SBD Customer Cars
SBD Cars
SBD Motorsport Home
SBD Cars
Retro Cars
September 2008
Retro Cars September 2008
Installing a barking Vauxhall Red Top into a Classic, X-Pack arched MK2 Escort? That's just not cricket. Or is it...?
Words: Andy Basco. Photos: Matt Woods
They say you can’t bat for both sides… so to speak. Or that if you’re from Liverpool, you’re a red or a blue; a Liverpool fan or Everton scum (guess which one I am!). A similar ethos has been adopted for years by both the Ford and Vauxhall purists. Many feel that that once a Ford man, always a Ford man. And the same goes for Vauxhall owners.

The very thought of an Escort owner selling his pride and joy to buy an Astra is enough to send shivers down his spine and cause his heart to palpitate. But what about combining the two? Taking the best bits of a Vauxhall and incorporating them in a retro Ford to build kind of a best of both worlds machine? Well, this is exactly how proud Mk2 owner, Dave Barber, has ruffled the scene’s feathers. Dave’s prized possession and daily driver is a stunning Mk2 Escort featuring not only an X-Pack, but a fiery Vauxhall red top heart boot. And it’s fair to say that although Dave isn’t the only Ford owner running a Vauxhall engine, his is certainly one of the finer examples. Interestingly, Dave actually bought the car with the engine already in place. “I knew the guy that built it,” he explained, “I had a Mk1 the first time I saw this one and was instantly impressed. It’s a guy not far from me who put the engine in. He’s a mechanic and MoT tester. In fact, he still looks after the car and tests it for me. He misses it so much, so I usually leave it with him for the day so he can have a play. Sparky is his name. Not his real name obviously, but that’s what everyone calls him... “I bought the car off him about three years ago. It’d been sitting in a barn for about three years and when he hinted that he was considering selling it, I pretty much bugged him every day until he agreed to let it go. It was one of those things where he wasn’t using it, but just couldn’t bring himself to part with it,” Dave continued.

Retro Cars September 2008 Sparky had purchased the car as a completely standard 1.1-litre example. As you can probably tell, it didn’t stay factory for long. His first port of call was acquiring a donor car that he could dissect and glean the needed repair parts from. After all, the car had been sitting for a little over three years, enough time for things to begin to rot. As it happens, the X-pack arches were pretty much a fluke. One of the first donor cars just happened to have the arches already in-place, although the car itself was rotten. Bit of a result for Sparky.

With the car up and running, taxed and tested, it was time to bin that weedy 1.1-litre lump. Like a host of Mk1 and Mk2 owners, Sparky sourced a Pinto block for his ongoing project, keeping the heart and soul of the project within the family. That having been said, it wasn’t too long before he was changing his mind. He took the car to one of Santa Pod’s many Run What Ya Brung days and soon found the Pinto block struggling at the top end. He wasn’t expecting it to set any quarter-mile records in its standard guise, but just hoped for a bit more higher up the rev range. It was at this point he began to reason with himself. Should he persevere with the Pinto lump and risk experiencing reliability issues as he began fettling, or should he go for a later, more dependable engine, one with more natural and easily released top-end grunt?

The thing was, Sparky was building the car on a budget, and even though he’d been carrying out the work himself, he still needed to watch the pennies. What he therefore needed was a block not too expensive, perhaps significantly younger for reliability, and one with more high-end potential. And although there were a number of different options available to Sparky, it was Surrey-based tuner, SBD Motorsport, that ultimately made his decision for him.

How so? Well, for a number of years now SBD has been doing great things with Vauxhall blocks, in particular the 2.0-litre C20XE (aka red top) engine. To the extent that it’s developed a kit that squeezes just shy of 300bhp out of the lump, while still retaining the naturally aspirated format. So a red top it was. The exact block Sparky got his hands on is believed to be out of either a late Mk2 Astra GTE or an early Mk3 Astra GSi, although the chappy selling it couldn’t say for sure. Either way, it was running sweetly so Sparky snapped it up. It came without a gearbox and drive shaft, but both elements were already mated to the Pinto engine previously installed and could be used for the conversion. In reality, that wasn’t a massive problem with the Capri 2.8i Type 9 five-speed box fitted with a quick-shift rose-jointed lever and mated to the red top with a SBD five degree bell housing. The next challenge was to make it all fit.

