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"Classic Ford", July 15, 2013

Twice as nice

Will Wibbeke found a replica of BSCC star John Fitzpatrick’s awesome RS1600, but it required wheeler-dealer skills to get it looking as stunning as this...

Words Marc Stretton

Photo Michael Whitestone

You know that Wheeler Dealers show on TV with Mike Brewer and Ed China? Where Mike buys a classic that’s a bit of a wreck, they throw a couple of grand (and many hours of Ed’s life) at it and then try to sell at a profit? Well that’s a bit like William Wibbeke’s life, but in Will’s case it’s a little bit amplified.

As a self-taught mechanic and owner of A1 Detailing & Valeting in Southend-on-Sea, Will spends most of his time looking out for cars that are a bit sorry for themselves, getting them up to mint condition and top-spec, flogging the result, and starting again. “I worked out the other week that I’ve had 100-plus project cars over the years,” he says, “and have probably had the same again for my own daily drivers.”

The sort of thing that goes on at A1 can be instantly understood when you check out the latest ‘stock’, which includes a £30k-plus Cossie’d Mk1 build, a Noble M400, and a now-rare mid-’70s Audi 80. The jaw-dropper in the unit at present has to be our subject matter for today though... a Cossie-powered Castrol-liveried Mk1 replica of John Fitzpatrick’s 1971 BSCC race-winning RS1600.

Impulse buy

“I wasn’t even looking for another Escort when this one came along,” Will admits. “I’d gone to see a series two RS Focus and the seller had an RS2000 on the drive. We started talking classic Fords and he told me of a mate who had this Fitzpatrick replica for sale. I took a look and for once made the amateur’s mistake of falling in love and handing over a load of cash before engaging any brain cogs.

“In this case that was a big mistake, as I would find out when the car came back to the workshop. The story sounded good, though. The Escort had begun as 1300XL auto, so the tunnel hadn’t needed chopping around, it had been a little-old-lady car and put away in a dry garage for 12 years before being liberated to be built up as the RS1600 replica.

“The trouble turned out to be,” Will says, “that ‘built’ is a bit of a generous term for what had happened to the car. The bubble arches had been plonked on, spot-welded vaguely in place and filled over, and the paint and stripes were pretty poorly done. On top of that were some seriously iffy mechanics. The engine was mounted too far back so it was hitting the bulkhead, the gearbox was held in place by a section of angle iron and the exhaust was running completely the wrong side of the car.” None of the above was good enough for Will, so there was nothing to do but strip everything down and start again...

The first task was to get the body sorted. “The donor XL must have been a very solid car,” Will reports, “as there seemed to have been no welding done on it except for some fabrication for the YB conversion.

“A few of the panels needed aligning and then the arches were fitted properly. The original build had involved a lot of filler, so much that near the arches the car’s original swage lines had completely disappeared. That took many hours of remedying.

Panel better

“Underneath, the floorpans were stripped right back and the Panhard rod mount was fixed in place. Some modification to the front panel was also made at this stage as I knew I’d be going for a big Airtec rad and intercooler. With the measurements double-checked the panel was chopped and rewelded to suit.

“The first attempt at spraying didn’t go well,” adds Will. “I was so unhappy with the results from the bodyshop that I took the car back and took it down to a friend, Paul Duke, in Basildon. When the car came back this time, Paul’s work was far better.

“Most of the stickers to make the replica are available,” says Will, “but I had trouble finding a couple — Powermax and AP Lockheed — which is probably why the initial builder left them off.” A friend made up the missing stickers, which Will applied with pinpoint accuracy, and he also ditched the modern numberplates for period-correct silver-on-black.

With some decent engine and gearbox mounts fabricated, the engine and ’box lined up again, and a Chris Tullett exhaust was fitted in the correct location. The motor and turbo were, despite the rest of the car, very good. It’s not massively tuned but with a Stage 1 head and the Tullet exhaust should be good for around 280 bhp. A standard clutch, T5 ’box and single-piece prop transmit the power to an Atlas axle with ZF LSD fitted.

“The worst four weeks of the project came after redoing a lot of the spaghetti wiring loom,” Will admits. “The engine just refused to start. We changed virtually half the loom again, plus most of the sensors and senders before a clever mate noticed the wires to the phase sensor were the wrong way round!” he adds.

Cap it all off

The Escort’s suspension is based around 2.8i Capri kit with coil-over converted front legs, single-leafs and Billies all round and adjustable top mounts and TCAs allow tuning of the geometry for differing driving conditions. Handling and grip should be helped by an anti-roll bar and some 8.5J Alleycat rims with 196/60s and 205/55 rears contacting the Tarmac.

Finishing details were to get the rear bumper rechromed, pop the glass back in using all-new rubbers, scrub up the race-styled interior (that retains the XL’s original rear seat, even if passengers may have to duck below the rear cage a bit), fit a new black headlining and make up a bespoke look for the Cibie Iode lamps and Kenlowe fans.

With a buyer lined up, the Escort may not even still be in Will’s possession by the time you read this, but checking out the perfect shell and already built 450 bhp Cossie lump sat next to the Fitzpatrick car in the workshop he’s not going to be minus some Escort action for too long.

As for king of the ‘wheeler dealers’... well perhaps no-one can beat Mike Brewer with the patter, but Will Wibekke is definitely in the Royal Family when it comes to car improvers.

Tech Spec

Body

1971 1300XL auto shell, steel bubble arches, glass all-round, Cibie Iode spot lamps, bonnet pins, Castrol/Broadspeed 1971 white, green and red livery and associated sponsor stickers

Engine

Cosworth YB 2-litre, Stage 1 head, standard Cosworth turbo, 4x4 manifold and injection, standard ECU, Pipercross induction, Chris Tullett exhaust, -31 actuator, Airtec radiator and intercooler, Bailey breather system, alloy header tank, Samco Sport hoses, Kenlowe cooling fans, braided fuel lines, Facet lift pump, Cosworth main fuel pump, alloy swirl pot. Power: 280 bhp at 10 psi boost

Transmission

Standard T5 ’box with shortened gearlever, single-piece prop, Atlas axle, ZF LSD

Suspension

Capri 2.8i front legs converted to 2.25-inch coil-overs with Bilstein dampers, alloy hubs, adjustable TCAs, anti-roll bar, adjustable top mounts, quickrack, rear single leaf springs, Bilstein rear dampers, Panhard rod

Brakes

Wilwood four-pot front callipers, solid drilled discs, rear Cosworth 2wd callipers, solid discs, bias pedal box, braided lines

Wheels And Tyres

8.5Jx13 inch Alleycats, 195/60R13 fronts, 205/55R13 rears

Interior

Vinyl bucket seats, race harnesses, original rear seats, rear roll cage, RS three-spoke wheel, six-dial dash, additional boost and temperature gauges, separate rev counter, black headlining

Thanks

Michael James, business partner at A1; Mark Norris, mechanic and problem solver; Paul Duke for the paintwork; Terry Dolphin at Dolphin Motorsport for fabrication and mechanics; brother-in-law Luke Varney; and girlfriend, Amy Varney for putting up with me at stressful times

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