The paint, decals and ’plate scream Escort RS1800, but instead Gav Roberston has created a tribute Mk2 with clever tweaks.
The Escort RS1800 is often regarded as the Holy Grail when it comes to Mk2s. Even back in the day when Mk2s were on every street corner, the almost unheard-of sighting of an RS1800 and its cool rallying pedigree was still a major talking point. Chances of obtaining a genuine remaining example of the 109 ever made is now pretty slim and you’d need very deep pockets should you ever come across one for sale. For 34-year-old Gav Robertson, buying and maintaining an original Escort RS1800 was out of the question, so instead he wisely decided to take the sensible option and built himself a recreation — with the help of a few friends along the way.
Now, Gav’s always been a keen Ford fan, his Dad having owned numerous Capris and Escorts and that enthusiasm for them has continued through the family veins. “I’ve always read Classic Ford and the mag gave me plenty of inspiration when it came to building this car,” Gav points out, “I wanted an Escort RS1800, but one that I could still have fun driving and not be worried about taking it out anywhere.”
This prompted the decision to build a replica, complete with RS1800 decals and that period BDA look under the bonnet too, then adding his own twist to the project. In 2018, no sensible person would modify a genuine RS1800 to this extent, but if they did, Gav would like to imagine this is what the end result could look like.
To begin with, Gav needed to find a suitable project and luckily one came up for sale not too far away. “I’d seen it with an advert in the window at a car show and was pleasantly surprised to find it didn’t live too far from me!” Gav explains. “Classed as a 1980 RS2000 ex-rally car, it’s a very solid, strong and clean car all round and the underside had been finished to a very high standard by the previous owner.”
For an ex-rally car, this Mk2 was in remarkably good condition. This meant there was little left to do when it came to the bodywork preparation, but a full respray in Diamond White was in order to bring the RS up to Gav’s required standards.
“I spoke to my mate, Ben Szanto who supplied a blueprinted 1800 Zetec engine along with a straight-cut Type-9 gearbox,” Gav recalls, “I stripped it down then sent the head to Chris Walker.” The head was ported and polished there and fitted with brand-new Phase 3 Newman cams and Turbosport cam pulleys. Period cam covers have become understandably popular over recent years and it was a no-brainer for Gav to include the correct BDA-style rocker cover in his build.
“I wanted it to look the part under the bonnet too and not look like just a usual Zetec swap, and the BDA cover sticks with the RS1800 theme.” The rocker cover came from Retro Ford who also supplied the modified sump and correct Zetec engine mount kit, while an MSD coil-pack and Airtec radiator were added to the mix, too.
“I painted the engine to keep the period look and welded in chassis gussets to add strengthening,” Gav recalls, “I’ve also relocated the washer pipes into the heater bowl to neaten things up and relocated the washer bottle to the boot where the battery also now resides “ A quick call to Torques UK bought Gav the necessary pipe fittings and hoses along with the oil and breather system and oil catch tank. “I had no plans for a stereo, so I was quite happy to have the engine as a constant soundtrack,” Gav laughs. “This led me to purchase a stainless Piper straight-through exhaust which sounds fantastic.”
The Heritage 45 DCOE throttle bodies were supplied and fitted by Norris Motorsport, a company that needs no introduction! “NMS set up the throttle bodies perfectly and fitted the ECU which was installed and mapped on site, too,” Gav tells us. “It gave 183 bhp on their rollers with 162 lb.ft torque which I was pretty impressed with!” As he fully intended, this makes Gav’s Mk2 a hoot to drive, especially with that straight-cut ’box and 3.89-ratio limited-slip diff, fully rebuilt and shimmed by AP Racing Engines.
That amount of power in a lightweight Mk2 brings with it some decent acceleration and speed, enough to give any modern hot hatch a run for its money and Gav was keen to have the suspension and brakes that would match.
“I seriously considered fitting Tarmac arches, but I was also really keen to have an ultra-low stance,” Gav explains. A last minute decision was made to retain the standard arches, something which Gav is really glad about now. The GAZ coil-overs up front with adjustable top mounts for camber along with decambered rear springs and GAZ adjustable dampers help provide that ultra desirable stance, while the 7×13 inch RS four-spokes in Diamond White look just right at home here. Just visible between the spokes are Group One hubs along with upgraded M16 brake callipers with drilled and grooved discs. Complete with an anti-dive kit and polybushed all round, Gav’s Mk2 handles as a Mk2 should.
Outside, almost in
“Although the bodywork was pretty much already sorted, I still wanted to add my own touch,” Gav smiles. “The RS1800 decals were obviously essential and luckily I managed to source a genuine FORD front grille.” The genuine Cibie front spotlights are another neat addition, complete with covers and logos colour coded in blue.
This left the interior to complete, an aspect which Gav was keen to keep as faithful to the original RS1800 as possible. Somehow, he managed to find a pair of genuine RS1800 rolltop seats, which have been retrimmed in Beta cloth along with the rear bench to match. New genuine RS2000 carpets and a grey headlining freshens things up inside and Gav has since added a snap-off RS four-spoke steering wheel and Raceline oil and water gauges, located in the heater vent. Overall, this car reeks pure ’70s RS, something Gav was eager to create, combining the feel of a genuine RS1800 with the benefits of a well-thought-out modified Mk2.
“I’m more than pleased with how its turned out,” Gav smiles, “I wouldn’t want to change anything else as that might just ruin the car. It’s subtle, but still manages to turn a lot of heads.” With his RS1800 recreation now complete, Gav’s attention has turned to an Orion with an RS Turbo transplant. We’re pretty sure that by the time he’s worked his magic touch that one will look just right, too!
Words and Photos Jon Cass
See more photos and read the full spec on Gavin’s Escort RS1800 replica in the Summer 2018 issue
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