Ford Escort – Rally Legend
The Blue Oval’s ubiquitous family saloon, launched in late 1967, would quickly establish a reputation as the ideal rally car – thanks to a combination of simple, reliable mechanicals and a range of powerplants suitable for competition tuning.
Success on the stages came quickly, with up-and-coming Finnish sensation Hannu Mikkola winning the gruelling London to Mexico marathon in a twin-cam Mk1 Escort in 1970. In fact, the Mexico tag became synonymous with performance Escorts from that moment.
With Ford keen to capitalise on the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ ethos that’s always been at the core of any manufacturer’s association with motorsport, the Escort was let loose on the British and World Rally Championships in the early 1970s. Multiple victories and championships would soon follow (see table below), with the Escort in 1600cc Mk1 and 1800cc Mk2 form providing the platform from which many of the great champions established their early reputations.
Scandinavian superstars Bjorn Waldegaard, Hannu Mikkola, Ari Vatanen, as well as icons of British rallying Roger Clark and Russell Brookes, put themselves and the Escort on the motorsporting map. The car’s run of eight straight victories on the RAC Rally – Britain’s round of the World Championship – between 1972 and 1979 remains a record 30 years on.
As former Ford Competition boss Stuart Turner says in this film celebrating the Escort’s iconic status: “The Escort was the perfect package. Asked to define rallying and people say ‘Roger Clark going sideways’.”
The Escort bug caught on in a big way among enthusiasts and owners, with the car spawning an industry of tuners, such was the versatility of the car and the potential that lay within. To this day, dozens of cars – in various states of modification – are used in historic rallying, proving the adage: old is gold.
Ford Escort rallying successes
British Rally Championship titles:
1971 (Chris Sclater), 1972, ’73, ’75 (Roger Clark), ’76 (Ari Vatanen), ’77 (Russell Brookes), ’78 (Hannu Mikkola), ’80 (Vatanen)
World Rally Drivers’ Championship titles:
1979 (Bjorn Waldegaard), ’81 (Vatanen)
World Rally Manufacturers’ Championship titles: 1979
World Championship rally wins:
Mk1 – 4 (Timo Makinen 4; Mikkola 1)
Mk2 – 17 (Waldegaard 6; Mikkola 4; Vatanen 4; Clark 1; Kyosti Hamalainen 1; Makinen 1)