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Kids love to play around when their younger, but for Dave and Mark Newton, they’re still having fun with their childhood toy — this Mk1 Escort…

All kids have a favourite place to play — the local park or a tree house in the back garden, perhaps, or more likely these days, stuck inside with a square screen burning indelible images into their retinas. Back in the ’80s, when computer games hadn’t yet become the mind-magnets they were to develop into, Mark and Dave Newton, two brothers from Portsmouth, discovered a great location to muck about in — a makeshift garage stuck on the side of their dad’s mate’s house. Why? Because incarcerated in that garage was a Daytona Yellow Mk1 Escort that they could pretend to be side-slipping and rallying in. 

“The 1968-registered Mexico replica had been owned by dad’s friend, Malcolm Hughes since the early ’70s,” Mark says. “It started life as a Deluxe in brown, and despite the nasty colour, was stolen in 1978 and smashed up. With the remains of the car salvaged, Malcolm then bought a second-hand Type-49 shell and used the bits he could to build up a Mexico replica, which was then painted in the much more pleasing Daytona colour scheme.

“The replica was used up until 1986, when it was parked up at the side of Malcolm’s bungalow,” he continues. “When the car started to look a bit sorry for itself, a garage was built around it and there the once-cherished motor stayed.”

mk1 escort

Jump around

Mark and Dave had been visiting Malcolm’s place with dad, Mike, since they were small and had been jumping in, out and all over the Escort since they could remember. “When we got close to driving age we started nagging Malcolm to sell the Mk1 to us,” Dave says. “Originally he was convinced that one day the time and money to do a restoration would materialise, but around 2000, after three years of pestering, he admitted defeat to us.”

Mark and Dave gave him no time to reconsider and within days all the Newtons descended upon the Escort to strip it down. “Completely pulling the car apart where it sat was an easier option than trying to roll it out of the built-on garage,” Mark recalls, “and once reduced to a bare shell it was lifted by 12 volunteers and placed into the back of one of dad’s vegetable delivery trucks for the journey home.” At home, the shell was flipped over and put into the garage floor-up. 

The first job was to scrape off the old underseal and several year’s-worth of Waxoyl. “At this point Mark disappeared off to college, so left me with that pleasant job,” says Dave.

The cleaning process revealed that the Escort’s long-time garaging had kept it in reasonable nick for a 30-plus-year-old Ford. “There was some rust, but nothing too bad,” Dave reports, “the main problem areas being the front pans and chassis rail shackle mounts. The slam panel, spare wheelwell and rear valence also needed patching and a replacement bonnet and door were needed, too.”

Nose up

The bodywork was carried out by Ray at Southbourne Garages — a motor-trade friend of Mike who has done a lot of work for Beaulieu Motor Museum, so his quality is right up there. So while the shell was at Ray’s the Newtons cracked on with getting all the mechanical components up together.

The braking is upgraded to 2.8i discs with spaced M16 callipers and 9 inch drums while the suspension is reconditioned original kit using minus 3-inch front springs, but with roller top-mounts the overall drop is about 2 inches. “This was needed as we think the leaf springs are decambered,” Dave says. “So the shorter springs bring it back to near horizontal.” 

The engine that came with the car was a 1600 Crossflow, but two bores were scored and it had already been bored out once so another block was the best option. “This 711M-item came from a college friend,” says Mark, “and we took it out to 1660cc, slotted in 1300 pistons to raise the compression ratio and fitted a GT head and A2 cam. A Weber 28/32 downdraught carb from a Cortina GT supplies the air and fuel and a mild steel exhaust removes the burnt gasses,” he adds. “I have no power figures as the thought of screaming the engine on a rolling road is a scary prospect, but would like to think its 100 bhp-plus, which I’d be happy with.”

With the shell back, it was built up to a rolling stage and in 2003 sent to SBS (Stuart’s Body Shop) in Hilsea after a friend had an MG done there for reasonable money. A deadline was not really given but within a month all the spray work had been completed as Dave had already spent much time covering the floors in three coats of stonechip and a final layer of Hammerite yellow which is a very close match.

mk1 escort

First timers

Fitting the new and reconditioned mechanicals and trim could now begin but with work, college, the search for hard-to-get bits, and “taking things very carefully as we were petrified of damaging the paintwork”, this stage of the build would last several years, but Mike and Dave both wanted to get it right first time.

“Overall the build was enjoyable, with just a few minor frustrations along the way,” Mike says. “One was trying to get the brakes working — it took five bottles of fluid to get a pedal — and the weirdest problem came when trying to install the brand-new rear window weather seal. Whatever way I fitted the thing there was inches of slack, so in the end I threw it in the corner of the garage and moved on to another job. Months later when I returned to the puzzle it fitted straight on perfectly.”

mk1 escort

Inside the front seats that came with the Escort were excellent Paddy Hopkirk buckets, but the cloth was rotted almost completely off the frames. These were retrimmed by Porchester Trimmers in a black material that looks period, and the rear covered with the same.

A final push to the finish came in 2011, when a target of getting to the Classic Ford Show was set. Unfortunately that bullseye was missed, but the car did make it to Ford Fair. 

Mike and Dave now share joint ownership of what was a brotherly venture, and its great to see what an immaculate Escort has emerged from the neglected old plaything! 

Words Marc Stretton

Photos Gerard Hughes

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