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If you're Gordon Murray, creator of the original McLaren F1, several Formula 1 race cars, and the GMA T.50, what kind of car do you build with your near-unlimited resources and thorough knowledge of automotive engineering? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a Ford Escort. Of course, we're talking about the European Ford Escort, which proved hugely successful both as an affordable compact saloon and as a championship rally machine. Still, a plain white economy car isn't what you'd expect one of the world's great engineering minds pushing. A closer look under the skin reveals that it's not your typical factory Mk I Escort. In fact, almost no part of the car has remained unmodified. In a video by The Late Brake Show and shared by Motor 1, Murray conducts an in-depth walkaround of the car. In place of the original 1.6-liter twin-cam is a 2.3-liter Duratec, which is based on a Mazda four-cylinder developed during the time when Mazda was owned by Ford. The difference with this one is that it was built by Cosworth to put out 240 to 250 horsepower and can rev like the dickens. Any old yutz can swap an engine, right? Sure, but on the opposite end of this Escort lies a bespoke independent rear suspension where a solid axle should be. Murray explains that to best suit the added output from the motor (original Escort twin-cams made about 115 horsepower) the suspension had to be redesigned to lower the roll center. Otherwise, the car would be overly tail-happy. Murray admits that the suspension is probably not stiff enough for track duty but is perfect for street driving, absorbing bumps but not getting any tire hop when he guns it. The car was built in conjunction with a U.K. shop called Retro Power. They started with a good but rusty shell found in South Africa.
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The floors was so Swiss cheesed that Murray could see the road passing beneath it, but the body was straight. Over a couple of years, Murray and Retro Power stiffened and sorted the chassis and honed the final product. The car is replete with pieces that showcase Murray's signature attention to detail. For example, the 6-speed gearbox is from a Mazda Miata, but he angled the lever slightly so that his hand would fall naturally to the shift knob when he let go of the steering wheel. Murray also removed the rear seats so he could sit further back. The interior boasts a custom dash with touches of Murray's tartan pattern. Murray was adamant that he did not want it to look like a hot rod so he kept the steel-wheels-with-hubcaps look, though they appear to be a size larger than stock and wrapped in meatier Yokohama tires. The fender badges read "Cosworth" in the same size as the original twin-cam badges. To counter the parachute effect of the rear panel, he cut two thin slots to mirror the factory slots in the front. A performance exhaust might be the biggest clue to onlookers that this isn't a stock Escort. The entire car weighs just a hair over 2,000 pounds. Part of that is made possible by a carbon fiber hood and trunk. The exhaust headers run hot enough, however, that they had to install a heat shield between them and the hood so that they don't melt the resin. That section of the hood even has some gold foil insulation, a reference to the engine room of the McLaren F1. Murray says he wanted to build the Escort because he grew up with Fords like the Anglia and Cortina. It's not about raw power or 0-60 times. Like with anything Murray does, it takes into account the type of driving the owner will do. What he ended up with is likely the coolest and most well sorted Escort Mk I on the planet.