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Originally meant to be a stopgap before the Focus came along, the Escort WRC of 1996 became one of the most-iconic Fords ever.

Ford’s works Escort RS Cosworths had enjoyed great success in rallying, but when new regulations ushered in the World Rally Cars (WRC) to replace the long-running Group A category, Ford had a problem. At that stage there was neither the time nor money to develop an all-new WRC car. But such a car, based on the still-secret Focus, would follow in 1999. 

To fill a two-year gap, in 1996 Boreham evolved the Escort WRC, a rally-only derivative of the RS Cosworth. Starting in January 1997, when Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport took over the works contract, the team used Escort WRCs. Twenty cars were built in 1997 (when Carlos Sainz led the team), and by the tail end of 1998, just 50 had been constructed.

This was never a production line car for it was engineered at Boreham by Philip Dunabin and John Taylor, in a matter of months, with a tiny budget. The design was constrained by time, and by the need to retain the RS Cosworth’s well-known layout. Compared with the Escort RS Cosworth, it had a radically different rear suspension, modified aerodynamics (including a new front end and a different rear spoiler), along with a much-modified engine (more torque, more power and an IHI turbocharger), together with a bigger and far more efficient intercooler.

Such cars were never price listed, and certainly not intended for normal road use. In rallying, however, they had a short and successful career. Two victories for Sainz in 1997 (Acropolis and Indonesia), second in the World Makes series of that year, and several podium finishes (for Juha Kankkunen) in 1998, all cleared the way for the new-generation Focus.

How many of these works cars now remain? Well, rocking horse poo is a phrase which comes to mind.   

Words Graham Robson

This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue

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