Bob D'Amato's 1996 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
When you use the words "Ford Escort" in polite conversation with car enthusiasts, you're likely to get one of two reactions. Typically you'll be scoffed at and your ignorant ramblings brushed aside. The other reaction might include raised eyebrows and piqued curiosity. And if you mention "RS Cosworth" along with "Ford Escort," those raised eyebrows will likely devolve into heavy breathing and possible heart palpitations.

Long a cult classic east of the Atlantic, the rally-winning homologation special from the mid-1990s featured all-wheel drive and a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with a custom 16-valve head, along with trick suspension pieces and a speed-bump-scraping aero package that included one of the most over-the-top factory spoilers since Dodge unleashed the original Daytona Charger.

Mechanically unrelated to the 150hp Escort RS 2000 of the day, the Cosworth model was really a shortened Ford Sierra Sapphire 4x4 RS Cosworth chassis with an Escort body on top. Instead of the standard transversely mounted engine driving the front wheels, the Cossie uses a longitudinal turbo 2.0-liter to make 227 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque in stock form. Full-time all-wheel drive delivers two-thirds of the torque to the rear wheels via a viscous coupling-center differential along with a rear LSD. Despite its virtual Neolithic origins under the hood of Ford's Pinto, the Cosworth YBT engine represents a highly tunable platform with no shortage of outrageous horsepower claims from tuners.

Given that the Cosworth is four inches longer and two inches wider with an inch longer wheelbase than a garden variety Escort, it only makes sense that, except for the roof, they share no body panels.

Alas, those in the know also know that the Escort RS Cosworth was never officially sold on American soil. But Bob D'Amato, a long-time all-wheel-drive and rally enthusiast (think lots of four-ringed Q cars in his garage at one time or another) didn't let that barrier deter him. Long after the last Cossie rolled off the Karmann production line in Germany in 1996, D'Amato contacted Cosworth about the availability of a car. No, really. He called them up and asked if they could build him one. The answer, not surprisingly, was: "We're fresh out."

Not long after, D'Amato recounts, "I got a call from a wonderful English gentleman saying he had a chassis that can be made a la carte into a street car for me if I so wanted. If I so wanted!"

That English chap turned out to be Nigel Habgood of Draken Enterprises, a firm in British Columbia that specializes in building unique Fords when not supplying Hollywood's northern outpost with Crown Vics and other vehicles for the likes of X-Men, The X Files and other movies allegedly set in the States. Habgood relishes creating cars for his customers. "The joy to me is in building them," he says. "I'm cool with that." We're sure his customers are, too.

When Ford shut down its Boreham, U.K., rally works operation several years ago, they had a big yard sale and Draken acquired seven virgin RS Cosworth body shells. Habgood built D'Amato's car from a motorsport shell, which was exactly that-a bare metal shell with not a single interior, electrical or mechanical component attached. Instead of dropping in a merely stock powerplant, Habgood installed a "Stage 3" engine making 340 hp with 20 psi of boost from its Garrett T3/T04 turbo. Habgood built the engine from the bottom up, utilizing an extremely tough, reinforced block that was not available during the original production run but is 100-percent compatible with the Cosworth YBT.

To harness all of that power, Habgood equipped the car with four-piston Wilwood calipers up front and a fully adjustable, coilover Gaz suspension riding on 18-inch Compmotive wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 tires.

Since acquiring the car, D'Amato had speed merchants Rabe Motorsports of Wallingford, Conn., replace the factory Weber-Marelli ECU-which had low-rpm driveability issues-with a highly customizable EMS system out of Australia. In addition to getting better spark from the coil-on-plug setup, the EMS ECU allows D'Amato to custom tune the system, including boost pressure, with his laptop. Although the engine can handle up to 28 psi, D'Amato has been taking it easy for the first few thousand miles, running up to 20, which he estimates makes a bit more than the 340 hp the car was delivered with. At the full 28 psi, 400 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque should be readily obtained.

Although built from a Motorsport shell, D'Amato's Cossie weighs 2,800 pounds with its full production interior, stereo, A/C and all the standard road-going creature comforts you might not find in a racecar, like power windows, power steering and a power hatch release. No, the simple Escort interior won't coddle you like a Benz, but no Benz has the moves of an Escort RS Cosworth, either. But speaking of Mercedes-Benz, the dark gray metallic paint is a modern Mercedes hue known as Black Opal.

Sure it weighs more than the 1,900 pounds some were raced at, but Bob D'Amato's Escort RS Cosworth still has a far more advantageous power-to-weight ratio than even that of a modern rally rocket like the Mitsubishi Evolution. And when the wastegate belts out a pfft-pfft-pfft as it purges excess pressure, it puts a smile on rally fiend D'Amato's face every time.

1996 Ford Escort RS Cosworth
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive

2.0-liter inline four, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged.Garrett AiResearch T3/T04 turbo, EMS ECU

Five-speed manual, limited-slip differential with viscous coupling

GAZ adjustable coilovers with anti-roll bars

F: Wilwood four-piston calipers with 11.8-inch Ford Focus SVT rotorsR: Single-piston calipers with 10.7-inch slotted and drilled rotors

Factory body kit including flared fenders, front splitter and twin-plane rear wing

Length/Width/Height (in.):163.0/68.5/56.1
Wheelbase: 100.4 in.
Curb Weight: 2,811 lb

340 hp @ 5650 rpm*
340 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm*
0-60 mph: 5.2 sec. (est.)
Top Speed: 137 mph
*20 psi boost

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By Terry Shea
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