The Fiesta XR2 is a hot hatch icon; a classic lesson in less-is-more design. But if you think ‘less’ is more, allow Chris Elmore to show you how ‘more’ is even more.
The 1980s were the true glory days for the European hot hatch. While the genre in the 1990s went a bit weird — both with the Japanese hyper-hatch invasion and the punitive oppression of the insurance industry — the ’80s were a time of purity and no-frills thrills. Over a quarter of all Golfs sold in the UK were GTis, surfing a tide of success in its second-generation, while the fuel-injection of Ford, Peugeot and Fiat pushed hot hatches away from carbs and into the future. Forced-induction went mainstream thanks to the turbo that Renault bolted to the 5 GTT and the supercharger found under the bonnet of various VW Golfs and Polos.
Diversity was the watchword, with every manufacturer scrabbling for a unique hook within an increasingly-crowded marketplace.
What Chris Elmore has cunningly created here with this Mk1 Fiesta XR2, then, is a sort of ultimate distillation of what a 1980s hot-hatch should be: the pared-back aggression of a lightweight Ford, fused with fuel-injection and a big turbo, all in the name of B-road hijinks. Why choose a Fiesta to fulfil such a brief rather than, say, a 205 or an AX? The answer is simple — a Fiesta was his first love. So it was always meant to be this way.
“My first car was a Mk2 Fiesta 1.4S, when I was 17 and an apprentice mechanic,” Chris explains. “I took the tired 1.4 out and replaced it with a Mk2 XR2 1.6, along with the suspension and brakes. Then I moved on to a mint-condition J-plate Fiesta RS Turbo, which received bigger injectors and a Superchip. I moved away from Fords for a few months with a Renault 5 GT Turbo, then came back for a ’90-spec Escort RS Turbo which was quite heavily modified!”
You’re sensing a theme here, presumably. After the RST, Chris tried his luck with a Pulsar GTi-R, but was very quickly back again with another Fiesta, this time a Mk2 XR2 with an RS Turbo engine and LSD gearbox. And so the merry-go-round colourfully revolves.
Around eight years ago, our irrepressible hero spotted a Mk1 XR2 up for grabs, and it was with a certain sense of inevitability that he sent out his tractor beam and reeled the thing in.
“It was complete, but in need of a front wing and a new roof, due to rot around the sunroof,” he recalls. “I saw it for sale on xrtwo.com with just one photo, and I didn’t have time to go to Blackpool to view it, so I just did a bank transfer and booked a recovery truck to collect it.”
Brave, or foolhardy? Well, take a look at the pictures and figure it out for yourself. Of course, quite a lot of work had to happen between that point and this one, but Chris does seem to have a good eye for this sort of thing. “Yeah, it was a bit of a risk,” he laughs. “But luckily it was a solid and straight car. I took it to a bare shell and got it down the bodyshop, where it had a rot-free roof fitted and a new wing, then it was painted in Amparo Blue. While it was at the bodyshop, I got on with refurbishing all the bits to get it back on its wheels.”
Upgrades in spades
This is where the project really starts to get exciting, and Chris is proud to point out that aside from the bodywork and paint, and the mapping, he’s done everything on the car himself — and the shopping list he had in mind for this car was little short of stellar.
With the freshly-painted shell back at his garage, he set about undersealing it ready for the all-new braided brake and fuel lines, before bolting in a beefed-up brake and suspension set-up. The former comprises of Wilwood four-pots and a bias pedal box along with the XR2 rear axle, while the latter boasts GAZ coil-overs with alloy top mounts and basically everything with the word ‘adjustable’ in it from the Orbital Motorsport catalogue.
And then… life got in the way. Chris’s daughter was born, and work was getting busier too, so the project went on hiatus for a couple of years.
But time is a malleable entity in hindsight, and we can do a little Wayne’s World fast-forward to the date when it all kicked off again. “Over the last five years I’ve just had the odd evening here and there to work on it, but I’d always wanted a Mk1 Fiesta XR2 to build so that really spurred me on,” says Chris. And it’s when we peep under the bonnet that the true genius of this project shines through. You see, there’s a 2-litre Silver Top Zetec under there — and while this in itself is not a radical idea any more, the execution of it is noteworthy for the sheer scale of Chris’s attention to detail.
For starters, he’s channelled those 1980s hot hatch glory days in fine style by bolting on a Stage 2 T3 turbo from a Sapphire RS Cosworth, which announces itself rather aggressively thanks to an Audi S3 blow-off valve. The motor’s been comprehensively beefed-up to suit, with a brand-new cylinder head clamping a Focus RS gasket. At the top end we find RS1800 cams and 440cc Subaru injectors, while down below lurk a set of JE pistons with Eagle rods.
The fuelling’s naturally been amped up and the whole shooting match is governed by an Omex ECU, the mapping of which results in a solid, usable 275 bhp. Just to put that in context, that’s the sort of power you’d have found in a Ferrari 328 back when this Fiesta was all shiny and new. Sports car power, four-seater practicality. This is a very pure distillation of the hot hatch ethos.
“I fitted a set of Mk2 Fiesta seatbelts in the back,” Chris tells us, “so the kids can come along when I take it out for a blast. And yes, sometimes I will take it to the supermarket to do the grocery shopping — although I obviously park a long way from the shop and take up two spaces, so nobody parks next to it and bangs a door into it!” Sounds perfectly reasonable. And while Chris has a lot of show appearances planned for the car (after all, it’s always got a crowd buzzing around it while he’s out and about), the main point of this Fiesta is that it’s a hot hatch; that means it’s everyday-usable and practical, as well as being hilariously quick.
More to come
A lifelong ambition achieved, then? Job done? “No, I have plans,” Chris smirks. “I want to get it back on 13 inch wheels, and swap out the motor for an ST170 lump on throttle-bodies with a six-speed ’box.” Honestly, some people are insatiable. But that’s the point of hot hatches, isn’t it? They can do everything, and you want them to always be the best they can be. The XR2 was just right for the 1980s — and this XR2 is perfect for 2018.
Words Daniel Bevis
Photos Adrian Brannan
See more photos and read the full spec in the original feature on this Fiesta XR2 in the May 2018 issue
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