The block itself wasn’t too much of an issue. With a little shuffling around there was enough room for the engine. The gearbox, on the other hand, is a bit bigger than the one the Mk2 was originally designed to accommodate, so the tunnel had already been modified to provide enough clearance. The engine mounts are directly welded to the chassis rails to keep the centre of gravity lower than if mounted to the crossmember. A RS2000 two-piece propshaft is used to translate the power down.

With some tax and ticket to its name, the mechanic was loving his reworked Escort, although by his own admission, it actually felt a touch slower than it did before. That having been said, he knew the potential of the block, and when funds became available, he soon began releasing plenty of reliable power. The majority of the additional goodies came from SBD. Fast 230 road cams, pocketed pistons and a four-branch heat-wrapped manifold were all ordered, along with twin 45 Dellorto carbs, adjustable verniers and a custom twin-box exhaust. Once set up, this all made a dramatic difference and instilled some real fire in the Ford’s belly. But sadly, other commitments meant that Sparky couldn’t invest as much time and money into his project in the coming months. Although he was unable to use it, he couldn’t bring himself to sell it, so the Escort was bubble-wrapped and stored in a barn for the next three years, before Dave managed to wrangle the keys from Sparky’s hand.

Retro Cars September 2008
Dave has always been a Ford man, and has owned half a dozen Mk1 and Mk2s in his time, as well as countless Cortinas and Capris. In fact, one of his Cortinas housed a stonking 5.2-litre Dodge engine, while beefy 3.1-litre V6s have also found their way into some of his other Fords. So, engine transplants aren’t new to him, and judging by his portfolio, big throaty blocks in particular take his fancy. But the prospect of a high-revving, 2.0-litre 16v lump in his favoured Mk2 shell intrigued Dave more than anything else. He knew the car, knew the owner, and after a few months without a Ford to play in, he couldn’t resist. “It felt really strong when I drove it,” Dave let on. “Not the quickest Ford I’ve owned but really stable and driveable, well, until I got the Toyo R888s on it anyway! They’re great in the dry but pretty scary in the wet! The car was pretty much there to be honest. Sparky had got the mechanicals virtually spot on. But he had done it on a budget so it needed some love to get it to the state you see in front of you now.”

One of the first issues to be sorted was an overheating problem. The Mk2 had a tendency to spew coolant all over the tarmac when stationary so an alloy radiator with electric fan was added, and now the Ford almost doesn’t heat up enough! Next was the interior. Sparky had already fitted an RS dash, a six-point roll-cage and stripped away some of the carpets and trim. But to be honest, it was pretty untidy inside so Dave turned his attentions here next. The cage was removed, repainted and re-installed, the interior was stripped properly and new lightweight alloy door panels were fabricated and fitted. The pair of old Capri seats were then replaced with two new Cobra Monaco S buckets, and water temperature, oil temperature and oil pressure gauges all added to the RS dash along with an RS2000 custom clock pod.

Dave had the Escort dyno’d about a year later to check all was healthy. It produced 190bhp, which was pretty much what he’d expected. The dyno session also provided Dave with the incentive to try and break the 200bhp mark, which essentially instigated the next round of modifications. The time on the rollers also showed that although the engine itself was staying relatively cool, engine bay temperatures and therefore intake temperatures were through the roof. To combat this, Dave moved the brake servo to the boot and cut out part of the panel near the headlight, clearing the way for more cold air to hit the filter.

