ford rs heritage
One suspects that Ford knew it was in at the start of something special when it launched the Escort RS1600 back in 1970. This car, the first to wear the RS badge, wasn't the work of some well-intentioned amateur enthusiasts within Ford. It was, in fact, the first fruit of the dedicated Advanced Vehicle Operation plant at Aveley in Essex and a specialist network of Rallye Sport dealers was appointed.
Not all Ford RS models have their roots in motorsport but the most of the best examples certainly do. The twin-cam RS1600 was quickly followed by the single cam RS2000 and between them ,these rear-wheel drive lightweights mopped up victories in the Safari rally of 1972, three RAC titles, as well as proving the versatility of the platform by claiming the European Touring Car Championship of 1974. Perhaps the most collectible of all RS models appeared next, and it isn't hard to guess why. The aggressively-shaped Ford Capri RS2600 and RS3100 models didn't just look the business, they also won the European Touring car Championships of 1971 and 1972. Tamer but more affordable, the droop-snooted, quad-headlamp RS2000 proved hugely popular, with RS Mexico and RS1800 models also attracting many followers. Escort RS1800s, in fact, claimed more rally victories than any other British car; a record that's unlikely to be beaten in the foreseeable future.
The Escort changed radically at the start of the Eighties, switching to a front-wheel drive platform. RS models weren't long in arriving. The XR3 drew in the general public, while the RS1600i attracted true enthusiasts. Serious performance came to the Escort in the shape of the RS Turbo, the first such model to feature both a turbocharged engine and a viscous-coupling limited-slip differential.
Undoubtedly the most radical and extreme RS model to date is the mid-engined RS200, of which only 200 were made between 1984 and 1986. Designed to compete in Group B rallying, the RS200's Cosworth engine and four-wheel drive chassis gave it thunderous performance. Power came from a 1.8 litre, single turbocharged engine producing 250bhp in road-going trim, and between 350 and 450bhp in racing trim although upgrade kits were available for road-going versions to boost power output to over 300bhp. Never a particularly successful rally car, the RS200's competition career was cut short after the FIA abolished Group B due to a series of high profile accidents. The cars found a ready market with rallycross teams and Norwegian Martin Schanche claimed the 1991 European Rallycross title with an RS200 that produced over 650bhp.
In 1985 Ford's longstanding relationship with Cosworth engineering saw the birth of one of the now iconic three-door Sierra Cosworth. With its extreme whale-tail spoiler and 150mph top speed, it quickly became Britain's most stolen vehicle and spawned Sapphire saloon versions, an RS500 homologation special and the final four-wheel drive Sapphire models that were more refined but with 237bhp under the bonnet both stealthy and rapid. No RS model was ever quite so successful on track and the 500bhp RS500 race cars proved victorious in the World Touring Car Championship in 1987 and the European Touring Car Championship in 1988. The Sierra Cosworth morphed into the Escort Cosworth, a car that ran on modified Sierra Sapphire running gear but which re-established Ford as a rallying front runner, including victory in the 1994 Monte Carlo Rally.
Two fast Fiesta models were also offered during the Nineties, the RS Turbo and the RS1800. The RS2000 badge was revived on the Escort, offered this time round with a choice of either front or four-wheel-drive. These models delivered decent enough performance but lacked the true magic of the best RS models. To experience this once more, enthusiasts would have to wait a while. Salvation arrived in 2002 with the 212bhp Ford Focus RS. Production was limited to about 4500 from the outset, and the car was built on its own assembly line in Ford's Saarlouis plant. The RS was offered all over Europe, but 2147 were sold in the UK, by far its largest market. The front-wheel drive chassis was fitted with a super-aggressive a Quaife automatic torque biasing differential which helped transmit power to the tarmac but which also endowed the Focus RS with a fairly rowdy power delivery on anything other than smooth, flat tarmac. When Ford completed the production run of the Mk I, Ford of Briatin's managing director Paul Thomas said "We always knew Focus RS would be a sales winner, but we could never have predicted its fantastic reception and the effect it had in re-igniting passion for the Ford RS brand."
Its successor arrived in 2009. The Mk II Focus RS showed quite how far chassis development had come in just seven years. The so called RevoKnuckle helped the strut front suspension offer the sophistication of a multi-link setup, while the 300bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine made this comfortably the quickest RS road car with a 0-60mph time of just 5.7s. The final chapter in the Ford RS vehicle story came with the 345bhp RS500 Focus, launched in 2010. Painted in a standard Panther Black metallic colour, the RS500s were shipped to a dedicated 3M facility near Frankfurt, Germany, where a special film was applied to the bodywork to create a matt black effect.
More than forty years after the first RS1600 was launched, the Focus RS500 is a very different beast but there's an obvious strand of DNA linking them. The market demographic may have shifted but both offer the sort of driving experience that allow you to kid yourself that you could have been a contender. Long may that tradition continue.