Ford Escort RS 1800
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
A Street Fighter
When the RS 1600
was released in 1970
it was considered a small street fighter, but over the ensuing years the cars performance was bettered by most other manufacturers. Few of these cars matched the RS1600s road feel and rawness, a quality that had seen it garner a staunch following among Ford aficionados, but on paper at least, the RS 1600
was not presenting as an acceptable performance package.
Ford knew the writing was on the wall, and decided to update their high performing small car. Those in the know reasoned that the only reason Ford still made the RS model in 1975 was so that they could homologate its tweaked (up to 220 BHP) versions for people like Dave Brodie (of racing Capri fame) and Roger Clark - who was already successfully campaigning his BDA.
Following the RS 1600 Concept
Based on the Mk II Escort the RS1800 closely followed the original RS 1600 concept, but used an 1835cc version of the Cosworth BDA engine producing 115bhp. Many special features were standard on the RS1800 including stiffened suspension
, wide wheels and an uprated gearbox. With the South Ockendon operation (AVO) closed the RS model went into mainstream production at Halewood. Production of the RS1800 then moved to Germany where it stayed until the model was superseded in 1977
by the RS 2000
The RS 1800 was pretty much a direct development of the BDA 1600 MK II (with the alloy block and head) which was the road-going version of the Cosworth FVA F2 engine. The only problem was that, in a straight comparison with other competitive models, the RS 1800 didn’t put to rest the deficit in performance. Where once there was no direct equivalent to the RS 1600 – by 1975
there were many.
Sure, the RS 1800 was more civilised, but the RS 1600 was arguably the most uncompromising product to have ever to be publicly offered by a major manufacturer during the previous decade. Despite its hypertension and temperament, or maybe because of it, the RS 1600 was still a good basic platform for serious racers to work on. It was too tame to race off the showroom floor yet not really suitable for modern traffic conditions.
Disappointing then that, when released, the RS 1800 wasn't the quickest in its class! For those really wanting Ford performance, the Capri 3000 GT
was a much better proposition, offering better performance for less money. If you were less loyal to the blue oval, you could shop around and find cars such as the Lancia Beta Coupe
, Alfetta 180C, Fiat 124, R17 Gordini and Scirocco
which would either outperform it or underprice it - or both! And if you were prepared to drive a Nippon, the Celica GT with its twin cams and 5-speed box was on the money.
But the Escort
was still the car for rally enthusiasts, and lent itself to modification. The RS 1800’s engine had an alloy block and head, whereas the original RS 1600 had an iron block. The old bore and stroke was 80.98 x 77.62, while on the RS 1800 this became 86.75 x 77.62 mm for 1840cc. The dual 40 DCOEs were replaced by one dual choke (progressive) 32/36 DCAV Weber which accounted for 86kW at 6500, down 3.7kW on the old car. Torque was up though with 163Nm at 4000rpm - the RS 1600 and 150Nm at 4500. All this made the engine more civilised but took away the old car's punch, as the 1800 suffocated at 6000 rpm sounding very asthmatic and coarse. Down low it shone, yet neither car was still happy in top gear at less than 50-60km/h.
Behind the Wheel
The RS 1600 was meant to be blasted around, in high revs and on the cam. The RS 1800, with the changes, plus 30km/h per 1000 rpm top gearing (old car was 27.5) and extra weight had lost its sparkle. The 1800 also had a lower compression - down to 9:1, which actually helped cold weather starts and staying in tune. One thing was for sure though, and that was you could pick the heritage of the re-skinned car. All you had to do was open the bonnet to see the same old inner panels. Engine access to the ancillaries was worse than before even though the dual Weber manifold was gone – mainly because the car was now fitted with a big air cleaner (and silencer) complete with temperature controlled intake – and all that kit limited work space.
The suspension was specially stiffened with Armstrong competition struts at front and Girling gas-filled dampers and radius arms at back. The rack and pinion steering
was always accurate – and in the RS 1800 the engineers had gotten rid of the kickback problem. Handling
was fairly precise and predictable. The Pirelli CN36 175/70 x 13 on wide rims obviously had something to do with this, as they were particularly adhesive and at slow speeds hid the understeer. Only near the limits could you tell that understeer existed at all – as the nose would run wide and would break away first. Usually it was only a matter of backing off a little to correct things, but on wet roads and roundabouts you needed to be careful.
