Ford’s history in motorsport consists of a couple of lessons we’d all do well to learn in life. One: never give up. Two: never be afraid to ask someone else for help. Three: try as many different things as you can – variety is the spice of life. So with these in mind, let’s count down some of the very best Ford racing cars ever made. From Le Mans, to rallying, to touring cars, there aren’t many disciplines whose history books won’t contain a Ford of some description.
The ten best Ford race and rally cars
Variety is lesson three but we open with a nod to lesson two – never be afraid to ask for help. Why build your own touring car and high-performance engine when you can collaborate with the very best? That’s how the Lotus Cortina was born. With nothing but a chassis from Ford, the Hethel hair-raisers fitted their tricked-out Ford-based 1.6-litre twin-cam to the little Cortina, before developing the rest of the car to a high-performance racing specification. So comprehensive was the Lotus overhaul that these are usually more considered Lotuses than Fords, but the basis – chassis and engine – is Ford and they were marketed and sold by Ford. Of course, the result was a proven winner on track, with Jim Clark’s BSCC title one of a number of leading ribbons for the little ripper.
The GT40 is a legend that needs very little introduction. It was Ford’s riposte to Ferrari after Enzo snubbed Henry on a deal to sell off the Scuderia. Beating the best at racing was the game but it took Ford a few tries, and help from a couple of collaborators before they could manage it – see lessons one and two above. Early development work was largely carried out by Lola and Eric Broadley in collaboration with Ford Advanced Vehicles. After a slow start in 1964, Ford then moved the GT project as it was over to Shelby and the result was a proven winner, with overall Le Mans honours in 1966, 1968 and 1969 to its credit, as well as a number of victories across the sportscar spectrum. An all-time great racer, its story one of the all-time great racing legends, so it’s easily one of if not the greatest Ford racing car.
Ford MK IV
Technically speaking the MK IV is a GT, though the appendix-J spec body and chassis were so different that we’re taking this as a different car. All that was carried over for this ground-up redesign was the 7.0-litre engine, now finding a home in a honeycomb-alloy aerospace-spec construction. This all-American monster only saw action twice, at Sebring and Le Mans in 1967 but won both convincingly. In spite of its significant weight disadvantage to the Ferrari prototypes, the MkIV was much slipperier, topping out at 212mph on the Mulsanne straight. Not a lengthy career but worth the effort nonetheless.
Ford Escort RS1800 (1979)
From touring cars to Le Mans to the WRC (there’s lesson three), meet the Ford Escort RS1800, the car that won Ford the manufacturer’s world rally title in 1979. Developed especially for rallying, the RS1800 featured a strengthened and widened platform and a Cosworth-fettled twin-cam engine. Before monster turbochargers and all-wheel-drive, this was what a weapons-grade rally car looked like. Combining its capabilities with a triple threat of talent in Bjorn Waldegard, Ari Vatanen and Hannu Mikkola, its success was almost a sure thing. Almost. The RS1800 is yet another example of lesson one: to never give up. It was winning rallies as far back as 1975, four years before that hard-won manufacturer’s title.
Ford Sierra RS500
Another lesson in the benefits of collaborations is the Ford Sierra Cosworth, in racing form, the RS500. With a bigger turbo, larger cooling, more aggressive fueling and induction and much more, the RS500 cossie was every bit the homologation racer built to take the world of saloon car racing by storm. That it did, beating the warring Germans in the DTM in 1988 and taking an overall BTCC title in 1990, among other championships the world over. It took victory at the 1989 Spa 24 Hours, two wins at the Bathurst 1000. This car is legendary not necessarily for how effective it was but for how much of a monster it was. It was the epitome of brutal turbo power with period drivers telling famous tales of the RS500’s wayward ways. For Brits growing up in the 1980s, the RS500 was as much of a poster car as the Lamborghini Countach.
Ford Mondeo Super Tourer
Group A was a hard act to follow and yet the Super Touring era is remembered as fondly. These ludicrously-expensive space-age machines made for some intoxicating saloon car racing, attracting some star power along the way. Of course, Ford were in on it and of course, the star power came their way. The Mondeo was a staple on grids from the get go, with Paul Radisisch wasting no time in winning the World Touring Car Cup in 1993 and 1994. Nigel Mansell, fresh from his 1992 Formula 1 World Championship win, had a couple of Mondeo drives too. For a full-on manufacturer’s championship win, however, Ford would need to wait its turn. For seven years it adhered to lesson one, with the Mondeo programme going from Andy Rouse to West Surrey Racing, eventually to Prodrive. It was in Prodrive’s custody in 2000 that Alain Menu, Anthony Reid and Rickard Rydell drove Mondeos to the manufacturer’s championship for Ford in the closing year of the Super Touring class.
Ford Focus WRC (2006)
The Focus WRC as a generation of cars was often the bridesmaid and only latterly the bride. McRae, Sainz, Martin, Gronholm, Hirvonen, Latvala, all massive names with turns at the helm of the Focus WRC but none were able to secure a driver’s championship with a Focus. Only for the 2006 and 2007 manufacturer’s titles has the Focus taken the top step. In its eleven-year career it took part in 173 WRC rounds, won 44 of them but sat on the podium a massive 142 times. While the Loeb and Citröen, among others, just about kept the Focus out of the history books a number of times, that podium count is proof enough of the Focus’s mettle. On top of all that, the Focus WRC is the definitive racing Ford for a whole generation of gamers, as it rose to power more or less alongside the Gran Turismo series, among other sim and racing series.
Ford Falcon (V8 Supercar)
Ford has had skin in the game the world over, from Europe to its home in America, all the way down to Australia. Down under, it was always Ford vs. Holden in the battle for domestic supercar and touring car supremacy. In truth, it wasn’t too often in recent years that the Falcon bested the Commodore but in 2003 and 2004, the BA-generation did the business. Then in 2006 it also took the 2006 Bathurst 1,000, for the first time in eight years. The closely-related BF Falcon then took victory in 2007 before the new-gen FG took it in 2008. In truth, all the Falcons have been solid over the last 20 years of supercars, with eight championships out of the 21 contested. But the BA and BF were probably the most effective against their Holden rivals during their time serving.
Ford Fiesta WRC (2017)
Like the Focus, it would take the highly capable Fiesta some years to come good in the world rally championship. But in 2017, in the first season of new regulations, the Fiesta WRC brought it home, with the credit all going to M-Sport, having worked up to that point without factory support. Sebastien Ogier was the man that made it happen, taking in addition to the manufacturer’s title in 2017, drivers’ titles in both 2017 and 2018. So convincing was the third-party Fiesta’s performance, that it attracted increased Ford factory support back into the mix.
We start close to where we began, with the Blue Oval’s enduring Le Mans mission. In 2016, 50 years on from the marque’s one-two-three at Le Mans, Ford wanted to return to take on Ferrari. In the GTE class this time, the Ford GT was a clandestine project within Ford about which very few knew, with the road car being developed in a secret bunker at HQ. The racing car meanwhile was – and we return to lesson two – a collaboration with Multimatic. While Ford has often had to wait for glory in its motorsport endeavours over the years, in 2016, they made it happen, with Joey hand, Dirk Müller and Sebastien Bourdais bringing it home ten seconds ahead of the chasing Ferrari. A defining supercar in this modern generation and a star of the GTE racing class. We can only hope they’ll return for another crack and a new GT in years to come.
Sierra image by Drew Gibson, Escort image by Jordan Butters, Falcon and Mondeo images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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