The RS 2000 was designed by Ford's Cologne styling department in Germany, home of the company's high performance European operation. This same factory had also produced such cars as the super successful Capri RS3100
. But it took Ford Australia quite some time to decide that the time was right to introduce the RS 2000 to Australia, despite it not being a stranger to enthusiasts. Through its successes in motor racing, especially in events like the Hardie Ferodo 1000 and to an even greater extent in rallying, it was a car well known and highly respected.
Introduced in 1976
, the Escort RS2000 Mk II, European manufactured cars were fitted with a 110bhp Pinto engine, allowing the sporting Escort to effortlessly reach over 110mph. Cosmetically, the biggest difference to the previous model was in the uniquely angled GRP nose panel which contained four headlamps. Alloy wheels
on the Custom model gave the RS2000 an aggressive look and the model has now become quite collectable. Although most RS2000's were built in "Custom" trim, a basic RS2000 with steel wheels and no tinted glass was also available from 1978
The Australian version was not the pure-bred German RS 2000. Instead Aussie buyers had to make do with a compromise car. Sure, the styling was the same, but because the RS 2000 was made in Australia Ford chose to use the standard 2.0 litre OHC Cortina engine. Although it was a nice suburban engine, quiet and moderately powerful, it was not anything like the more highly tuned European RS 2000 engine. Despite the disadvantage, the Australian RS 2000 still proved itself to be an exceptional little car for drivers who wanted extra excitement to brighten mundane driving.
The scoop nose of the RS 2000 was actually made of plastic. The beauty of this, because of its special design, was that in minor accidents the plastic would actually pop back into place after twenty-four hours or so, saving many lucky owners expensive panel-beating bills. The RS 2000, with its stiffer suspension
, naturally handled much better than the more mundane Escorts. Of course you had to put up with a choppy ride, but the handling improvement was quite significant and well worth such the small inconvenience.
The four-speed gearbox
had a sporty short throw and engaged gears positively, giving the driver utmost confidence. And as for the 2 litre Cortina engine, well at least it was very tractable, and few were fortunate enough to have driven the European version, so they didn’t really know what they were missing out on. The interior continued the sports theme of the car. To keep the driver and passenger firmly in their places during hard cornering, Ford fitted the ultra-comfortable Scheel driving seats along with other refinements such as a soft-feel steering wheel and an oversize tachometer.
However, apart from these sporty extras, the interior was quite barren, with only an AM radio to add life to the dash. The alloy wheels
were extra as the normal car came with pressed steel type. The addition of the sporting look cost A$224, including the tyres. The laminated tinted band windshield was another $103, but was well worth the money. Despite the fact that the Australian-made RS 2000 was a long way from being a real RS in the European sense, it was still a much more exciting drive than the ordinary Escorts, and that is why it remained popular with enthusiastic drivers.
Behind the Wheel
The RS2000 was available as either a four-door, where the width of the front door openings was skimped in order to provide space for the rear doors, or as simply a two-door (with much bigger door openings). We're not saying that you needed to be a contortionist to get in and out of the 4 door Escort, but it was not as easy as with the two-door version. The seating position behind the wheel was excellent. With adjustment fore and aft, as well as backrest, the seat could be put into the correct position easily. At first the under thigh cushion appeared a little high, but it was not. In fact it was just right for the best support on long journeys. The steering wheel was a sporty thing with its soft feel rim and blacked out spokes. It was large enough, however, not to obscure the instruments on the main panel immediately ahead of the driver.
There were three small dials set in a triangular fashion in the centre, flanked by the tachometer to the left and the speedometer
to the right. At the bottom there was a strip of warning lights for all the usual functions save "park brake on" and brake wear. These were covered by a separate small panel to the right of the steering column, looking as though they were an afterthought. Three stalks were fitted to the steering column. To the left there was the direction indicator with a horn button in its end. This stalk served as the light dimmer. To the right the nearest stalk, longer than the other, looked after the wipers and washers, although there was no dwell. A shorter stalk behind this actuated the lights. Heater/demister controls were mounted in the centre of the fascia, while underneath them were rocker switches for rear screen demisting, hazard warning lights and the rest. Panel lights were either on or off, there being no dimmer for them.
