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
I really like that final front view. It looks … intent? Purposeful, maybe.
But, crucially, not angry: wants to play, not savage you
The dog dish wheels are the icing on the cake. What a subtly lovely little machine. God, I wish I was rich.
Big recommendation to retropower youtube channel. The car build series of this and other projects are fantastic. The pedantic attention to details is epic.
I love the whole sleeper vibe this car gives off. Major bonus points awarded for not putting big stupid wheels on it.
Good to see Jonny Smith getting some love. His channel is excellent.
I cant decide if i love or hate the color.In nay case the rest of it is awesome.Great choices Mr Murray
That’s a nice looking automobile
Put a back seat in it, and it would make an excellent and practical daily driver.
I had a MkII sedan, the back seat is barely usable for anyone over about 8 years of age
As far as I know the Chapman strut and the MacPherson strut at least as modified for front wheel drive are the same damn thing at different ends of the car. Therefore logic would have it that they would play similar games. For this reason my mind doesn’t find the choice all that amazing.
I may be wrong about all this, but need to see it proven.
Any way cool idea and a really cool car that is not too over the top.
I third it……they’ve been on for a couple of years now, nice to see the car on the road and being driven. Unlike Binky! 🙂
Love it! My first car was a MkII with the 1.6/4-speed, I’ve never had another car that has felt as tactile. I had planned on doing the Miata motor/gearbox upgrade but then I moved to the US and bought a Bullitt instead. When time and money allows I would love to find whatever the closest US analog is, I’m thinking it’ll be a Datsun if I can find one that isn’t well on its way back to the earth.
Same, mine was a ’75 XL. Had a bad tendency to lift the front end at highway speeds, but had excellent controls and was amazing on city streets and the best on dirt roads.
Tried a MkII Focus once, was not at all comparable. Didn’t feel they lived up to the hype of being a ‘driver’s car’.
I would highly recommend watching the retro power uncuts when they were building this. Amazingly interesting stuff and so many cool details.
I am looking forward to my K20 swapped Fiero getting similar focus from the automotive world, when it is finished. <- joke both in that anybody would focus on it and that it is ever actually done.
I’d also recommend watching the retropower build videos on YouTube.
I believe it was Nat, one of the co-owner brothers, who designed the rear suspension after selling the idea to Gordon Murray. In the videos, the mild panic setting in due to advising and building suspension on a car for Gordon Murray was quite evident.