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"Classic Ford", July 15, 2013

True Grit

Even some Ford-based engine swaps can be slightly leftfield, such as putting the I4 RS2000 motor into a Mk1 Fiesta. Just like this one.

Words Gareth Charlton

Photo Adrian Brannan

Ask a snotty-nosed child why he’s been a little cretin by wiping bogies on your beta cloth and there’s a good chance you’ll get the answer, “because I want to” or, if he’s a real little firestarter, “because you told me not to”. In the second case you have to secretly show a certain amount of admiration, as there’s a commendable attitude in there somewhere that goes beyond the secretion of flem, and that is determination.

Automotively speaking, determination brings the will to try things a little differently and, when combined with a generous portion of skill, quite often a properly show-stopping, head-turning cracker. It’s fair to say that Gordon Laird has achieved exactly this.

We’re at Loch Lomond. It’s a bit drizzly, cold and we’re trying to balance a pig sandwich, coffee and some kind of work ethic when a good look at an extremely tidy-looking XR2 turns into a ‘what the...’ moment when the eyes reach the under-bonnet.

See it in the flesh and it’s an obvious conversion that should have been done ten-fold, but we’re not sure of another Mk1 Fiesta running the I4 motor from an RS2000. And why build himself an XR2000? “I was told it’s never been done and can’t be done,” smiles Gordon, “so I thought ‘it’s gonna be done’.” Sound reasoning to us.

Start from scrap

His reasoning behind the build is just the tip of the iceberg however, as Gordon also originally saved the XR2 shell from the scrappers after being told him it was too far gone to be saved. People often claim to have replaced or repaired loads, but you’ll go a long way to find someone who’s had to replace quite this much in the quest just to make a car once again road-legal. We asked the usual, “so, what was it like when you started out?” question and got the carefully considered response of, “Well... everything’s new except the roof, scuttle panel and chassis.”

And he wasn’t joking either. Gordon’s gone through the whole car from top to bottom, replacing panels with good examples where possible, making repairs when not and fabricating completely from fresh when needed. Oh, and it’s, “as budget build as you can possibly get”. And mint. And did we mention it was built in the garage at the side of his house? Including the paint; with its rich, vibrant finish. We like this kind of build.

Completely ignoring the heart transplant for a moment, the actual restoration work on the Mk1 is ridiculously good, especially considering how the car started out four years ago. Initial plans revolved around a full restoration with a Crossflow lump up front, but when Gordon was offered a cheap RS2000 he quickly put two and two together and came up with a unique swap.

“The engine isn’t a great deal different to a Zetec,” says Gordon, “but it’s a fair bit taller. I’ve cut the inner wing and crossmember, and made a custom engine and driveshaft mount.” Sounds easy, but that’s because he’s a modest bloke, but you notice more little details the longer you have a poke around: the tiny high-output alternator from a lawnmower, for instance, to negate the obvious space issues and the header tank that came from the same garden. “This is really just a mock-up, as I want to do a 2.3 with carbs eventually.”

Loch it up

The Loch Lomond Fiesta meet was the car’s first proper outing since being ‘finished’ (we’re pretty sure it will never be completely finished; Gordon will always have further plans for it), and he was understandably pleased with the result. The 2-litre lump is standard apart from a remap, but it’s a real torque monster and pulls the tiny shell along at a proper Zetec-trumping rate. Although it’s currently bolted to a standard XR2 gearbox, Gordon has an LSD’d RS Turbo box to go in, although he’s waiting for that elusive 2.3 conversion first to save taking it apart until it needs to be.

Inside appears to be as Ford intended, with few clues as to the work that has gone into making this such a standout car for us. The rear seats have been retrimmed, but it’s beneath your feet rather than your bum that the major work has taken place — rather than source and fit new floors (you can’t patch something that’s not there!), Gordon’s cut the mint floorpan out of a Puma and modified that to fit, tying into the chassis so that you’d never know it was anything other than original Mk1 Fiesta. That’s not thinking outside the box, it’s gift-wrapping it.

Sitting on 13-inch Fiesta Supersport four-spokes the Mk1 is every inch a sleeper and it’s not just Classic Ford magazine who loves it: the week after the Loch meet Gordon walked away with a best in show award in Kilmarnock. We’d love to see the look on the faces of anyone who said the car was beyond saving four years ago: “It was totally rotten throughout, literally as bad as it could be; I just wanted to prove it could be done. I really wanted to save it, plus it was cheaper!” he laughs.

So, four years after defying the odds and sticking two fingers up to the naysayers, you’d think Gordon must have his hands and garage full what with the planned, stonking 2.3-litre and carb conversion? Not exactly. A torquey, twin cam-powered Fiesta is all well and good, but what if it doesn’t tick all the boxes; you go rear-wheel drive, right? Nope. Next up is four-wheel drive Mk1, and he’s already bought the shell to be getting on with. WRC-style doughnuts in a Mk1 Fiesta? There’s determination and grand ideas, but that’s just Blue Oval-based genius.

Tech Spec

Body

Genuine XR2 shell with very little original metal, replacement panels, repair sections, Puma floorpan modified to fit and meet original chassis points, modified inner wing for engine conversion, custom engine mounts and modified crossmember to allow engine to sit lower, full bare metal respray in Ford Sunburst Red

Engine

2-litre I4 from Mk5 RS2000, standard injection, modified loom, remapped ECU, homemade exhaust manifold and system, homemade engine mounts and cradle, induction kit, lawn mower alternator and header tank, all custom fabricated mounts and brackets throughout

Transmission

Standard XR2 four-speed gearbox with uprated clutch

Suspension

Uprated, lowered Spax springs and unnamed uprated shocks all round

Brakes

Standard XR2 discs and callipers at front, standard drums at rear, braided hoses throughout

Wheels And Tyres

13-inch Fiesta Supersport four-spokes, 185/60x13 tyres

Interior

RS Turbo Recaros with rear seats retrimmed

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