If you grow up in North Wales then become part of the renowned Irish rally scene, what else are you going to build as your fun car but an awesome Fast Road Mk2 Escort?
How do you end up owning an (almost) rally-ready Mk2 Escort for under £6000? Easy, move to one of the world’s rallying hotspots, spend years building, fixing and running Escorts for your friends, and then use your contacts and the spares you’ve collected from crashed or uprated cars to put together a tidy and trick Escort for yourself. Well, maybe that’s not so simple a route, but it is how Gary Howarth managed to budget-build this excellent Le Mans Green Mk2 that he plays in during the summer.
Gary’s lived in Rosscarbery in south west Ireland for many years, but isn’t a native Irish rally nut. He caught the disease growing up back over in North Wales. “I served my time with Ford and finished my apprenticeship in 1985 then got in to rallying as a hobby,” he begins. “When I moved to Ireland I was coming to one of the major centres for the sport, with big scenes in both County Cork and County Kerry — with the Killarney Rally being an international draw for racers.
“During the Celtic Tiger years over here, putting together rally cars was a boom industry and I joined in part-time, building and running cars for friends such as Eoghan Calnan,” Gary says. “I had Escorts of my own and in the early days with the bravery of youth I did OK but after a massive crash in 1992 on the West Cork Rally my bottle was never quite there again, and I was better at getting others to go quick.”
When children came along in recent years Gary didn’t have a Mk2, but it wasn’t long before he needed an Escort in his life again. “Back when all the money was about, finding decent Mk2 shells became difficult,” he says, “and in the end they were having to be shipped in from places like Australia. Now supply is up again with plenty of choice and when I went looking for a deal, HASS Motorsport in Donegal sold me a job-lot of three Aussie import shells, each virtually rust-free.
“One of the shells I built up as a rally car, which is now out racing, the second is in storage lined up for a future project, and the third one formed the basis for this Fast Road car that I use for entertainment during the summer months,” continues Gary. “With a good tune and some in-date seats and harnesses, the car could go out rallying, but for now it’s just to have some fun in with my son, Luke, in the passenger seat.”
The starting point for the build was a bare shell. “And it was just that,” Gary reports. “There wasn’t a single nut or bolt attached. That really wasn’t going to be a problem though,” he says, “as over the years I’ve built up a massive stock of spares. Some came from salvaged crashed cars and other bits came cheap when upgrades were made to customers’ Escorts. And if I really didn’t have anything then 20-plus years on the scene means I have an army of contacts who can find and supply what I want for a reasonable price.”
Restoration of the dry-climate shell consisted of a small repair to one front wing where it joins the headlamp panel and a bit of plating under the heater bowl. “It’s one of the only places you get rust in the Australian cars, because sand and dust tends to block the drain holes in the scuttle and then the bowl becomes a water trap,” Gary explains. “The bowl is easy enough to unpick and repair underneath though,” he says.
After that Gary welded in some four-link boxes, rear suspension turrets, enlarged the gearbox and diff tunnels, and strengthened the bulkhead with gussets. “I never seam-weld an Escort,” he notes, “as I think that makes them too stiff, leading to cracking and distorting in other areas of the shell.
“To get the car rigid a Safety Devices cage went in,” continues Gary, “with extra cross bracing, gusseting to the A-posts and the rear bars pick-up on top of the rear suspension turrets, which adds protection to the roof in case of a roll-over. The only other metalwork needed was to reskin a couple of old doors, as finding replacements for these is one hard task in Ireland at the moment.”
Completing the bodywork, a set of Group 4 Tarmac arches and a front Group 4 spoiler were grafted on and then the bare shell was painted by Gary with several coats of Le Mans Green. Fitting up was an easy enough task for someone who has seven full-car builds behind them (and a G3 Mk3 Escort project currently on the go) with the only real problem being choosing which of the shed-full of goodies to bolt on. Suspension duties are carried out by Bilstein 2.25-inch kit all round with the front-end steadied by compression struts and brakes are Volvo four-pots on the front with an XR3i rear disc conversion bolted up to the LSD-equipped English axle. Steering is via a quick rack, and because the Mk2 has been designed to mainly be used as a road car, Corsa electric power steering has been installed.
For horsepower production, the Escort is pushed along by a 2.1-litre Pinto on Weber 45s, with a Sierra Type-9 gearbox attached. “The RS2000 bottom-end came very cheap as the previous owner could never get it to run right,” says Gary, “and that was probably due to the very slightly bent con-rod I discovered on inspection. With a Stage 2 head, FR32 cam, the Webers and a custom exhaust system there’s enough power for now, but a mega-spec version will more than likely be in there when funds have been replenished,” he adds.
Inside the cabin is equipped with the bare essentials to complete the rally car look, with bucket race seats, TRS harnesses, an OMP wheel and all the gauges to keep an eye on the Pinto’s state of health. Finishing touches to the exterior are one of the rare FORD grilles, the black Revo five-spokes (which started out white but looked all wrong) and carbon-fibre bumpers.
“The rear bumper is a typical example of me using bits that other people threw away,” Gary says, “as that had been broken in three pieces in a crash and put in the bin, before I rescued it and grafted the remains back together.”
It’s by recycling components and using mechanical items that came cheap because they were no longer required (or needed refurbishment) that Gary now owns what must be one of the cheapest-built Mk2s on the road. “What’s sat there owes me just about £6000,” he says, “and for a Mk2 that’s so clean it still has its original front wings, I’m pretty proud of the job done.”
Words Marc Stretton
Photos Gerard Hughes
See more photos and get the full spec on Gary’s Fast Road Mk2 Escort in the September 2013 issue
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