Driving the Legends: Ford Escort Cosworth

Sinking into the Ford Escort Cosworth’s soft, garishly decorated seats, the first thing you notice is that wing staring back at you in the rear-view mirror. It’s as dominating, as obstructive and as utterly brilliant as you always knew it would be.

Not to labour the point, but they just don’t make wings like that anymore, at least not on hatchbacks. Even the Honda Civic Type R looks meek by comparison. And yet somehow the Escort’s proportions still work; it remains squat, tough and oh so desirable, a potent reminder of just how right the original design was.

You might struggle to be as complimentary about the interior, which is unmistakably early-Nineties Ford in its look and feel. It even smells like an old Ford, transporting you back to a childhood squashed into the back seats with your brother and sister, elbows out in a bitter attempt to wrestle extra space. No doubt we’d have minded less if our old Escort had been a Cosworth, what with its white dials and dashtop-mounted boost gauge.

This particular 41,000-mile car is part of Ford’s own heritage collection, and the first of the limited-edition run of 200 Monte Carlos to be built, 70 of which were right-hand drive. These went on sale in 1994 to mark Ford’s success on the Monte Carlo rally, with the upgrades over the standard Cosworth consisting of OZ Racing alloy wheels (how good do they look?!), those cloth sports seats and one of three paint colours.

Being one of the earlier Escort Cosworths this particular car has the larger Garrett T35 turbo installed, which is known to have more lag but also more power than the later, smaller turbo cars. It helps the 2.0-litre engine to push out 227bhp and 224lb ft of torque, which by today’s standards doesn’t sound terribly special. Surely the Escort Cosworth isn’t going to disappoint, is it?

Time to find out. I guide the Cosworth on to a straight stretch of road and floor the throttle. Hmm. There’s really not a lot happening. The revs slowly climb past 2,000rpm, 2,500, 3,000rpm… But then here it comes, a slow but determined shove as the torque begins to swell. By 3,500rpm the engine is well and truly into its stride and squeezing you into the driver’s seat. Hold on to the gear and the Escort really begins to charge, the needle swinging past 4,500rpm, 5,000rpm, driver holding tight. Be in no doubt, this is where the magic resides. Throttle response might not be great (or even good), but work the long-throw gear lever and the Escort still delivers the goods. Indeed, driven this way it is every bit as fast – if not faster – than you’d ever dared hope. There’s little doubt about this car’s ability to get from 0-60mph in around 6 seconds, as Ford originally claimed.

If you’re wondering how Ford achieved such a feat using parts designed for the humble Escort the answer is that it didn’t. Not really. Rather it found a way of squeezing the running gear from a Sierra Cosworth into an Escort body, thus creating one of the most memorable hatchbacks of its era, not to mention a suitable homologation car with which to go rallying.

Which is why the Escort Cosworth not only gets that bonkers (if bland sounding) engine, but also four-wheel drive with a rear-biased torque split. In theory this means you can perform heroic power slides, but not when it’s somebody else’s prized heritage car. Even so, you needn’t go crazy to realise what a fine handling machine this is, with a beautifully responsive front end and brakes that demonstrate excellent bite at the top of the pedal’s travel. It even rides pretty well once up to speed.

At the end of our drive I slot the gear-lever into reverse and guide the car safely back into its parking space. It occurs to me that it could be the last time I’ll see that wing from this vantage point, its slender central spoke towering skywards. And that really is a shame, for while it looks great in pictures and even better in the metal, nothing beats the thrill of having an Escort Cosworth’s wing just over your shoulder. For only then will you know you’ve got the best seat in the house.
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