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Ford Escort RS Turbo buying guide (1984-1990)

Ford Escort RS Turbo buying guide (1984-1990) Classic and Performance Car
Ford Escort RS Turbo Ford Escort RS Turbo If there’s one car maker that’s renowned for producing one affordable performance car after another it’s Ford. With a string of fast machines to its name that started back in the 1960s, the trend continued in the 1980s with the arrival of the front-wheel drive Escort RS1600i, XR3 and XR3i. For an encore, Ford turned up the wick in 1984 with the launch of the Escort RS Turbo. It’s easy to think of the RS Turbo as little more than a boosted XR3i, but it’s more than that – the suspension settings were altered and there was a viscous-coupled limited-slip diff to get the power down. All 132bhp of it.

Ford kept things simple with the Escort, so if you’re looking for a practical, affordable classic that’s easy to maintain on a DIY basis, then look no further. Despite its desirability, the RS Turbo is still very affordable, and the same goes for parts prices too. As you might expect, some of these are now hard to track down, but all mechanical items are easy to find – often at incredibly low prices.

Which one to buy

Once you’ve decided between Mk1 and Mk2 (which translates as Mk3 and Mk4 in Escort generations), there’s not much to separate one RS Turbo from another. All of the RS Turbo Mk1s came in white, while the Mk2 was offered in an array of colours. Frankly, you’re better off not setting your heart on a particular colour because there are so few really good examples of these cars left, with even fewer coming onto the market.

So decide whether you want a Mk1 or a Mk2 then spend time looking for the very best example you can find. The Mk1 is quite a serious performance machine; once it had morphed into the Mk2 it was quite a different beast. In fact it was less of a beast. While the Mk2 is only a facelifted Mk1, in the transformation the limited-slip diff was lost and the car became more of an executive cruiser that’s as much about comfort as it is about performance.

Finding a car still close to factory spec will be a challenge, especially in the case of the Mk1 which was fitted with unique Recaro seats, bodykit and seven-spoke alloy wheels. But bide your time and find a cracker – because it’ll be worth it.

Tech spec - Ford Escort RS Turbo

Engine 1596cc/4-cyl/OHC
Power 132bhp @ 5750rpm
Torque 133lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 126mph
0-60mph 7.8sec
Consumption 27mpg
Gearbox 5-speed manual

What to look for

• Corrosion is a major issue, but so is crash damage, so check the boot floor and inner front wings for rippling; also inspect the panel gaps.

• Analyse the whole car for rust; wheelarches dissolve, particularly the rears, while the sills, door bottoms, rear chassis legs and spare wheel well all rot badly. So does the crossmember that runs underneath the engine, the bulkhead behind the heater and the battery tray. Window seals (especially the windscreen) tend to leak, the tailgate window surround rots from the inside out, the rear wiper arm surround corrodes, and so does the sunroof surround.

• The engine is based on the XR3i unit, but there are virtually no shared parts. It’s a reliable powerplant, but watch for tuned units which use up (or go beyond) the safety margins. Turbochargers should last 80,000 miles, but hard-driven cars can cut this by three-quarters. Accelerate hard and look for blue smoke; reconditioned turbos are available.

• Ford recommends changing a CVH cam belt every 36,000 miles or three years; half this is more sensible if the car isn’t used much. If the belt snaps the engine is trashed, so it’s worth replacing as a matter of course.

• Fuel-injection systems sludge up, leading to poor fuel delivery and rough running. The key is to use a fuel cleaner/additive and decent-quality petrol. The fuel filter should also be replaced every 36,000 miles. Persistent running problems may be because the car has run out of fuel; once air has been drawn into the system, putting things right can be a thankless task.

• The distributor’s ignition module fails, so suspect this if there are starting problems. Distributors often leak oil at the joint with the cylinder head, but new seals cost pennies and are easy to fit.

• The gearchange is notchy; if it's particularly baulky a rebuild may be due. Linkages and bushes in the gearchange will probably be worn, but replacement is easy and cheap. There’s also a plastic quadrant on the clutch pedal, which wears then fails. New ones are cheap but replacement is fiddly.

• The limited slip diff wears out after 40,000 miles and replacements are no longer listed.

• The steering rack isn’t strong, so feel for heavy steering, vagueness and listen for knocking.

• Suspension problems are likely, especially worn bushes front and rear. They can be replaced with polyurethane items; there are three on each rear wishbone, along with the ones in the tie bars and anti-roll bars at the rear. The dampers also have bushes top and bottom.

• Cracks develop near the front track control arms (TCA) when the wheels are kerbed. Any banging suggests the TCA bushes have split.

• Check the electrics windows work as motors tend to fail, but you can track down used replacements cheaply.

Model history

1984: The RS Turbo debuts with a Garrett TO3 blower, limited-slip diff, big brakes and unique wheels. Ford plans to build 5000, but 8604 would be produced, such is the demand.

1986: The Escort Mk3 is replaced by the Mk4, with the RS Turbo becoming a regular production model. The suspension is softer, the LSD is history and the gearing is taller to improve economy and refinement. But the engine remains as before and there’s now mechanical anti-lock braking as standard.

Words: Richard Dredge
Ford Escort RS Turbo Ford Escort RS Turbo
Last updated: 20th Apr 2015
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