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Dan Hagan’s ST170 Mk1 Escort is no straight-down-the-line Escort build. This work of art blazes its own trail, surprising onlookers at every turn… 

In our line of work, you come to expect that everybody you meet will be a dyed-in-the-wool classic Ford fan. They’ll have grown up in a Ford-loving family, their path into Blue Oval passion having been written in the stars. So it’s interesting to note that Dan Hagan’s journey deviates significantly from what we’re used to: 

“I can’t explain why I’ve always been a rear-wheel-drive Ford fan,” he shrugs. “I was never brought up around them. My Dad was into classics of all shapes and sizes, and I did grow up working on and restoring cars, but never Fords in particular.” Sometimes the true calling just finds you, perhaps, regardless of circumstance. Although as we dig deeper into Dan’s automotive back story, a few clues do present themselves: 

“I got my first car when I was 13 — a Mk2 Escort Goldcrest — as a Christmas present in the mid-’90s,” Dan explains. “That was restored into a Signal Yellow Mexico lookalike. After that I had two more Mk2 Escorts — one with a hot all-steel Crossflow; another with a 2-litre Pinto — then a Mk2 Fiesta XR2 lookalike, a Series One RS Turbo…”

OK, the pieces are starting to slot into place. He may not have been guided into Fordlife by family bonds, but Dan’s certainly forged his path. A Mk1 Escort was perhaps inevitable.

“I’d been hankering for another rear-drive Escort for a while,” he recalls, “but a young family and rising prices made me think I’d missed the boat. However, in 2013 I was attending a local car show with my family and as usual was drawn straight to the Escorts; I had recently left the Royal Navy and had some money aside for a house deposit. One Escort at the show had a tiny for-sale sign in the windscreen — the type you’d put up if you didn’t actually want to sell the car! My wife commented on how she preferred the look of the Mk1, and that was all the encouragement I needed…”

Dan got chatting with the seller, Gary Powner, and learnt all about the restoration he’d carried out. The following day, with a nostalgia-heavy and sepia-tinted test drive, Dan was smitten with the car and a price was agreed. What he found himself driving home in was a very straight and tidy Mk1, the resto having been carried out a few years previously. It was running a 2.1 Pinto on bike carbs with a Type-9 five-speed, and represented a very pleasant and usable package for daily thrills.

st170 mk1 escort

New power generation

Of course, it’s never as simple as buying someone else’s project and leaving it at that. “It was all good stuff, beautifully done, but not as quick as I’d have liked,” says Dan, and it’s clear that the mental cogs were whirring from day one.

That’s not to say it was all mapped out this way from the beginning, though. An ST170 swap is a popular route that yields incredible results, but it wasn’t what Dan went into the process intending to do. “Having spent the house deposit on the car, part of my buying it was an agreement that this one would stay as it was,” he explains. “And I managed to stick to that… for a few years! But everything changed when I started attending the Lakes Tour with the Cleveland RS Owners’ Club. The brothers, Simon and Darren West had ST170 engines in their Escorts, and I was left standing with my Pinto. I stuck with it for another year, as I loved the look of the engine bay, but after the 2017 Tour I was convinced it had to go — and I bought an ST170 engine the next week.”

Wasting no time, the engine was given a quick paint and cambelt change, and carefully eased into the Escort’s bay. A Retro Ford sump from someone else’s unfinished project joined a new water rail and engine mounts, and since the motor was being ousted for something from the 21st Century, Dan opted to do the same for the transmission. The solution came in the form of the six-speed ’box from the Mazda RX-8, a conversion that’s proving increasingly popular these days — using a cable clutch kit from Lee Butcher (who makes and supplies such things and can be found on Facebook), it’s something that makes a real transformative difference to the Mk1 and Mk2, and RX-8 gearboxes are neither expensive nor tricky to source.

st170 mk1 escort

“I stuck with bike carbs as they’d been very reliable on the Pinto,” he continues, “but went for 40 mm ZX-9R ones this time with TPS, so I could run a 3D map using Nodiz Pro. The West brothers don’t run VVT and have had success by locking the inlet cam in an optimal position, but I decided to be different and maintain full VVT control using VVT Pro, which has been great.” Two smart ECUs working hand-in-hand? This guy just keeps finding new and subtle ways to deviate from the norm. The more we pore over this intelligently crafted Mk1, the more we discover just how unusual it is.

Working it out

“The biggest headscratcher was trying to get a flywheel/clutch/starter combo to work,” he says. “My Pinto had an Edge high-torque starter that I wanted to keep — I managed to get a custom flywheel that allows the use of a Pinto clutch and starter motor, but then I had to make sure all this would work with the RX-8 gearbox. Thankfully, with a few minor adjustments to the starter position and an RX-8 release bearing, it all works a treat.” As the gearbox has no speedo drive, custom clocks were made using a six-dial dash fitted with electronic 80 mm Rally Design speedo and tacho, keeping the original smaller gauges to retain a factory look. Further seismic changes were going on beneath the skin too, with Andy Whitehouse at Arrow Engineering converting the pedals to a bias pedal box, while Corsa B electric power steering also found its way in; following a more traditional path, we find Princess four-pots under there as well as a five-linked English axle and plated LSD. A juicy fusion of old and new ideas.

“The car was mainly built to hoon around the B-roads,” Dan grins. “All work was carried out by myself — with some help with the heavy bits by my mates, Mike and Ben — and I much prefer driving and using the car to polishing it. I’ve just completed a diff ratio change from 3.77 to 4.1, to counteract the fact I run 15 inch wheels and make it quicker off the line. I’ve also just fitted a vernier pulley and retarded the exhaust cam by 7 degrees to try and squeeze a few extra bhp. Really it’s a plaything, and that’s exactly what I use it for!” 

st170 mk1 escort

And that’s just what we like to hear about a car like this. Its roots may deviate from the norm, as do many of the ideas inside it, but at its core it’s the same as every car you find in these pages: a work of art and a product of passion, built to be used and abused. Just the way it should be.  

Words Daniel Bevis

Photos Darren Mallinson

See more photos and get the full spec on Dan’s ST170 Mk1 Escort in the July 2019 issue

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