On The Road
The RS 1600
virtually enticed you to rush around "hanging the tail out", displaying ragged-edge antics for cornering thrills – but the RS 1800 was not as quick but did its job with less fuss until you reached its limits. Then it got messy and you would have to act seriously or it can become quite unenjoyable, particularly if, as in Australia, owners basically were used to cars that required opposite lock. The stability on the open road was much better than that of the RS 1600
, it not being affected by crosswinds or surface irregularities. Ford engineers made the rear suspension softer and increased the roll stiffness at the front which resulted in a calculated understeer nearly all the time.
The old car went from mild understeer to controlled oversteer; - definitely hairy but also very rewarding if you enjoyed driving in that style. The gearbox was the German-built single-rail shift with shot-peened internals (this box, minus the 'nicer' ratios was also used on the Mustang II and Pinto). The RS 1800 through the gears got 58 – 106 – 153 - 182km/h - not as close as the older version, which peaked second at 93km/h and third around 145km/h for a smoother, more correct flow pattern. Both boxes, nevertheless, were fun to use with positive action, although the older one was a little smoother and the syncros unbeatable.
Out on the highway road testers noted that the RS 1800 was quieter than the previous model, with Noise and Vibration Harshness (NVH) being improved. But that didn’t mean it was all that quiet, with wind noise growing and the exhaust
droning enough to make high speed distance trips a bit of a chore. The halogen lights were pretty good for the time, but strangely Ford didn’t fit the extra driving lights as standard kit as they did on the 1600 sport. The wipers were efficient in the rain, as was the demisting and heating, although road testers noted that the fan was incredibly noisy. The fresh air vents were much improved over the old model too.
had the same surface area as the RS 1600
but they worked much better and the pressure was definitely less. The Pirellis again had a lot to do with the braking capacity, which made the Escort a class leader on this criteria. Other tests at MIRA demonstrated deceleration readings with no fade after up to 20 stops from speed with less than five percent pressure increase. That was way better than the RS 1600, which needed a heavy, size-thirteen boot. Serious drivers would fit the RS 1600
with the four-wheel-disc kit that was available, or twin boosters.
On the Inside
Once you sat inside the RS 1800 the advantages over the older model would be immediately obvious. It felt more spacious, thanks to 23 percent more glass and a lower beltline and slimmer pillars. The instrument panel was greatly improved but still did not look entirely integrated, with the ashtray and radio still seeming like afterthoughts. The award-winning instrument cluster was fine, not suffering the RS 1600 problem of the steering
wheel hiding the secondary instruments. It didn’t take much to better the interior of the RS 1600, which was too basic. The buckets of the RS 1800, strangely, weren't as good as the road seats on the 1600 Sport which were put up for a design award.
The RS Escorts were always 2+2s due to the big rally seats, the recliners taking up too much room, losing the 2in space gain from the reworked package (the base cars didn't suffer this problem). There was a lot of space in the cabin, but when compared to cars like the Alfasud you would never have considered it overly-generous by comparison. These big front seats, for all their looks and size, actually were too low, lacked under-thigh support for very tall drivers, and the bolsters were too wide for slim drivers. The RS 1800 was fitted with the Cortina stalks on the column, a big improvement: left for headlight flasher and horn, right had washer/wiper and lights, but they were located too close to each other. Also the fiddly rocker switches of the old car were re-sorted so that you didn't grope in the dark for them!
Why Buy the Escort RS 1800?
From a fit and finish standpoint, the RS 1800 was much better than the model it replaced. It had a Teutonic feel – but it wasn’t German. It had plenty of personality – but it wasn’t Italian. And from any angle, it didn’t look Japanese. The striping and spoilers may not have suited the boxy uninspired design but it did differentiate it from the more stock models in the Escort line-up. And the bumpers looked the goods with their especially treated chip-resistant epoxy paint job, which after time would reveal chrome-plating underneath.
So why did people buy the RS 1800? The Celica or Datsun
offered better value. The Lancia
offered better performance. Cheaper cars like the Scirocco
or Alfa Ti couldn’t be overlooked. We at Unique Cars and Parts
think it was because the Escort
had pedigree, an extensive country wide dealership network and buyer loyalty. It wasn’t the best – but that didn’t make it bad. It was just not as good as many had hoped for after the RS 1600
had proved to be such a little dynamo.