Ford Escort RS1600 LHD for sale by online auction

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“The Escort RS 1600 has two distinctive blue side badges and a small RS badge on the rear, just to let people know what it is that’s disappearing into the distance.” Ford Escort Mexico and RS 1600 sales brochure 1971.

The early 1970s saw Ford instigate a ‘Tower of Power’ (as the marketing guys would, we are sure, have liked to call it but didn’t) for its mainstay Escort model; the Sport and GT at its broad base, the rarer Mexico just above these and at the top, the ultra-specialised and exclusive RS 1600. Better brakes and enthusiast biased suspension complimented the various levels of increased power but most importantly, strengthened body shells – the legendary Type 49 – were specified for the more powerful variants; perfect for outright competition work as well as ‘my shell is stronger than yours’ bragging rights.

Building such specialised, multi optioned machines did create problems in the mass production orientated main Ford plant at Halewood so in 1969 the decision was taken to assemble the Mexico and RS 1600 on a dedicated production line at the newly formed Advanced Vehicle Operation in Aveley, Essex, geographically and conceptually distanced from Ford’s bread and butter plant. Early in November 1970, the first AVO built RS 1600 was driven off the line by one G. Hill who was apparently a bit of a dab hand behind the wheel and had fine taste in road cars. To emphasise their speciality nature, the range was sold through a hand-picked network of Rallye Sport dealers; performance on an average Joe’s wage being a speciality of Ford’s, apparently spelling not so much.

The Sport, GT and Mexico retained the more prosaic Escorts’ simple and robust push-rod engine, coincidentally a good choice should you decide you want to drive to say Mexico. However, the top of the tree (unfortunately sometimes literally) machine was infinitely more specialised. The first to wear the RS badge (calm down Porsche), the RS 1600 was powered by the Cosworth designed BDA engine – Belt Drive A series (but no relation to a Morris Minor, more a derivative of the complex, race-only, FVA). Like the Lotus unit found in its predecessor, it was still an easy breathing twin cam design but now with double the quota of valves to achieve the largest possible total valve area within a given bore. Though the BDA did not, on paper, offer a massive increase in power over the Lotus engine in standard form (120 bhp against 105), the ultimate potential of the new unit was far greater with as much as 280 bhp attainable in fully evolved, fuel injected form when it could be found motivating everything from Group 2 saloon cars to single seaters that were required to run homologated engines. It is also just possible that Ford, while grateful for the Lotus halo effect provided by the Twin Cam, were happier having their name on the cam cover. The warranty department weren’t exactly disappointed either… As one would expect with arguably the best manual gearbox known to man – the three-rail ‘2000E’ – installed, gear changing was a joy.

The RS 1600 duly lit up the international rally stages prevailing on amongst many others, the car-breaking East African Safari Rally, the legendary 1000 Lakes and no less than three times on the RAC Rally from 1972 to 1974. It also more than held its own in saloon car racing, securing the European Touring Car Championship in 1974. At club level it, and its Mk 2 RS 1800 derivative, was the car to have for the best part of two decades. All in all, the very epitome of Ford’s win on Sunday, sell on Monday ethos.


The issue with a competition oriented machine such as the RS 1600 is that owners tended to use and abuse them exactly as Ford intended and examples lucky enough to survive tend to have had much of their structure – often complete body shells – replaced. Ditto their mechanical components with the rigors of racing and rallying taking their toll on their BDA power units. Consequently, finding an RS not only with all its key components surviving intact, but with documented evidence that this is the case, is rare indeed and we at Berlinetta would argue that it doesn’t get much better than this particular example.

Supplied new to the city of Catania in warm and dry Sicily in 1972, it remained there for the next thirty-five years, becoming well known locally and in Italy as a race car (all be it in relatively standard specification), for example participating in the annual hill climb up Mount Etna.

