Ford RS200 is First Produced

The Ford RS200 is a mid-engined, four-wheel drive sports car produced by Ford from 1984 through 1986.

The road-going RS200 was based on Ford's Group B rally car and was designed to comply with FIA homologation regulations, which required 200 road legal versions be built. Despite some rumours to the contrary, the RS200 was not based on the European version of the Escort, as were both its predecessor and successor.

Following the introduction of the MKIII Escort in 1980, Ford Motorsport set about development of rear-wheel-drive, turbocharged variant of the vehicle that could be entered into competition in Group B rally racing, and dubbed the new vehicle the Escort RS 1700T. A problem-filled development led Ford to abandon the project in frustration in 1983, leaving them without a new vehicle to enter into Group B. Not wanting to abandon Group B or simply "write off" the cost of developing the failed 1700T, executives decided to make use of the lessons learned developing that vehicle in preparing a new, purpose-built rally car. In addition, Ford executives became adamant that the new vehicle feature four-wheel-drive, an addition they felt would be necessary to allow it the ability to compete properly with four-wheel-drive models from Peugeot and Audi.

The new vehicle was a unique design, featuring a plastic/fiberglass composite body designed by Ghia, a mid-mounted engine and four-wheel drive. The cars were built on behalf of Ford by another company well known for its expertise in producing fibreglass bodies - Reliant. To aid weight distribution, designers mounted the transmission at the front of the car, but this required that power from the mid mounted engine go first up to the front wheels and then be run back again to the rear, creating a complex drive train setup. The chassis was designed by former Formula One designer Tony Southgate, and Ford's John Wheeler, a former F1 engineer, aided in early development. A double wishbone suspension setup with twin dampers on all four wheels aided handling and helped give the car what was often regarded as being the best balanced platform of any of the RS200's contemporary competitors. Such was the rush to complete the RS200, the Ford parts bin was extensively raided - the front windscreen and rear lights were identical to those of the early Sierra, for example, while the side windows were cut-down Sierra items.

The mid-engined RS200's engine bay and rear suspension.
Power came from a 1.8 litre, single turbocharged Ford/Cosworth "BDT" engine producing 250 horsepower (190 kW) in road-going trim, and between 350 and 450 horsepower (340 kW) in racing trim; upgrade kits were available for road-going versions to boost power output to over 300 horsepower (220 kW). Although the RS had the balance and poise necessary to be competitive, its power to weight ratio was poor by comparison, and its engine produced notorious low-RPM lag, making it difficult to drive and ultimately less competitive. Factory driver Kalle Grundel's third place finish at the 1986 WRC Rally of Sweden represented the vehicle's best-ever finish in Group B rallying competition, although the model did see limited success outside of the ultra-competitive Group B class. However, only one event later, at Rally Portugal, a Ford RS200 was involved in one of the most dramatic accidents in WRC history, claiming the lives of 3 spectators and injuring many others. Another Ford RS200 was crashed by Swiss Formula One driver Marc Surer against a tree during the 1986 Hessen-Rallye in Germany, killing his co-pilot and friend Michel Wyder instantly.

RS200 and Audi Quattro S1 competing in rallycross.
The accident at Rally Portugal set off a chain reaction and the RS200 became obsolete after only one full year of competition as the FIA, the governing board, which at the time controlled WRC rally racing, abolished Group B after the 1986 season. For 1987, Ford had planned to introduce an "Evolution" variant of the RS200, featuring a development of the BDT engine (called BDT-E) displacing 2137 cc, developed by Briton Brian Hart. Power figures for the engine vary quite a bit from source to source, but output claims range from as "little" as 550 horsepower (410 kW) to as high as 815 horsepower (608 kW); it has been said that the most powerful Evolution models can accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) in just over 2 seconds, depending on gearing. Upgraded brakes and suspension components were part of the package as well. The ban on Group B racing effectively forced the E2 model into stillbirth; however, more than one dozen of them were successfully run from August 1986 till October 1992 in the FIA European Championships for Rallycross Drivers events all over Europe, and Norwegian Martin Schanche claimed the 1991 European Rallycross title with a Ford RS200 E2 that produced over 650 bhp (480 kW).
One RS200 found its way in circuit racing originated as a road car; it was converted to IMSA GTO specification powered by a 750+ BHP 2.0 litre turbo BDTE Cosworth Evolution engine. Competing against the numerous factory backed teams such as Mazda, Mercury and Nissan, with their newly built spaceframe specials, despite being a privateer, the car never achieved any real success to be a serious contender and was kept by the original owner. A parts car was built in England and later used to compete in the Unlimited category at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, where it was driven by Swede Stig Blomqvist in 2001, 2002 and 2004 and in 2009 by former British Rallycross Champion Mark Rennison.

The Ford RS200 was a four wheel drive rally-homologation special. It was not based on the Ford Escort as many think, but was created fresh - the RS200 came from the cancellation of the Mk.3 Escort-based RS1700T. There were 200 units built to comply with Group B rally rules current in 1984 to 1986 (although once counted, up to 50 were broken for spare parts, so only around 148 were ever available to sell or be used). This was quite common in the early part of the 1980s where rallying success was extremely desirable, and the sport's rules led to several such vehicles being designed solely for rallying and sold to the public. They were initially fitted with a turbocharged 1.8 L Cosworth-designed BDT-E engine putting out 250 PS (184 kW). The powertrain was quite unusual - the engine was mid-mounted, but the transmission was at the front of the car, giving a more balanced weight distribution, but meaning that the drive was then taken back to the rear wheels. Four wheel drive was selectable, and the centre differential could be locked. The car featured fully-adjustable suspension front and rear, and looks rather unusual as it features two coil-over dampers per side.

