OF ALL the specialist race cars preparing to challenge the Noosa Hill Climb this month, few are as striking as Robin Smyth's 1975 Mk1 Ford Escort custom built to RS2000 Group 4 Works Rally specification.
The Caloundra resident has put in four years of hard toil to finish his Group 4 replica, which is a tribute to the world's most successful rally car of the late 1960s and 1970s, made famous by racing legends such as Roger Clark, Jimmy McRae and Hannu Mikkola.
Robin used an Australian-built Mk1 Escort as his donor vehicle when work started in 2006, and the transformation has been huge.
“It was a basic Sunday church drive car,” Robin said.
“It was in okay condition, but we stripped it back to a bare shell and rebuilt it using correct Group 4 specification parts that I brought in from the UK.”
No stranger to Ford's attractive two-door model, Robin's first car while living in his native Northern Ireland was an Escort, and he's owned a number of Mk1 (1968-1975) and Mk2 (1974-1980) examples over the years.
It was while in Ireland that his passion for racing began, and he competed in the famed Circuit of Ireland Rally back in the 1980s.
As a talented hobbyist car builder, the work performed by Robin on his latest Australian Escort is simply superb.
Just like the official Works rally cars campaigned by Ford, it uses advanced six-link rear suspension, rear suspension turrets and Bilstein front suspension, which in basic terms means this classic Ford sticks to the road like it is on rails.
“I had a two-litre, twin-cam, fuel-injected Ford Duratec engine brought in from the USA and rebuilt it to race specification,” Robin said.
The result is 147kW going through the Works-style Minilite rear wheels and racing Kumho rubber.
As you'd expect, the interior is completely stripped to save weight, with racing bucket seats, an original Ford Works dashboard and full roll cage all now occupying the cabin.
The colour choice is based on the historical Ford Works Team hues, with its blue stripes over the beautifully bulbous body adding to the car's purposeful rally look.
Robin competes in a handful of events each year like the Noosa Hill Climb and Speed on Tweed, and always attracts admirers due to the quality of his work, and the iconic status these Mk1 Escorts have among rally fans.
It seems the Ford-loving genes have been passed on in the family too, with both Robin's sons now owning their own Ford Escorts as well.
Owner: Robin Smyth, Caloundra.
Model: 1975 Mk1 Ford Escort RS2000 Group 4 Works Rally replica.
Details: Two-door sedan converted to 1970s Group 4 rally specifications.
Engine: 2.0-litre Ford Duratec DOHC in-line four-cylinder running 45mm throttle bodies.
Transmission: Five-speed close-ratio with hydraulic clutch and LSD rear axle.
Performance: 147kW @ 6500rpm at the rear wheels.
Drive how often? Six or seven hill climb and sprint events a year.
Model value today? Approx. $50,000-$60,000.
Did you know? The Mk1 Escort is renowned as one of the most successful rally cars in history, with its most famous victory on the marathon London to Mexico World Cup Rally of 1970. Hannu Mikkola completed the 25,750km course in his Escort ahead of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls-Royce opposition.
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