If you’ve spent any time on the internet this week then this will not be news to you, but it is an important moment that deserves some contemplation: the Ford Focus RS is dead. It is a sad, sad time.
The eight best Ford RS cars
Even though the Focus RS has sat at the top of the Focus tree for nearly two decades, Ford has come to the conclusion that a new version wouldn’t make sense. Emissions restrictions are tight and will only get tighter, so to build something with enough performance and in low enough numbers to warrant an RS badge would extremely complicated and therefore way too expensive.
However, whilst we will be weeping for some time to come, the current Focus ST is pretty decent. And all things considered the Focus RS has had a very good run. Indeed, the RS badge has had a very good run – more than 40 years in fact. So let us take a trip down memory lane and walk through the RS badge’s fascinating history.
Ford Escort RS1600
Ah yes, the RS1600. Genesis, as you might refer to it. The Escort RS1600 is where it all started for the RS badge. Launched in 1970, the RS1600 had a 1.6-litre engine, just like the Mexico, but instead of 86PS (85bhp) it had a whopping 117PS (115bhp). Keep in mind that the base Escort 1100 has a meagre 41PS. Quite a leap, wouldn’t you say?
Rally success for the Escort made the speedy RS1600 an icon, and even though the RS200 rocked up with a bigger engine, it was never quite good enough to match its smaller-engined sister. If you want one today you’ll probably need £60,000…
Mk2 Ford Escort RS2000
If the Mk1 RS2000 was a bit of a let-down, the Mk2 was pat-on-the-back time for Ford’s engineers. The Escort gave Ford the World Rally Championship manufacturers’ title in 1979, and drivers’ titles in ’79 for Björn Waldegård and in ’81 for Ari Vatanen. Yes, that was the RS1800, but the road-going RS1800 was the ultimate, ultimate, scarcely achievable for the performance-Ford hungry punter. The RS2000 was Ford’s answer, a less complicated and less expensive performance hero but one that would do nothing less than put a smile on your face every time you drove it.
Its 2.0-litre overhead-cam Pinto engine, with 112PS (110bhp) was good for 60mph in 8.9 seconds. And of course the engine was at the front and the rear wheels did the driving, so it was quite happy to slip and slide whenever the mood took you. It also featured in the ITV cop show The Professionals, which means, in my book at least, that it is one of the coolest cars of all time.
The Ford RS200 is perhaps the wildest RS Ford has created. No, actually, it is the wildest RS Ford has created.
Group B regulations were introduced into the WRC in 1982, and while there were some restrictions on what could and couldn’t be done, the rules were rather relaxed. The result, as we know, was some of the fastest rally cars ever.
To enter Group B each manufacturer was the requirement to build 200 road-going versions of the rally monsters. Ford, keen to dive head-first into Group B, created the RS200 Group B car and with it the obligatory 200 road cars.
The RS200 was a hideously complicated machine. The Cosworth 1.8-litre turbocharged engine was mid-mounted, while the gearbox was at the front and the car was, of course, four-wheel-drive. The body was made out of fibreglass by Reliant (yes, Reliant, the company that gave us the Robin three-wheeler) and there was double-wishbone suspension all the way round with twin dampers at each corner. In race trim the engine produced anything between 350 and 400PS, while the road dweller had a more modest 250PS. Well, modest until you remember it weighed less than 1,200kg. Unless Ford decides to build a road-going Fiesta WRC, the RS200 will forever be the Ford WRC wild child.
Sierra RS Cosworth
Compared to the RS200 the Sierra RS Cosworth looks like a house, but, as the Cosworth name implies, it was rather special.
The Sierra was launched in 1982 at the British Motor Show, the replacement for the ageing Cortina. A very ordinary, though highly rated, three- and five-door family car, it was given a dusting of Cosworth magic for 1986 as Stuart Turner, Ford’s head of motorsport in Europe, wanted a Group A-spec machine to use in rallying and touring cars. The eventual result was the Sierra RS Cosworth, available as a three-door, a four-door and as the three-door, limited-run RS500. With better brakes, suspension, bodywork (including that iconic rear wing) and a better gearbox than the standard Sierra, not to mention of course a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Cosworth engine (power ranged from 205PS with the standard RS and 225PS with the RS500), the Sierra RS Cosworth became a performance icon.
Its iconic status was, of course, strengthened by its motorsport success. It won in the Australian, German, Japanese, New Zealand and British Touring Car Championship, not to mention the RAC TT in 1988, the Bathurst 1,000 in 1988 and ’89, and the Spa 24 Hours in 1989. Oh, and it regularly ran towards the top of the field in the WRC.
