Happy birthday ‘Brenda’ – The MkII Escort has turned 45
- 6th October 2020, 11:00am
- by Peter Whitten
It may not have registered on your radar in a turbulent 2020, but the world’s most successful rally car has celebrated its 45th birthday.
Off the road, however, it was on the rally stages where the Escort made its mark around the world.Bjorn Waldegard took a MkII to the World Rally Drivers’ Championship in 1979, and Ari Vatanen added to Ford’s tally when he won the 1981 title in a privately entered, David Sutton-prepared MkII. In the UK, Escorts won seven RAC Rallies in succession. Closer to home, Greg Carr drove a locally prepared RS1800 to the 1978 Australian title, but it was in private hands that the Escort really shone through. Like the ubiquitous Datsun 1600, there was a seemingly endless supply of aftermarket, go-faster bits that you could add to the MkII in order to make it a rally rocket. However, whereas the Datsun was really only much loved in Australia, Escort bits were readily available the world over, meaning the number of cars on the stages increased rapidly. Ford’s motorsport parts book was a treasured piece of paperwork in the 1970s and early 1980s – like a candy store for a rally driver! If you wanted an Atlas limited slip diff with a 5.1:1 ratio? No problem. A four or five-speed close ratio gearbox or a disc brake rear end? Sure thing. You name it, you could get it from Ford’s parts guide for a MkII rally car. As a result, it didn’t matter what country you were in, there were Escorts winning stages, winning rallies, and celebrating championship successes. And it went on and on for years. Even when four-wheel drive and turbocharging took over world rallying and the rear-drive MkIIs were left in their dust, privateers continued to strap themselves in to a car that was fun to drive, easy to tune, simple to upgrade, and sounded great too. The RS1800, with its raucous, sweet sounding BDA engine, was the pick of the bunch, but success was also easy to achieve in 2-litre Pinto engined Escorts. Or, if you liked a challenge, you could run a 1.6 or 1.3-litre variant as well. Years passed and the number of MkIIs on the stages dwindled, but then the emergence of classic rallying in the 2000s saw the love for the MkII rekindled once again. Even the great Colin McRae wanted a latest spec, all-singing, all-dancing MkII of his own.
Nowadays, you can build a brand new MkII from scratch, including new, re-manufactured bodyshells, and with the mod-cons, like power steering, a sequential gearbox and remote canister suspension.It’s a far cry from the works cars of the 1970s which, in comparison, now seem like a Fiesta R2 when compared to a Fiesta World Rally Car. Perhaps the MkII’s biggest selling point, aside from its tune-ability, has been its handling. They’re easy to drive, easy to ‘chuck’ into corners, and even easier to control in seemingly un-retrievable slides. If you’ve never driven one on gravel, you need to do it, at least once. Find an abandoned piece of road with a nice corner, throw the MkII into it, and you’ll soon know what I mean. It’s rallying in probably its most purest form. Forty years on, trends come and go in rallying, as do manufacturers and different models of car. But the Escort MkII has remained a staple part of the rallying diet for thousands of drivers around the world, and it shows no signs of abating. Happy 45th birthday ‘Brenda’.
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