What is it?
It’s a Ford Escort RS1600 MK1 – or, to put it plainly, the most successful rally car of the early-1970s. Capitalising on the advent of televised sport, more specifically rallying, Ford wisely saw the commercial value in sending its humble saloon-for-the-people onto the world’s special stages. The Escort’s inherent simplicity, robustness and versatility soon saw it racking up domestic and international victories in the hands of such legends as Hannu Mikkola, Timo Makinen and Roger Clark.
Can you tell us about this Escort’s period Works history?
Chassis number 99901 was prepared for its maiden competitive outing, the 1973 Safari Rally, in April of that year by the Ford Boreham Competition Department and allocated the registration number by which it would become popularly known: XPU 216L.
Earmarked by the Works Ford Motor Company Ltd for Roger Clark and his co-driver Jim Porter, the car was one of five newly-built left-hand-drive RS1600s fielded by the factory in the notoriously challenging rally. XPU 216L made a terrific start, carving out a staggering 35-minute lead by the halfway point. Alas, mechanical maladies forced Clark and Porter to retire wondering what could have been.
Having returned to the United Kingdom, XPU 216L’s next outing came in the Scottish Rally, where it was driven by a young Tony Pond. The Works drive was Pond’s reward for winning the previous year’s Escort Mexico one-make rally championship and the budding British prospect did not disappoint, finishing an impressive seventh overall.
Also a prize-winner in the aforementioned Escort Mexico series, Russell Brookes took the wheel of this Ford for the Jim Clark rally, putting in a deft performance to finish second only behind Roger Clark. So strong had his performances been in the powerful 16-valve Escorts that Brookes was once again entrusted with XPU 216L in the RAC rally, though his fortunes were shattered by an accident in Sutton Park – conveniently (or not), the special stage nearest to his Worcestershire home.
What happened next?
Following the RAC rally, the Ford Boreham Competition Department replaced XPU 216L’s shell with that of a sister Works car, which had its own résumé including the 1973 UDT World Cup recce.
Incidentally, the 1974 running of the UDT World Cup was to be this Escort’s final appearance. Andrew Cowan, with a generous sponsorship package from White Horse whisky, was at the helm for the mammoth 12,000-mile journey from London to Munich via the Sahara desert in Africa. Just 19 of the 52 cars which took the starting ramp completed the rally, of which XPU 216L was, remarkably, one.
Has this Escort been restored?
Yes. Ford sold XPU 216L in the autumn of 1974, though it wasn’t until 1991, when the car was acquired by an adoring competition Escort enthusiast, that the decision was taken to commence a full restoration to the original Works specification.
No stone was left unturned in the painstaking seven-year process, from major components such as the original 1973 Ford Competition Group 2 body shell down to the smallest details including the Pye Westminster short-wave radio and the Gomm Metal Developments dry-sump fuel tank. An alloy-block two-litre Ford BDG engine was installed, mated to a period-correct ZF five-speed direct-top competition gearbox. The authentic Safari Rally livery was the proverbial cherry on the cake.
“The decision was taken to commence a full restoration to the original Works specification and livery.”
Several modifications made for safety, performance and ease of use in today’s competition, such as the constant-discharge Lucas electronic ignition, the AP Racing brakes with twin-Lockheed servos, the Bilstein suspension and the Safety Devices roll-cage.
So it’s a prime candidate for historic rallying?
Absolutely. Once the restoration was complete, XPU 216L proved to be a very competitive car on the historic rallying scene, winning the 1998 Historic Rally Car Register Championship (HRCRC) outright and finishing fourth in the 2001 MSA British Historic Championship. And there are a number of series today which would welcome this historically-significant Ford Escort with open arms including the aforementioned HRCRC and Reinhard Klein’s Slowly Sideways community, in addition to major rallying events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Rally Legend in San Marino.
Sell it me in a sentence...
Finding a former factory-entered Ford Escort RS1600 with strong period competition history in the hands of two British rallying greats and which retains a Works-prepared bodyshell is almost unheard of – XPU 216L is ready for its next chapter to be written…