Seeing an NA Cosworth YB between the wings of a classic Ford is always a refreshing change, though Chris Holland’s twice-rebuilt Mk2 Escort really takes things to another level!
Though pretty much every classic Ford can be made to look great with a few tweaks and personal touches, very few look as ‘right’ as well-sorted Mk2 Escort. There are thousands of utterly-amazing Mk2s out there right now and that number seems to rise with each passing month, so it really does take something very special indeed to stand out from the crowd. That said, when someone does manage to get the formula correct the results are never less than spectacular, and it’s no exaggeration to say that a well-prepared Mk2 is one of the best sights in the automotive world.
There’s no doubt that the Escort in front of you fits the bill; it boasts perfect paint, the build has involved levels of attention to detail that would make NASA scientists nod and smile, and it’s powered by a high-revving, carb-fed, naturally aspirated Cosworth YB.
It’s an achingly pretty car then, but it certainly wasn’t intended to be quite this flawless. In fact this is actually its second iteration, the car’s owner, Chris Holland, having pretty much finished it once before, before becoming dissatisfied and starting afresh.
“This is actually the third bright orange Mk2 I’ve owned and I fully intend it to be the last,” he chuckles. “It was always intended to be a track car with an MoT, and I decided to build it after a track day with my old Mk1 revealed just how much stress I was putting the old rear suspension through.”
Chris goes on to explain how he looked at photos of the car cornering hard and saw the rear leaf springs twisting and buckling under the strain, and it only spurred him on to build something better, more focussed and more capable. The search for a suitable Escort was started almost immediately and it didn’t take long for a (just about) rolling 1600 Sport shell to surface. It was missing its engine, trim, interior, bonnet and boot, but it was clean and largely rot-free. The deal was sealed and Chris started planning out his perfect track car.
Now it’s important to stress that the car he intended to build at this point was somewhat rough and ready, a very capable and potent Escort, yes, but not exactly a showstopper with pristine paint. Chris dived in and stripped the shell, stitch welded it and carried out a number of other strengthening modifications to help the finished car hold its own out on track.
“I’d very nearly finished the build when a dry-sumped Pinto with a Holbay head and twin 48 Webers came into my ownership, so it made a lot of sense to fit that and finish the car with a quick blow over with orange paint,” recalls Chris.
That might well have been the end of the story had Chris not spotted a certain Mk2 Mexico for sale — a car that was competition ready and came with a Wayne Mitchell Competition Engines naturally-aspirated NA Cosworth YB.
“This is actually a budget build and most of the big parts have been swapped, found or otherwise got for bargain prices, so there was no way I could afford the Mexico as a complete car. Luckily, I have a close friend who loves Mk2 Escorts and likes them as Ford intended, so I got to work convincing him to buy the car instead!”
We’re sure you can guess where this is heading, and, after a few days of patient questioning, Chris had convinced the friend in question to stump up the cash for the Mexico. A short blast round the block with Chris’s good friend, Whitey followed, a trip that left both grinning from ear to ear and more than convinced of the YB’s performance credentials.
“We were both grinning like Cheshire cats and couldn’t stop laughing! Whitey turned to me and said he’d repaint my Mk2 for me and make it look perfect, but in return I had to agree to make my 1600 Sport into a pristine, mint-condition car.”
What followed was nothing short of an undoing of all Chris’s hard work; the shell was stripped down and freed of all its running gear, new parts were sourced and ordered, and the yet-to-run Pinto was removed and sold on. Drastic, yes, but it did mark a pivotal moment in Chris’s ownership of the car and led directly to the Mk2 you see here. Work began almost at once, with Chris and Whitey wasting no time in stripping the shell down and carrying out yet more bodywork modifications, including fitting an enlarged transmission tunnel and diff recesses, plus tubbed rear arches in readiness for beefy wheels and wide rubber further down the line.
There was only ever one colour that was truly in the running when it came to painting this car — orange, and bright orange at that. Chris has owned two Escorts with similarly vibrant shades of Tango and he wasn’t about to mess with a winning formula, he simply went to the local paint shop and selected the brightest hue he could from their book. So it was that the now competition prepared, strengthened and freshly painted shell was wheeled out of Whitey’s workshop, a mere seven days since it’d been pushed in.
So, what’s so special about that carb-fed YB then? Well aside from the fact that running a naturally-aspirated version of an engine designed to be turbocharged is somewhat leftfield in itself, there’s also the fact it’s been built by Wayne Mitchell, a man with a knack for turning out killer competition Ford motors. It features a steel bottom end with ARP fasteners, a dry sump set-up, Kent cams with solid lifters, and those aforementioned twin 48 carbs. It is, in short, a bit of a beast, and one that can comfortably push out 249 bhp all day long.
“The dry sump set-up was one of the biggest factors behind my decision to go with this particular engine, especially after I blew up the bottom end in my last Escort thanks to oil starvation round Castle Combe,” Chris muses.
A desire to keep everything as featherweight as possible is at the very heart of this build and it’s something that can be seen in all manner of areas, including the transmission. You might expect to see a T5 and Atlas axle attached to that Cosworth engine, and though they’re undoubtedly tougher, beefier options, Chris has instead opted for a Type-9 casing with Tran-X straight cut gears, and an English axle with an LSD. He readily admits that they’re both at the limits of their capabilities, but points out that they’re also much lighter and relatively easy to source. Throw in the six-linked rear end (complete with Watts linkage), adjustable bottom arms and ant-roll bar, quickrack and Bilstein coil-overs and it isn’t all that surprising that this is one fine handling Mk2.
“The suspension and steering have had a lot of time and money in invested in them, but the brakes are still fairly basic – I tend to use the gearbox and hope for the best,” laughs Chris when asked about the Wilwood callipers and relatively small discs found under those Minilites.
This is very much an out-and-out track car, but it’s a track car with an MoT and a very well screwed together and finished one. Chris’s attention to detail has reached levels that border on the obsession, and countless hours were spent making sure the orange and black theme was executed perfectly and carried through to all areas of the build — he even spent a week searching for a correct fire extinguisher as it had to be black to fit with the rest of the interior!
There’s little doubt that Chris has managed to build himself one of the country’s finest track Escorts, a feat made all the more impressive when you remember that it’s a car he’s pretty much built twice! Having the commitment to strip it all down when it was mere weeks away from being race-ready and Pinto-powered highlights just how seriously he takes these cars, and there’s no doubt that rebuilding and opting for Cosworth power was the correct call — especially as the Escort can now punch well above its weight and humble for more powerful machines.
It’s well worth remembering that though it’s currently spotless and clean enough to bring home the silverware at any Ford show you care to name, this Escort was built to race and race hard. Chris makes no bones about this and admits that it’ll be pushed to the very edge from the moment it takes to the track for the first time later this year, something that should make for quite some sight!
Read the full feature on this NA Cosworth YB Escort in the September 2015 issue
Words Jamie Arkle
Photos Gerard Hughes
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