Ford Escort RS Cosworth: history, specs and buying guide

Thirty years old in 2022, we look back at what made the Escort ‘Cossie’ significant – and what to look for when buying

The Ford Escort RS Cosworth is now around three decades old, and while it looks it, it has grown old gracefully. Now that the kids who lusted after these cars are old enough to appreciate them first-hand, ’90s cars are all the rage, and a used Ford Escort RS is a major nostalgia-inducing machine for avid followers of the golden age of rallying, fast Ford fans and car enthusiasts alike.

For this reason, its dated looks are paradoxically now quite refreshing – its combination of striking oversized wings and wide-body stance with that iconic whale-tail rear wing and spoiler stuck onto the otherwise mundane ordinariness of the Escort Mk5 is absolutely representative of the era that conceived it. It’s the era of the Toyota Celica GT-Fours, Mitsubishi Lancer Evos and Subaru Impreza Turbos that epitomised the ethos of ‘win on a Sunday, sell on a Monday’.

> Ford Focus RS review - the king of the superhatches?

With monster A-to-B performance and the attitude of a middle finger to anyone that looked at it the wrong way, the Escort RS Cosworth is one of those rare cars with such a strong identity that it of course earned itself the endearing mononym – Cossie.

After a quarter century, you’ll also know much of the lore surrounding the Escort RS Cosworth. You’ll know, for example, that it was developed for the same reasons as those Celicas, Lancers and Imprezas, to be a platform capable of catapulting its respective maker to the front of world rallying.

The standard Escort’s platform (front-wheel drive with a transverse engine) wasn’t really the best for Ford to start with given the rally homologation requirements. Its rivals, from the aforementioned Japanese trio to the Lancia Delta Integrale, had been developed from the ground up with crucial all-wheel-drive drivetrains in mind, and refined from thereon.

Ford did have an ace up its sleeve, however, in the form of the Sierra Cosworth. Ford’s Special Vehicle Engineering (SVE) division managed to squeeze the workings of the Sierra Cosworth into the marketing-friendly Escort body, which formed the basis of the Escort Cosworth. The enormous, iconic rear wing (originally designed as a bi-plane-esque dual-blade wing, but canned at a later stage), front splitter and widened body panels all served a purpose, too. They were designed to assist the car at the high speeds it was expected to reach in rallying.

The familiar 2-litre turbocharged engine also saw tweaks – in went a new Garrett T35 turbocharger and a two-stage intercooler. In original form this developed 224bhp at 6250rpm and 224lb ft of torque at 3500rpm, figures dwarfed by those of even today’s Focus ST, but the big turbo meant big lag and then big boost, for a startlingly exciting power delivery. Ford did tone this down a little with a smaller T25 turbocharger in 1994, and peak power dropped by 10bhp. Those early cars are more tuneable, the latter more driveable in standard form.

Finding a standard Escort Cosworth is quite a challenge these days, and the degree to which an example is standard, original and low on miles hugely influences the price you should expect to pay.

Prices have skyrocketed since evo did a full buying guide on the Cossie (issue 042 if you’re interested, way back in April 2002) when it was still possible to find cars for as little as £10,000, but today, it’s not uncommon to see prices around the £65,000-75,000 mark. Low-mileage examples that are on sale with specialists come in at the higher end of that range, of course, but the special-edition Monte Carlo model demands an even higher premium – we found one at just over £106,000.

What we said at the time

‘Despite four-wheel drive, the Cossie has a hot hatchback-like feel: all front-end bite with a playfully mobile tail. The combination of a super-pointy front end and 33/67 front/rear torque split is a clever and expressive one, for it allows you to set the car up on the way into a corner, turning in with a deliberate lift of the throttle to get the tail moving, then using the quick steering and rear-biased torque split to power through. It’s something you need to reserve for open, clearly sighted corners, but it’s a treat you’ll never tire of.

‘It's not everyone's cup of tea, and there's no question the car's humble origins and four-cylinder engine lack the kudos of a more exotic body and a sweet-spinning six-cylinder, but the Escort Cosworth is a vivid reminder of the days when rallying still gave us exciting road cars.’ Richard Meaden, evo 157

Ford Escort RS Cosworth buying checkpoints

Engine

Mechanically, there’s nothing much here that should scare you: four cylinders, 16 valves and a turbocharger. Knowing what you’re getting is important though. Early, big-turbo cars feature what’s known as a ‘YBT’ engine, most easily identifiable by the blue cam cover. Later, small-turbo engines are known as YBP units, and are denoted by a smoother, silver-finish cam cover.

High states of tune can affect reliability, so if the car you’re looking at has big power claims then exercise caution. Otherwise, it’s mainly routine checks: excessive oil leaks, coolant leaks (pointing to head gasket failure), and on the test drive, excessive amounts of smoke – blue points to oil issues (piston rings under load, or turbos on the overrun), white again points towards the head gasket. Check the coil and plugs, too, as both can cause rough running.

Transmission

All cars got a MT75 five-speed manual gearbox and sent their power to all four wheels. Like the engine, everything here is fairly hardy, but put more power through it and wear will be accelerated, eventually (or quickly, depending on the output) resulting in failures. Synchro rings can fail, too, but the ’box isn’t as slick as a modern one anyway, so you’re looking for crunching and difficult gear engagement, rather than obstinance.

Suspension and brakes

Many older cars are under-braked by modern standards and the Escort Cosworth is little different. Most will have been upgraded by now so the old problems of warped discs may no longer be present (except for on the most original examples), but as a performance car there may well be signs of hard use, so check how much meat is left on the discs and the pads, and use that as a bargaining point.

Likewise, springs or dampers may well have been upgraded by now, but a test drive will reveal any other suspension issues, such as perished bushes or tired dampers.

Bodywork and interior

Most Cosworths are now prized, either as collector vehicles or trackday hacks, and as such most should be visually and structurally good – at least at a glance. Rust is always a problem on old Fords but should be uncommon on well-loved examples, so treat it as a sign that other maintenance may too be being neglected. Chassis damage is also always a possibility – Cosworths tend to be driven enthusiastically – but again, a well-maintained car should have had this corrected professionally.

Interiors are standard 1990s Ford fare – very much not a haven of soft-touch plastics and high build quality – but should still be nicer, and better maintained than a bog-standard Escort cabin. The original Recaro leather seats may be looking a bit tired by now, if the owner hasn’t replaced them with buckets for track work. Trim pieces can be hard to come by, even though many are from standard Escorts of the era.

Specifications (YBT engine)

EngineIn-line 4-cyl, 1993cc, turbocharged
Power224bhp @ 6250rpm
Torque224lb ft @ 3500rpm
TransmissionFive-speed, manual, four-wheel drive
Tyres245/45 ZR16 front and rear
Weight1275kg
Power-to-weight179bhp/ton
0-62mph6.2sec
Top speed137mph
Price when new£20,524

Parts prices

Tyre prices from blackcircles.com. All prices include VAT at 20 per cent

Tyres £81.29 each (Toyo Proxes T1-R, 225/45 R16, delivered)

What to pay

As mentioned earlier, Cosworth prices vary significantly, though have now comfortably eclipsed those the car commanded new in 1992, which is quite an impressive feat. The least you’ll pay at current is just shy of £65,000, with some examples listed over an eye-watering £100,000. It may be possible to find examples cheaper, but they’re few and far between.

Prices escalate quickly after that – original cars with low miles can reach £75k and beyond, and we’ve seen ultra-low-miles models, particularly the limited-edition Monte Carlo, with six-figure price tags.

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