The build of my Escort came about after running an ‘almost’ Group 4 twin cam Chevette for a few years and getting totally frustrated with its unreliability.
There are only so many times you can tolerate not finishing rallies, especially the likes of Silver Fern which is a major commitment. The other frustration was that when it failed it took forever to get parts for the ex Works twincam engine from the UK.
What also motivated the build was my wife regularly referred to the Chevette as a ‘piece of shit’ which I never challenged as having any rally car is a privilege. Anyway one day I manned up and asked why she thought that and she said ‘I thought you would have built something decent like an Escort’ Needless to say within a week I had a rolling shell ready for a transformation!
I had already witnessed the reliability of Honda’s F20C motor from the S2000 sports car, and with 247 flywheel bhp it is well developed in its bog standard form so that was a no-brainer. The issue was then how to make the rest of the car reliable. One of my criteria was to have as much off the shelf componentry as possible that could easily be sourced for spares.
An independent rear suspension was chosen for reliability, cost (vs an Atlas) and perhaps superior handling. David Loughlin at PF Automotive recommended a Subaru STi R180 rear setup including axles and hubs (he is pretty one-eyed about Subaru’s as you will soon see!). The car was measured and with some alloy tarmac flares from Palmside it all looked to fit. A custom rear subframe was built to mount the rear end and this bolts to the chassis rails and has pickup points to the roll cage.
The shell then went to Darrel Manson who welded in rear tubs to accommodate 15” wheels, fabricated a larger transmission tunnel as the Honda gearbox is rather bulky and he also lowered the boot floor so we could fit 2 spares when required. Then it was back to PF to setup the rear end. One day Dave called me and says I better come and have a look at what he had done. Sure enough, there’s Subaru front arms and power steering rack mocked up, a perfect width if mounted into the chassis rails!
Next was panel and paint and a bit of squaring up on the chassis machine at Autorestorations in Rotorua. I decided to paint the whole colour scheme rather than use vinyl as the vinyl always seems to want to lift. Makes touchups a bit more involved though. Warren Forbes painted the car and he is now our mainstay in the service crew. A lesson learned here was to buy the best Escort shell you can find, you will probably save the dollars spent on panel work.
The engine’s sump was modified to fit the steering rack where it needed to be, and this also required a mod to the oil pump pickup. Needless to say a Subaru power steer pump was hung off the side of the engine and Legacy steering column was used complete with the wiper and light switches etc.
The side intrusion bars made it impossible to open the windows without opening the door. Problem solved by installing electric window actuators from………a Subaru. This was so easy it was ridiculous.
The gearbox is the standard Honda 6 speed, and Reg Cook sourced me a 5.1:1 cwp to fit in the R180 diff. Once we got the car on the road the speed didn’t match the theoretical revs. Turned out the gearbox has a final step down gear which none of the ratio research revealed. Changing this step down ratio would be much easier and cheaper to get the right final drive than changing the cwp.
Rear brakes are 2 pot STi and front brakes are XYZ 6 pots. We managed to source a second hand set of 50mm canister MCA/Proflex suspension which was shortened to suit. We also now have an XYZ tarmac coil-over suspension and swaybar setup which takes about 1 ½ hours to change.
Then there was all the ‘little’ things like mounting the Monit trip meter, choosing and fitting seats, belts, fuel tank/pump/filters, mudflaps, under floor kevlar protection, plastic windows etc etc. Actually I have to put a plug in for the mudflaps. They were supplied by Plastics for Performance in the UK and are moulded to fit the Escort. These have been on the car since day one and after about 14 rallies are only just starting to wear.
PF Automotive also did the electrical work and I opted for circuit breakers on a central tunnel-mounted panel so any issues were easy to see and rectify.
Tauranga Electroplaters obliged with plating everything possible such as the subframes, mounting brackets, even the door locks. These all still look good now, whereas paint would have been totally chipped long ago.
The whole build took about 18 months which at times was frustratingly slow but the result was worth it. The car has been extremely reliable and the only thing to let us down has been the rear axles and lately the rear subframe. The R180 axles proved too weak for the load so have been replaced with some custom axles from the Driveshaft Shop in the USA which are rated at 750hp. Haven’t managed to break one yet!
Next the subframe started to fatigue, now the weak link in the axles was resolved. This has necessitated a redesign to shift the diff mounts further out to counter the torsional loads, and so far is working well.
The car is a lot of fun to drive on gravel or tarmac, power steer makes it very relaxing and the reliability means we have finished 12 of the 14 rallies we have competed in so far. The driver is now the limiting factor!
Thanks to SDM Mechanical (Darrel Manson), PF Automotive (Dave Loughlin, Mike Pittams) and Tauranga Electroplaters and of course Alison for denigrating the Chevette!