MK1 Ford Escort RS1600 BDA Restoration By The Escort Agency, Retro Ford Magazine Blast From The Past

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The epic team at Retro Ford Magazine have let us loose in their vast and incredibly awesome features archive. What a result! By their kind permission we will be reproducing images and content from past issues in our ‘blast from the past’ series. We thought we’d kick things off on a strong footing, so check out this drool-worthy MK1 Ford Escort RS1600 restored by The Escort Agency… 

Over the years, there have been plenty of cars that have helped define the Ford marque, but only a small number have gone on to be regarded as icons and become assimilated into motoring folklore. Included amongst this hugely-talented but rather modestly-populated group, are those cars which have placed Ford, quite literally, on the top of the podium; cars such as the Lotus Cortina, the Escort Mexico …and our feature car: the Escort RS1600.
Always a master of publicity, Ford announced the new RS1600 as being “The Potent Mix”. And, this wasn’t some well-penned hyperbole. Ford’s marketing maestros were spot-on …and truthful. The RS1600, Ford’s new sling-shot (and race and rally hopeful), was underpinned by the Escort Twin Cam’s very effective chassis and running gear. More significantly, it was powered by the all-new Cosworth 16-valve, twin-cam BDA (Belt Drive Type A) engine. An engine which, in its various incarnations, would (often quite devastatingly), power its way along the rally stages, around the race tracks …and into the record books. This was a marriage made in motorsport heaven and the RS1600 (and its successor: the RS1800), went on to become the cream of the competition crop. Pretty much, in the early-to-mid 1970s, if you wanted to win in motor sport, especially in rallying, at all levels, then you needed an RS1600.

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This car came, it saw, and it conquered. And, of course, these successes resulted in a healthy increase in showroom traffic, and a healthy increase in sales. Across the range. In production until the end of 1974, and with a standard model priced at £1447 when launched, just 1137 were built, including KMV 318K, a car which renowned restoration specialist; The Escort Agency, has recently brought back to life … from the ground up. Up Close and Personal Martin Paynter, owner of the Escort Agency, and very much a ‘hands-on’ person, is a Ford man through and through and has owned and driven many of the Blue Oval’s products, including this RS1600, a car which has been in his possession since 1999. As you can tell from the photographs, it’s a broadshouldered stunner, with a flawless finish. But it’s not always looked this good. “When I bought this RS1600 it was running, but didn’t have an MOT,” recalls Martin. “I did the work needed to get it through an MOT and drove it on a reasonably regular basis for around five years, but the body was getting very tired and it became obvious that it was going to require a full restoration. The bonnet didn’t shut properly, neither did the doors, and every panel really needed attention. I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been used for club events such as 12-car rallies, but it’s never been fitted with a roll cage and there were no ‘witness’ marks to indicate that a fire extinguisher, harnesses, or Potti had ever been fitted.” As is the norm with all of his company’s projects, Martin has undertaken extensive research and carefully teased out this car’s history. “It’s a genuine AVO car,” he continues, “an early one in fact; a 1971 build and in its original Ermine White. It was registered in August 1971, which explains why it’s on a K plate. As an early car it has some unique features such as the remote servo and boot-mounted battery. To date, it’s had eight owners.”
It was originally Martin’s intention to restore this car and then keep it for himself, becoming owner number nine. But such is The Escort Agency’s reputation for top quality work, there is a seemingly never-ending stream of customer cars that always have to take precedence. The customer is king in Martin’s eyes …and quite rightly so too. Plus there’s a healthy demand for Martin’s own project cars. All of which explains why this RS1600 has sat on the proverbial back burner until quite recently …and why it will soon be going to its lucky new owner.

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As Martin has alluded to, the bodyshell was well past its prime. It needed a lot of work …and a proliferation of new panels. Nonetheless, as is the norm for the company’s restorations, before the restoration could get underway, the RS1600 was stripped to a bare shell, placed on a spit, where it was divested of every trace of underseal and sealant and all of its rusty metalwork. Once this tedious, time-heavy, and oft-noxious task was completed, the shell was sent off to be sand-blasted, a process that was followed by a trip to the paint shop where several coats of zinc-rich primer were applied. Only then did the rebuild commence. “The rear wings were quite ropey,” acknowledges Martin. “In fact, when we started work we discovered that each had been fitted with two repair panels and then covered with filler. We cut away every trace of rusty metal and set about repairing the wings properly. At the time, I was still thinking about keeping the car, so I decided to fit steel ‘bubble’ arch extensions. I’ve always loved the look of these. And I knew I had a good set of genuine (and crack-tested and powder-coated) eight and nine-inch magnesium Minilites that would fill the arches nicely! They are actually Group 4 wheels which we’ve converted. We even machined the nuts to remove the hard edges and then had the nuts chrome-plated. We can be quite sad on occasions!” Sad but thorough. As is the norm with The Escort Agency, this was a comprehensive rebuild which saw the RS1600 receiving a pair of genuine n/o/s doors, new floor panels, inner and outer sills, slam panels, valances, quarter panels, a roof skin, inner and outer tub repairs and much, much more. What’s more, such is the quality of workmanship, you’d be hard pressed to tell what work has actually been undertaken. “With all of our restorations we not only aim to be thorough, we also aim to be as sympathetic to the original structure and appearance of the car as possible,” enthuses Martin. “Each and every piece of new metal is made to fit as it did originally. You can lift the carpets and have a really good look, but you’d have difficulty in telling that any work has been done. But plenty of work has been done … a huge amount in fact. Even the new panels require some fettling, and that includes genuine Ford ones. Some sections aren’t available of course, so we fabricate these.” When the repairs were completed, the shell was painted in two-pack primer, flatted down, primed again, flatted again, the two-pack top coat, was applied, flatted and polished and, finally, all of the captive nuts were thread-chased to ease reassembly.

