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GROUP A FORD ESCORT RS1600I: MOTORSPORT MEMORIES

Posted by Matt Bell on 29th July 2021

Tasked with returning this RS1600i to the track, Guido Pitzen went a step further and recreated Gerstmann Motorsport’s 1985 European Touring Car Championship Group A Ford Escort RS1600i racer.

From Fast Ford. Words: Simon Woolley. Photos: Adrian Brannan

If you’re reading this then the chances are high that you’re a fan of all Ford’s performance products – from the raw and unadulterated hot hatches of the Eighties right through to the modern marvels packed full of the latest tech and incredible performance that goes with it.

Of course, we all have personal preferences – some prefer old-school Cossies and RS Turbos, while others have understandably fallen for the ST range. But there are some who take their obsession to a deeper level, narrowing the field right down to a single model, even in a singular discipline.

One man who freely admits he has a narrow but deep love of 1980s’ Escorts is Guido Pitzen, from near Cologne in Germany. But Guido’s obsession extends to particularly liking race versions, and original machines at that. Better known as Prof Futzemann, Guido has built up an extensive knowledge of the original ETCC and DTM cars, backed by a garage full of choice examples.

Fortunately, Guido is more than happy to share his knowledge, skills, experience and even parts with enthusiasts all over Europe. And having worked for various race and rally teams and as an engineer for Ford at the nearby car plant, he’s got the skills to pay his bills, as well as funding his own race career in the 2000s.

These days, Guido doesn’t do so much racing, so he keeps himself content by building awesome road and race cars instead – like the RS1600i Group A-spec tribute you see before you, known as Annette.

Why Annette? The RS1600i is a tribute to the Group A car that Gerstmann Motorsport built for the German race driver, Annette Meeuvissen to compete in the 1985 European Touring Car Championship. Finished in Diamond White with its distinctive (and very Eighties) Kamei livery, it’s a great choice and means the Escort stands out a mile on the grid, as well as being a beacon for German race fans who remember the original Gerstmann ETCC racers.

This isn’t the first time Guido has built this car – in fact, it’s on its second incarnation, and was originally put together in plain livery for an Austrian customer about eight years ago.

“Sadly, it never raced, and after five years he decided to sell it,” explains Guido. “Siggi, another customer from Switzerland – who also owns a Fuji-liveried RS1600i – ended up buying the car, and it eventually ended up back in my workshop with a plan to make a few improvements, turn it into a homage to Annette’s original car, and, most importantly, bring it up to race standard again.”

Guido immediately stripped the car down, and set about improving certain areas of the shell in ways that only a further eight years of knowledge, learning and development can bring. The Kamei/Gerstmann livery was recreated at the same time, and took hours to perfect thanks to a scarcity of decent photographs of the original car.

Lift up the Aerocatches on the bonnet and you’re greeted by the familiar sight of the Ford Motorsport ribbed cam cover on the CVH. Like the rest of the car, this has been painstakingly built by Guido (“If it goes wrong, I can only blame myself”) to full Group A spec with forged pistons and lightened crank.

The Group A regulations mean Guido could only go so far with modifications – while the head was heavily reworked, he had to retain the standard-size valves, for example. The stock RS1600i fuel injection system also had to be retained.

Guido says, “We use the metering head from a Cologne V6 to improve the fuelling, and I also like to use the distributor from a 1.4 CVH, as it’s more reliable. You’ll see the exhaust manifold is the standard cast-iron item – I’ve tried all sorts of designs, but this one still gives the best results.”

With a 300-degree cam, peak power is around 160bhp. “This is as much as you can make with the standard K-Jetronic system. If we could use twin carburettors or throttle bodies, we could see 180bhp,” reckons Guido.

Getting the power out is a BC gearbox with straight-cut cogs, complete with longer first to give the Mk3 the best chance of a good start, while the final-drive is a relatively short 4.7:1.

The RS1600i was fabled for its superb handling from the factory, but Guido was still able to make improvements, including original Bilstein Group A coilovers, adjustable bottom arms and rose-jointed top mounts. He’s also made up his own adjustable arms for the rear, while the wheels are lightweight Motec 7x15s with regulation Kumho tyres.

Like any race car, the aim was to make it as light as possible, so the Mk3’s interior is barren to say the least. Almost all of the original trim has been removed bar the dash, which now houses a selection of Stack gauges mounted in a carbon panel along with a huge LED oil pressure warning light. “It’s actually a rain light, because I don’t want the driver to miss it,” grins Guido.

The switchgear has been relocated so the driver can actually reach them when strapped in, and there’s an old-school radio mounted where the passenger seat would have been, which is essential for communicating with the team on endurance races.

There’s no heater, so on events at the Nürburgring where the weather can change from one end of the circuit to the other, Guido’s fitted a heated windscreen to cut down the likelihood of it misting up.

Interestingly, the regulations state that the roll cage must be a bolt-in item, and so a (very expensive) six-point cage was bought from Heigo Sicherheitstechnik to Group A spec, complete with door and harness bars.

With Siggi the proud and lucky owner of a collection of race cars, and with a constant list of things to do, Annette and the Fuji Escort spend more time at Guido’s garage then they do in Switzerland, or even on the racetrack.

Thankfully, Guido is quietly confident that the car will be out where it belongs on legendary tracks like the Nordschleife once again soon, keeping the name of Annette Meeuvissen alive in the minds of race fans across Europe.

Tech Spec: Group A Ford Escort RS1600i

Engine:

1596cc CVH, forged pistons, lightened and balanced crank, Group A-spec head, 300-degree race camshaft, Mk4 Escort 1.4-litre CVH distributor, V6 metering head, RS1600i cast-iron exhaust manifold, custom stainless steel exhaust system with catalytic converter

Power:

155-160 bhp

Transmission:

Escort RS1600i BC gearbox with homologated straight-cut gears (long first), Ford Motorsport limited-slip differential, 4.7:1 final-drive, cranked Puma gearlever, cerametallic clutch with heavy-duty pressure plate, adjustable clutch pedal

Suspension:

Front: Bilstein Group A coilovers with rose-jointed top mounts, Ford Motorsport rose-jointed track control arms, RS1600i crossmember and anti-roll bar; rear: Bilstein Group A dampers with separate race-spec springs, adjustable rear arms; uprated bushes all round

Brakes:

Front: Brabus/Alcon four-pot callipers, alloy bells, 295mm grooved and vented discs; rear: Mk5 Escort RS2000 discs and callipers

Wheels & Tyres:

7x15in Motec alloys with Kumho Ecsta V700 195/50R15 tyres

Exterior:

1982 Escort RS1600i shell prepared to Group A spec, RS1600i front and rear spoilers, Vitaloni Californian DTM mirrors, Aerocatches, heated windscreen, single wiper conversion with Mk1 Scirocco wiper mechanism, Diamond White paintwork with Kamei livery

Interior:

Recaro seat, Schroth Racing harness, Heigo Motorsport six-point bolt-in roll cage, Stack digital/analogue gauges, LED oil pressure warning light, relocated switchgear, carbon fibre door trims, race radio, custom swirl pot, lift pump, fuel pump and filter mounted in spare wheel well, standard fuel tank

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