Some purists may scoff at the idea of putting a Honda engine in a modified Ford Escort Mk2 – but James Edge simply cannot hear them over the howling turbocharged VTEC.

The term ‘restomod’ is very much the buzzword of a generation. If you’re not totally clear on its meaning, there’s a bright orange manifestation of it spread out here before you: desirable retro looks combined with modern performance, modern materials, modern convenience.

You’ll have undoubtedly spotted a growing fondness for high-end cars that have been reimagined this way, it’s happening all over the world. The fusion of the old and the new has never before been blended with such sumptuous attention to detail. You see, these aren’t just engine swaps. It is, within reason, arguably possible to fit any engine into any car and make it work, and the cult of the swap is no longer a cult. Everyone’s at it – Honda K20s into Minis, Lexus V8s into BMWs, all sorts.

But it’s not just a question of an engine swap, it’s more of a lifestyle swap. Singer 911s and Eagle E-Types and their ilk, they’re not selling for eye-watering prices because they’ve just had new powerplants grafted in – they represent a brand-new, 21st-century version of a classic car. Old-school styling with contemporary power, fuel economy, brakes, acceleration, suspension, seats, electrics, comfort and reliability.

portrait shot of Modified Ford Escort Mk2

James’ car history

It’s a compelling formula, for sure, and it made perfect sense for James Edge to explore this intriguing avenue. He’s the mastermind behind this X-Pack Mk2, and he’s a true veteran of the modding game. You name it, he’s tuned it, and throughout all these adventures it was always the Mk2 Escort that he saw as his Holy Grail model… and when he actually bought and drove one, the performance was a bit of a disappointment to say the least.

Ford Fair

“I have always modified cars, starting even before I passed my test during my apprenticeship at a local body shop,” James recalls. “My first car was a Mk2 XR2 that I modified highly and flip-painted, and it all just grew from there. I had an Evo, a few 200SX turbos, a Skyline, an M5… I have probably owned around 150 modified cars in total over the years. But my passion has always been the older Escorts.”

It all harks back to his childhood. While the Mk2 was somewhat before his time, James used to marvel at the rally Escorts he saw on TV, their skiddy sideways exploits mimicked by the boy racers he saw showboating in the local car parks. He observed, he yearned, he watched the values skyrocket… and then finally, after many long years of anticipation, the chance presented itself to build a Mk2 of his very own.

front on shot of Modified Ford Escort Mk2

Buying the Ford Escort Mk2

“I had heard through a friend of a friend about this car being found in a garage, and around two years later that friend turned up at my garage in the Escort – having been restored, but done poorly,” says James. “It had a stripped interior and an old Pinto, and had just generally been thrown together. I knew my friend was building a house and was needing money, so I bought it!”

Well, there’s nothing like a blank canvas is there? The knowledge that it was all a bit shonky was actually quite liberating, as it meant that he had free rein to do exactly what he liked with the build without any concerns about preserving originality, or that nebulous concept of ‘doing right by the car’. This was carte blanche for James to turn it into the Mk2 of his dreams.

differential and exhaust on Modified Ford Escort Mk2

Pinto woes and gearbox troubles

“After I drove the car for around five miles with the Pinto engine in it, I was very disappointed,” he continues. “Oh, and I blew the gearbox up! So I drove it back to my garage and decided to start again. I stripped the car completely and sold the engine, then spent two weeks welding the gussets and all the holes in the inner wings to get the engine bay pretty.”

stripped boot in Modified Ford Escort Mk2

Initial engine swap

With a pristine bay and aspirations of horsepower, he then set his mind to thinking about what manner of motor he should put in there. And the unit you see today wasn’t actually the first attempt; no, the initial build-up involved plumbing in a 2.0-litre Vauxhall XE with twin 48 carbs, mated to a Mazda RX-8 gearbox – a setup he describes as “OK, but not really powerful enough for me”. You see, James was coming at this from quite an offbeat perspective, as he also owned an 800bhp BMW M5 at the time – and that’s a lot of grunt to compete with.

