The toughest post-war test for motor car and crew ever is reckoned to have been the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally, upon which 96 intrepid starters-seven of them Ford factory team Escorts-embarked from Wembley Stadium on April 19. The 16,000-mile route across mainland Europe, South, and Central America required competitors to ascend hazardous passes as high as 16,000 feet in the Andes and tackle dusty primes as long as 600 miles at required speeds of up to 93 mph. Not surprisingly, just over a month later, only 23 survivors crossed the Mexico City finish line. The winners were Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm in FEV 1H, the first of five such Works Escorts in the top ten. Finishing 8th overall were former European rally champion Sobieslaw Zasada and Marek Wachowski of Poland, driving the Ford Motor Company-owned and-entered FTW 48H, which was hand-built to factory team specification by British Vita under the supervision of the Works Boreham Competition Department. Still largely original and well-preserved with big-bore "Mexico"-type engine, the 1850 GT is offered today very much as it completed the World Cup Rally. Having acquired the 1969 1850 GT in May 1984, the current owner commenced a sympathetic refurbishment and has shown and demonstrated what is believed to be the only privately owned Works Escort still in World Cup trim at Ford RS enthusiast and major rally car gatherings (Ford themselves having retained FEV 1H for their museum). Unlike nearly all the ex-Works and competition Escorts, however, this car's Type 49 bodyshell is still largely original and is very much as it was when it was specially prepared for Ford Competitions with distinctive roof to strut-top protective bars. Original features, such as a strongbox for the crew's passports and money and map pockets, have been retained, while the Ford factory chassis plate for what was intended to be a production Escort Twin Cam is included among the 1850 GT's documents.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1969 Ford Escort 1850 GT World Cup
Years Produced:1970
Number Produced:8, approx. (5 finished)
Original List Price:$6,000, approx. (stock TC was $3,800)
Distributor Caps:$50
Chassis Number Location:Hood slam panel, on left
Engine Number Location:Top of right engine mount
Club Info:Ford RS Owners Club PO Box 408 Grays, Essex, RM17 9ED

This 1969 Ford Escort 1850 GT World Cup Rally Car sold for $117,197, including buyer’s premium, at the Bonhams auction held alongside the Goodwood Revival in Chichester, England, on September 18, 2009.

Those of you who have tried your hands (and legs) at distance running know that a very distinct hierarchy exists: The 10k and half marathon are for the weekend punters; marathons are for the very serious and committed players; and then there are the ultra-marathons. These are not events for ordinary mortals; only a select few and enthusiastic fools are willing to even start, much less endure to the finish of events like this. The same applies to the occasional ultra-marathon automobile rallies that have been organized over the years.

Surviving 16,000 miles of bad dirt roads over mountain passes and empty deserts while maintaining seriously high speeds with a minimum of logistic support on whatever fuel you can buy on the way is a matter of grit, determination, and endurance more than it is power or mechanical subtlety. The old adage “to finish first, first, you must finish” applies here in spades, and the London-Mexico rally cars Ford built for the event were very different from what you might expect.

The most obvious external clues are the “roo bars” that go from the front wheel-arches to the top of the A-pillars. They look like they’re intended to maybe act as a roll bar or to deflect stray animals, but the real purpose is to carry road shock loads from the strut towers to the roof structure. Escorts are notoriously weak in the unibody at the firewall, and the bars were there to keep the car from cracking and breaking in half during the rally, which would have been harder to explain than the bars.

Lotus twin-cam engines summarily removed

Similarly, the top rally Escorts of the era all carried 1600 Lotus win-cam engines that made 140 hp-160 hp in rally trim. For the Mexico rally, these were summarily removed and replaced with ordinary crossflow pushrod “Kent” engines that had been stroked and bored as far as Ford dared take them, and fitted with lower-compression pistons to deal with the poor fuel they were likely to encounter. About the only concessions to performance were a pair of Weber carburetors and a dry-sump system. The resulting engine displaced 1,834 cc and made maybe 140 horsepower, but it was simple, relatively bombproof, and easy to fix. If worse came to worst, there was at least the possibility of finding a donor Cortina engine somewhere in the mountains of South America so you could keep going; with a broken twin-cam, you’d be out of the race.

The rest of the drivetrain was equally “bomber,” with an overdrive 5-speed ZF transmission and a limited-slip Atlas third member. The rear suspension was basically normal Escort, but with the addition of rather weird diagonal radius rods that appear to have been intended more to keep anything else from breaking than to improve handling. It was a conservative but effective approach. Mikkola in FEV 1H won, and all five cars finished in the top ten. That was a huge publicity coup for Ford, quickly spawning a “Ford Escort Mexico” model that sold very well and has remained iconic even though it was less powerful than the top version Mk I RS 1600.

The winning car was kept for Ford’s museum, but the others were sold off as old rally cars, including this 1850 GT. Aside from yesterday’s paper (and maybe “yesterday’s girl” if you’re a Stones fan), nothing is quite as unloved as last year’s also-ran competition car, and fate can be hard. This car went through a series of owners and was actively rallied into the ’80s before landing with an owner who loved it for its history and sympathetically restored it to original specification. The basic car is unquestioned as being original, but few of the internal bits are likely to have seen Mexican dust, having been used up many times over during its “old rally car” years. All in all, though, it was considered to be an excellent and honest example of what it is. I’ve heard no grumbling about provenance or authenticity.

The basic problem, though, is what anyone is going to do with a car like this. To bring it to a suitable specification for serious historic rallying would entail destroying most of the things that make it important, so that’s out. You could use it as a course car to pre-run various events, and there’s a “Slowly Sideways” group that does exhibition laps around Europe in historically correct and authentic old rally cars, but in the end this is just not a car you’d ever use much. It’s definitely valued as a collector piece, not an active competitor.

The interesting point of this is that “weapons grade” historic rally cars, generally built up from old street cars for the purpose of historic rallying, have a well-established value range that is effectively the same as this 1969 1850 GT hammer price. Thus, for about the same money, you can choose between an important and correct car with great history (but that isn’t very usable), and a made-up replica you can thrash every weekend. In a strange way, I think this sort of balances the values of the two motivations and validates the price paid for the real thing. I’d say fairly bought and sold.

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