For serious rough stage rallying, suspension is probably the most crucial thing to get right. Luckily these days there are plenty of options and aftermarket products to allow for adjustments to ride height, camber etc.
For optimum handling a set of matched springs and shock absorbers (dampers) are needed as well as a close ratio steering rack and balance bar pedal box to provide adjustable brake bias.
In the front end of your MK1 Escort, you will require a strut with up-rated springs. One of the most popular traditional McPherson Struts are adjustable gas filled struts produced by Bilstein.
While there are any number of springs available ranging from 100 – 190lb/ft , a good all round choice is a competition spring rated around 150lb/ft. Ideally, a heavy duty top mounting kit should be used.
Another nice tweak, especially for tarmac events is to have adjustable strut tops. These will allow you to easily dial in 3 or 4 degrees of negative camber without removing the strut.
It’s always a good idea to use double nuts (one Nylock) or a castle nut & split pin when connecting the steering rack to the strut, as losing one nut and subsequent control of your car, will result in the introduction of your pride & joy to the nearest ditch, tree or crowd of spectators.
On the end of the struts, select the largest vented discs & calipers that will fit inside your wheel rims. It’s also a good idea to remove the back plates if supplied, as this will prevent larger stones and pebbles wedging in between the disc and plate.
A heavy duty cross member is also advisable. While I have gotten away with using the standard MK1 Escort cross member tarmac and targa style events, I did manage to put a significant bow into one during an autocross event though.
For rough stage rallying, the only cross member for the job, is the “World Cup” cross member . This is a heavy duty unit, originally designed for the 1970 World cup rally, a leisurely 16,000 mile jaunt around Europe and the roughest goat tracks in South America. When fitting a WC cross member you may need to elongate the mounting holes, in case you need to adjust the camber. Another popular mod is to re-drill the strut mounting hole on the cross member ¼” out and ¼” up, to provide more camber.
This is still an easy option to take, although using adjustable top mounts will achieve the same result.
The traditional MK1 Escort works factory settings for the front suspension were 3 degrees Castor and 1.3 degrees negative camber (Castor being the angle of the struts – front to back) and camber being the vertical angle of the wheels as viewed from the front. Negative camber indicating the bottom of the wheel is further away from the vertical plane than the top of the wheel.
Double anti-roll bars are also a must. Also known as an anti-dive kit, the kits are readily available and come with the double mounting brackets, neoprene bushes etc and mount through the original holes. If you use double roll bars, then it me be necessary to trim your sump guard back to clear the front bar.
As you will no doubt be clobbering the odd rock, log, kerb (if you’re trying hard enough) it’s advisable to carry some spare track rod ends and roll bar clamp brackets, as these are most likely the first thing to sustain damage and need replacing during an event.