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The classic looks of Dan Creswell’s homebuilt Mk1 Escort rally car give no clues as to the rev-happy 20-valve powerplant under the bonnet — and that’s just the way he likes it.

mk1 escort rally car

Rallying is fun, dangerous, exhilarating, and hugely addictive. But on top of all that, it’s also massively expensive. So if you’re closer to the pauper end of the scale that the tycoon, then getting involved has to be with a lot of work done yourself, slowly and ingeniously. Dan Creswell from Somerset grew up with Dad, Mike showing him the ropes on engineering and driving, and he soon got involved in Autocross and then rallying in a quick, budget-run Peugeot 205… but the dream of competing in a front-running Mk1 Escort would have to wait a while and be approached with a run up.

Getting a job and learning the skills as a mechanical engineer helped, and Dan also put time in at a motorsport company from a young age to gather skills that would be useful later on… and it was working there that made him fall in love with, and desire an Escort one day.

mk1 escort rally car

Shell shocked

His story with this immaculate Mk1 begins six years ago with a visit to a friend’s workshop after the arrival of a looking-sad-for-itself old rally shell that had been part-exchanged in on his mate’s latest build. “It was just a bare shell, rusty and bashed about,” Dan says, “and most of the ‘strengthening welding’ was so bad you wouldn’t have wanted to be running a lawnmower motor in it!”

But it wasn’t a lot of money (comparatively speaking anyway), and so fitted the bill for Dan and his ambitions to build himself a cheap-but quick Tarmac rally car. And that’s what he set out to do… except, as in many tales of classic Ford builds, he got carried away, time-scales extended and costs spiralled. But that just means that the final results, as pictured here, are beautiful as well as potentially very quick on the stages.

More than two years of evenings and weekends welding for Dan and Mike in a small home garage saw the rough shell regain a decent shape with plenty of localised rust patch repairs plus new inner and outer wings, front panel, floors and chassis rails, sills and rear quarters. Then there was all the fabrication work to do, as four steel bubbles, a large tunnel, 15 inch rear tubs, rear turrets, firewall, link boxes and a Safety Devices roll cage (with added bracing) went in. “We managed the space by buying a rotating spit,” Dan says, “and just got on with the job.” 

With the shell complete, a racing livery had to be considered and this was chosen by the other half of CK Motorsport’s team, namely Dan’s fiancée, Kelly Kay. Kelly has been a keen supporter all the way through the build and must be a traditionalist as her choice of Ford Monza Blue is an excellent one. And with an RS2000-style stripe kit in white, 13 inch Minilites, corner bumpers and a drilled front panel, the finish is immaculate and classic.

The results were so good, in fact that there was no way Dan could now go for a mediocre build when it came to the mechanics.

mk1 escort rally car

Money was earned, borrowed, scrimped and saved to buy the best kit to attach to the shell, so there’s Bilstein coil-overs complete with AVO inserts at the front, with compression struts adjustable top mounts and TCAs, plus a wide quick rack. AVO provides the damping at the back too, and brakes all round are Wilwood complete kits with a bias pedal box, hydraulic handbrake and braided lines. 

Transmission of power is through Dan’s major extravagance — a Quaife 60G six-speed sequential gearbox along a standard two-piece prop (surprisingly the correct length) and into the six-linked 50 inch Atlas axle equipped with a 3J Driveline LSD. 

mk1 escort rally car

Twenty is plenty

Up to here, everything about Dan’s Escort build is either classic Mk1-style or often-seen, tried-and-tested rally spec, but when it comes to power creation, then he’s stepped away from the usual and gone for an exotic fruit… and it is indeed a peach — a 1600cc, 20-valve Toyota 4A-GE motor, which came from an imported Toyota Levin AE111. 

“I wanted to go for a 1600cc class for rallying, as when I started there was less competition out there and I figured I could do well,” Dan says. “That situation has changed in the last six
years and there are many extremely quick 1600s out there now, though I still hope to be competitive.”

“Japanese is a good place to head if you want reliability and my first thoughts were to go for a Honda,” he continues, “but they spin backwards in operation, and so the conversion would have had added complications. Then the Levin came up and with 150 bhp from the factory there wold be lots of potential for extra horsepower.”

mk1 escort rally car

The engine was stripped and rebuilt with new forged pistons and rods, rally cams and (for now) the standard 20-valve head has been retained. With a custom 4-2-1 manifold bought from the States, Ashley 2.5-inch exhaust system and 45 mm throttle bodies and 600-series ECU, power is up to 186 bhp, though there was a bit of a puzzle to solve before that figure could be recorded at a rolling road set-up session at Power Crazy Motorsport recently. 

“At the top end of the rev range the power was falling of and the engine was starting to
miss badly,” he says. “The problem turned out to be that the fuel filter I’d fitted was too
small and was emptying. Luckily we discovered this before having to resort to much more expensive solutions!” 

“I’m also talking to Anderson Engineering about some head work at the moment,” Dan adds, “as that should see me well over 200 bhp. Tony at Elphis Engineering has the only other Escort I know of with the same Toyota engine as mine, and his is at least 210 bhp, with the only major difference between the two cars being the cylinder heads.”

mk1 escort rally car

Game face

Even with ‘just’ 186 bhp from a 1600, Dan has already proved his Escort will be up for the job it has been built for. “To afford the Escort, I had to take an almost complete break of several years from rallying, so there were some cobwebs to blow off,” he says. “And I also have a new co-driver too. On our first event, the Smeatharpe Stages, which was used as a shakedown, Kelly had stepped in — slightly reluctantly — as I couldn’t find a navigator available. And she was hooked straight away. “

“We did very well too,” he reports, “with second in class and 12th overall a very pleasing result for first time out. Hopefully that will continue as we’re going to go for the full BTRDA Championship this year.” 

It should be an exciting year for CK Motorsport… watch this space. 

Words Marc Stretton

Photos Andy Saunders

mk1 escort rally car

See more photos and get the full spec on this Mk1 Escort rally car in the March 2018 issue

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