As the last strains of autumn begin to be replaced by the darkness of winter, we’re currently, in Ireland at least, in a period of dullness.
The sky, grey and foreboding and always seeming to signal another impending downpour, appears devoid of a sun. A chill grows in the wind, itself growing stronger by the day. And the road surface, which seemed so inviting and smooth in summer, is now nothing more than a damp ribbon of mud and puddles.
It’s the sort of day to stay in bed and feel the world drift past, but here, atop a mountain pass, a flash of colour and a rasp of noise makes everything seem right.
For all of us that build or modify cars, a common thought is often had of what level of ‘stand-out’ do I want to achieve. Go full sleeper, or leave a few hints to those with a bit of knowledge? Go really out there with big wheels and body kits?
For Paddy Gorman, his Mk1 Ford Escort falls bang smack in the middle. With a lack of bumpers and the addition of Mk2 arches only noticeable to the well-trained eye, the diminutive machine is a clean take on the timeless Ford lines. It’s subtle and beautifully simple, free of shiny exterior add-ons. Properly subtle though, really? Not a hope.
Finished in Signal Yellow, this car can likely be seen from the town a few miles below, and by god does it light up a drab and dirty Irish morning.
The result of an almost nine-year build full of constant tweaks and changes, the Escort is now at a point of being near perfect as the fast-road weapon it was always destined to be.
Talk to most youngsters these day and ask what they would like as a present for their 21st birthday, you would be hard pressed to find many that would answer: ‘Can I have one very rusty 1971 Ford Escort shell please?’. Paddy gave that answer, although being honest he tells me he could very easily have been swayed had a KP Toyota Starlet project come along at the time.
Growing up in a family of car fanatics, his father not only a long-time rally mechanic and welder but also nearing the completion of a really impressive Mk2 Escort build of his own, petrol was always going to run through Paddy’s veins. Moving through the usual, at the time, stuff like Renault 5s and Novas, the Escort was a big step up.
An original Irish-built car, rolling out of the Cork Marina plant as an 1,100cc in 1971, the first task was to order every replacement panel available. The body was in a rough state, with filler and even old road signs riveted together in places, but this just made the restoration process even more rewarding.
With the shell in the garage, the plan was effectively a blank canvas. Sorting the rot was an obvious first step, but after that the sheet was empty, which explains the constant desire to continue changing and tweaking things here and there.
In terms of influence for a build of this nature, I could have almost answered the question without asking. The Harris clan are a legendary family in the UK Ford scene, and the vast history and knowledge they share through social media channels has inspired plenty of builds including this one, but so too have sources closer to home. Growing up around both family and friends who are tinkering away with old Fords in small sheds and workshops has had as strong an inspiration on this build.
Being a mechanic by trade, Paddy has himself been responsible for the majority of the work under the bonnet, through its numerous guises. Originally fitted with a 2.0-litre Pinto engine, this soon made way for a 2.1-litre running bike carbs and an upgraded cam. While this is a strong package in anyone’s book, it wasn’t long before the current powerplant arrived on the scene.
A factory-fresh 2.0-litre ‘Blacktop’ Zetec engine brings both performance and modern reliability as huge plusses, and the addition of Yamaha R1 carbs really help to make this Escort sing as it rips through the rev range. The sump, engine mounts and fuel rail are all Retro Ford items.
The ignition and fuelling are controlled by a Nodiz ECU, mapped conservatively at around 170bhp. This allows for a very user-friendly driving experience, which it needs to be as this car certainly does the rounds, at times seemingly turning up to nearly every show and event all over the country. Even while doing this shoot, Paddy and the Escort were barely halfway through a four-hour drive to the Irish Ford Fair. A trailer queen this is not.
The yellow paint hue, taken from the Capri palette, is so damn eye-catching thanks to the incredible finish achieved on the bodywork itself. Paddy acknowledges here the countless hours of welding and fabrication carried out by his father, as I really was not lying earlier when I mentioned that buying nearly every panel was the first action taken.
New front and rear panels were grafted onto the shell, as well as new A-pillars, sills, door bottoms as well as floor pans. A Type 49 strengthening kit has been used to improve rigidity throughout. As I said, the rear arches are from a Mk2, not bought for the purpose, but handily lying around the shed thanks to the nature of the family’s connection to rallying.
Beneath those arches sit a set of 13-inch Revolution wheels, easily hiding the potent Princess brake setup.
Keeping all that power connected to the road is often an issue in a car like this, but the motorsport knowledge continues to show through. The front features Capri struts converted to coilovers, and there are also adjustable control arms, a Toyota Corolla anti-dive kit, and a quicker steering rack.
Out back, rear upright strut towers provide a home for Spax adjustable shocks, helping massively when dealing with the rearward power supplied from the Quaife ATB diff.
It’s pretty clear that this is a real driver’s car, built not only to be fun on short blasts, but useable all year round.
The interior is a representation of this versatile fast road weapon ideal. A pair of Sparco bucket seats are certainly snug, but definitely not as restrictive and firm as other fixed seats on the market. A set of Sparco harnesses keep both grinning driver and terrified passenger perfectly in place, while the wonderfully responsive handling synonymous with the Mk1 is fed through a Momo steering wheel.
Next to the gear lever, itself controlling a Sierra 5-speed ‘box, sits a rather purposeful looking hydraulic handbrake. The latter may have got a yank or two during the shoot…
A nine-year labour of love, Paddy has rebuilt this stunning Mk1 truly from the ground up into the exact car he has always wanted – a proper old school machine designed to just put a smile on his face and enjoy the basics of driving.
It’s at a point now that Paddy is happy, and with both an RX-7 and Celica ST165 project needing attention, the Escort is perfect to just wheel out and feel alive in. But, as he says, that could change as well.
You’re never finished modifying…Gallery