All the signs are that the Focus RS will be stonkingly good. It needs to be. The anticipation is already huge, but so is the reputation of the Ford RS cars which latest iteration – the 30th – needs to uphold.
Inevitably though, not all of those 30 were instant classics – there have been a few duds. So, at the risk of courting controversy, here are the five worst cars ever to carry the fabled RS badge.
1983 Ford Escort RS1700T
The four-wheel-drive Audi quattro may have revolutionised rallying when it was launched in 1980, but two-wheel-drive cars could still hold their own – Walter Rohrl won the Drivers’ title in 1982 aboard an Opel Ascona 400 while Lancia claimed the Manufacturers’ crown in ’83 with the 037.
On that basis, it was perfectly logical for Ford to start developing a RWD Group B challenger to replace the massively successful Group 4 Escort RS1800. In many ways, the new Escort RS1700T was essentially the old car in the new hatchback bodyshell with a turbo engine under the bonnet.
On paper, the RS1700T was promising. The running gear was tried and tested, the 1,780cc Cosworth BDT made 320bhp and Ford had a roster of big name drivers on hand. But development was plagued with problems. When the car was finally up and running, Ford staged a very public test in Portugal. Though the RS1700T was two seconds per kilometre quicker than the old RS1800, it was well off the pace of the quattro. So Ford cut its losses, pulled the plug and started work on the 4WD RS200.
Had Ford stuck with it, the RS1700T might have succeeded. But it was based on outdated thinking and the time lost probably prevented Ford from achieving real success in Group B – though no one knew it at the time, the RS200’s only full season in the WRC proved to be the last for Group B.
1990 Ford Escort RS2000
By any measure, the Mk.5 Escort was rubbish. So bad, in fact, that Ford went back to the drawing board and turned out a heavily revised facelift within two years.
Rubbish it may have been, but that didn’t stop Ford building a fast version of the new Escort, reviving the RS2000 name. A 148bhp, 2.0-litre, twin-cam, 16-valve engine was slotted under the bonnet, the suspension tautened and the styling toughened up.
The RS2000 was a dramatic improvement over the standard Escort, but it still wasn’t much cop against the hot hatch opposition. The ride was too stiff and the handling uninvolving. Much more seriously, it didn’t live up to the RS2000 name.
1990 Ford Fiesta RS Turbo
Ford was busy as the Eighties gave way to the Nineties, with new generations of both the Escort and Fiesta launching in quick succession. The performance versions of both cars were rejigged as well, which led to the 1.6-litre turbo motor from the old Escort RS Turbo finding its way into the new Fiesta.
Now, the Escort RST had its problems – turbo lag, torque steer and overheating, mostly – but it became a legend in its own lifetime anyway. Ford simply dropped the 131bhp, 135lb/ft engine into the new Mk.3 Fiesta and hoped for the best. It was still laggy, still torque steered and still overheated, but added a ridiculously stiff ride and dead steering to the mix. It was awful.
Insurance premiums on hot hatchbacks spiralled in the early Nineties and the Fiesta RST acutely affected as, for reasons known known only unto themselves, it proved extremely popular with joyriders. Mercifully it was killed off after two years. It’s a real rarity now, most claimed by rust or stripped of their engine. Unfortunately, the replacement wasn’t any better…
1992 Ford Fiesta RS1800
Ford displayed a spectacular ability to not learn from its mistakes in the early Nineties. The Fiesta RS Turbo was replaced by the Fiesta RS1800 in ’92, borrowing its badge from the legendary Mk.2 Escort rally car that won the world championship in ’79 and ’81. It didn’t live up to the name.
The Fiesta RS1800 did at least have the brilliant new 130bhp, 1.8-litre Zetec engine under the bonnet, but it was in every other way identical to the old RST. As before it was too stiff and didn’t handle properly. At least it didn’t torque steer as much.
Buyers weren’t as easily fooled the second time around and insurance costs still hurt, so the RS1800 is even rarer than the RST. Again, rust accounts for most, engine swappers for the rest.
2002 Ford Focus RS
Oooo, controversial. The original Focus RS is, in many ways, a seminal car, not just because it revived the RS badge after a six-year hiatus.
Power came from a turbocharged version of the 2.0-litre Zetec engine, built almost to WRC-spec. Indeed, 70 per cent of the motor was new. Output stood at 212bhp and 229lb/ft of torque.
The suspension and brakes were heavily uprated and a Quaife limited-slip differential fitted. The handling was epic but – and this is the crucial point – only on billiard table-smooth roads. On the average ruined British B-road, the diff induced massive torque steer. You could drive around the problem, but it was much harder work than the benchmark Honda Civic Type-R
And it was so massively over-engineered that Ford allegedly lost £4,000 on each of the 4,500 made. Not necessarily a bad thing, but a fairly daft thing.
By Only Motors