It may have started as a humble 1100, but Adrian McMahon’s left no stone unturned in pursuit of perfection. This XE Mk1 Escort has a show-winning finish, but make no mistake — it’s hardcore, and ready to thrill.
There’s something spectacularly aggressive about seeing a race car minus its livery — the brutal, pumped-up form, devoid of roundels and sponsor logos, just simmering with malevolence.
Now, Adrian McMahon’s Mk1 Escort isn’t a race car, but nevertheless that’s precisely the aesthetic it exudes as it sits before us: the familiar Mk1 profile, but meaner, fatter, angrier.
Naturally the other key attribute of race cars is that they’re function-over-form and tend to get banged about a bit, but that’s very much not the case with Adrian’s car; indeed, as well as being phenomenally detailed in its engineering and construct, it’s also beautifully presented.
This fella is a dyed-in-the-wool Escort aficionado, so it was inevitable that his meisterwerk would be something like this. He’d bought his first Mk1 at the age of 21, a daily-driver that ultimately succumbed to rust and spurred him on to acquire a fresh Irish shell to really drive those rust flakes under his fingernails.
“I had an interest in rallying too,” he says, “and everyone obviously likes the Mk2, but the lines and curves of the Mk1 appealed more to me. My father worked in the Ford plant in Cork until its closure in 1984, the year I was born, and my uncles all love Fords, so Ford was always a point of discussion in the family.”
This isn’t just a tale of automotive aspiration then, but one of family and heritage. And when he spied this blasted shell for sale, originally an 1100, Adrian knew it was the right base for the Escort build his whole life had been leading up to.
“The project’s been a long road — seven years in total,” he explains. “The majority of the project was spent working on the body, and all metalwork, prep and paint was done at Crannagh Auto Restorations. The owner, Rob, believes in hand-making parts where possible, and he is a true artist when it comes to shaping metal. He made 90 per cent of the panels, except for the front wings, front and rear panels and rear bubble arches — even so, all of those panels were modified in some way by him.”
The end result is an utterly flawless shell, far superior to any factory effort, with myriad custom touches. Adrian was keen for the car to remain relatively subtle and stay running 13 inch wheels, while also riding as low as physically possible but still retaining high-performance usability. However, before they could think about reconfiguring the architecture, there was a fair amount of remedial work to take care of…
Pretty much everything ahead of the bulkhead has been replaced, including chassis rails and inner wings, and careful rust repairs extended to the sills, floors, door bottoms, rear panel, bootlid, drip rails and much else, all being treated to Rob’s fastidiously better-than-new approach. The rear bubble arches received additional lip flares, in the style of period fast-road restos, and further custom touches included blending the towing eye mount locations into the chassis with the front and rear panels (you can’t see them, but they’re there if you need them!), and cutting a fluid reservoir space into the bulkhead. The bonnet got a gas strut for practicality, and all of the lines and wiring were carefully hidden away to keep the engine bay clean.
“Wide and low was the goal, which I think we achieved,” Adrian smiles. “In addition, anything that wasn’t body colour was turned black — all chrome, mirrors, bumpers and trim got the back-to-black treatment; it’s a good contrast to the paint I think.”
“I helped Rob wherever I could, grinding welds, sanding, sanding, and more sanding,” he continues. “We had a bit of a break in the middle when I spent three years in America for work, but I came back with new enthusiasm for the build along with the colour choice — I saw the black-and-white scheme on a few cars in California, it’s period but different.”
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the build was trying to accommodate Adrian’s keenness for the lows without compromising the drivability and handling. Ultimately, to keep everything running true, the solution involved raising the link boxes and towers up into the car, while also cutting down the front strut bodies and trimming away and reshaping the inner wings to provide the requisite wheel clearance.
This fastidious attention to detail extends to the interior, as you’d expect from a man of such particular tastes: “The aim was to keep it somewhat original-looking, largely in black, with some subtle period upgrades,” Adrian enthuses. “We fitted a six-dial dash, deep-dish Springalex steering wheel, and a pair of new Contour Classic front seats, which are probably my favourite part of the whole car! There’s also a new black headlining and new doorcards along with custom-made black carpets, and for the sake of usability I have a heated front screen and Corsa electric power steering.
Fabrication-wise, we put in a firewall, rear turrets, rear crossmember, and large tunnel, and there are a few other hidden features — like the under-dash-mounted water pump for the washers, and the internal battery tray.”
Returning to that pristine and super-smooth engine bay, purists will spot that this Escort is now running a Vauxhall motor. Adrian doesn’t see this as in any way an unsavoury deviation (not that it’d matter if anyone did), on the grounds that any originality of this 1100 was shrugged off long ago! It’s a formidable lump too, wearing twin Weber 45s with custom trumpets, Newman cams, a custom Longlife stainless manifold and exhaust system, and an MBE Ignition ECU — our man describes it as “mildly modified for road use”, although with a snorting 186 bhp being deployed via a Tran-X LSD through those fat 235-section rears, this thing’s more than ready for the track if required.
“It’s a bit different to most of the Mk1s out there,” Adrian muses. “The dish of the wheels and arches along with the colour always generate good conversation too; most people seem to like the stance and the fact that it’s still on 13s. There’s always some people who aren’t impressed with a Vauxhall engine in a Ford, but each to their own — it’s not as if it’s a genuine Irish RS1600!” You’ll also be pleased to note that, while the car isn’t a daily driver, it does come out in all weathers and it’s driven as it should be; the finish may be flawless, but the Escort’s been engineered for fast-road thrills and that’s precisely what it delivers.
A pumped-up, steroidal caricature of a Mk1, bristling with race-ready aggression, and eager to paint broad strokes of mischief across the verdant Irish countryside.
Words Daniel Bevis
Photos Adrian Brannan
See more photos and read the full spec on Adrian’s XE Mk1 Escort in the March 2019 issue
Click here for more Classic Ford features