Evolving over twelve years of ownership, Nathan Rea’s tuned Escort RS Turbo S1 is a stripped-out performance machine with a clubsport vibe…
Today’s market for 1980s RS Fords is more buoyant than it’s ever been, with collectors buying up tidy RS Turbos and RS1600is to sit alongside the Ferraris and Lamborghinis in their hermetically sealed private collections. So turning a Series One RST into a stripped-out track car might seem like a bit of a mad thing to do these days… although when you weigh up the pros and cons, the car we have here makes perfect sense for two key reasons: firstly, Rallye Sport Fords were built for hardcore use and abuse, it’s right there in their DNA. And secondly, this car hasn’t been gutted and chucked together on a whim; Nathan Rea’s been working on this for twelve years, perfecting and honing and refining until it was able to make its track debut at the Nürburgring. Forget your speculative investments and your concours pernicketiness, this is an old-school RS in the traditional style.
“Funnily enough, I wasn’t really into cars back when I was a kid and these things were new,” Nathan ponders. “I grew up with my dad always tinkering with his Capris, V6 engine swaps and the like – and with the usual XR3i and Orion ownership amongst his Capris, there was always tinkering on weekends down the garages. But out of me, my brother and sister, I was always least interested in the cars… especially after the ‘thumb stuck in the car door’ incident!”
The less said about that the better, we imagine, although by the time Nathan got to the age of sixteen he was finding his feet, burying his head in Redline and Max Power and hankering after a Mk2 XR2. “I began collecting interior strip lights and all sorts of trim,” he recalls. “Luckily that car was never really on the road before we parted ways! My first heavily modified car was a black Mk3 Fiesta Si with a 2.0 Zetec engine swap, smooth boot, Zetec S rear bumper and Cossie front bumper. I wasn’t really good with the tools at this point and had others carry out my work, mainly my younger brother Twigs.” It was around this time that Nathan discovered his passion for Mk3 Escorts, thanks in part to his buddy Rumbol, and that’s when he started to hone his own mechanical skills on his first RS1600i. He went on to own pretty much every variant of the Mk3 you can think of, his skillset blossoming as he went, before ultimately arriving at the Series One RS Turbo twelve years ago.
“I didn’t really go out looking for one,” he explains, “but my mate had this one for a while and was always undecided as to whether to build it or not, so it sat around engine-less and interior-less for quite a while. So one day a deal was struck and I owned it! For me and my budget, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to further strip it and build a track car.”
And so, with a blank canvas and the kernel of an idea, Nathan set about collecting a list of parts which – he thought at the time – would have the car up and running in no time at all. Things don’t always work out that way though, do they? Soon enough, the shopping list escalated exponentially until he was replacing and upgrading basically every part of the car, the spec changing every year as the car was assembled, disassembled, reassembled again, to the extent that it received all new bolts and fixings throughout, fresh paint, and shiny new parts wherever you may care to look.
“I’ve had a lot of pals help with bits throughout the years,” he says. “My brother Twigs, my mate Ben who spent many late nights with me down the garages, and my pal Jordan, who was happy to help me cut the roof off! The car just never at any point seemed like it would be finished, being sidelined for other projects and so on; fast-forward to around 2016 and I decided to get the management side of things fully sorted and get the car on the road. It seemed like that would be the year of the Series One seeing the road, until a fuel pump gave up on the dyno. I got a pump ordered without delay ready for a re-visit to the dyno, but that’s actually where it sat until 2018.”
It was at this point that Nathan met Dave and Chris at Allmotion Tuning, and the direction and impetus of the project accelerated dramatically. Nathan’s years of hard work meant that the spec of the car was formidable, with the engine boasting a genuine American 1900 tall block, hot cam, a trick head, Astra VXR injectors and much more besides – all the right ingredients for something mighty, it just needed a little encouragement to vault the final hurdle. The Allmotion guys worked hard to get the Escort dyno-ready and the light at the end of the tunnel was readily visible… until the custom inlet blew up! But Dave was totally unfazed, battled through and got the car ready for the open road – and, crucially, the track too.
