Rally Heroes: Mick Johnson's Escort Cosworth

With 470bhp possible and near-perfect handling, this Cossie proves that WRC-winning Malcolm Wilson has been getting rally cars right for a long time

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Despite Volkswagen withdrawing from the World Rally Championship for 2017, despite extensive new regulations offering any team a chance to find a performance advantage and despite signing then four-time WRC championship Sebastien Ogier, M-Sport’s recent title success is still a true underdog story.

Since Ford decided to withdraw its factory backing and financial clout in 2012, success in the top flight of rallying has had to be savoured by the Cockermouth-based outfit – ten long years between Constructors’ title success.

A further ten years back and M-Sport was an altogether rather different beast. A name change was iminent for the start of the 1997 season as Ford-backing had arrived for the first time. But it was still in its early days as Malcolm Wilson Motorsport – named after its founder who is still at the helm nearly 40 years on since the doors opened in 1979.

Mick Johnson, who was competing in last month’s Rockingham Stages rally, owns and thrashes a Ford Escort Cosworth that precedes factory backing.

‘I came to own it about four years ago, it was an ex-Malcolm Wilson Motorsport car,’ he says.

‘It’s a lightweight shell that someone bought and built it all up. It was first rallied up in the Midlands and then it came to me through eBay a few years ago.’

But while it had competition pedigree, it was more of a mongrel when the Escort first came into Johnson’s possession

‘We’ve totally rebuilt everything on it since then. We didn’t know a lot about Cosworths at the time but as we got better, we learned it had the wrong engine block, head, wrong turbo and the beams were bent, the shock absorbers knackered. So over the last three years it has been restored.’

Today it now runs a healthy 300bhp, but with far greater potential.

‘That power is as it’ i now – running with a restrictor. Without that you could easily whack it up to something hilarious like 470bhp.

‘It’s running four-wheel-drive and a straight-cut dog box in it, five-speed. It’s just had all the gearbox and diffs rebuilt before this event.

‘They’re vented discs all round and great big AP Racing brakes so you’ve got to find wheels and tyres that can hang off them. Four-piston front and rear too so it does stop really well. That and the gearbox as well which you can be really aggressive with and lean on to slow the car down.’

Perhaps unsurprising given its current WRC success, Johnson and his mechanics found that Malcolm Wilson had got the Escort right from the off. As it returned closer and closer to factory specification, the Escort and Johnson really began to gel.

‘The Cosworth now has fully adjustable coilovers and the same again with the rear beam. Before I could never get the camber that I wanted to on the car. Ever since I’ve run the exact set-up that they would have used during the works team days.

‘When we made that change, as soon as we road tested it before the event with the new geometry we just knew it was perfected. The turn in was spot on and the arse end was doing exactly what you wanted it to do.’

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