Henry Ford is often quoted “Motor racing started five minutes after the second car was built”
Little did he know or even the guys that designed the Ford Escort MKII, that 40 years after it first rolled off the production line it would still be winning rallies and entertaining fans all over the world.
Ireland has taken the MKII to its heart; right from the start we had local heroes such as Fisher, Coleman, Buckley, O’Brien etc taking on the best in the world when they came here to compete on the Circuit of Ireland and other events.
It is my belief that one Finn inspired more drivers to jump into an Escort than any other. Ari Vatanen is the man that has turned the Escort into the most loved rally car of all time. It is safe to say that almost every driver that has competed in an Escort in the last 30 years would regard their main inspiration as the Finn. In 1978 Ari came to compete in Ireland in the Donegal Rally using the original ‘Black Beauty’ and his exploits that weekend are the stuff of legend! One guy still recalls cycling out to a junction on the Lough Eske stage (in Southern Donegal) on numerous occasions to look at the two big black lines laid down by this superstar. Vatanen’s lines were wider, longer and blacker than anything he’d ever seen before!! In 1981 Ari went on to win the World Drivers’ Championship in a MKII. This was the last year the MKII was successful on the world stage as faster lighter two wheel drive cars and four wheel drive cars were coming on stream.
A certain generation will have a story of their father, uncle or family friend that owned a MKII road car and that also adds to the romantic ideals of the cars. I was more of a Datsun man. My father had a Datsun 1200 and a friend’s father had an orange Escort, the amount of times we had to push that Escort!! My first true rally memory is the Donegal Rally in 1980 and Ernest Kidney in car 11 a Datsun 160J SSS. The Datsun 1200 disappeared into a pile of red dust and the 160J SSS was never really competitive. My friends father’s Escort ended up in a tree but the rally cars lived on. Throughout the 1980’s we had Bonner, Meagher, Cullen, Smith etc who continued to compete and sometime embarrass more powerful cars.
In the 1990’s Vauxhall produced a 2.0Litre engine that would give the Escort another lease of life, it was discovered when this engine was rotated 90’ on its axis it was ideal for rear wheel drive, it produced decent power at a reasonable price, along with other mechanicals upgrades. Suddenly guys like Shaw, Allen, Donnelly, Elliot, Smith, McGurk, etc were taking the Escorts back up the timesheets.
In the 2000’s suddenly the MKII Escort had the power to win rallies again, Roy Millington produced a 2.4litre Diamond series one engine that produced 300bhp, this has been gradually upgraded and now produces over 350bhp and in line with this everything has been beefed up and the Escort on a dry, fast flowing stage in the right hands an Escort can set times comparable and sometimes beat, the WRC’s. In 2005 Colin McRae came to Kilarney in his Escort, it is said he intended to come back on a more regular basis, sadly we never got to see him back here in the Escort. We have had the pleasure of seeing Randles, Keenan, McPhillips, McKenna, Patterson, Boyle, Ferry, Hetherington and many more doing battle.
Historic Rallying is growing rapidly and once again the Escort is the car of choice. The other advantage the Escort has, it has an engine to fit in almost any of the modified classes, and is capable of winning its class in the right hands. There is a whole industry out there now built around the MKII Escort, supplying everything from a complete shell to a headlight. Also all the mechanical components are available, as numerous engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes suppliers have expanded to keep up with the demand.
Will the Escort continue to entertain? I believe it will as the young generation now are seeing the likes of Kelly, Kiernan, Armstrong, Pringle, and their antics on the stages and they to will grow up and want to emulate their heros!! They will grow up wanting to be Frank Kelly. So will all get the chance to enjoy the joys of the Escort Agency for another generation at least.