A veteran of the mighty Nürburgring, this Fuji-liveried Group A Escort RS1600i is ready for a return thanks to the efforts of Guido Pitzen.
The passage of time has served to dilute the significance of the Mk3 Escort for Ford, or at least its importance in the firm’s wider story and continued success. It was the Mk3 that enabled Ford to emerge as a maker of modern, front-wheel drive mass-production cars, the Mk3 which saw Ford’s model range expand to form a range that could, hand on heart, be said to offer something for everyone, not matter their taste or budget. Perhaps most importantly of all, the Mk3 forced its maker to move away from its former motorsport comfort zone of rear-wheel drive, and into the (then) brave new world of end-on gearboxes and front-wheel drive differentials.
Of course, history tells us that for all its undoubted charms and strengths, the Mk3 was never able to replicate, much less better, the motorsport exploits of its predecessors. The ’80s were a tumultuous period for global motorsport as a whole, and the third-generation Escort’s sporting career could be deemed something of a minor casualty — but that didn’t prevent people from having a damn good go.
All this talk of the Mk3 Escort’s sporting pedigree brings us to the example here, one owned by Guido Pitzen, a man who’s become something of a legend in the old Ford world of late, at least as far as we’re concerned. Guido’s very much put his money where his wallet is when it comes to classic Fords, and the Mk3 is particular blue oval of choice, particularly those cars associated with its largely forgotten motorsport heritage.
“I currently have four motorsport Mk3 Escorts, all built to Group A regulations, so yes, you could say that I’m something of a fan,” he laughs. “This particular Group A Escort RS1600i occupies a significant place in the history of the Mk3’s competition career, particularly in Germany as it was the first example to arrive here — a full year before the first road cars began to appear.”
Clearly hot property in early ’80s automotive terms, this RS was dispatched to Eichberg Racing late in 1981. A race-prepared shell from the off, Eichberg were evidently one of Ford Germany’s chosen few at the time, the team having earned an enviable reputation for pulling of giant-killing feats with Mk2 Escorts. Evidently a much sought after race car at the time, Eichberg had barely completed the RS1600i when it was loaned to Klaus Niedzwiedz (DRM and some time Le Mans ace) of Sport Auto magazine for a comprehensive test, the Group 5 Capri-hustler producing a glowing review of the 140 bhp race car.
Germany’s first RS1600i was then purchased by a part-time racer in Berlin, largely off of the back of Niedzwiedz’s recommendation, and was then pressed into active duty at the Nürburgring’s legendary VLN race series. A full 11 of these gruelling affairs were undertaken between 1982 and 1988, the Escort only bowing out when its engine gave up the ghost in spectacular fashion midway through, whereupon it was parked up in the owner’s garage, locked away and promptly forgotten about.
“It stayed in storage for so long as the owner was in the middle of a protracted dispute with the engine builder — though not Eichberg — something about the new CVH not making enough power, which is how I came to own it back in 2010,” recalls Guido.
Tired not retired
Never one to turn down the chance to own yet another slice of early ’80s Ford competition, Guido did a deal and was soon transporting the RS back to his workshop, already drawing up a mental list of the parts required to recommission it. The bad news was that nearly a decade of competition on one of the world’s most daunting race tracks had taken their toll on the RS. The good news was that, as an owner of several race-spec examples, Guido was well placed to carry out the work in question, something he attacked with evident gusto.
This is a Group A car through and through, which in practice means it has retained a clear and unbroken link with its road-going relations, something all too apparent when you take a closer look at its CVH engine. Old school tuning is very much the order of the day here, and unlike some of Guido’s other Mk3s the spec of this RS1600i won’t be unfamiliar to those of you who’ve spent any length of time attempting to coax larger numbers from CVHs. “The last owner had queried the amount of power being put out, saying it was nowhere near as much as the old Eichberg one, though I was planning on totally rebuilding it anyway so it wasn’t much of a concern for me. It’s now back to peak Group A standards, which means it makes 158 bhp — plenty.”
Other elements of the rebuild were made that bit more challenging by the passage of time, the roll cage being a good example. It goes without saying that roll cage design and manufacture have come on in leaps and bounds since the early ’80s, the result being that the all-alloy affair bolted to the RS when Guido bought it was considered something of a death trap by modern standards! Obtaining a new one was therefore a top priority for Guido, though one tempered by a desire for any replacement to at least look period correct, hence the fully certified steel cage from Heigo which now dominates the Escort’s interior. By Guido’s own admission, fitting this was one of the more time consuming of the entire build, though one we’re confident he’ll be grateful for should the worst happen.
Now we don’t know about you, but if we’d just completed an extensive restoration on a race-ready RS1600i, then we’d be champing at the bit to jump behind the wheel, but not Guido. No, in 2014, just over a year after having conducted the car’s first roll out at the Zolder circuit, Guido opted to sell it.
“At the time I simply had too many projects on the go — I felt bad that this one wouldn’t get the attention it deserves, and when Siggi and Marie-Claire from Switzerland offered me a good price, well, I couldn’t say no.”
That might well have been the end of the story had the car not found its way back into Guido’s ownership a few months ago, though only after he’d been charged with the application of what must be its most distinctive feature — that Fuji livery. Appearance is hardly the most pressing of concerns when it comes to a race car, granted, but it’s also hard to deny that there’s something to be said for an old school car wearing a period correct race livery, and this is very much the case with Guido’s RS1600i.
“I don’t know how many of you will recall Fuji’s adverts from the mid ’80s, but they were largely dominated by the Space Girl — a futuristic, space age looking figure picked out in silver, the very same figure now on the car’s roof,” laughs Guido.
It’s also hard to deny that there isn’t something wonderfully restrained about the livery Fuji opted to apply to this particular RS1600i, a simple, subtle affair which really helps pick out the Mk3’s crisp lines. It’s the kind of scheme you just don’t see anymore now that the advertising landscape is dominated by clashing sombre hues and subtle graphics, a far cry from the splodges of primary colours favoured by mid ’80s ad execs.
Now back in Guido’s hands (hopefully for good this time), the Fuji Group A Escort RS1600i shares garage real estate with some of the most interesting Mk3s ever built, with the odd white-knuckle tour of the Nürburgring thrown in from time to time, just to blow away any remaining cobwebs.
Words Jamie Arkle
Photos Adrian Brannan
See more photos and get the full spec on this Group A Escort RS1600i in the September 2018 issue
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