Mechanically the RS 2000 differed little from other two litre Escorts. It had the same single overhead cam four cylinder engine that was designed originally for the European Cortina. This made it a little too nose heavy, which explained why the car would understeer when being pushed. Front suspension
by McPherson struts coped well with the extra weight, and few road testers from the time were able to criticise the front end in terms of response at all but very high speeds. The rack and pinion steering was also spot on. At the rear the leaf sprung live axle had a sway bar for roll stiffness, but perhaps it could have benefitted from slightly softer springs and a stiffer bar to help neutralise the handling a little.
In Europe the RS 2000 was fitted with longitudinal radius rods at the rear to assist in locating the back axle – and we suspect this was a superior setup. Disc brakes
were fitted at the front with drums at the rear. Although the pedal pressure was fairly high, it didn't take long to become accustomed to it, after which there was plenty of feel. Owners would always claim the brakes
were one of the highlights of RS2000 ownership, being sure and effective with never a sign of fade even after hard use over longish periods.
Early morning cold starts would result in the engine being a tittle rattley, but this settled down and the unit warmed up quickly. Somehow though, it never seemed to be a smooth engine. In particular, when cruising around the 2500 rpm mark it would feel a little rough from time to time, and when the 4000 rpm point was reached under acceleration, there was plenty of induction roar from the twin choke Weber carbie. The engine needed to be up over 3500 rpm to become really responsive, but this was the penalty for pretty good fuel consumption resulting from the use of only one of the two chokes below that speed. Although the gearshift would tend to be a little on the stiff side until plenty of kilometres had been racked up, its change was very accurate, even when being used quickly.
This was thanks to a short throw selector mechanism fitted to the Escort, the shift lever itself needing very little movement through the gate in order to connect with the relevant ratio. It was a fantastic gearbox
, the only criticism by some reviewers was with the actual ratios themselves, which tended to be on the low side and would have been able to achieve even better levels of fuel economy if the final drive was a little higher - particularly given the long travel time between cities in Australia. In addition, the first gear was very low indeed, with quite a wide gap to second. Even with the engine revving out well, there was a slight tendency for it to bog as soon as the change from first to second was made.
Ride at city speeds is well damped, but firm. It was never intended that the RS2000 would deliver a luxurious ride – rather Ford engineers were intent to make the car able to cope with high speed work. Rear seat passengers tended to feel jolted around a little with the leaf springs controlling the live back axle. The rack and pinion steering never felt heavy on any of the Escort range, even at low parking speeds. It got a lot lighter as speeds rose, and at all times felt quite responsive. Interior space was strictly for four adults unless there was a fifth of small stature. Boot space was sufficient but not generous. Well designed though the front seats were, they did tend to detract from rear seat leg room, especially when at the furthest rear extension on their runners. The rear seats themselves were well padded and were wide enough for your Grandma's bum.
On The Road
Obviously the RS 2000 was intended to appeal to younger, more sporty drivers, and up to a point it answered their needs well. It could be argued that a little too much high speed understeer was built in. Granted it was safe, but it was also frustrating, especially on dry roads when the car was being pressed to its limit. Even a determined lift off the accelerator resulted in little transition to oversteer, so, if the RS2000 really was to be pedalled quickly, it had to be thrown into a turn very hard. The technique of hitting the brakes
hard while turning the wheel seemed to have little effect on this understeer either, so the result was disappointing for many. The two litre engine had plenty of torque which made punting the car a cinch, able to handle even slow corners in a high gear without any trouble.
When the engine was used hard the induction roar would remind the driver that it was there. From time to time it even sounded like one of the old twin cam Lotus Cortina
engines if the throttle was opened fully under a heavy right foot. To most this was music to the ears. On gravel a fair bit of care has to be taken if the understeer was not to result in the car going straight off the road frontwards. And if it was flicked into a turn the tyres
at the rear seemed to let go momentarily, especially if a touch too much throttle was used. It took practice, but once you mastered it the RS2000 was a lot of fun and demonstrated why it was so successful in rally events. On rougher roads the firm suspension
kept the whole car bouncing around quite a lot. The low first gear would result in considerable wheelspin. Select second a little too quickly and the engine would bog, rev out in first and the torque curve would be left well behind, wasting a great deal of time.