By: Stuart Johnston
Sometimes there is a car that plunges deep into the zeitgeist of the time and in 1979 – in a politically demarcated, besieged South Africa – this car was the Ford Escort 1600 sports. Even today, when you mention the name, a self-proclaimed sage with a long memory will tell you that the correct pronunciation was “One-Six-Double-Oh-Sport”.
It referred to the catchy radio ad slogan that heralded the repackaging of a car that had essentially been around for a decade. It was in 1971 when the Mk I Ford Escort 1600 GT broke cover and if you look closely at the specs you will find that Mk II The 1600 Sport, released in 1979, had a largely unchanged drive train. In fact, the performance values of the two cars, which are more than eight years apart, are almost identical. Calculate with a time of 0-100 km / h in the 12-second range and a top speed of almost 160 km / h, and you would be in the stadium.
So what made the escort “One-Six-Double-Oh-Sport” such a hit? The answer is that it has arrived after a long drought of driving. After the 1973 global fuel crisis, when the national speed limit dropped to 80 km / h, the focus was on fuel consumption; Achievement was something to apologize for in polite company.
In addition, due to increasing global trade sanctions against isolated South Africa, our auto industry was locked into a program with local content that severely restricted the introduction of cars that were in some way “special”. If you think of a parking lot dressed in beige, light blue, and gray motor equivalent of safari suits, you had a good idea of the boring and boring South African cars. It was time to tap into a youth market that craved color and speed. So Ford cleverly reinvented the escort image for the youth market and sales tripled overnight!
Some 1600 Sports came with trunk spoilers, some didn’t.
The 1600 Sport and its direct ancestor, the 1600 GT, essentially used the tried and tested mechanical package that Ford had developed with the Cortina GT for its Total Performance Package in the 1960s. When the original Escort was launched worldwide in 1968, Ford used four-cylinder, cross-flow, 1.1-, 1.3- and 1.6-liter engines. This 1.6 liter engine, known as the Kent unit, was available with a hotter camshaft, Weber twin choke downdraft carburetor, exhaust manifold, and a vortex exhaust system. This 62 kW package was used in the Cortina GT, Capri GT, and Ford Escort GT (although the Mk I Escort GT initially used a 1.3 liter version of the cross-flow Kent engine when it was launched in 1968).
What was special about the Ford 1600 Sport of the late 1970s was that it combined tasteful, faster looks – such as subtle stripes, a bib spoiler at the front, distinctive headlights and a matt black radiator grille and trunk spoiler – with a slightly redesigned interior. The centerpiece was a classy three-spoke steering wheel . Ford added fabric upholstery with a cheerful pattern and a short-stroke gearshift lever. You need to understand: in 1979, when the national speed limits were still lowered to 100 km / h at the discretion of the Minister of Transport, it was more about being fast than actually doing it.
From left to right: Ford Escort MK2 1600 Sport, Mk1 Escort 1.6 GT and MK2 RS2000.
Though, to put it in context, the 1600 Sport was an extremely drivable, flattering performance car. The Mk-II version of the Escort presented here in mid-1975 already had numerous chassis upgrades and the subsequent sport shone with reinforced front coil springs, tighter dampers, a stiffer stabilizer and an additional stabilizer at the rear. The sport-mounted wheels were more modern versions of the Rostyle wheels used on the Mk I GT, painted with a clear silver and black pattern and fitted with 175/70 radial tires. All in all, the rear-wheel drive 1600 Sport made driving quick and easy because it was such a well-stocked package. And that’s why he is revered by classic car owners today.
The RS2000 was another metal kettle
RS in Ford’s Lexicon stands for rally sport and in this context Ford introduced an RS version of the Ford Escort for the UK market early in its life cycle. The original Mk I-based Escort RS from 1973 was a 1600 and was not generally available in South Africa. The RS2000 was based on the Mk II Escort and was introduced in Europe in 1976 and this version finally arrived in South Africa in late 1978.
What immediately sets the RS2000 apart from other MK II Escorts is the aerodynamic nose cone, which is assembled at the factory together with some other special elements. The nose cone is made of polyurethane and fits perfectly with the fairings of the Mk II Escort, along with a bib spoiler almost identical to that of the 1600 Sport. The difference is that the spoiler on the RS2000 is painted the body color and the other big RS front change is the black plastic grille that can accommodate four halogen headlights. The whole effect is very noble.
