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With his first classic Ford cruelly taken from him, Oliver Preston’s bounced right back with this sleeper 2-litre Escort Bonus.

escort bonus

Every cloud has a silver lining, just ask Oliver Preston. The 20-year-old had his first car — a classic Ford, naturally — cruelly taken away from him, but he bounced right back with his next — this stunning, Zetec-powered Mk4 Escort. A car that, we think you’ll agree, has absolutely nailed the sleeper look.

“I bought my first car before I even passed my test,” recalls Oliver of his former Ford. “It was a Mk1 Fiesta 1.1 Popular Plus and was a no-brainer for me, as I’d always been into old Fords — I didn’t fancy a more-modern car, I wanted something that hadn’t been designed on a computer.”

Oliver was chuffed with his first set of wheels, but unfortunately, the Fiesta wasn’t to live for much longer. “I’d had it for about a year, and one evening popped out to the shop to pick something up,” he recalls. “While it was parked outside, someone drove straight into the back of it and wrote it off…”

escort bonus

Disheartening, but Oliver wasn’t about to be put off. “I bought the salvage from the insurer then stripped the car down and sold the bits off to help pay for its replacement, which luckily didn’t take too long to find. My brother, Joe found this Mk4 for sale and it wasn’t ridiculously priced. That was the good news — the bad news was that it was way up in the north of Scotland — about 5 hours drive from us!”

This didn’t deter Oliver though, and the following Sunday he set off at 4 am with Joe to go and see the car. “The lad had bought it as a standard Bonus and hadn’t done too much to it. We could see the car was a good one, so did a deal there and then and brought the car back with us.” What Oliver ended up with was a very clean 1989 1.3 Bonus in Matisse Blue that had loads of potential. “The guy I bought it from had already bolted on the 16 inch steels — they’re Peugeot ones, and I thought they really suited then car, so decided to keep them. He’d also fitted a daft steering wheel, so I quickly found an XR3i one to fit. I drove it around as my daily for about a year, as it was, then we got invited to put on a display at the FittedUK show in Manchester, so I thought I’d better get busy with the mods!”

Oliver ordered up a full GAZ Gold kit to help bring the Mk4 a lot closer to the floor, and thinking the steels probably wouldn’t cut it at the show, bolted on a set of 15 inch Compomotive TH wheels. “The car went down great at the show, but it was still running the 1.3 HCS engine at that point, so I kept the bonnet firmly shut,” he grins. With the show weekend done and dusted, it was time to do something about the power — or lack of.

Zetec outside

“The lad I bought the car off had always planned to fit a 2-litre Zetec into it, and in fact I ended up buying an engine off him,” says Oliver. “Then over the Christmas holidays I started sorting it ready to fit. Joe and I stripped the engine down to check it and ended up replacing all the bearings along with all the gaskets, too. We cleaned the head up and I fitted a pair of Kent’s Sport R cams along with vernier pulleys plus a 4-2-1 manifold — pretty much all of the parts came from Burton Power, as it was so easy to find and order the stuff on their website. I then fitted the engine in the car, along with a Series 2 ’box using the bolt-in mount kit from DA Performance.”

escort bonus

For the induction, Oliver decided to go down a slightly different route to bike carbs or throttle bodies more commonly used in Zetec swaps. “I love the look and sound of sidedraughts,” he admits, “so it had to be a pair of Weber 45s.” Oliver sourced a new set, and matched them to a Canems ignition management ECU from Phil Lambley. “That was three wires and it was in — it was that easy,” Oliver reveals. He’s continued the old school look throughout the engine bay, with the Silver Top’s cam cover now finished in classic crackle black and installed a neat set of black AN fuel lines and fittings made up to suit by EDA. With the carbs set-up at Bogg Bros and a final map by Phil, the engine was running perfectly. Oliver had already sorted the suspension, so all that was left to bring the rest of the running gear up to scratch was to sort the brakes — easily done with the RS Turbo front set-up.

“The engine was a revelation,” he admits, “so much better then the old 1300.” In fact, it looks like Oliver’s been enjoying the new-found power of the Zetec a little bit too much, as it’s currently out of the car… “It broke itself,” he admits. “It’s bent a valve and taken a chunk out of one of the pistons.”

Stronger together

No matter, this just gives Oliver the excuse to rebuild it, and make it stronger — and faster — in the process. “Hemi Exhaust Systems is making up a new 2 inch stainless 4-into-1 manifold for me, and we’ll redo the rest of the system in 2.5 inch diameter to match,” he reveals. “I’m also planning a couple of changes to the car’s exterior, including fitting Mk3 rear lights, as I prefer the staggered design.”

Fear not, though — the Mk4 is not getting a bodykit or lairy paint anytime soon. “I really like the understated look,” Oliver admits. “I even refitted the steels in place of the Compomotives, as they’re more subtle. Having said that, I’ve recently noticed a few more Mk4s running around with this set-up, so maybe it’s time for a rethink.”

Whatever choice Oliver makes, you just know it will be the right one. Let’s just hope he doesn’t use the car to pop down the shops anytime soon… 

See more photos and get the full spec on Oliver’s Escort Bonus in the September issue

Words Simon Woolley

Photos Darren Mallinson

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