Written and Photographed by Graham Heeps
Thirty-five years after the Ford Escort (a Mk2 RS1800) last won the World Rally Championship, Escorts are still winning club and historic rallies around the world. It may not have the wow factor of Group B monsters like the Audi Quattro or Lancia Delta, or the JDM kudos of Sega Rally favorites like the Impreza and Evo, but the Escort is one of the greatest rally cars of all time.
Ford of Europe introduced the Escort as a new small family car in 1968. In the UK it replaced the Anglia, which found worldwide fame much later thanks to Harry Potter, and is itself the subject of an underused Hot Wheels casting.
The Anglia had been a successful race and rally car and still competes in historic events to this day. But the Escort quickly became a motorsport staple, run by factory and private teams alike on multiple continents – something that lasted through 30 years and six generations of Escorts, until it began to be replaced by the Focus from 1998.
I always find it harder to find good representations of race and rally cars in 1:64-ish scale than in 1:43, where many hundreds of accurate replicas exist. But there are some good Escorts out there for rally fans like me to track down.
Let’s take a look at some of them, beginning with the Mk1, which was winning major international rallies like the Acropolis and 1000 Lakes from the word go. The most valuable of all 1:64 Escorts was made by Corgi in the Rockets range from 1969. The car had a bit-part in the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and was issued as part of a Corgi OHMSS set that now changes hands for serious money. Far less costly is the regular Corgi Juniors version in a blue rally scheme.
Two years ago, Hot Wheels debuted the excellent RS1600 Mk1 in Fast and Furious blue, an authentic white and a couple of rally-inspired Castrol liveries. I’d love to see a premium version in an authentic rally scheme, like Hannu Mikkola’s 1970 London-Mexico World Cup Rally-winning car (as which the Corgi Rockets Escort also appeared). A gold-and-red Alan Mann Racing version from the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) would also look great.
The Mk2 Escort is a legend of rallying, and won two World Championships in the hands of Björn Waldegård (1979) and Ari Vatanen (1981). 1:64 Mk2 diecasts are thin on the ground, however. The most common is Matchbox’s RS2000, which first appeared in 1978. It’s actually an RS2000 road car, although the Shell rally livery is the most common version. This casting had a long life, including some two-pack versions, before winding up as a cost-reduced Super GT in the mid-80s. Nigel Cooper gives an excellent full history of this model in his June 2014 Ambassador Report.
For an accessible Mk3 Escort, the Corgi Junior is the one to have. It’s not the most attractive model, but I prefer it to the Guisval and Majorette alternatives. Corgi’s motorsport schemes for this car were inspired not by rallying, where the front-wheel drive Mk3 was not campaigned at the same level as its illustrious RWD predecessors, but by the BTCC, where bright-red Royal Mail Datapost and blue Duckhams cars competed on track in the mid-1980s.
A rally Mk3 nearly made production, too, both in full-size and Matchbox miniature form. The Escort RS1700T was a cancelled rally derivative of which only a small number of development cars were built. A handful of pre-pros exist, painted and unpainted, of the Matchbox RS1700T model, and occasionally sell at auction. Ford later designed the mid-engined RS200 instead for Group B rallying, and this car led to one of my favorite Matchbox models.
The Mk4 Escort wasn’t rallied at a high level, and I can’t think of a 1:64-scale replica, so we’ll move right along to the Mk5. Hot Wheels collectors will be very familiar with the ‘Escort Rally’ casting from 1998, which appears to be based on the RS2000 Kit Car. This model is very accurate, very affordable and available in a number of different decos. I like the red Uno version from the Classic Games series in 1999, but Michael Heralda’s original metalflake-white First Edition – his first design for Mattel, and one which was commemorated by a number of HW and MB releases in 2016 – is probably closest to an authentic rally scheme.
The Escort Rally casting was recently retooled and issued in the 2017 Snow Stormers five-pack. Some pictures of the numerous detail differences can be found on my @diecast215 Instagram feed, but it’s worth saying that the new rear wing is also representative of some Mk5 rally Escorts, including some versions of the WRC.
Of course, the real rally star of the Mk5 generation was the Escort RS Cosworth, which won a number of WRC events and dozens more in national and regional championships. With its characteristic double-decker wing, this car made for another great Matchbox casting when it was introduced in 1994. The Tyco-era 6-spoke wheels let down early versions somewhat, but the initial white-and-blue deco is pretty authentic. Several other colors were released, including a gold one as part of the 75 Challenge in 1997 and an attractive blue-and-yellow striped version in a Racing five-pack.
The ‘Cossie’ evolved into the Escort WRC, which won another three WRC events with Carlos Sainz in 1996-97. Guisval of Spain made a licensed version of this car in 1:64 scale, featuring the distinctive Repsol oil colors. I was fortunate to recently add this model to my collection. CM’s of Japan also modeled this car, and made several versions of the RS Cosworth and Escort WRC, too. Finally, Majorette’s produced the #275 Ford Escort – a standard Mk5 – in an authentic Ari Vatanen Rally Finland scheme carried by an Escort WRC in 1998.
And that’s it. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully provides a useful overview of what’s out there. Happy hunting!