What immediately distinguishes the RS2000 from other MK II Escorts is the aerodynamic nose cone.
In the interior, this noble ambience is reinforced by the high-quality Scheel rally seats, which offer excellent lateral support when cornering hard. The same Ford Motorsport three-spoke steering wheel as on the 1600 Sport adds a classy touch and the instruments have subtle RS logos to let you know that this is a complete factory rebuild.
To provide the extra power that the looks of the RS2000 promised, Ford scoured its international parts bin and developed the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder overhead cam engine known as the Cologne engine as it was built in Europe at the Ford plant in Cologne was made. Essentially the same unit as the Mk III Cortina, this SOHC engine is slightly tuned, but tweaks – including an improved Weber 36 DCD7 carburetor, a revised air filter, and a vortex exhaust system – increased power by 12% to 81 kW.
The pristine RS2000 example we drove belongs to Leon Wannenburg of Roodepoort who owns and oversees a thriving classic car restoration business, Leeway Auto Body Repairs in Industria North, Johannesburg. Leon is the second owner of this car that has the brand-typical short-stroke gearshift. With Leon’s encouragement, I gave the RS a couple of horns and noticed that when the second choke on the Weber carburetor was opened, the car suddenly came to life. I can easily believe these 10-second demands from 0-100 km / h back then. The top speed was limited to 170 km / h by the four-speed gearbox used with an axle ratio of 3.70: 1 (slightly higher than in the 1600 Sport).
MK2 Ford Escort RS2000 cabin.
Ford claimed at launch that RS kits were available through the Ford SA dealer network that could improve performance by up to 60%. Since then, the 2.0-liter from Cologne has proven that it can unleash some horsepower. At the historic car races in Gauteng, escorts with modified versions of these engines are long-running.
“Double-O” myths and legends
Not a South African special
Some local enthusiasts believe that the 1600 Sport model was a South African invention. Interestingly, when the Mk II Ford Escort was launched internationally in the UK in 1975, a 1600 Sport model was already available in the UK, complete with identical stripes, driving lights and sheet steel wheels.
Front-wheel drive for the weak
It is worth noting that the model name 1600 Sport was expanded when the rear-wheel drive Escort gave way to the front-wheel drive Erica model presented here at the end of 1981.
Ford Escort 1600 sports cabin.
However, the front-wheel drive 1600 Sport was just a pale shadow of its famous predecessor. Enthusiasts complained of weird handling due to the positive front camber and negative rear camber with these front-wheel drives, while the overhead cam CVH engine was never as instantly tunable or as charismatic as the original Kent cross-flow engine.
Another key to the rear-wheel drive Ford Escort fanaticism that continues to this day was the international rally success the car enjoyed. He won countless road racing championships here, including the South African limousine title in 1968. The South African racing and rally legend Sarel van der Merwe, whose racing career spans over 50 years, rates the BDA Ford Escort, which he used here at the end of the year. 1970s and early 80s as his absolute favorite competition car. “It just felt like an extension of me,” he said.
Basil Green Conversions
Another interesting excerpt is that around 1972 Ford Motor Company SA imported several Ford Escort RS models that were equipped with the BDA four-valve engine. It is said that the early BDA engines caused severe oil supply problems. In order to avert a PR disaster, these RS cars were then handed over to Basil Green – famous by Cortina and Capri Perana – who equipped them with the milder, temperament-free Cologne or Pinto 2.0-liter engines and the cars as Escort Peranas stamped.
Appreciation of assets
In terms of price, an Escort GT 1971 R2 cost 278. In 1979 the Escort 1600 Sport cost R4 665 while the RS 2000 You cost R6 375. Today a Mk II Escort 1600 Sport in pristine condition would fetch at least R150,000 while a pristine RS2000 would sell for over R200,000.
* Special thanks to Leon Wannenburg (Escort RS2000), Julian Wannenburg (Escort 1600 Sport) and Tony Koopmans (Escort 1600 GT) for providing flawless copies of these iconic Ford Escorts.