With a demonic 440bhp motor and slammed on air-ride suspension, this heavenly bagged Focus RS Mk3 has got style, performance and practicality in one package, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t ruffled a few feathers along the way…

Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Ollie Wildsmith

Blasphemy! That’s what some people will call it. Those that worship at the altar of performance will be saying a few Hail Mary’s to cleanse their sinful souls just for reading this feature. After all, it’s one thing to praise the lowered, but when it comes to tuning a performance icon such as the Focus RS Mk3, the Ten Tuning Commandments are very clear when it comes to suspension mods – thou shalt only fit coilovers to your performance car, especially one that has been equipped with 440 raging ponies under the bonnet! But throwing more spanners into the modifying mix than Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code did to the bible, is Derbyshire-based Ford fan Gareth Ironside, who has defied the faithful and kitted-out his flying Focus with air-ride.

“I’ve never been one to simply follow what everyone else is doing,” laughs Gareth (who is better known as Gaffa, to his mates) when we meet him and his camo-coloured bagged Focus RS Mk3 on the outskirts of Derbyshire. “I’d much rather make my cars stand out and be individual, as to me that’s what modifying is all about. If someone else doesn’t like it, then that’s their problem.”

Bagged Focus RS Mk3

Well, you only live once! And besides, it’s not like this is the only Mk3 Focus RS left; its owner has hardly squashed a dodo here. What he has done, in fact, is to make one of the most brutal, purposeful, and fastidiously detailed Mk3s on the scene.

It all stemmed from the somewhat oblique grasp Gaffa has on reality, or at least on the concept of perspective; after all, there’s not a lot of people who’d take a Mk3 RS out for a test-drive and climb out afterwards thinking ‘Hmm, it’s not really quick enough,’ although such things are all about context.

You see, this guy is no stranger fast Fords, having owned another polarisingly modified motor before – that time it was a 400bhp Mk2 Focus RS. Laying down such richly textured foundations, there was always an undercurrent of modding necessity beneath this new purchase even before Gaffa bought the car. “I knew I’d modify the car from the start, as I like to put my own stamp on things,” he explains. “I reckon it’d be boring if we were all the same.”

Bagged Focus RS Mk3

Very true, no arguments here, and the genesis of this particular step into the offbeat crystallised back in March 2015. The announcement of the new Focus RS coincided with a kernel of an idea that he might be ready to embark upon a fresh project, and Gaffa was keen to check out the brand-new Mk3 in person. Wasting no time, he booked a flight out to the Geneva motor show to observe the official unveiling; liking what he saw, he put in an order as soon as he got home and, following the inevitable delays that manufacturers like to throw into the mix simply to build the tension, Gaffa found himself taking delivery of his next-gen ride in April 2016.

“When I picked the car up from Ford, and after the first time driving it, it felt slow and like it had no presence on the road,” he recalls. “Coming from a modded 400bhp Mk2 to a 345bhp Mk3, my immediate thought was ‘What have I done?’. But after talking to Pete at Demon Performance Centre, where I’ve been going for over ten years, he advised me to go for the Revo Stage 1 remap.”

As the Mk3 was so new, this map was still under development, and it became one of a number of pioneering decisions that Gaffa would make – not least when it came to the suspension. After all, if there’s one way to really wind up the purists, it’s to take a car that has been universally praised by the press for its perfect handling balance, and start mucking about with the chassis.

Bagged Focus RS Mk3

“I’d bought a set of Fifteen52 Tarmac wheels for it before I’d even taken delivery of the car,” Gaffa elaborates. “I soon got bored of them though, and when I sold my Mk2 and stripped all the parts off, I kept the Compomotive MO6s to try on this, and they looked loads better. So the next job was getting this thing down. Luke at Plush Automotive had bagged my Mk2, so I went straight back to him with this project.”

Again, this was all treading new ground as no one in the UK had fitted an air-ride system to a Mk3 RS yet, and the final result was a set of Air Lift Performance bags and struts with AccuAir management, all beautifully installed in one of Plush’s trademark show-quality boot builds.

“There were mixed reviews,” Gaffa laughs. “Being the first bagged Mk3, it didn’t go down well with some people at the time. And I’d only owned the car for two months at that point!”

No one ever said blazing a trail was easy, of course. It wouldn’t be any fun if it was simple. And besides, the number of Mk3s on air today suggests that Gaffa was onto something. Remember, you saw it here first.

