We get close and comfortable with the Ford Escort RS Cosworth
That’s it. I am going to stop lecching. No yellow Lancer SFX with the alloy-skirt-spoiler treatment is going to make me envious. No aftermarket end-can or fatter rubber will make me rubberneck on the streets. I drove a car last month that has made me dismiss off these cosmetic jobs, and appreciate only the genuine stuff.
It was yellow, and had more stickers on it than Schumacher’s F2002 machine. And unlike the Ferrari, the stickers were totally unrelated to the car in question – a 90s Ford Escort RS Cosworth, one which belongs to Mumbai-based Adil Khan. At first glance, it looks familiar – as Adil says, many people think it’s a superb conversion kit on a run-of-the-mill Ford Escort that was sold in India till a few years back. Yeah, right, we have plenty of body specialists here who would chop the sedan, turn it into a muscular two-door coupe, give it functional air vents behind the front two wheels, change the front to incorporate air dams, and have the chutzpah to fit in a rear spoiler that will make the ones on Porsche 911 Turbos blush. Okay, even if there exists a species like this, what explains that heavy metal track that emanates from the exhaust pipe? And the fact that the car’s disappeared on you in a blizzard of yellow even before you say Heywheredidyougetitdone?’ Tough luck pal, a real Escort RS Cossie just passed you by.
But relax, you’re not alone. Between the mid-80s and the 90s, Cosworth-engineered Fords were doing similar things to other cars, be it at traffic lights or world champion-ship rallies.
The UK-based engineering firm of Cosworth – established by Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth – were the ones who wereresponsible for creating these high-performance Fords. Their contribution is so substantial that the name Cosworth stands just as proudly next to the manufacturer’s own logo – and it stands in relief on the engine head. All this happened because of Ford Europe’s high involvement in motor racing and rallying. To take part in motorsport events, Ford had to manufacture homologation specials – cars that were more or less similar to their rally-spec beasts – for the market, and only then could they get accreditation from the FIA to enter competitive racing. Fine, said Cosworth, and fine, said motorsport and performance enthusiasts across the world. A cult was created.
And after driving this car, I understood exactly why the British and the rest of the world were so kicked about Cossies. First of all, the engine’s no big V6 monster – it’s a simple DOHC 16 valve inline four, displacing 1994 CC, a cast iron engine block, and an aluminium head, nothing exotic. Why just a two-litre engine? At that time, most of the manufacturers involved in racing had a 2000 CC engine option in their line-up, and it was cheaper to work on it rather than creating an all-new performance motor – so some amount of mutual agreement happened. But the difference here is that the engine’s turbocharged. And the other reason for the car’s cult status is simply the way it moves. And the way it moves you.Strapping myself up to the Recaro seats,staring at the Momo steering wheel (after-market jobs, both) and a speedo calibrated in miles, I pause for a moment for a couple of idiot lights to go off. Start the engine, and a steady thrum invades the cabin. The five-speed gearbox is an effort to engage, and in my mind, I kiss off a leisurely drive goodbye – I’ll need much more concentration to shift gears than on a normal passenger car. Bring the revs to around 3000 rpm, and let go of the clutch. No wheelspin here, the car gets permanent four-wheel drive – the torque’s distributed 34 per cent at the front and 66 at the rear.At 3000 revs, the boost has already built up, and I avoid the famous turbo lag that makes it unresponsive at lower rpms – at those low levels, the car just feels like an irritated, aimless and a rather frustrated animal. Not just that, the very nature of this engine is that it’s high-revving, in true Cosworth tradition – it gets a large bore and a short stroke, endowing it with a higher rev output vis-à-vis the low-end torque found in long-stroke engines.
So here I was, already in second, with all of 31 kgm of turning force at my command, which was mine from 2750 rpm onwards. I wrestle with the gearshift at third –hey, this car does not allow my mind to wander. Thankfully, it’s a Sunday morning, the streets are deserted and I have the open road to myself. The engine’s now coming into its element, I have touched 5500 revs already and am feeling like a guided missile, because all those 227 horses have now been liberated, aided by a Garrett T25 turbocharger.The sunroof is up, and the windows are down. There’s wind billowing inside the cabin, but that’s not enough to distract me. This car’s possessive, and it wants all of you – and I am happy giving it my all. That’s because after driving plenty of run-of-the-mill passenger sedans which boast that they provide ‘driver involvement’ in their literature, here’s a car that instead of giving, asks for it. You are one with the machine, the monocoque chassis feels taut and well-matched to the power on tap, and the feedback is vociferous. That way, it becomes much more than a fast car, and that makes all the difference.There’s no way you can say that this car’s an ‘endearing, liveable coupe’ to go shopping in, it’s simply too demanding from you – after all, the car’s race-bred, and the very fact is that it exists is because of an FIA formality rather than Ford or Cosworth’s plans.
You have to empower your left hand with more strength for shifting correctly, more sense to your right leg for keeping the revs at a higher plane, and intelligence to both your hands to steer precisely. The steering wheel is direct and extra sharp, and turn-ins are more quicker than what I am used to. There’s no play whatsoever, and even a slight degree of movement is instantly rewarded by a slight change in direction. So you have to concentrate. Road-holding is phenomenal, assisted by grippy Goodyear Eagle F1 205/50 ZR 16s at the front and 225/55 ZR 16s at the rear, and of course all-wheel drive – the Cossie takes in extreme decreasing radius turns without much ado. It’s planted and you feel supremely confident of its ability to stick to tarmac like chewing gum. The underpinnings were more or less the same found in other Ford Cosworths, McPherson struts with lower track control arms in the front along with an anti-roll bar, and McPherson struts again at the rear, with trailing arms. Which means a stiff ride rather than one that will cosset you in comfort – actually, it’s great the way it is, and goes with the rest of the car’s attributes.
After all that I have told you about its temperament, this street Cossie is actually a second-generation, friendly machine. The first Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which was a pure homologation special was very uncivilised – it had an oversized Garrett turbo and was famous for its huge turbo lag, among other things. In this version, the turbo’s much smaller (in fact it seems its the same one found in Fiat Uno Turbos) and the engine management system was also revised. But that still did not mean its prolonged existence on European roads – as it happens with all performance cars, the law comes down on them. So regulations on noise and exhaust emissions and safety norms made the Escort RS Cosworth not viable for production.
So what do you do? Earlier you could engineer a roll cage, grab a helmet and head out to the hills for some fast twisties, but now there are always humdrum sedans and a zillion aftermarket cosmetic bits to liven up your life. Sigh.
Adil would like to thank the following guys for keeping his Escort RS Cosworth in shape. We would also like to thank them, because without them, even we wouldn’t have got the opportunity to drive it.
Hunda Motors (mechanical) and Shahid Ansari (electrical/airconditioning). Tel: (022) 2368 5346
Tahir Motors (painting) and Shaikh Tahir (interiors). Tel: (022) 2361 9368