Classic Ford, August 2002
Graham Millar - Escort Mk2, 2.0L XE
When it comes to building a rally car, this guy knows what works and how to get noticed thanks to that mad coat of Mango orange paint. Sunglasses, anyone?
Words:Simon Cooke & Photos:Michael Whitestone
Lucky Bugger. How would you like to be paid to drive new cars as fast as you could to discover which parts wear out first. Me, pick me! This is what 30-year-old Graham Millar does for his day job as a senior durability test engineer at Millbrook proving ground, where he helps to condense a car's entire life into just a few months. So he should be well-suited to building his own rally Escort and having a professional insight into which areas are weak links.
Although this Escort is the first Ford that Graham has actually owned, he's been into Fords and rally in particular for ages, and has a soft spot for the Tour of Mull, which takes place on closed public roads on a island on the west coast of Scotland. "A few years a the local postman entered the rally in a MkII with a normally aspirated Cosworth engine and was beating Evos and Metro 6R4s - so on tarmac it proves just how competitive an Escort can still be" says Graham. "Having seen how much fun they are to drive, I must had to have one."
He bought a £500 rot box abandoned project from a friend, which had been stripped to a shell and left in the garage for five years. It had no engine, gearbox, interior or glass but did come with a set of brand-new wings, something that's about as easy to get hold of as the Pope's mobile number. Graham collected the car, and I use the word in the loosest sense, on a trailer and stuffed all the parts inside the rusty shell. As the only original bits remaining are the roof, the boot floor, chassis rails, front panel, rear bumper and windscreen wipers I think you can guess that it was no overnight resto. In fact, it took the best part of four years with Graham doing most of it himself. "I didn't realise how long it would take to sort the body," he admits. If he ever has to weld again it will be too soon. Avenue Panels supplied most of the missing parts, though the bonnet and the boot are fibreglass, to save weight. He spent £800 on a Custom Cage and then £300 paying Richard at Prepfab Motorsport (01777 228004) to fit it. By then he'd done more welding than any sane man could take.
The cage itself it welded to all the suspension ponts, so the rear turrets are both fully braced for rigidity. He then decided to paint the car himself in Citroen Saxo Mango. It's the first car he's painted but he likes a challenge. The two-pack paint only cost £150 (plus £280 for the compressor), all the extra cost for the spay job goes into the labour. OK, so it took him a couple of months, but what the hell.
To make the process easier, he even fabricated his own spit and that's now available to hire to his mates (at a good price) should they decide to spray their own cars! If you recall, the car didn't have an engine but that wasn't a problem for Graham. He'd already done his research and decided what was going to supply his RS2000 with power and reliability. Diehard Classic Ford readers might want to skip the next sentence, as Graham turned his back on a trusty Pinto or even Cosworth power in favour of a 2-litre,16-valve Vauxhall Astra GTE. Dirty words to some readers, but it would be boring if everyone did the same conversions, wouldn't it?
Graham had already fitted a similar engine into his Westfield - used for sprints and hillclimbs - and knew the engine was successful in rally Escorts and had few weaknesses. He found a rolled GTE at a scrapyard and paid £150 for the useful bit under the bonnet. "The bits I needed to reuse like the crank, block, head and valves were OK, but the block needed a rebore. The pistons and cams were worn but I planned to replace them anyway," he explains. SBD Motorsport (0208391 0121), known for tuning Vauxhalls suppled advice and the parts he needed. "Doing this transplant is involved and you need to start with a shell because to get the new engine to fit, you have to take 2 inches out of the bulkhead. I like the challenge of fabricating my own engine mounts and transmission tunnel," reveals Graham. You could buy a kit, but that would be too easy.
It took him a couple of months to put the engine together and fit it. "Obviously, building an engine, you have to keep everything clean and be methodical and take your time," he says. The car is still being run in but it should be good for 235 bhp once it's ready to be used in anger. Despite restricting himself to only 5000 rpm for the first 1000 miles, Graham is very impressed with torque that the new engine is producing. It's still fitted with standard rods so he's currently limited to 8000 rpm. He could change the rods and add solid followers to get 250 bhp but that's going to whack up the costs and at the moment he can't justify the extra money.
Talking of money, Graham would rather not, especially when I ask what the conversion has cost him. "When you build it over a long period it's not as painful as buying an entire unit at the same time, as you tend not to add up all the individual receipts." Anyway, he claims he's saved around £1000 in labour alone by putting the engine together himself. The engine feeds a Ford Sierra, Type-9 five-speed gearbox fitted with Quaife internals and connected up with an adaptor kit which made it all straightforward. However, while Graham is confident that the gearbox can cope with the power, he thinks the weak link in the set-up might be the half-shafts. To deduce that risk, he'll stick with standard wheels in the hope they will break traction before he breaks a shaft - fingered crossed.
The wheels are the ones that came in the spares box when he bought the car, although they were tatty so have shot-blasted, powder-coated and painted black - matching Mango wheels were thought to have been a bit much. The 13 inch RS wheel are prevented from turning by the Princess four-pot callipers on the front, combined with 285mm cross-drilled discs from Rally Design. Escort Cosworth callipers and MkII Escort discs take care of the rear, plus the car is fitted with an in-car adjustable brake bias.
Obviously it has been built for competition, sprints, hillclimbs and tarmac rallying. For the latter he'll need a co-driver and despite winning every of his hillclimb championship so far this season, he's yet to convince a willing victim to sit along side him. Graham says that half the fun is building it and the other half is driving. If he could just get to compete on Mull then he'd die happy.
Shot-blasted restored shell with new sills, floors, wheelarches and front end, Gartrac alloy front spoiler, GPP bonnet and boot, seamed-welded, gusseted and reinforced to Group 4 spec, full respray in two-pack paint, carbon fibre mirrors, roof vent.
2-litre Vauxhall Astra SBD Motorsport conversion, overbored to 86.5, standard crank, polished, lightened and balanced flywheel, standard rods, Kent/SBD cams, Kent verniers, Omega High compression pistons, heavy-duty big end rods, titanium valve caps, unported head with hydraulic followers, double valve springs, SBD tapered throttle bodies, MBE engine management, closed loop Lambda control, modified Vauxhall 8-valve sump, RadFab alloy radiator, DIY heater, ITG foam air filter, exhaust by Design Custom Exhausts, chassis mounted engine, braided pipes and hoses, competition fuel pump and tank, 235 bhp.
Sprung paddle clutch on uprated cover, lightened and balanced flywheel, special SBD Ford/Vauxhall alloy bellhousing, Ford Type-9 five-speed gearbox with Quaife Pro straight-cut internals, single-piece shortened and balanced Reco prop, plate LSD, five-linked casing, Rally Design quick shift.
Front: Adjustable Bilstein dampers, anti-roll bar, Rose-jointed adjustable TCA
Rear: AVO adjustables, five-linked rear axle, uprated bushes.
Modified pedal box, twin-master cylinders, adjustable brake bias.
Front: Princess four-pot callipers, 285mm cross-drilled vented discs, Pagid ceramic brake pads
Rear: Cosworth rear calliper, hydraulic handbrake, MkII Escort discs, Pagid RS14 ceramic brake pads.
Wheel and Tyres
6 x 13 RS alloys with Yokohama 185/60 x 13 A008R tyres.
Stripped out interior, full roll cage, safety/competition equipment, Cobra seats, DIY dash and door trims, TSR five-point harnesses, co-driver footrest equipment, OMP steering wheel, alloy pedals, Stack and VDO instruments, Perspex windows