A Better-Than-New Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Salad Days

Ford produced some incredible cars wearing the Cosworth badge in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, with Sierra and Escort variants dominating in racing and rallying – and on the street.

‘Cossies’, as they quickly became known, acquired a cult following almost as soon as the first Sierra RS Cosworth arrived in 1985. It wasn’t long before a massive tuning industry built itself up around the sub-brand, principally to extract maximum horsepower from the 2.0-litre turbo Cosworth YB engine. So much so that it soon became rare to come across an unmodified example.

The cars and the aftermarket industry around them shone brightly for many years. But as the saying goes, ‘you can have too much of a good thing’, and that applies to Steve Richardson.

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These days, as SR Autobodies, Steve has built up an enviable reputation as a fine restorer of Nissan S and R-body cars. Many incredible examples have rolled out of his Lincolnshire, UK-based workshop – including Mark’s Project Thirty Four – but he began this journey messing around with Cossies.

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“My dad was big on the scene back in the day, and I grew up helping out in his workshop at weekends surrounded by Cosworths and RS500s. I joined the army when I left school, but when I came out I decided to treat myself to a Sierra Cosworth,” Steve explained.

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“The car I went to look at turned out to be a dog, but a mate of the seller, who happened to be there, mentioned he had an R33 Skyline GTS25t for sale and asked if I wanted to take a look. I had a test drive and was sold — it was a lot more car for half the money of the Cossie. To be honest, I thought I’d never drive a Ford again.”

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Time heals all wounds, though, and 12 years on, when HJA Group – one of SR Autobodies’ regular customers – called to say they had just imported a T25 (aka small-turbo) Escort RS Cosworth from Japan and wondered if Steve would be able to carry out an underside and engine bay restoration, he jumped at the chance.

“We work on Skylines all day long, so it’s nice to do something different from time to time. The Escort Cosworth is a rare car in Japan and this one had only covered 19,000 miles. Even better, it appeared to be completely standard. It’s never been modified and, as far as we can tell, has had no bodywork or welding [repairs].”

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HJA didn’t just want Steve to give this unmolested Escort the works though. They had already found the car a new home, and the UK owner was very specific with his requirements. It needed to be just as it would have come from the factory – overspray on the underside, liberally applied seam sealer and all.

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“It’s important to point out that this car hasn’t been finished to a concours level,” says Steve. “Instead, it’s exactly — as far as we can get it — as it would have come out of the Karmann factory in Germany in 1995. Basically, we’ve made it messier.”

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“I spent hours talking to my dad, as he knew these cars inside out when they were new, as well as staying up until 2:00am most nights researching specific items. I’ve been down some deep internet rabbit holes, let me tell you.”

A Clean One

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Like many of Ford of Europe’s output in the 1990s, the Mk5 Escort platform that the RS Cosworth is based on is prone to rust, but once Steve and his team had stripped all of the running gear from the underside, it showed to be in remarkably good shape.

“Once we’d cleaned the anti-rust coating off, we found it needed no welding. The owner was adamant that it wasn’t to have any, so where one of the jacking points was damaged, rather than replace it, we had to pull it back into shape,” Steve explained.

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That small matter out of the way, Steve could then concentrate on cleaning and stripping off the paint from the underside — before reapplying seam sealer in a slightly haphazard fashion — then preparing it for fresh paint before adding the distinctly ‘factory’ touches.

“I spent four days airbrushing in the various colours used by Ford on the underside — cream, baby sick green primer, black for the wheel arches and even beiges. We got a local paint company to come in and scan the original colours, then once they were mixed, tweaked them until they were exactly right.”

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To give you another idea of the crazy lengths that SR Autobodies went to with this restoration, where the sills meet the floorpan they airbrushed a thin black line on top of the seam sealer to make it look like there was a gap. And where bolt holes were masked off on the production line to stop them getting clogged up with paint, again Steve was careful to approach this in a slightly slap-dash way – much like a slightly disgruntled worker keen to nip off for a tea break might have done.

“It sounds odd, but it took longer to do all this in a less-than-neat fashion rather than trying to make everything look perfect,” Steve says.

Bay Watch

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With the underside well underway, Steve turned his attention to the engine bay.

“The car had been parked up for many years and YB engines don’t like that — there were oil leaks everywhere. We had no choice but to pull the engine out, strip it down to the block and go right through it.”

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SR Autobodies’ vapour blaster was put to good use, with both engine and chassis components stripped right back, cleaned up and zinc-plated or powdercoated where necessary. The YBP-spec engine was then built up with fresh gaskets, seals, nuts and bolts – parts sourced from all over Europe by local Ford main dealer TC Harrison, where Mark photographed the car.

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Engine and running gear fitted back up, Steve then reapplied the numerous production line touches the Escort would have come with, including decals — faithfully produced and applied in a slightly wonky fashion – and various paint blobs and markings that line workers used to denote a particular job was complete.

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Was Steve tempted to add a few mods along the way?

“No way, this one had to remain standard. In fact, when it arrived, it came with a pair of strut braces that I thought were aftermarket. But my dad pointed out they’re genuine, dealer-fitted Ford Motorsport ones, so we put them back on.”

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So good is the result, that when Steve took the car to TC Harrison for an MoT (vehicle roadworthy) test, they decided to PDI (pre-delivery inspection) it too, just like any new car arriving at the dealership. It scored 97%, meaning this Escort could, in theory, be sold with a new-car warranty.

Built To Be Used

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Is this Escort destined to end up in yet another car collection? Not quite.

“The owner is determined to use it, so we’ve satin clear-coated the underside bodywork, so all they need to do is pressure wash it after a run. Yes, it won’t last forever, but it’s better protected than most modern cars,” says Steve.

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“I’ve got good memories of working on this car. It was a real family affair getting it done, and even my four-year-old daughter helped out by paint-dipping the brake calliper bolts. We all really enjoyed it. So much so that we’ve got another Escort Cosworth lined up to do soon. Though, we’re not expecting much to come back from the blasters with that one…”

Simon Woolley
Instagram: fireproof_simon

Photography by Mark Riccioni
Instagram: mark_scenemedia
Twitter/X: markriccioni
mark@scene-media.com


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