“Next up was a trip to Triple R Composites for a full lowline kit,” he continues. “Then Airtec hooked me up with an intercooler, induction kit and big boost pipe kit, which joined a full Scorpion exhaust with decat. Working with the Revo Stage 1 map, the car was totally transformed – it felt quick now!”

Everything was really starting to come together, with the car rocking some hysterical power as well as toting a chassis sure to provoke a reaction from the purists.

At this point, Ford decided to throw a curveball into the mix, announcing the SYNC 3 infotainment upgrade that wasn’t available on the early Mk3. But Gaffa was unfazed; in fact he was on a roll by this time, and decided to have a go at upgrading the system himself after reading a guide on focusrsoc.com. “It was a big job, but worth it,” he says. “SYNC 3 is loads better than SYNC 2 – and you can use Apple CarPlay with it.”

Bagged Focus RS Mk3

Piece by piece, the car was evolving into the ultimate version of itself. And, with a sense of inevitability, Gaffa was yearning for more horsepower. Having fitted a Radium oil catch can and uprated baffle plate, the ones-and-zeroes of the ECU were then treated to a Revo Stage 2 map by Pete at Demon Performance Centre, taking peak power somewhere up around the 430-to-440bhp region according to Gaffa. “It was properly quick now, and faster than my old Mk2 was,” he grins. It’s milestones like this that really start to feel like proper progress.

At this stage in the tale we’re into late 2018, and the scene is boasting a number of bagged Mk3 RSs in Nitrous Blue. Gaffa’s never been one to follow the herd, though, even if they were actually following him in this case, so a call was made to vinyl maestros Blueprint to discuss creating a custom camo wrap for the Focus. “I needed a new look,” he shrugs. “After a few emails back and forth with designs and detail changes, the camo look was complete. It seems to have gone down well; I do get the odd comment of ‘I can’t see anything’ or ‘all I can see is a set of gold wheels’, which does make me laugh!”

The Nitrous Blue brake calipers weren’t really working with the stealthy new vibe, so they were refinished in green, and then a set of custom headlights were stirred into the mix to really take the aesthetics up to the next level. The most recent evolution has been to take the car across to TRS Performance for an overrun map, which works alongside the Revo software and provides plentiful pops and bangs.

“Peoples’ reactions to the car have been very mixed, to be honest,” Gaffa muses. “When the RS was put on air-ride people certainly had an opinion! Some loved it for being different from the rest, while others hated it, calling it ruined and saying, ‘How could you do this to an RS? Ford spent millions on development and you ruin it by putting bags on it’. “But the truth is the car handles just like coilovers, yet the ride is as good as standard,’ he says. “In fact it may even be better, as the car tends to stay flatter through hard corners now as the self-leveling counteracts the body-roll. But the best part is, I can now have the best of both worlds. I can have the handling and low-slung look of a coilover kit – in fact I can go much lower, until the inner arches hit the tyres! – but I can also, at the touch of a button, raise it up for daily driving or lift it even higher to clear speedbumps and potholes with ease.”

Bagged Focus RS Mk3

But even with such a glowing reference, people have still seen fit to admonish Gaffa about his choice, sticking to their old outdated views on what constitutes performance tuning when it comes to suspension.

“It makes me laugh, as most of the people that have negative views about the kit have never even been in a car with air ride, and if they have it was one of the earliest systems,” chuckles Gaffa. “If they came for a blast in this, I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to change their minds!”

So if it is indeed a sin to like performance Fords with air ride suspension, after spending the day with Gaffa and his RS, we’d better be on the look-out for a priest, as we’ve got one hell of a confession to make.

Tech Spec: Bagged Focus RS Mk3


2.3-litre EcoBoost RS, full Scorpion exhaust system with decat, Airtec intercooler, Auto Specialists hard pipe boost kit, Auto Specialists induction kit with K&N filter, Radium catch can, Radium baffle plate, Turbosmart recirc valve, mountune sound suppression, Paintmodz engine covers, Dark Ice bonnet struts, Revo Stage 2 map by Demon Performance, TRS Performance overrun map, J9 Performance PTU brace


440bhp (owner’s estimate)


Factory six-speed manual with torque-vectoring AWD


Air Lift Performance bags and struts, AccuAir management


OE front Brembos, colour-matched calipers

Wheels & Tyres:

18in Compomotive MO6 wheels, 255/35×18 Nankang NS-2R tyres


Triple R Composites lowline kit, camo wrap by Blueprint, custom headlights, tinted lights, RS puddle lights, J9 Performance window vents


RS Recaros, Plush Automotive boot build

From Fast Car magazine.