Launched in 1968 the MK1 escort was competitive straight out of the box. Due mainly to the extensive testing around the Bagshot Tracks as a prototype in 1967.
Although released with a kent cross-flow engine, it wasn’t long before the famous Lotus twin cam motor was sucessfully transplanted and homologated and placed in the safe hands of “Mr Escort” Roger Clark
In it’s race debut on the 3rd of February 1968, a televised Rallycross event at Croft Circuit near Darlington, 3 Mk1 Escorts in the hands of Roger Clark, Barry Lee & Trevor Chapple won 3 of the rounds.
Shortly after a works twin cam driven by Ove Anderson took third in the 1968 San Remo. Roger Clark, delivered Ford it’s 1st MK1 Escort international outright victory in the Circuit of Ireland rally, closely followed by the Tulip & Acropolis, giving Ford the manufacturers championship in the cery same year the Escort Mk1 car was released. It was the start of 7 years of domination.
As far as developments go, the famous rear turret suspension was developed, greatly improving the balance and drivability of the car.
The 2nd generation Mk1 Escort used the 5 Speed ZF gearbox, much stronger Atlas Axle was released by Ford’s AVO (Advanced Vehicle Operations) operation in 1970 which saw the first Escort Mk1 car to sport the Bubble or Forrest wheel arches.
Having secured the World Championship, Ford’s only unrealized ambition was to win an endurance event. The 1970 World Cup was a 5 week, 16,000 mile (25,700 kms) event run on open roads, starting in London it took in a generous tour through Europe concluding in a lap of South America which finished in Mexico. Some individual stages were over 10hrs.
Stuart Turner, head of vehicle operations chose to run 1850cc pushrod engines in place of the less robust lotus twin cam, which paid off in style with Mk1 Escorts finishing 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th & 8th. In honour of the victory, Ford released the Escort Mexico which became the must have car in 1970. Performance parts developed specifically for this event, such as the “World Cup Cross Member” are still available to this day.
With consecutive wins in the British Championships, Ford turned its attention to the cross Africa Safari rally in 1971 which was the final appearance of the works twin cams. A grueling event seeing only 19 of the 91 starters completing, it wasn’t to be Ford’s year with the Datsun 240z of Hermann & Schuller taking victory. It was a different story in 1972 however. Instead of utilizing local drivers, Ford rolled out the big guns including Hannu Mikkola who took the newly released RS1600 to victory.
The RS1600 confusingly sported a series of engines ranging from the original 1.6ltr 16 valve motor to a 2ltr BDA motor with an alloy head producing 240BHP. This configuration was by far the most successful, with the famous pair of Mk1’s LVX941J (Old Gold) & Roger Clark’s LVX942J (Esso Blue) dominating the world rally scene & famously taking out a hat-trick of British RAC rally victories in 1972-74, as well as the Finnish 1000 lakes 5 times.
The RS2000 car was also released with a 2ltr Pinto overhead cam engine as a more civilized road going option. The 2ltr engine was a much more reliable option than the sometimes temperamental BDA and carried forward into the MK2 escorts that were released in 1975 and also went on to record similar success well into the 80’s until the advent of the flame spitting group B rally cars were introduced.
We could talk more Ford’s contribution to group B, the awesome RS200 mid engine 600bhp monster… but that’s another story.
Today, all around the world people are competing in clubman and historic rallies in freshly prepared MK1 Escorts. I have had the pleasure of building and racing several Mk1 escorts over the past 20 years, and intend to embark on another build in the coming months. A journey which I am happy to share on this blog.
I also have a good friend who possesses one of a handful of Mk1 Twin Cams in Australia. The next time I’m over at his place, I’ll take a few snaps or run the camcorder over it, so please feel free to bookmark this page & drop back from time to time to check on progress.