“I wanted the power of the M5, but the rawness of the Mk2,” he reasons. “This is how I came across Hallscorts, who specialise in big-power Honda engine swaps in old Escorts. I gave my key criteria to Adrian Hall and the rest is history!”

turbocharged F20C engine

Swapping a Honda S2000 F20C engine into the modified Ford Escort Mk2t

The engine of choice is the F20C, and that’s a particularly interesting move. Usually when you hear of VTEC swaps, people are talking about the K20, which is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit found in the likes of the EP3 and FN2 Civic Type R and the DC5 Integra. But the F20C is an entirely different 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit; never marketed as a Type R, but actually boasting even more sporting prowess, as this was the engine fitted to the S2000 roadster.

Designed to be longitudinally-mounted for rear-wheel-drive applications, the F20C features all sorts of race-derived technology: twin cams with roller followers and variable timing and lift on both intake and exhaust, forged pistons with molybdenum disulfide-coated skirts, fibre-reinforced metal cylinder liners… indeed, this motor once held the record for ‘highest specific power output for a mass-produced, naturally aspirated engine’, serving up 240bhp at 8,300rpm, before marching on to a 9,200rpm redline. So it’s essentially a race engine that’s been sanitised for everyday road use – and if you’ve ever read an S2000 review and seen some nonsense about them being underpowered, that’ll be because the tester didn’t have the guts to hang it out to the redline.


Turbocharging the F20C engine

The F20C has become a popular engine with kit car builders and track day enthusiasts, for all of the above reasons along with one crucial fact: being very strong, it can take a lot of boost. And that’s exactly what James and Adrian had in mind. You’ll have spotted the snail under the bonnet; having fully rebuilt the engine, it’s been treated to a Pulsar G30-770 dual ceramic ball-bearing turbo with external wastegate on a custom Hallscorts manifold, with massively uprated fuelling and cooling, and a MaxxECU to make sense of it all. The results are splendidly devastating.

Modified Ford Escort Mk2  interior electronic dash

Introducing new technology

Given the over-arching concept of restomodding the modified Ford Escort Mk2, it wasn’t enough simply to fit a savage engine and leave it at that, and James’s approach has been to fuse the old and the new in boisterous style. The X-Pack arches were a must – while it’s become very fashionable in recent years for the aftermarket to develop wide-arch kits for pretty much any car you care to name, the evidence is right here that Ford themselves had already won this game back in the 1970s.

The X-Pack girth still looks glorious today, particularly slathered in that period-perfect shade of Signal Orange. But underneath this retro style, the Escort is brimming with modern materials; the more you look at the car, the more carbon parts you’ll spot. The entire dash is a custom piece expertly crafted from carbon fibre, and the cabin also sports a carbon firewall, carbon rear shelf, carbon doorcards, carbon boot floor… it’s a veritable riot of the sixth element, and you can find the magic weave scattered across the outside too, making up the bumpers, WRC mirrors and rakish bonnet scoop.

boonet scoop on mk2 escort

Chassis upgrades on the modified Ford Escort Mk2

The Bride seats are a knowing wink to the origins of the engine, and if you get down on your knees and peer at that flawless underside, you’ll find the full-on restomod treatment throughout the chassis too. Substantial AP 4-pot calipers with fully floating discs sit up front, joined by a Sierra Cosworth rear disc conversion and a Wilwood hydro handle for kicks; suspension comprises GAZ Gold coilovers working with Hallscorts custom rear leaf springs, adjustable front lower TCAs also from Hallscorts, and fully adjustable top mounts.

coilover top mounts on escort

The transmission is a world away from the Mk2’s factory spec, boasting the robust Honda S2000 6-speed manual gearbox, sending power through a custom propshaft back to a meaty Atlas axle with an LSD, while a hydraulic clutch conversion with paddle clutch keeps it usable. No stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of staggering performance, backed up by impeccable reliability, all wrapped up in a show-winning 1970s-flavour finish.

“I’ve taken it to a few car meets, and I want to show it this year as well,” says James. “The reactions from people young and old are great, they absolutely love the modern twist I have put on the car. And yes, I do drive it hard, as that’s what it was built for; it’s not just a show queen, I have a few track days coming up. It was made to enjoy, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

rear 3/4 shot of Modified Ford Escort Mk2


What James is really doing here is helping the Escort to fulfil its own destiny. Back when it rolled off the production line in 1976, it was kitted out with the most cutting-edge technology available for mass-production purposes at the time. But is it a better legacy to keep it in factory spec with its 1600 Pinto and opine about the way things were, or to update it with the most cutting-edge technology available today and have a bit of fun with it? Judging by the smile on James’s face, that question isn’t even worth asking.

Photos: Ade Brannan.

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