this superb bubble arched Mk1 Escort built for the B-road!

The popularity of early Escorts seems to be ever increasing and most willing buyers would venture the length and breadth of the country just to find that perfect project. Incredibly, Paul Ashton managed to find the base for this stunning Mk1 just down around the corner from where he lives, but there was still a long road to travel to how the car looks today. 

“I’ve always been a fan of Escorts since watching rallying on TV back in the day and I found myself spending more time looking at them at shows than any other car,” Paul smiles. “Also my next door neighbour had a Mk1 when I was a kid and I thought it looked fantastic back then.” Paul’s first car went on to be not a Mk1, but a Mk2 Escort on to which he fitted alloys, spotlights and bucket seats. “After the Mk2, I landed a well-paid job and was lucky enough to be in a position to own a succession of XR2s, XR3s and various RS Turbos,” he adds. 

As the years progressed, Paul was keen to bag himself another Escort, and ideally a Mk1 this time as it was the one he’d always wanted right from the start. “I quickly discovered affordable Mk1s were few and far between,” Paul laughs. “I wasn’t bothered for anything fancy, just a solid saloon I could use as a base for my project.” The search began nationwide, and Paul was prepared to travel to get his hands on the right car for the right price. “I was struggling to find anything at all then I mentioned my plans to someone who had a work unit near to my own, he told me he had one that someone had offered to buy from him and had never turned up to collect it,” Paul smiles. “After a bit of pestering he agreed for me to have a look at the car. As it was located less than a mile away, we’d struck a deal and I had a 1969 Escort 1100 sat in my workshop less than 2 hours later!”

bubble arched mk1 escort

Stripped bare

Once the Escort had been placed on a spit, Paul could check the shell for any sign of rust and soon began rubbing the bodywork down to bare metal. “There was loads of underseal protecting the underside, which I stripped off with wire wool, and this took ages,” he laughs, “I then got to work welding in a larger gearbox tunnel for a Type-9 once the interior had been stripped out.” Those inspiring rally Escorts Paul had seen on TV all those years ago often had bubble arches fitted and this car would take on a similar theme. “I bought the steel arches and just went for it,” Paul remembers. “I fitted the first one on the rear and unfortunately put it on the wrong side!”

Luckily, Paul had posted a photo of his work online and someone quickly pointed out his error before he went any further! “I sorted out that mistake and fitted the front arches correctly,” Paul adds. “At that rubbing and filling stage, Colin from Car Windscreens came round for a nosey and politely pointed out where I was going wrong.” Colin, being a perfectionist was soon brought in to help finish the bodywork prep when he had spare time and his skills extended to the paintwork, too. 

Speaking of paintwork, this Mk1 very nearly ended up being painted in candy apple red. “I’d pretty much settled on the red then went down to the Classic Motor Show in Birmingham,” Paul remembers, “I saw a new range Rover in metallic grey that caught my eye, and I saw Colin soon after who happened to have a classic Range Rover painted the very same colour and he confirmed the paint was Pewter Grey.
I pointed to it and said that’s what I want.” The finish of the paintwork is flawless and suits the bubble-arched Mk1 lines perfectly. Equally impressive is that the respray was carried out in Paul’s old mill unit rather than an oven, too. 

Unfortunately, Paul decided to try out those new, larger-diameter wheels after the car had been painted. “The day the paintwork was finished, we decided to move the car on the new 8×15 inch wheels and soon discovered they caught on the arches, “ Paul admits. “We had to cut the wings again and it went back into the spray booth.” The unique centre caps were designed by Paul’s son, Sam using CAD and 3D printed at home. It took a few attempts to obtain the perfect fit before being sprayed by Paul’s cousin, Neil at Smart Graph FX who also provided the cheeky carbon-coated chin spoiler. The end result is very impressive. 

Pinto packed

When it came to engine choice, there’s no ST170 unit or a modern equivalent here, Paul choosing to keep things old school with a tuned 2-litre Pinto. “I stripped the engine down, reground the valves with new oil seals, lightly ported the head and flywheel and fitted a high lift cam, four-branch manifold, adjustable pulley and electronic ignition,” Paul points out. “I already had some twin 40s but Tony at ART struggled to get them set up right, so I bit the bullet and bought a pair of new twin Weber 45s.”

bubble arched mk1 escort

Paul was lucky enough to receive the adjustable front coil-overs with the car when it was purchased and he’s utilised these along with RS alloy hubs, adjustable track control arms and a Twin Cam anti-roll bar. At the rear, Mk2 single leaf springs with adjustable GAZ dampers help out and a World Cup crossmember has been fitted. “I upgraded the front brakes to Princess four-pot callipers with grilled and grooved discs,” he points out. “In hindsight, I should have converted the rear brakes to discs too, but there’s still time for that.” 

bubble arched mk1 escort

A quick one

Work had begun in 2015 and Paul got to grips with the project alone for the first 18 months. “Some of the hard to find parts came from Graeme at GS Escorts, who is one of the most helpful people I’ve ever dealt with,” Paul smiles. Once Colin stepped in to help, along with Neil, Andy and son, Sam, when it came to the rebuild the Escort soon reached completion at a fast pace. 

Driving the Mk1 has been as joyous as Paul always imagined and he’s hoping 23-year-old Sam will continue in the driving seat for many years to come.  

Words and Photos Jon Cass

See more photos and get the full spec on this bubble arched Mk1 Escort in the August issue

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