We unveil our latest project car, as we show why the Ford Focus ST170 should be saved!

Welcome to our latest project for 2024! This time we’ve we’ve chosen one of the unsung heroes of the fast Ford scene to use as our base, the Focus ST170. And we’ve teamed up with Machine Mart, to show how you can take on a project car from the comfort of your home garage, and still achieve professional results.

The ST170 may live in the shadow of its bigger brother, the turbocharged Ford Focus RS. But that makes the ST one of the most overlooked and underrated sporty hatches around. And with prices at rock bottom, now is the perfect time to get in on the action. It’s one of the best Ford projects to buy right now.

Ford Focus ST170 parked in front of workshop doors

 Not many left

Only, time is running out. The Focus ST doesn’t command RS-tax. Plus, the fantastic, high-revving, 170 bhp 2.0-litre Zetec found under the bonnet is ideal for engine swaps into older Fords. That means that more and more ST170s are being scrapped and pulled apart for their engines. Between 2002 and 2005 Ford sold 13,443 ST170s in the UK. Today, according to howmanyleft.co.uk, just 1,784 are on the road!

That’s what this project is all about. Our ‘Save the ST170’ project is designed to raise awareness of the first fast Focus. And make people think twice before killing it off to remove its engine.

Rear image of grey Ford Focus ST170

More than a motor

The Ford Focus ST170 offers so much more than just a fantastic motor.  Developed by the fast Ford gurus at SVE (Special Vehicle Engineering) – the same people behind icons like the Sierra Cosworth, Escort Cosworth and Escort RS Turbo – the ST170 benefitted from an excellent chassis with dampers tuned to perfection for fast road use. SVE also added an impressive braking system that comprised 300mm discs up front with equally impressive 280mm rears. A set of 7x17in multispoke alloy wheels wrapped in 215/45 tyres provides plenty of grip and allows you to exploit that fantastic suspension setup.

front three-quarter image of Ford Focus ST170

Tuned by Cosworth

Up front, the 2.0-litre Zetec found in the regular Focus was worked on by none other than Cosworth. SVE wasn’t big enough to cope with demand. So Cosworth was drafted in to assist with the engine development and calibration. They added upgrades such as VVT (variable valve timing), a four-branch exhaust, and a dual-stage inlet manifold. The redline was raised to 7200rpm, and power was tuned up to 170bhp. That was as much as they could extract while still meeting strict emissions targets.

The high-revving engine was then mated to a new six-speed gearbox. This gave the hatchback version a 0-60mph time of just over 8 seconds, with a top speed of 132mph. The result of the awesome chassis and smooth power delivery was a pure unadulterated driving machine.

Ford Focus ST170 in workshop surrounded by tools and equipment

Buying a Ford Focus ST170

So, we went on the hunt for a Ford Focus ST of our own. And we found plenty to choose from. But it was this tidy 2004 example that caught our eye. A genuine one-lady-owner-from-new car advertised locally on Facebook Marketplace. This car could very easily have fallen into the wrong hands and already been stripped for parts. But with just 86k miles on the clock and a wad of receipts and history – not to mention a solid rust-free chassis! – this car was too good to succumb to that fate. So, we stepped in to ‘Save the ST170.’

Teaming up with friends of the mag at Ford Parts R Us, we soon had the car back at the workshop. A quick online shopping session saw a pallet full of tools and equipment from Machine Mart arrive a few days later. And now we’re armed with everything we need to keep this fast Ford on the road.

Man pressure-washing Ford Focus ST170

Steam clean

The first job was simply to give the car a thorough clean. It may sound like a simple step, but giving the car a good clean inside and out is a great way to see what we’ve got to work with. Using the brilliant Clarke Harry Hot Wash we ordered from Machine Mart made this a breeze. The powerful jet allowed us to blast away all the dirt and see what condition the bodywork was really in. The extra-long 8m hose meant we could get all the way around the car with ease, and the adjustable jet and fan spray meant we could target those stubborn areas like under the wheel arches more aggressively while being gentle enough not to damage delicate areas on the bodywork.

But the best bit is the fact that you can turn up the temperature and steam clean the car. This worked wonders in the engine bay. We blasted away years of dirt, grime, and oil splashes to reveal the true condition of our new purchase.

Polishing the bonnet of a car

Upgrades imminent

With everything clean and dry, we wheeled the car back into the workshop. Then we looked around everything with a keen eye. There are a few areas we’ll need to address like a weeping sump, leaking rear lights, mis-matched tyres, and worn bushes, and we’ll give the whole thing a good service too. As well as getting everything back up to scratch, we’ll also make some  upgrades to improve things as we go too.

And talking of scratches, after washing the car down we noticed that there were several small scratches and swirl marks all over the car, particularly on the roof and bonnet. So, while we wait for the performance parts to arrive, we cracked out the Clarke Pro Dual-Action Polisher we ordered from Machine Mart and a handy bottle of Meguiar’s Ultimate Compound that we had in the cupboard.

car bonnet showing half polished and half not polished

The variable speed settings and dual-action on the polisher means that even novices like us can get fantastic results without fear of burning through and damaging the paint. After a few quick passes we were impressed to see most of the swirl marks had gone and the paint had a deep shine. If these are the results from just a few minutes playing around, we’re excited to see what we can really do if we devote some time to it. So, we’re now off to get that Magnum Grey paintwork sparkling and looking it’s best before the next round of photos!

Come back next time when we’ll make a start on the servicing and performance upgrades!

Read Part 2 here.