As the sale progressed most were sold with a 250 or 300 PS (184 or 221 kW) upgrade kit. After being homologated for motorsport in 1985, the Group B was banned (due to the increasing power of the vehicles and some unfortunate incidents leading to fatalities) so there was no group to race in after 1986/1987. This means that many RS200s now exist as low-mileage collector's pieces rather than functional rally tools. However, despite Ford offering a number of upgrades to make the cars more desirable to the public, they aren't really regarded as an everyday sports car to drive, and despite their rarity do not command massive prices, generally similar to those paid when new.

The body, a 2-door plastic composite/fiberglass unit styled by Ghia was mounted onto the unique chassis. Regulations allowed 10% of the 200 cars built to be an evolution model. A prototype "super-sports" model as such, the Evolution (called the RS200S) had a development of the BDT engine (the BDT-E) which was now 2137cc, and actually built by Brian Hart Ltd. This unit started at around 550 bhp (410 kW) with some reaching, unofficially, 700 to 800 bhp (520 to 600 kW). It featured uprated brakes and suspension.

Many parts were taken from European Ford models of that time, to save cost. The windscreen, taillights and steering column stalks were taken from the Ford Sierra, while the switches on the center console could also be found on the Ford Fiesta.

Throughout the sixties and seventies, Ford had been among the dominant manufacturers in top flight rallying, most notably with Escort-derived homologation specials like the RS 1600 and 2000. However, after winning the World Manufacturers Championship in 1979, the blue oval's works participation in the sport was reduced quite dramatically. By the early 1980's, developing a rally-winning car demanded a huge investment in an increasingly specialised type of machine. Ford sat back and watched as Audi and Lancia cleaned up, but in 1983 they announced a return to the sport with a brand new car known as the RS200.

The rule-makers switch to granting homologation after a production run of a mere 200 identical customer cars appealed to Ford and signalled the development of several ultra-high peformance cars from other manufacturers too. Rallying's space race had begun. Ford had not been sitting idle during the early 1980's, projects like the RS1700T kept the firms' engineers abreast of the latest developments even if works participation was off the cards. But in 1983 they were allowed to start work on the ultimate rally weapon and didn't disappoint. The RS200 featured an all-new chassis created by ex-BRM, Shadow and Lotus F1 designer, Tony Southgate. It was constructed using a steel platform with a monocoque centre section bonded and riveted on. Three tubular steel subframes (that could quickly be removed) were then bolted onto the platform allowing for easy maintenance in the cut and thrust of a rally. Suspension was via wide wishbones with twin dampers and the provision for twin coil springs (although production vehicles only used one coiled spring per wheel). A Ferguson-patented four-wheel drive system fed 37% of the power through to the front wheels as standard although a centre-locking differential meant this could be altered to 50/50 if necessary.

The unassisted steering was a conventional rack and pinion system using modified Sierra parts. Braking was by ventilated 285mm AP discs all round with four-piston alloy calipers, the wheels were 8x16-inch alloys shod with Pirelli P700's. Installed longitudinally at the rear, the RS200 used a turbocharged 1.8 Litre Cosworth BDT engine. With four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts, displacement of this fuel-injected unit was 1803cc thanks to a bore and stroke of 86 x 77mm. It was based on the RS1700T unit but now with dry sump lubrication, improved water and fuel pumps and a stainless steel 4-to-1 exhaust.

Garrett supplied the hybrid TO3/4 turbocharger and in standard road trim, the RS200 was type approved with 250bhp, the optional power upgrades increasing this to 300 or 350bhp. Everything was wrapped in a gorgeous lightweight GRP body styled by Filippo Sapino of Ghia, Turin, who worked closely with the Ford Motorsport department back at Boreham in England. Not since the MkI GT40 had the Ford-badge graced such a good-looking high performance production model. Manufacture of the bodyshells was undertaken by Reliant in Shonstone who had considerable experience working with GRP. The roof panel and upper door openings were fabricated in a composite mix of GRP and carbon fibre, all RS200's being assembled from white gel coat bodies, most of which remained this colour because the initial orders were for rallying. The cockpit was best described as functional with a mixture of grey and black plastics, the level of equipment depending on whether the order was for Road or Rally use. Road cars were trimmed with carpet and door inserts by Tickford who also installed Sparco seats in red or black and a leather steering wheel from the Escort XR3i. Behind the seats a pair of aluminium petrol tanks were mounted whilst the side and rear windows were perspex instead of glass.

Weighing 1180kg, in 250bhp road trim the RS200 could reach a top speed of 145mph and hit sixty in 5.7 seconds. Commensurately enhanced by the presence of a 350bhp-equipped motor, top speed rose to over 160mph whilst 0-60 shrank to just 4.2 seconds. Cars ordered for Rally use obviously went without the cockpit luxuries of the Road version and were therefore lighter. RS200's could also be specified in either right or left-hand drive. Production of the customer cars required for Group B homologation began in October 1985, just days after the RS200 had won its debut event, the British national Lindisfarne Rally.