In 2007 the RS left Sicily bound for Denmark, where it was painstakingly restored by classic car dealers and specialists ‘Stelvio Automobili’ to their usual impeccably high standards. Importantly, the process was meticulously recorded with some four hundred and fifty photos being taken before, during and after, a small selection of which are shown in the photo gallery with the complete set available in the car’s history file. These provide not only a record of the high standard of the work carried out but also the extent of the bodywork repairs required, proving just how little metal had to be replaced. It is clear from this fantastic resource that the shell was remarkably rust free with no evidence of any accident damage at all, a huge contrast to the average northern European example. Some localised corrosion in the floor pans was the most significant issue, resolved with the fitting of correct new panels. The opportunity was also taken to replace the wheel arches with correct profile examples in steel. It should be stressed that this photographic record not only proves how little metal required replacement but also the provenance of the car in the form of Chassis and ‘AVO’ Plates along with the all-important Chassis Number stamping on the suspension turret (please see the ‘before and after’ pictures in the photo gallery), all of which are evident throughout the restoration process. Obviously the Chassis and AVO plates both tally up correctly; a left hand drive, Italian market RS 1600 that left the Aveley plant in June 1972 in Sunset Red with black trim.


The engine can also be confirmed as the car’s original with the Weslake Engineering (who built the later RS 1600 engines for Ford) build number shown on both the block and the head, with the head also having the chassis number stamped into it; a full house as they say.

As far as the restoration goes, having been totally disassembled the car’s shell was then hand stripped and carefully sandblasted which as referred to above, revealed only minimal corrosion and what repair work was required was facilitated by the use of a rotisserie. Laboriously prepared to the highest of standards, the shell was then painted in high gloss black to check for any minor imperfections before being re-flatted and finally finished with multiple coats of its original Sunset Red.

The engine was fully rebuilt with new pistons, bearings, water pump and oil pump with the head treated to new valve guides, seats and valves; photographs are on file and in the photo gallery. Mechanically the RS seemed to be in good order but it was rebuilt throughout as required.

Today, a few years down the line, the Escort still looks ‘box fresh’ and virtually straight out of restoration, a testament to the quality of the body and paintwork. A couple of slight chips to the body colour protective underside finish, perhaps courtesy of an unsympathetic MOT tester, are the only blemishes we could find anywhere in the paintwork. The purposeful Minilite-style alloys by Compomotive are in perfect condition and the tyres are virtually unused 205/60 R13s from Toyo.


Inside the good news continues with the boot and engine bay again displaying perfect seams and paintwork that would shame many a car’s external finish. The bulkhead and notoriously susceptible suspension turrets are of course factory-fresh. Though missing its carburettor air box cover and timing belt cover, it is clear from the photographs that these items have been AWOL for some years. In the functional cockpit, basket-weave period look reclining bucket seats strike just the right balance between aesthetics and purpose as does the dished OMP steering wheel which fronts the signature ‘six dial’ dash.

The bright-work including the ‘dog bone’ front grill and correct badging is generally very good with just some slight pitting to the rear light units as shown in the photo gallery. The Triplex toughened screen, correct for an RS1600, is in excellent order as are the glass and plastic lenses of the light units.

A double pump on the throttle, the Weber carburettors squirt neat fuel into the admirably short inlet tracts obviating the need for the choke and the Escort starts a touch hesitantly but soon clears its chokes, settling down to a perhaps surprisingly smooth idle with temperatures and pressures where one would expect them.

A good quantity of documentation accompanies the car including its Italian registration document dating from 6th July 1972, CSAI Technical Passport, FIA papers dated 4th September 1998 and a copy of Ford Escort Homologation Papers from 1970. There is also historical documentation relating to the foam filled fuel tank and roll cage along with entry details for 42ndCatania Etna in 2006.

Having returned to the UK earlier this year, the RS1600 was entrusted to PW Autos for some light fettling and a gearbox rebuild for a total cost of some £3,700. On the button, the RS passed its first UK MOT on 16th July and the appropriate NOVA has been made. It is hence ready for UK registration or free movement within the EU.

‘70076’ has been well known to the RS 1600 Registrar at the AVO Owners Club since 2007, and we are indebted to him for his help confirming the details of this rare machine.

Of a believed 1138 RS 1600s made in total in total, only a small proportion were to left hand drive configuration and with less than fifty RS 1600 in total known to the DVLA, this example represents a rare opportunity. With provenance and integrity in spades, it is surely one for the RS aficionado.

Registration number: 306230 CT (Italian)

Chassis Number: BFATMK 70076

Engine Number: WE 2476

Ford Escort RS1600 LHD for sale by online auction

Click here to bid on this car

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