Mk1 Escort Rally Preparation – Body Shell

Mk1 Ford Escort body reinforcement

Mk1 Ford Escort body reinforcement

The MK1 Escort has been used for rallying since it’s release in 1968.

Now featuring prominently in classic, historic and clubman competitions, the MK1 Escort is still an effective and cheap way to go rallying.

Unless you are building a factory replica, or have stumbled upon a forgotten works car in a farmer’s barn here is the start of a basic checklist to follow in order to build an effective Mk1 Escort rally car yourself.

Mk1 Escort Rally Preparation Checklist – Body Shell

To handle rough stages, the MK1 Escort body shell needs to be reinforced.

The front suspension mountings should be double skinned, with the reinforcing plates welded in with 1/2″ tack welds every inch.

The entire shell should be seam welded using brazing rods to weld 1/2 inch tacks welds every 1 1/2 inches. Make sure to leave the gaps, so there is some flex otherwise the diffusion of energy when you attack a rough stage will result in cracking.

All the seams around the window openings should also be tack welded.

Fill in all the paint drain holes by gluing a small alloy disc, or brazing on a steel disc.

Weld the dashboard rail where it meets the door pillars and along the front where it meets the bulkhead.  If you intend fitting a 2ltr OHC pinto engine, then the bulkhead needs to be rolled in order for the rear of the cam cover to have sufficient clearance. Again, use ½” tack welds

Tack weld the seams along the length of the car and where the inner wings meet the bulkhead.

There is a particular weak spot in the engine bay, where the side rails meet the bulkhead. A plate that runs 5 inches along the rail & a similar distance up the bulkhead needs to be manufactured and welded in place on both sides. These may be commercially available as a “Gusset Plate”, but are simple enough to make.  These stop the bulkhead separating from the side rails on heavy landings.

The rear suspension also requires attention.  The major problem if not reinforced, is that your MK1 Escort will start to reveal daylight into the boot after a while.

For serious off road use, the shock absorbers or dampers need to be fitted vertically so that the rear axle only moves in an up & down direction. To achieve this a rear turret modification needs to be installed, This is quite tricky as the turrets weld into the inner wheel arch and up inside the car, so the nuts attaching the shock absorbers are inside the rear parcel shelf of the car.

For added strength, you can braze plates into the T-pillars inside the roof and inside the top corners of the windscreen pillars.

A tube can also be welded into the passenger side foot well, to act as a foot rest, but also strengthen the shell.

Forrest or bubble arches should be welded in, if you intend running a Capri or Atlas axle, or if you want the option of running anything wider that 6” tyres.  These wheel arches are still widely available.  Once lined up, the majority of the outer wing can be cut away before the new arches are welded on.  Fibre glass wings with the arches already in place can also be sourced fairly easily.

The rear arches are a bit more of a hassle, in that you need to cut away both the inner & outer wing, then in the resulting gap, weld in a strip of steel horizontally, thus providing maximum clearance for the rear tyres.

A strut brace should be fitted  in between the front strut tops. Depending on the engine, you may need a brace with 2 bars that circle the front & back of the engine, or a standard one that runs straight across.  These should bolt to the strut top & preferably the inner wing. These are also easily obtained.

Seat mounts should be welded if possible. It’s unlikely that you’ll retain the standard MK1 Escort seats, so ensure the rails are bolted with nylock nuts if using alloy and welded if steel as there is nothing more inconvenient that your navigator disappearing out the passenger door, seat and all, halfway through a stage.