Your projects: Paul O’Brien’s gone OCD-spec with this Mk1 build, which features trick suspension, composite panels and a big-power Red Top up front.
Words Jamie Arkle
Photo Adrian Brannan
Name: Paul Reene
Job: Windows Service Engineer
Location: Galway, Ireland
Not much makes the Classic Ford team take a few steps back and simply gape at a car, but Paul Reene’s Escort did just that. From the moment we clapped eyes on the pristine Mk1, we knew it was going to grow into something spectacular, and so far we haven’t been disappointed.
This car has gone through plenty of incarnations in its 40-year history — several of them while owned by Paul! When he bought it 10 years ago the Escort was powered by a tuned Pinto, something the previous owner had used to great effect on Santa Pod’s quarter mile. Unfortunately the Escort didn’t take that kindly to Galway’s roads, and a con-rod made a successful bid for freedom on the way home! After a number of years laid up, the Escort was resurrected with an ST170 Zetec and used for Fast Road runs and track days, though the inherent limitations of the Escort’s suspension soon proved frustrating. By 2011 Paul had had enough, stripping the car back to a bare shell and pursuing a different route, which leads us neatly to the car’s current state...
Paul, why did you rip it apart?
Well it was good fun to drive on the road, but chassis-wise it wasn’t that advanced — it still had leaf springs, for example. I decided to start again, give the car a complete overhaul and build something I could use on track. Good cheap fun as long as you don’t crash it!
Why swap the ST170 motor for an XE?
I like these engines, especially how easy it is to get big power from them and the amount of tuning parts available. They’re very popular over here in Ireland of course, and plenty of the rally boys use them.
What spec have you built it to?
Well, it needed to be fairly powerful as the old engine was pushing out 190 bhp. Mine’s been built to JRE spec, features some of their own cams, steel rods, forged pistons, a CNC ported head with 1 mm larger valves, a dry sump, Tony Law manifold, MBE management, and a set of Jenvey throttle bodies. It’s putting out 260 bhp and 192 lb.ft.
The front end is pretty special, isn’t it?
A lot of work’s gone into it, that’s for sure. I intend to run the car very wide and very low, though I still want it to be good on track. That’s why I decided to chassis-mount the XE a full 9 inches back in the bay. To make it fit I cut out the whole bulkhead and a lot of the transmission tunnel, slid the engine and Type-9 in, then worked out how to fit it.
That must’ve thrown up some issues?
Oh yeah — nothing fitted easily afterwards! The steering column needed to be extended and moved back, the pedal box was moved to the floor, and getting the gearbox mounts to work correctly was a challenge.
You say it’s going to be wide — what wheels are you running?
I’ve got a set of Compomotive CXRs that’re 10x13 inch at the back. To run them I’ve had to notch the rear of the chassis by 2 inches and fit 15 inch tubs at the rear. That’s also the reason for the bubble arches — I needed to get enough clearance. The rears took a lot of work especially — I had to build them round the wheels, cut out what wasn’t needed, split them in half, flare them, then reinforce the fibreglass with aluminium. The front wings, arches, door and bonnet are all fibreglass as well.
The exhaust run is pretty trick, right?
Well, it’s different. I want to run the car very low, ideally just 2 inches off the floor. To do that I’ve actually had to route the exhaust partly inside the car, then out through the transmission tunnel, finally exiting just in front of the bubble arch. I’m also waiting to get hold of some custom suspension from Gaz as none of their off-the-shelf stuff would go low enough.
Did the car look this immaculate and wild in its previous incarnation?
No, beforehand it had Mexico front wings and a set of RS2000 graphics painted on. It was always a good shell though, very clean. When I stripped it down in preparation for shotblasting I only found the one bit of rot, down under the driver’s side wing. I took it right down to the bare metal before painting it to, so it’s fair to say I know the car well!
What other measures have you taken to make the car effective on track?
The English-based axle is six-linked, with Group 4 link bars and heavy-duty Atlas shafts designed for an Escort rally car. The actual diff casing was also specially made for an Escort sprint car and mates up to the Watts linkage perfectly. The gearbox is a Tran-X SL72 dog ’box and has ZF ratios, so it’s geared mainly for acceleration. I’ve also gone for the biggest brakes I can squeeze into the 13 inch wheels; a 275 mm disc set-up with AP four-pot callipers all round.
How close are you to being done?
I’m nearly there. Work’s been near enough constant this year, and while everyone else was out partying on New Year’s, I was spraying the shell! It’s really the wiring that I’ve got to finalise. It’s 95 per cent done I’d say, but I’m mounting switches on the roof so I need to run wires inside the A-pillar. All the running gear’s already been mocked up though, so I’m not worried about getting the engine, ’box and wheels sitting right.