A Kenyan safari guide tells of this car landing so nose down that everyone thought it was going to go end over end

This 1972 Ford Escort RS1600 Mk I comes to auction directly from the finish line of the Kenya Airways East African Safari Classic rally, where it was driven to victory by triple Safari winner Bjorn Waldegard and his son Mathias.

One of only two such Escorts prepared by Historic Motorsports in their Daventry workshops to what is generally reckoned to be the ultimate rally specification ever achieved for a Mk I Escort, WPU 242L took over 872 hours to build and, pre-Safari, was test-driven and further developed by Waldegard in both Wales and Kenya. Unusually, too, the winning car is being offered complete with all Safari Rally extras in place.

First run in 1953, the Safari has always presented one of the toughest tests of car and crew, not to mention workshop and service crew, on the planet.

The "Classic" version of the great event is open only to cars of a type made before 1975, so no four-wheel-drive or turbocharged machinery can take part, making it a happy hunting ground for such hairy-chested fare as the Porsche 911 and Datsun 240Z or, of course, the Ford Motor Company's most successful rally car, the Escort.

The fully caged body shell of the winning Escort has been specially strengthened by Works car shell builders Gartrac to withstand Safari Stage surfaces at speed. Inevitably, the suspension has to be very special, and on this car it certainly is. Up front there are Proflex front struts to Jumbo specification, with roller top mounts and remote gas reservoirs as per current WRC cars. At the rear, and additional to the leaf springs, are coil spring-around Proflex dampers-all permitted by Safari regs. The Field Motorsport-built 2-liter engine, a dry-sumped BDA, produces 256 hp at 8,500 rpm.

We are advised that not only has the whole car done less than 5,000 miles, but most of the major components-including gearbox, rear axle, suspension, and some brake components-have actually only completed four days rallying, having been largely renewed by the Historic Motorsport service crew at the halfway point.

As presented, WPU 242L is not only likely to be compliant with future Classic Safari regulations, but should be fully capable of withstanding the rigors of long-distance marathon events.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1972 Ford Escort RS1600
Years Produced:2007
Number Produced:2
Original List Price:$250,000
Chassis Number Location:Plate on top of radiator support
Engine Number Location:On block by distributor
Club Info:Historic Rally Car Register
Investment Grade:C

This 1972 Ford Escort RS1600 Rally sold for $181,685 at Bonhams’s Stoneleigh Auction on March 15, 2008.

The East African Safari Classic is an extreme event, and at the extreme edges of any sport you will find suitably specialized and extreme participants, be they athletes or machines. They can be endlessly fascinating and even awe-inspiring, if not always something you’d want at your next garden party. The subject Ford Escort RS1600 Rally is a classic example of this. It is without doubt the ultimate 1972 Ford Escort rally car (along with its identical twin, which was not for sale), but it is not a historic rally car in any true sense. It is an extreme 2007 version of a 35-year-old rally car built for a specific event, and as such it is both wonderful and problematic.

Historic rallying is a hugely popular activity all across Europe, with events somewhere virtually every weekend. They range from high-profile FIA Historic events like Monte Carlo and the Acropolis Historic to small local club events, from paved roads to rutted tracks. With the increasing participation over the past years, car preparation rules have become very stringent and carefully applied. Generally it is not required that a car have any real period history as a rally car (though this is clearly preferred), but it does have to be prepared as a proper car in its day would have been prepared. In short, if they didn’t do it then, you can’t do it now. This has served to keep the playing field level and the costs predictable in this thoroughly amateur subcategory of motorsport.

More of a 2007 World Rally car

The East African Safari Classic is a whole different event, and if you want to run at the front, you more or less have to build a car specifically for it. SCM Contributor Paul Hardiman wrote a wonderful article about this Escort RS1600 Rally for Octane magazine (#55) and all that was involved in building it and getting it set up for the event. The project started with the bare shell of a (presumably) 1972 two-door Escort and proceeded to go through roughly $250,000 to turn it into the ultimate weapon for this particular battle. In the process, literally every part-every nut and bolt in the car-was replaced with something very contemporary and suitable for the job. The result is something that is recognizable as an RS 1600 Escort but is technically more of a 2007 World Rally Championship car than a historic anything.

There is a well-established tradition of building cars like this. In North America, we have the Carrera Panamericana event every year, and nobody in his right mind would even consider running the event in a car that actually raced in the original; it’s way too hard on the machinery. What happens is that people go out and buy an old car of suitable type and vintage, then build it up specifically to run the event. Don’t get me wrong, I think the whole approach is great, but we have to be careful to recognize that these are not collector cars or historic racers in the classic sense. They are unique hot rods for a specific event.

The problems with this Escort are not whether it’s a very cool car, but what you’re going to do with it and what is going to be involved in getting it ready to go. Though the basic drivetrain is correct, the suspension, roll cage, etc. are so illegal by either FIA or Motor Sports Association (MSA) rules that it would almost be cheaper to build a new car than to bring this one into compliance. This means that the next East African Safari Classic, maybe the Targa Tasmania, and the occasional exhibition romp at a club rally are pretty much what you can do with your new toy. Actually, “new” might be a misnomer as well.

New meaning to “only driven on weekends”

I was amused at the catalog suggestion that the RS1600 Rally has “done less than 5,000 miles” and many components had been rebuilt at the halfway point in the rally, and so only had four days use. Do you think this car has been used a bit? A Kenyan safari guide friend saw the event and tells of watching this car fly over a hump and land so nose down that everyone thought it was going to go end over end. It didn’t, but “only driven on weekends” has a special meaning here. I’m sure the basic structure is fine, but whoever bought it had best plan on going through everything before using it in anger again.

That said, it is still a viable and potentially competitive car, albeit for a limited number of events. At $180,000, that’s about fifty cents on the dollar for what it cost to build. The components alone are worth at least $100,000, even used, not to mention putting it all together. The original owner admitted to a compulsion to run in and win the East African Safari Classic, at virtually any cost. Having done so (this car won, they ran in and are keeping the sister car that placed 6th), they chose to send it on for what the market would give them. If the new buyer shares the compulsion, or has a serious taste for dusty adrenaline, I’d say the car was very fairly bought. Just remember, though, it’s a weapon, not a collectible.

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