We’d be lying if we said that this particular project didn’t concentrate the collective mind of the Retropower team! After all, it’s not every day that Gordon Murray – one of the foremost automotive minds of our time, with an unmatched ‘back catalogue’ of world beating F1 and supercars – asks you to build him a Mk1 Ford Escort.
Not that the prospect of building such a unique car filled us with anything but excitement, particular after we met the man himself and chatted in depth as to the exact spec and character of his dream Mk1 Escort. It soon emerged that Gordon knew precisely what he wanted, and also that he was happy to be led by us in terms of certain, key engineering decisions.
Case in point: our decision to opt for a custom, independent rear suspension setup instead of the time-honoured live axle. This has caused a degree of discussion and even dissent, with some voicing their opinion that such a setup, one far removed from the live axle fitted by Ford, would alter the driving experience by too great a margin. We can appreciate this view of course, but our (and Gordan’s) desire for the car to be a fun, comfy drive on a regular basis, and on the UK’s patchy road network, ultimately convinced us of the worth of a one-off independently sprung rear end.
Gordon never disguised his admiration for the ‘Chapman strut’ type arrangement found at the back of the Lotus Elan E2 and this proved to be the genesis for the setup now found beneath the Escort. It makes use of key hardware from various OEM manufacturers, including Mk1 Focus RS CV joints, Mk1 Mondeo hubs and Land Rover Freelander uprights and bearings. It’s an odd mix, right enough, but one we’ve managed to make work with the more bespoke elements of the rear end.
Supporting elements of the Escort’s chassis were as carefully planned, including the Nitron coilovers (spec’d for this very car), AP four-pot brakes and custom bushings, designed with Gordon’s input and with the aim of striking the perfect balance between comfort and handling poise.
Other element of the build proved more straightforward, the engine a good example. There was never any discussion given to forced induction or anything other than a buzzy, rev-happy four-pot, and with Gordon’s close links with the firm in mind it made a great deal of sense to entrust the propulsion to the guys at Cosworth.
Engine-based discussion eventually resulted in the one-off, beautifully personalised 2.3 Duratec being delivered to Retropower HQ, after which we mated it to a six-speed gearbox from a Mazda MX-5. It’s an engine and transmission combination that’s both lightweight and tractable, the independently throttle bodied Duratec (with MBE management) proving to have a razor-sharp throttle response and bags of character.
The Duractec has been dyno-proven to make a whisker over 240bhp, routed through the aforementioned Mazda gearbox to a Ford 7in Sierra differential complete with Quaife internals. Again, this is hardly earth shattering in terms of both performance and concept, but then it doesn’t need to be; fun, usable, real-world performance were the lynchpin of this build from the get-go.
One of the few solid, immovable design parameters Gordon stipulated was that the finished car be subtle to look at. In fact, Gordon even went so far as to cite Ford’s own, decidedly understated Twin Cam as his core inspiration, and this became something of a guiding light in terms of the Escort’s eventual appearance. In turn this meant that bodywork modifications would be kept to a minimum, though it’s probably fair to say that Stu carried out more custom metalwork than meets the eye. Key, post-repair metalwork tasks included enlarged apertures on the grille and rear end, custom badges and carbon fibre boot and bonnet panels.
A large degree of everyday usability was also stipulated in terms of the Escort’s interior, something reflected in the functional interior. Audio and a rear bench were felt to be extravagances too far, and as such the interior evolved into a stunningly minimalist affair, with great attention paid to areas such as driver seat location, heater and de-mist controls, albeit with plenty of our now customary devotion to exquisite detail and clever design – just check out the bespoke anodising and Speedhut’s ludicrously lovely custom gauges to see what we mean.
All of this feverish activity was taking place against a backdrop of nearly as frenetic digital discussion, with the Murray Escort having proved to be immensely popular with both our social media audience and, the medium it has since become best known for and via, the dedicated YouTube channel. This means that you can now relive the entire build in minute, seventeen-hour long detail, something we’d recommend doing if you’ve the time and or inclination.
The Escort has now been IVA tested, mapped and detailed, after which we were able to undertake a thorough test and evaluation shakedown. This done, it was dropped off at Gordon Murray Design HQ for the man himself to assess and drive. Keep your eyes peeled for a final, post-delivery video update this year.
The best way of fully understanding both the scope and the scale of this build is to watch the 12 part video series on either the relevant page of our website or YouTube, but just in case you can’t or haven’t, here’s a rundown of what’s happened to the car so far and what will take place in the coming months.