The Trailblazing Boy Racer
While not strictly hot hatches, the Ford Escort Mk2 RS2000, its predecessor the Mk1 and stablemates the Mk2 Mexico and the hardcore Series X, blazed the trail for fast, high-spec versions of ‘normal’ road cars – and they did a fine, fine job.
History of the Ford Escort Mk2 RS2000
Based on the standard Mk2 Escort, the RS2000 (RS stands for Rallye Sport) was conceived by Ford’s Active Competitions department based at Boreham in Essex. Ford’s rally cars were very highly tuned road cars but in order to satisfy the growing demand for cheap, fast cars with popular mass appeal, the easier option appeared to be bolting in bigger engines from cars higher up Ford’s range.
Launched in January 1976 with a longitudinally mounted 2.0-litre, in-line 4-cylinder SOHC engine with the gearbox in the back, the Mk2 RS2000 quickly became the car of choice for a generation of lads who wanted to drive fast and do handbrake turns but couldn’t wait for the Golf GTI or the XR3i to be invented.
The Mk2 RS2000 was designed in Cologne at Ford’s styling house – the same studio responsible for the utterly bonkers 3.1-litre Capri RS3100. The fundamentals of the car remained true to the original Mk2 Escort but with the addition of a lightweight polyurethane ‘droop snoot’ at the front that vastly improved the aerodynamic profile of the car and quad racing headlamps to cement the RS sporting pedigree.
While the RS models had undoubted racing credentials (the RS1800 won 20 World Rally Championship stages between 1975 and 1981, including four with legendary Finnish driver Ari Vatanen at the wheel), it was equally at home pootling around the shops or dropping the kids off at school. The only place where the Mk2 wasn’t particularly comfortable was on motorway runs because the four-speed box was purposely geared low so it could jump off the lights quickly.
In an interesting aside, the Mk2 RS2000s handling was the responsibility of Tom Walkinshaw, then an accomplished engineer and aspiring racing driver and later to become the Engineering Director of Flavio Briatore’s Benneton F1 team as well as an instrumental component in the recruitment of a certain Michael Schumacher. He also bought the Arrows F1 team and pulled off a stunning coup by hiring then F1 world champion Damon Hill.
As odd as it sounds by today’s exacting standards, the Mk2 RS2000 was considered luxurious since it came equipped with a glove box, centre console, carpets and full door cards!
As with all fast Fords, the opportunities for customising were cheap and plentiful. RS dealers offered the Series X package, the most dramatic of which was a full engine upgrade to Group One specification (boosting the engine from 110bhp to 146bhp) as well as wider tyres, a full body kit and what was known as a ‘Rocket’ gear kit…
The last iteration of the Mk2 RS2000 in 1979 featured the beginnings of the boy-racer staples – bronze tinted glass and textbook Fishnet Recaro seats.
Production of the Mk2 RS2000 ended in the summer of 1980 and with it, the RS name. It was reprieved two years later with the front-wheel drive Escort RS1600i but the Mk2 remains in our hearts as one of the very best cars to carry the RS name.