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Wherever humanly possible, every part that’s fitted to this car is correct and of the period, even down to the minutiae. Have a good look and you’ll spot the correct wing badges, front grille, light units and Trico wiper blades. Martin’s even managed to put his hands on a pair of the very desirable, but very rare, Cibie Biode headlights. And there’s a good reason for this period perfection. “With a car as historically-important as an RS1600, I’m fastidious about what parts I fit,” Martin impresses. “If an original part is missing, I find and fit a correct one. I’m fortunate in that I have been collecting genuine Ford and RS parts for decades. But don’t bother trying to persuade me to sell you something. I won’t! These parts are 100% for the customer restorations we do. This is why I can guarantee the authenticity of the finished product.

As well as his drive for authenticity (with a few minor exceptions), Martin is utterly focused on ensuring that the restorations are fully rust-protected and cosmetically flawless. “When the shell is completed, and painted, but before the trim is fitted, a gallon of Waxoyl is heated and then sprayed into the chassis and every nook and cranny,” says Martin. “We then leave the shell to ‘drip’ dry, onto sheets of newspaper, over a weekend. Nothing is overlooked either. Every nut, bolt and washer is zinc-plated. They were silver from the factory but I make a slight deviation in that I prefer a patinated gold colour and we keep plenty, in all sizes, in stock, as we do with most service parts. I also have every screw chrome-plated. Again, this is not factory, but the standard mild steel screw tends to rust/bleed onto the bodywork. I want the car to look fantastic and last as long as possible. The Waxolyling, powder-coating and the zinc and chrome-plating help facilitate this.”

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Although The Escort Agency can, and does, rebuild mechanical components, when it comes to cars as special as this RS1600 they go the extra mile and outsource the major mechanical overhauls. “The axle and gearbox are stripped, itemised, boxed and then sent out to specialists …we also have the casings powder-coated and/or painted,” Martin tells. “The same is true of the leaf springs and anti-tramp bars etc. BGH did the RS1600’s 2000E gearbox and machined the layshaft to improve oil flow. This axle is original, but fitted with a 3J LSD …with the correct 3.77 ratio. The rear springs have been decambered and one-inch lowering blocks are fitted. Fronts are also lowered and Bilsteins are fitted all-round. There are polybushes throughout …black wherever available and roller-bearing top mounts are also fitted. Brakes are standard, with original-type pads, but we’ve used Aeroquip lines for a better pedal feel. Then there’s the engine. With an engine such as the BDA, we only entrust it to a few companies. Richard at Hargreaves Engineering did this one for us.” The BDA engine, which came with the car, was a runner, but not up to The Escort Agency’s standards. It still had its original cast iron block, but the strip-down revealed that it had been bored to 1700cc and that the head had been ported and fitted with BD3 cams. “Hargreaves found that there was a little bit of wear in the bores but not enough to warrant another rebore,” recalls Martin. “So they honed the bores to remove the wear and I had a set of Pistons made to suit, in America, by J E Pistons. Fantastic quality and service. The engine was running Weber 45 DCOEs but these were badly worn. I bought new ones from Webcon. The exhaust system, including the manifold, was manufactured specially for the car and to the original pattern. The original distributor is still fitted, but has been overhauled and then converted to electronic by H&H Ignition. To ensure there’ll been no cooling problems the original radiator has been rebuilt with an uprated core and S & F made me some logofree satin black silicone hoses. There’s a standard fitment oil cooler as well.”

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The interior of the RS1600 is quite stark and workmanlike. Simplistic really. Even so, getting it to look right still demands quite a lot of effort, expenditure and, occasionally, a degree of creative thinking. “It came with a pair of Contour front seats,” informs Martin. “But, they were very, very scruffy. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find any of the correct Herringbone cloth trim. As I didn’t want to re-fit the scruffy seat covers I elected to have all of the seats rebuilt and then re-covered in Beta cloth. Hopefully, someone will start remanufacturing Herringbone trim. Until then the Beta is a good substitute. There are new doorcards and carpets too. If you took the doorcards off you’d see that everything is as it should be …and zinc-plated. We do things properly. Even the steering wheel centre is correct. The instruments have been refurbished too, and the rev counter went to Caerbont Automotive to be converted to run with the electronic ignition. Electronic ignition is not original, neither is the 2kw internal pre-engaged starter motor we fitted.

But these modifications make for a smoother power delivery and easier starting.” Another (slight) deviation from original is the colour of the petrol tank. It’s not the factory grey; it’s satin black. Martin prefers it this way. And he also prefers the original-type battery to be firmly located and not at risk of going walkabout. Hence the modified Anglia battery retaining strap. Wise move!

As alluded to, Martin really wanted this RS1600 for himself, which is why it sports a modicum of non-standard parts. However, as is so often the case, business interests have to take priority over personal ones. Cue new owner. “We displayed the car at the NEC Classic, on the Enviro-Strip (UK) stand,” tells Martin. “I couldn’t believe the interest it generated. In fact, since the NEC I’ve received a six-figure offer that I can’t refuse and this car is now sold. However, I recently found another RS1600 which I’ve bought and which we are going to restore. Of course, there’s a good chance I’m probably not going to get my hands on this one either!

Working for this fine magazine I get to see some of the best retro Fords out there. And, believe me, this is one of the very best. Martin and his team have taken a rusty RS and made it great again… and put a bit of a personal spin on it too. All I can say that the new owner is getting a cracking car. And I do hope that he does drive it, and not keep it cocooned. I mean, just look at it! It’s begging to be driven… and driven hard.

THANKS TO: The Escort Agency http://www.theescortagency.co.uk 01834 860929

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First Published in April 2016. Reproduced by kind permission of RETRO FORD Magazine.

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