Dave Mills’ RS2000 represents his first steps into restoration; a baptism of fire, since he needed to repair or replace just about everything. And now it’s complete, he has the perfect tool for some adventures into the unknown…
Human beings have a natural wanderlust. It may not seem that way in the depths of midwinter, as the oppressive frosts and biting winds drive us onto the sofa, snuggled up under a blanket, nursing a mug of cocoa and watching films we’ve seen a dozen times before… but as the evenings get longer and days grow brighter when springtime kicks into gear, we remember what it is that makes life worth living. There’s a great big world out there, and a finite amount of time in which to look at it; as the 19th-century naturalist John Muir so concisely put it, we harbour an inherent urge to ‘throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence,’ simply to see what’s out there.
Of course, in our world the notion of ‘jumping over the back fence’ is a figurative one; a symbol for twisting the key in the ignition, trundling out onto the asphalt, and seeing where adventure takes us. And what manner of vehicle is preferable for such buccaneering exploration? A lavishly-equipped campervan? A plushly-appointed SUV? Nah. Not for us. We can’t think of a better machine for this sort of caper than the gleaming red droopsnoot RS you see before you.
Exploration is in the Mk2 Escort’s very soul. Think about it — it’s the most successful rally car of all time, just imagine how many hard-fought miles have passed under countless RS2000 wheels over the generations. And Dave Mills’ beautifully restored RS has that rally cred in spades:
“It’s running a 2046cc Dave Brooks Pinto,” he explains. “With twin 45s, the Dave Brooks inlet and custom throttle linkage set-up, the Tony Law 4-2-1 ceramic-coated manifold
and an Ashley exhaust system, it’s good for 175 bhp.” Which is all good news, as that’s just the sort of urgency you may require as you explore lanes, ford streams and ascend dizzying mountains. Dependability is baked right in too, as Dave Brooks engines are strong and trustworthy by their very nature, it’s been that way since the 1970s; this hot-to-trot Pinto, then, represents the ideal mix of old-school grunt and faultless reliability required by the modern adventurer.
The fact that this is all wrapped up in the revered Mk2 platform is an impressive departure for Dave, who cut his teeth on Euro hatches; a modified Saxo was the transport of his younger days, working up to a 25th Anniversary-edition Mk4 Golf. So why the swap to something so radically different? “Quite simply, this is the car I’ve always wanted since the days of watching rallying up the Welsh mountains all those years ago,” he reasons. “After the sale of the Golf — which, I have to admit, was a little reluctant — I found this RS2000 in the valleys. This put me in a position to visit Wales and buy the car I had always wanted!”
Dreams and reality can have a startling propensity to distance themselves from one another, however — and after six months of ownership, Dave’s Mk2 fantasy was starting to morph into a bit of a nightmare: “As I was driving along one day, one of the front struts punched its way through the wing,” he recalls, which must have been a bit unsettling to say the least. “I thought I should see what else on the car needed attention, and the more I looked, the more it turned out I had bought a bit of a shocker — from one shocker to another!”
It’s best to try to view this coalescence of events in the most positive light, as it’s easy to go mad when your dreams start tumbling like a house of cards: a situation like this can be redeemed by virtue of the fact that, if you have to strip the car down to first principles and build it from scratch, at least you’ll know that you can trust every inch of it once it’s finished. Although perhaps we wouldn’t recommend suggesting this to someone who’s just discovered that their dream car is a bag of bolts…
“I was left with no choice but to strip it and get it dipped, start again and do it all myself,” says Dave, remarkably cheerfully given the circumstances. “The list of parts required to get the body shipshape included a complete floor, chassis legs front to back, bulkhead bubble, complete front inner and outer wings, front panel, slam panel, doors, bootlid, sills, rear quarter bottoms, tank well, spare wheel well… which for my first resto was quite a bite of the apple!” That’s right, our hero was facing this gargantuan task with no prior experience, but was he daunted? Was he heck. He was adamant that all the work be carried out by himself, so that this car could truly be his own. And, by and large, that proved itself to be the case — it was an epic endeavour of scraped knuckles, colourful language and long nights in the garage, but Dave emerged blinking into the light, ever-so-slightly shell-shocked, with a truly beautifully finished RS2000. “All the work was done by me; inside, outside, every nut and bolt,” he says, supremely justified in the pride he carries. “I wanted to be responsible for everything but the final coat — that was thanks to Danny Kant.”
It’s thoroughly impressive work, and it’s worth noting that Dave wasn’t just laser-focused on achieving perfect bodywork; he was gently modifying and enhancing as he went. So under the skin, to back up the mighty prowess of that howling rally motor, you’ll find all kinds of period mods to perk up the drive; there’s the once-ubiquitous move of swapping the front brake callipers to Princess four-pots, the front struts with GAZ inserts and uprated springs, the single-leaf rears working with Bilsteins.
The dependable Type-9 ’box runs through a single-piece prop to the safe pair of hands that is a 3J Driveline NXG LSD. And while the period four-spokes were an essential part of the vibe, they’re now wrapped in sticky Toyo R888Rs with a generous 185-section. These aren’t radical decisions, but tried-and-tested methods to make the very best of what Ford’s Rallye Sport bods imbued the RS2000 with from day one.
With all of these details to consider, this is quite clearly the perfect car for a summer road trip; the impeccable interior work by Aldridge Trimming has ensured that these are seats you could enjoy for countless miles, and with that playful chassis and all the rally-bred power on tap, there can be few finer machines into which one might throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea, point the droop-snoot toward the horizon, and see what’s at the end of the rainbow.
Words Daniel Bevis
Photos Chris Frosin
This feature first appeared in the April 2019 issue
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