Conceived in Essex, reimagined in Somerset, this Cosworth RS2000 represents a true best-of-British approach to Escort modifying. Classic looks, modern grunt — and just like Britannia, it waives the rules…
In the spectrum of a vast motor-car manufacturer deeply rooted in America, the legacy of our beloved RS Fords is uniquely British. Back in the mid-1960s, Ford of Britain was wholly owned by Ford US, but when an alliance with the German arm created Ford of Europe, an entity financially stronger and more competitive was created — with more scope for market-specific developments. Fast-forward to 1970 and Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) was established in Aveley, Essex, with a specific function to create exciting low-volume, high-performance road cars. Its first product was the Escort RS1600, which was a slow seller but a press favourite; a proper little pocket-rocket. This paved the way for the Mexico (surfing on the tide of PR from Ford’s incredible success in the London-to-Mexico World Cup Rally —
see page 78), and this all set the scene for the hot halo Escort in summer 1973, the RS2000. The British public couldn’t get enough — initial sales projections were 2500-per-annum, but the figures far exceeded this: in its short production run between mid-1973 to late-1974, over 5300 RS2000s were sold.
All of this home-grown passion was interwoven within the DNA of Steve Gibson, owner of this particular RS2000, from the very start. Working as a Ford tech straight out of school, he went on to own a greatest-hits of RS Fords, including the Mk2 RS2000, RS1600i, Series 1 and Series 2 RS Turbos, and Sapphire RS Cosworth. “All my other cars were put back to concours or factory spec, and I won numerous concours awards with the RS1600i in the 1990s,” he explains. “This is the first modified car I’ve done.”
It’s certainly a bold move to radically modify a genuine RS2000 in such a way, in today’s collector climate at least. While the spirit of RS Fords has always been to refine, rework and drive as hard as possible, there’s a groundswell of moneyed collectors who’ll pay top dollar for all-original RS models, which makes it all the more impressive to find a true enthusiast putting together a build like this one.
The kernel of the concept came from the fact that it was bought as a major project to begin with — a shell in primer, acting as a blank canvas. “I’ve had various different models of Escort and RS, but never a Mk1 Escort RS,” Steve continues. “I have always loved the look and the heritage of the Mk1 and wanted to restore my own. I bought this one as a solid shell; it was in red oxide primer and had been patched up over the years, but had very little corrosion. The original red paintwork was still clearly visible inside and also under some of the patches I removed. There was no running gear or engine with it, and it had been semi-modified already; rear turrets and a larger transmission tunnel had been fitted, but all in all I had a blank canvas to create my own vision of how I wanted the Escort to be.”
The idea of swapping Cosworth YB engines into rear-wheel-drive Fords is an established path (and, of course, the YB itself is also a vital part of Ford’s British heritage), but this wasn’t actually Steve’s plan to begin with. “I originally got a standard RS2000 engine,” he says. “I wanted it to have a highly tuned Pinto under the bonnet… but when I was offered a Cosworth 200 block set-up, I decided to go to town with a bubble-arched, caged track car! Something to drive at the weekend that would always set the pace on the track.” And so that’s what he did, building up the Cosworth engine himself with Mahle pistons, a Turbosport dry sump kit, a hugely uprated fuelling system and, the cherry on the cake, a Garrett GT2860RS turbo. It’s all run by a Link ECU and puts out a very handy 265 bhp. Of course, there was a little more to do than simply stick an engine in the shell…
“The build from bare shell to what you see here took around four-to-five years on and off, and 90 per cent was done by myself in my workshop with help from a few mates along the way,” says Steve. “I fitted complete floor sections, outer sills, a full set of steel bubble arches and inner wing assemblies — and also cut out the previous repairs and did them to a higher standard!”
With the shell perfected, it was handed to Charlie’s Classic and Custom in Somerton to have the rollcage installed along with some bespoke fabrications. A few dry-fits took place to ensure all of the hardware was happy in situ, before Charlie prepped and painted the body in dazzling Diamond White. After much deliberation, Steve opted not to go with the car’s original red and instead went for blue stripes over white, simply because he’d always loved the scheme — and since the RS was already deviated from stock, there were no qualms about building his dream vision. This represented a marked shift in the way he’d always done things, as this is all the very antithesis of the concours approach, but the freedom of this project proved truly refreshing.
“Charlie’s paintwork is second-to-none, I wouldn’t have had anyone else paint it,” he enthuses. “The results are stunning. He also custom-made the bib spoiler, along with a bespoke firewall panel with the RS logo rolled on his English wheel.” It all adds up to a bespoke creation which demonstrates Steve’s keen eye for detail throughout. The parts-sourcing alone entailed a worldwide search for the correct bits; everything throughout the rebuild is either a brand-new replacement or a new-old-stock part, requiring endless hours of searching, and parts being imported from Germany and Australia and all over.
“I also worked closely with Grant at Performance Engine Solutions, and Andy at AC Service in Bridgwater for tuning and brake system mods,” says Steve. “This included the dry sump set-up and all the pipework on the car. Grant fitted the Link ECU and set it up on the dyno, and the car’s currently running at medium boost around the 265 bhp mark. With a couple more mods to do, it should ultimately result in around 290 bhp.”
And this is the crux of the matter — there’s always more to do, such things are never finished. Plans for the winter include a coil-on-plug conversion, dump valve relocation and myriad other tweaks, to arrive at a dyno figure within spitting distance of one that begins with a three. Then it’ll be open season for all manner of track days and fast road hijinks. You see, that’s the very essence of the RS models, distilled into one radically altered classic: the AVO spirit of constant revision and refinement to create ever more power and driver engagement.
There may be modern tech, but Steve’s very much playing by the old rules.
Words Daniel Bevis
Photos Andy Saunders
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