Restoring Ford's still-born Group B Escort

After a five-year restoration, a rare example of Ford’s still-born Escort RS1700T made its public return on the rally stage at Race Retro

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The RS1700T was Ford’s first attempt at a Group B rally car in the early 1980s. Yet despite being conceived during one of the most revered chapters in all of motorsport, it’s scarcely remembered.

Although it would only enter the World Rally Championship for just three events before Group B was pushed out, at least the RS200 still found enduring fame thanks to exposure in rallycross. By contrast, Ford’s plans to take a MkIII Escort, convert it to rear-wheel drive and stoke it to north of 300bhp courtesy of 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder carries little recognition.

But there’s good reason for the RS1700T being little more than a footnote in history. The arrival of the Audi Quattro moved the goalposts along in Group B and against the German’s all-wheel drive grip, the RS1700T would be a fruitless money pit.

What's more, the Boreham branch of Ford tasked with its development were low on funds. Rather than getting a bespoke drivetrain to ensure it could handle the enormous power hike, the 1700T was merely heavily adapted as much as possible, but still with lower specification and front-wheel drive-designed components. That meant it was dogged by persistent issues during its development. So much so that Ford decided to shelve what would have been an uncompetitive project.

Thankfully some of the mules survived and so, when one fell into the hands of BGMsport’s Ian Gwynee, the RS1700T could be revived.

'It’s been a five-year project' says restorer Gwynne. 'We took delivery of a project in pieces and all the major components were there with the original bodyshell, Cosworth BDT engine, the transaxle and all four corners. All the important bits were there. It came back from South Africa and a guy in the UK bought it as a project but, for whatever reason, didn’t follow it through.

‘We had to make quite a few bits but we had the major original components with the car. Everything has been rebuilt and it didn’t look like the shell had done a massive amount of work. There was nothing missing that couldn’t be re-manufactured, either from drawings or from a pattern. The biggest part of these projects is the research and trying to put together the jigsaw of how the car should be. What we have discovered is that all 18 cars that were built are all potentially very different. It was a prototype and development car so none of them were the same.’

Last weekend the completed rebuild made its first public appearance on the Live rally stage at Race Retro.

‘We bought it about five years ago and Race Retro on Saturday was its first outing. I don’t want to think about how many hours we put into it. But it has been a worthwhile project and it is what we do as a business. To save a car that is so rare and so unique and to bring it to an event like Race Retro and demonstrate it is fabulous.

‘Steve Rimmer, who we built the car for, came over from the States to see it running. He went out with Alister McRae on its first run at Race Retro and Steve got out of the car with a big grin.

‘At the minute the engine runs at about 350bhp but it is capable of a lot more. That’s plenty for now. The BDT is the same as the RS200 engine but the Hewland transaxle is probably a lot rarer. All of the suspension components are unique to the car. We’ve built it properly and it needs running, but it also needs looking after.’

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