The fifth generation of the European-market Ford Escort was not Ford’s finest hour. Panned on its 1990 launch for its poor ride and handling, the critical reaction to the Mk5 – despite strong sales – helped spur Ford into a vehicle dynamics renaissance led by Richard Parry-Jones that gave us the Mondeo, Ka, Focus and many more fine-driving Fords.
Ironically, the Mk5 also gave rise to one of the most celebrated of all Escorts, the RS Cosworth. But the Cossie didn’t have much in common with a regular Escort, swapping the usual transverse-engine, front-drive layout for a longitudinally mounted YB-series engine and 4WD setup lifted from the earlier Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4. Some 2,500 were initially built from 1992 for Group A rally homologation; more than 7,000 had left the Karmann line in Germany before production ceased in 1996.
Here’s the genesis of the Escort RS Cosworth in rally form, as modeled by CM’s. From back to front: Sierra RS Cosworth (1987), Sierra RS Cosworth 4×4 (1992), Escort RS Cosworth (1996) and Escort WRC (1998).
The Escort RS Cosworth won a stack of national rally titles and competed in the World Rally Championship (WRC) as both a works Ford entry and in private hands from 1993-96. For 1997, it was adapted to the new World Rally Car regulations with mechanical updates and its signature biplane rear wing replaced by a more conventional design. Here’s Carlos Sainz (father of the current McLaren F1 driver) on the Swedish Rally in 1997.
Not surprisingly for such a distinctive-looking car, there are some great models out there, including in 1:64/3-inch size. I was prompted to write this article by the arrival of the two Greenlight issues in the Hot Hatches series, so let’s start with those.
The Jewel Violet street car represents the commemorative Monte Carlo edition from 1994. I think the casting is very well done, with the OZ wheels, rear wing and under-hood details particular highlights. The second version represents the later World Rally Car with the modified wing. It’s a Juha Kankkunen Monte Carlo machine from 1998 – not 1996 as the packaging states. The livery is nicely reproduced but it’s a pity the front of the light pod wasn’t printed – in plain white plastic it looks a bit like an afterthought.
I thought it would be fun to compare the new Greenlight with some of the other Escort RS Cosworths in my collection. Let’s start with what is, in my opinion, the toughest test for any wannabe rally car model – CM’s. Helpfully, this sadly now defunct brand modeled the very same Kankkunen Cossie as Greenlight has done, so we can make a direct comparision.
The Greenlight (left) holds up well, I think. The heavy, all-metal construction, the wheels and opening hood count in its favour but the CM’s has separate pieces for the rear lights and a roll cage inside.
As you can see in the background of the shot above, I have two CM’s versions of the Escort. One is Carlos Sainz’s RS Cosworth from the 1996 Swedish Rally, the other is Kankkunen’s ’98 car.
I have another model of Sainz’s Repsol car, too – a Spanish issue from Guisval. It’s not particularly easy to find and although a toy through and through, it’s very nicely done. The packaging is so cool that I can’t quite bring myself to open it!
A contemporary toy Escort Cosworth was made by Matchbox in about 1:57 scale. This version first appeared in 1994 in a reasonably accurate blue-and-white rally scheme. The two I’ve shown here are a little less well known – a blue-and-yellow issue from a 1997 five-pack and the fabulous Mol car, which was a promo for the Hungarian petrol/gas company. The late Laszlo Ranga won a round of the European Rally Championship with this car in 1996.
Of course, there’s a Hot Wheels Mk5 Escort rally car too, famous for being Michael Heralda’s first deco for the brand. As far as I can tell, this casting was based on the 2WD RS2000 Kit Car rather than the RS Cosworth. But when it was retooled for the 2017 range, first appearing in the HW Snow Stormers five-pack (shown here, bottom left), the new rear wing made it look much more like the final, WRC-iteration of the Cossie.
For more Hot Wheels and Matchbox Escort rally action, check out the hashtag #diecast215escorts on my Instagram feed, @diecast215, including some shots I did for a 2017 post on the much-missed Western Diecast Review.
The Greenlight RS Cosworths are a nice addition to the pantheon of fast European Fords in 1:64 scale. It’s great to see Mark Jones’s Hot Wheels RS200 emerge recently in the Thrill Climbers set, too, joining the classic Matchbox tooling (pictured below, left) from the 1980s. Hopefully we’ll see even more soon – I feel like we’re missing a good Escort Mk2, for example, which could be made in countless attractive road and rally decos. Anyone fancy the job?