“Being a circuit-prepped car I always figured its main use would be the track, yet road-legal for occasional B-road blasts,” says Nathan. “The first six months of being on the road saw a lot of overcoming the usual fresh build issues, and with very few miles clocked up I decided its first proper outing should be to Germany, the first track it would see would be the Nürburgring! With an A4-size list of prep to do, I was struggling to see much progress with work and family commitments, so I put in a call to Dave at Allmotion with just two weeks until departure – and I can honestly say he broke his back making the trip happen for me!”
One of the many jobs on Nathan’s list (which had now become Dave’s list) was to fit a Garrett GT28 turbo, and with that in situ and all set up, Dave managed to pull a brutal 280bhp from the CVH with just three days to go. Keen to see what his car was now capable of, Nathan took it out for a test drive… and returned five minutes later with a blown head gasket. “As I stood staring at the car lifeless, Dave started stripping it,” Nathan laughs. “Thirty-six hours later he had it back on the dyno after a head skim and refresh; this was now the night before the trip. Apart from losing the rear screen, this time the car came back from the test drive without issue! So off we went, and over in Germany it got a lot of attention – I must say it was worth the wait! On the trip to Germany and back, with five laps of the ’Ring, four days and nearly a thousand miles after the head gasket failure, the car has proven testament to Dave’s skills.”
And, of course, it’s proven equal testament to Nathan’s passion and strength of vision. It may have taken since the era of Amy Winehouse and Gavin & Stacey to realise this dream, but the results speak for themselves. A tuned Escort RS Turbo S1 track car? We can’t think of anything more appropriate for a Series One.
Tech Spec: Tuned Escort RS Turbo S1
1900cc genuine American tall-block CVH, baffled sump, Stage 3 ported and polished head with oversized valves, CVH34 cam, double valve springs and vernier pulley, EFI converted, custom inlet plenum and fuel rail (designed by ‘Dave The Great’) with Cosworth FPR and Cosworth throttle body, Magnecor leads, Cosworth Bailey oil breather, water swirl pot, 82° thermostat, HKS blow-off valve, Garrett GT2860RS turbo (.68 rear housing), oil feed inline filter, custom 3in downpipe, Cosworth Group A K&N air filter, Transit Connect starter motor, custom aluminium radiator, 70mm intercooler, Mocal oil cooler with thermostat, RS Turbo fuel pump feeding swirl pot into Bosch 044 fuel pump, 470cc Astra VXR injectors, Boost Monkeys Gen8 ECU mapped by Dave at Allmotion Tuning
281.8bhp, 269.8lb.ft @ 18psi
CTS Stage 2 gearbox, lightened flywheel with AP paddle clutch, Puma gear linkage
GAZ coilovers all round, Powerflex polybushes throughout, S2 rear anti-roll bar, RS1600i front anti-roll bar, adjustable TCAs, front and rear strut braces
2WD Cosworth 4-pot front calipers with Ferodo DS2500 pads, drilled and grooved discs, braided lines, S2 rear drums
Wheels & Tyres:
16in Azev A wheels in Diamond White, 195/40 Toyo Proxes T1-R tyres
Carbon fibre roof, fibreglass boot, fibreglass bonnet with aero catches, fibreglass S1 spoiler, Perspex windows, carbon fibre F1-style mirrors, top-tint windscreen, de-badged and smoothed grille, de-stickered all round
Fully stripped – no sound deadening or unnecessary weight, loom thinned-down, 6-point Safety Devices rollcage, battery relocated behind passenger seat, Cobra Monaco bucket seats with Willans harnesses, aluminium fuel cell in spare wheel well, inner door skins and internals removed, carbon fibre doorcards and door strap, flocked half-dash, 14in cage-mounted rear view mirror, custom centre console, Ford Racing gauges (boost, oil pressure, water temperature, volts, fuel pressure), push start button, RS 4-spoke steering wheel