The Mk1 Focus RS was inspired by the WRC Focus, and developed with Ford’s motorsport division including testing by rally champs Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. Launched in October 2002, the RS was specced with 521 unique parts designed for driver enjoyment.
The starting point was a threedoor ST170 reworked in WRC style with big bumpers, wider wheelarches, side skirts and functional roof spoiler. Even the headlamps were modified, with indicators moved to house blue bulbs to match the RS’s mandatory Imperial Blue paintwork.
Under the bonnet was a Duratec RS engine – a two-litre Zetec pumped-up with forged pistons, modified cylinder head, GT 2560LS turbo, chargecooler, stainless exhaust, high-flow fuel pump and injectors. Running 1 bar boost meant 212bhp and 229 lb/ft torque, although most made at least 10bhp more on rolling roads.
It was linked to an MTX75 fivespeed gearbox with closer ratios, shot-peened cogs, AP Racing uprated clutch, quickshift and Quaife Automatic Torque Biasing differential for improved grip. With a wider track, uprated driveshafts and suspension arms, Sachs shocks, 25mm lowered springs, lightweight 8x18in OZ alloys and 225/40Rx18 rubber, the RS’s no-compromise handling (especially in tweaked press spec) gained a love-hate relationship with motoring media.
Still, everyone adored the Brembo four-pots and big discs. Most were also enamoured by the track-tested Sparco seats, trimmed in black/ blue leather and Alcantara plus matching door cards and steering wheel. An individually-numbered plaque and green starter button sat on a cool carbon-fibre centre console.
With no colour choices or optional extras, every one of the 4,501 Focus RSs built looked identical. Even so, later 53-reg cars became known as Phase 2s, including a pink grommet on the throttle cable, ‘engine start’ stamped around the starter button, extra stitching on the front seat bases and an engine remap to resolve cold start issues. The RS is a great car to tune for more power and a future classic for sure.
Ford Focus RS Mk1 2002-2003 Stats
Engine: 2ltr 4-cylinder turbo
0-60mph: 6.4 seconds
Top speed: 144mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Don’t get hung up looking for a Phase 2 – most changes were made under recall, and the AF map (which replaced the AE) misfired at 5,000rpm. A performance remap is the solution.
Engines are strong but check there’s no knackered turbo, faulty chargecooler pump or coolant leak form the thermostat housing. Suspension bushes and shocks are prone to failure, while interiors can wear.
Pay most attention to the car’s overall condition. As always, RS-specific parts are hard to source, so avoid abused or damage-repaired machines. Make sure it’s straight, has a clean history and its valuable front bumper is undamaged.
TUNING A FOCUS RS
The Mk1 RS was in every sense a Rallye Sport Ford – fast from the factory but built to be tuned. Start with a remap to replace the Ford rubbish and gain about 25bhp.
An induction kit and aftermarket exhaust with downpipe and decat should boost power to the 260bhp level. Ford originally planned a tubular exhaust manifold for the RS, and retro-fitting can gain 20bhp.
A flowed cylinder head will show benefits, as will an uprated intercooler. A GT28 turbo will take you above 300bhp, while well over 400bhp can be found from the stock block with forged internals and stand-alone engine management.