If you’re into cars, you likely know the name Gordon Murray. From Formula 1 to McLaren F1, Murray is one of the automotive industry’s most important innovators. His McLaren F1 was the ultimate car of the 1990s and still might be the ultimate supercar. It’s still the fastest naturally-aspirated production car ever made, a machine truly unlike any other. However, not all of Murray’s creations carry a seven- or eight-figure price tag. Take his Mk I Ford Escort, recently detailed by Jonny Smith of The Late Brake Show.
Murray knows exactly what he wants, so when he decided it was time to pick up a Ford Escort, it’s not surprising to hear that Retropower was responsible for the build. The shop has produced some absolutely astonishing restomods from an LS-powered W111 Mercedes-Benz coupe to an RB25DET-powered Opel Manta 400.
Powering this Mk I Escort is a Mazda-derived heart, a 2.3-liter Duratec engine fettled by Cosworth to produce 240 bhp. Mated to a six-speed gearbox from a Mazda MX-5, it powers the rear wheels through a Quaife limited-slip differential. It’s not otherworldly, yet it’s not exactly humdrum stuff either.
However, something really unusual is going on at the back: Independent rear suspension that’s a custom Chapman strut setup, unlike anything ever fitted to a Mk I Ford Escort. Murray said, “The reason why we went for a strut, I like the Chapman strut suspension, is that it’s got very little camber compensation.” This plays well with the little camber compensation offered by the MacPherson strut front suspension. Another bonus is that the roll center isn’t as high as on a live axle, which should make this Escort more neutral.
Since the Chapman strut setup is anything but off-the-shelf, this Escort features custom suspension bushings and Nitron dampers. It’s set up for the road, with compliance and balance in mind. Murray reckons it’s a bit too soft for trackday use but copes with the real world well.
Despite the thorough mechanical do-over on this Escort, visual tweaks remain remarkably subdued. There’s little indication of what’s under the sheetmetal save for some Cosworth badges. However, that doesn’t mean that nothing on the body’s been changed. The hood is made of carbon fiber, as is the trunk, while apertures on the front (for radiator intake) and rear (for anti-parachuting) of the car have been enlarged.
On the inside, Murray has forgone an audio system and a rear seat in favor of focusing on ergonomics. Not only does it give the Escort’s custom interior a lovely sense of simplicity, it helps the Escort weight just over 900 kilograms, a rather light figure for something with 240 hp. It’s on-brand for Murray, an aficionado of light cars.
While Murray’s Escort is built, it isn’t done quite yet. Murray and Retropower are still tweaking the Escort, figuring out areas to optimize. Murray wants to go with slightly softer powertrain mounts to minimize gearbox NVH without significantly affecting stability. It’s little tweaks like this that set a great build apart from a good one.
I highly encourage you to check out the full video The Late Brake Show put out on this magnificent Ford. Not only does Murray share his passion for this project, you’ll also get to hear the fantastic noise this Cosworth-built engine makes at full chat.
Lead photo credit: The Late Brake Show