Escort RS Cosworth
And here we are, back once again with the Escort, specifically the fifth generation Escort for the Ford Escort RS Cosworth. One look at the thing and you know it’s a very, very different beast to the old Escort RS1600. Instead of a 117PS, 1.6-litre turbo it had a 227PS, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine from the wizards at Cosworth.
Thanks to four-wheel-drive and a kerb weight just over 1,200kg the RS Cosworth would crack 62mph in 5.7 seconds and 147mph flat out, figures that don’t look out of place today.
It made quite the motorsport machine, too, built, like the Sierra RS Cosworth, to homologate a rally car. Two Escort RS Cosworths came second and third in their first WRC event, the 1993 Monte Carlo Rally, no less. While Ford never won the manufacturers’ title with the Escort RS Cosworth, it brought ten WRC victories, and in national championships it stacked up numerous championships. It even made it onto the Formula 1 grid, albeit as a safety car for two events in 1992…
It remains one of the ultimate RS-badged Fords.
Ford Focus RS Mk1
The name ‘Focus’ is so normal nowadays it’s hard to believe the first generation arrived in 1998 – could anyone at Ford have predicted it would go on to be such a long-standing success? Part of the Focus’ appeal, though has to be put down to motorsport.
The Focus RS WRC made its debut in 1999, the replacement for the Escort RS Cosworth, and immediately set about giving Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru a bit of a headache. In just its third rally a certain Colin McRae took a win, and to prove it wasn’t a fluke McRae did the same thing in the following round too. The rest of the season might not have gone as planned but it put the Focus in front of a passionate motorsport audience, which in turn meant more sales of the regular Focus and the opportunity for Ford to take some of that rally tech and chuck it into a road car. Enter the first-generation Ford Focus RS.
It’s performance credentials stand up to this day. It had a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with a modest 212 horsepower and would get from 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds. It had a simple but brilliant five-speed manual gearbox, a wider front track, bigger brakes, better tyres, more sophisticated suspension and a Quaife differential, all of which meant the RS wasn’t just fast but it handled, too. When some other hot hatchbacks of the time couldn’t get their power down (the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA steered whichever way it chose, normally not where you’d want) the Focus RS did exactly what you wanted, when you wanted it to.
Just 4,501 were made over 13 months, all sold in Imperial Blue, of which 2,147 found themselves forever settled in the UK. See one today and it still looks just right. Drive a good one today and it’ll feel just as fresh and exciting as it did back in 2002.
Ford Focus RS Mk2
Ah yes, the loopy Focus RS, the car that was so clearly born following a trip to a pub where many, many beverages were consumed. “Let’s put the five-cylinder turbo from a Volvo in the front and give it 300 horsepower” – “Sure!” The wild thing, though, is that it worked. Brilliantly.
Even today the Ford Focus RS Mk2 is a loopy looking thing. Available as a three-door only (those were the days, weren’t they?) it had a turbocharged 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine, not dissimilar to the Focus ST of the time. However the RS had 300 horsepower compared to the ST’s 225 horsepower, meaning 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 163mph. All of that power went through the front wheels, but Ford had spent so much time getting the chassis and the differential just right that, while it enjoyed a camber-induced wander from time to time, it could get its power down and keep up with almost anything else on the road.
Add to that performance a rear wing and lime green paint and, well, there really isn’t much to dislike. Well it wasn’t quite as light on its toes as the first RS and the interior was a bit of a button-fest, but even in there you were treated to some truly torso-eating Recaros and, most importantly, a boost gauge. Ford had a big act to follow with the second-gen RS, and boy did it deliver.
Ford Focus RS Mk3
We wish this wasn’t the final chapter but, alas, the author appears to have snapped its pens and pencils in half and thrown its notepads into the fire.
Launched in 2015, it proved Ford had a very different idea of where hot hatchbacks were going compared to, say, Honda. While Honda had stuck with front-wheel-drive for its FK2 Civic Type R, launched at the same time, Ford gave the RS four-wheel-drive for the very first time. The reason was obvious: the turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine produced 350 horsepower and a monster 475Nm (351lb ft) of torque, and there was no way a FWD system wouldn’t eat itself with that much to deal with.
Performance was brisk, brisker than nearly all of its rivals: 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds courtesy of a new launch control system and a top speed of 165mph. It stopped well, with huge 350mm ventilated front disks, and could, thanks to a newly created ‘Drift’ mode, slide itself silly.
It was a very different animal to the original RS. Too complicated? Maybe. Too heavy? Almost certainly, weighing in at 1,599kg compared to the original car’s 1,275kg. The seats were known to be too hard for the first 10,000 miles as well. But it was the best hot hatchback Ford could make at the time, and, knowing now that it’ll never be superseded, it’ll be impossible to see one without the faintest whiff of a smile.
Which Ford RS is your favourite?
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