Friday, 27 July 2012 12:16 PM
Ford has made some pukka power-to-the-people performance cars over the years and I’ve been out for a blast in some the very finest from the last four decades…
Ford Escort Mexico (1974)
The Escort Mexico. A fabulous start to fast Ford fun
There is surely no more iconic place to start when talking about Ford’s UK-centric performance history than with the hugely successful – both on the road and racing – Escort Mexico.
This bright-red stunner belongs to the Ford Heritage fleet, but rare and valuable as it is, they don’t mind loaning it out to (very special!) motoring journos. I didn’t need to be asked twice.
This Mexico is pretty much totally original, from its wider front wings to its deep-dish steel wheels and its ‘Mexico’ badges. It looks fab!
In the metal, you’ll see how small, low and lean the Mexico is. Of course, times have completely changed since this 1976 Mex rolled out of Ford’s performance garage in Aveley, Essex, with the old girl nowhere near living up to modern customer and legislation expectations in terms of safety, pure comfort and family practicality. The Mexico was made for faster fun in a different era and you can feel it through every inch of the lovely lines.
This car benefits from a ‘custom pack’ – options lists have been around for a long time! – and enjoys such treats as Recaro seats, carpet, an orange-hands clock and a real walnut dashboard fascia.
The Recaro driver’s seat is small and snug and at well over 6-feet tall it’s a pretty tight driving position for me. But it’s deeply low in the chassis which is just how I like it.
Everyone recognises and enjoys the Mexico as I cruise around the back lanes, and while I feel low and small in this low-slung racer; I also feel easily as cool as a Prada-bombed rockstar!
It drives with gusto and grip with so much life and feedback from the chassis and steering that I could easily picture myself hooning it around some dusty rally stage; steering from the rear. If only it wasn’t so rare and precious.
With 90bhp on tap from its 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder engine through four forward gears, the Mex doesn’t sound like it would be that quick. And while 99mph is the claimed top speed, it pulls through its gears with some good shove and makes a mean little ‘grrr’ as it makes its progress. Indeed, the brakes are good too and it’s light enough – and very well suspended – to cut a fine dash down these twisty lanes.
It’s plain to see exactly how and why this car was such a success for Ford.
Ford Racing Puma (1999)
The Ford Racing Puma. Hard as nails, fast as feck!
How about this blue-belter? You don’t see many Racing Pumas around. At £22k new in the late 90s, the Racing Puma was expensive, but you get what you pay for and this is one over-engineered car. I couldn’t believe how racy it felt.
Rolling wide arches over motorsport-inspired 17-inch alloy wheels make this Puma look like it was built with a big dollop of inspiration from the Mexico’s rally success. And with a comprehensive top-notch tech-spec, this fast Ford is one of the very closest road car to a real racer as they’ve ever made.
On the road it’s hard and precise on the suspension with no body roll, pitch or dive. The heavily-reworked 1.7-litre, 4-cylinder petrol engine is an absolute racing-peach with a top-heavy power delivery, tall rev-range and a popping and banging soundtrack that’s pure rallying. Keep the revs at the top with a razor-sharp throttle response, toss the Racing Puma into bends and it’ll stick like the proverbial. Indeed it’s faster than my average-to-good driving skills. Thank goodness the brakes bite hard!
Inside we see Sparco bucket seats that really do the trick and though there's most of the standard Puma to be seen on the inside, that's fine by me, as the Ford Racing engineers at Boreham in Essex clearly spent their cash on the fast stuff, rather than pretty bits and bobs. Again, 155bhp for this car doesn’t sound like that much by today’s standards, but coupled with the sheer grip and rasping soundtrack of the Racing Puma, you’ll soon find yourself flying to a claimed top speed of 126mph, and 62mph in 7.9secs.
The Racing Puma is a full-bore, hard-edged racer for the road and a truly mind-blowing drive. No wonder they fetch good money these days.
Ford Focus ST (2012)
The new Ford Focus ST. Tons of power and sharp chassis performance in a real-world package
And so to round up my drive of some of the finest of faster Fords with the new Focus ST, all 247bhp of it.
The new Focus ST is many, many miles away from the Mexico and some good way from the Racing Puma. But there is still a powerful undercurrent of built-in driving excitement; even through this car’s computer-controlled potency.
The newest fast Ford on the block must been keenly priced – from £22k with an impressive tech spec, this car is very nicely priced indeed – and fuel efficient (claimed economy of 39.2mpg), and totally practical for the 9 to 5 life of commuting and motorway hauling.
Well, Ford’s racing heritage is only enriched by the new ST. It’s darn fast (62mph in 6.2secs) and its 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol motor sounds deep and classy, and it’s quick to respond through the leather-clad steering wheel. It'll quietly cruise all day long, too.
But, like the previous two Focus models before it; this Focus is rolling on one wicked chassis. Grip, composure and predictability are of high value when hustling through the back lanes and this new Focus ST knows where it wants to go. Firm but fair suspension, all but eliminated electronically controlled torque steer and hard-biting track-ready brakes, make this hatchback package safely fast and up for fun. While five seats and interior space make it weekend-with-the-kids-ready.
The ST is a highly respectable evolution in Ford’s rich road-racing history and the one out of all of them that I’d take home tonight. It feels like it’ll take lap after lap of track day fun, and while the Mexico is poetry in motion; I’d just feel too guilty to really hammer it around a racetrack. The Racing Puma too could handle the track-abuse, I think, but if I only had one car to drive day in, day out, I’d want the smooth and quiet Focus ST; a car that’s totally docile and comfortable, until you pull the power-pin.
By Daniel Anslow