Retro Cars September 2008 It was then back to SBD for an MBE97i engine management system. This meant that a lot of the old wiring, not to mention the tired coil could be binned for a more suitable, reliable and mapable setup. Although Dave hasn't had the car back on the rollers since, he's estimating the Mk2 is now good for around 210bhp, a figure we reckon is extremely realistic. What this essentially means is the running gear of this Mk2 is as fruity as its vibrant exterior. As mentioned earlier, the previous owner had already fitted the X-Pack arches after fully seam welding and strengthening the shell. But the paint had dropped a little in places and a few cracks were beginning to appear around the kit. So Dave recruited the help of a mate to give the Escort a fresh squirt of the same blue hue.

Before that could be done though, a few other cosmetic issues came to the fore as the two of them began to rub the shell down. The main issues though were the bottom of the doors. Small rust spots were beginning to bubble through and for the sake £40 a side, Dave invested in new skins. As for the paint itself, Dave didn't know the exact colour. The story goes that when it was resprayed the first time, Sparky pointed to a van in the yard, thought to be a Leyland Daf workhorse, and said that he wanted it as close to that as possible.

This meant Dave had to take the car to be colour matched as he didn't have a paint code to go by. The finish is superb, which inspired him to invest in some shiny, deep-dish footwear. "I went for 8x13" Minilites with 185/60 R888s," he explained. "I wanted 13s to keep it '70s if that makes any sense?"

It's a classic wheel choice, and one that always works well with Mk2s. The previous owner had already fitted Bilstein front dampers with adjustable top mounts and 190lb springs, plus Spax adjustable rear shocks, single leaf springs and 2" lowering blocks. Not to mention RS2000 brakes all round with a GRP4 adjustable brake bias pedalbox. "What I'd ideally like to do is five-link the rear end so I can get rid of the leaf springs. Then a Quaife straight-cut box and an alloy fuel tank in the boot and I'm pretty much there.

Although you can never actually finish a project car, can you? There's always something you want to change," Dave concluded. And how true that is. More often than not when we feature cars, it's nice to meet the man who built the car and knows it inside-out. And although it was the previous owner who plumbed in the Vauxhall XE lump and fitted the X-Pack arches, there is no way we'd be giving as much coverage for this car if it were not for Dave Barber's passion and expertise.

Yes, the engine was already inside and yes, the arches were on. But the red top needed tuning and setting up to make it the barking terrier it is today. And that's not to say he simply twisted a few dials and pressed the odd button to get it to this state, either. Being in the oil and gas industry, Dave has access to a lot of machinery which he utilised by fabricating countless adaptors, connectors, mounts and brackets to get everything in place operating effectively. Large sums have been spent on ancillaries and the engine management to ensure the red top was the best it could possibly be considering its spec. And when it comes to the exterior, Dave hasn't held back from investing in new panels, tasty wheels and a full respray in an effort to make this hybrid stand out from the rest.

So while we're sure some of the Ford and Vauxhall purists will be up in arms over this one given its unconventional approach, we personally love Dave's individual Mk2. It may have a Vauxhall pulse, but Dave's all Ford at heart.

2.0-litre 16v Vauxhall XE ‘Red Top’ engine, Opel Manta big wing sump and pick-up pipe, SBD 230 fast road cams, SBD pocketed pistons, ported and gas flowed head, adjustable verniers, twin 45 Dellorto carbs with cold air feed, oil cooler, GRP4 Fabrications alloy radiator with electric fan, SBD four-branch heat wrapped manifold, custom twin box exhaust system, SBD MBE97i ECU, distributor and coil-less ignition, Capri 2.8i Type 9 five-speed gearbox with rose-jointed quick-shift, modified gearbox tunnel, SBD five degree bell housing, RS2000 two-piece propshaft, RS2000 rear axle with anti-tramp bars, electric fuel pump with pressure regulator, battery and washer bottle all relocated to boot
8x13” Minilites shod in 185/60 Toyo R888s, extended wheel studs, 19mm spacers, Bilstein dampers up front with adjustable top mounts and 190lb lowering springs, Spax adjustable dampers on the rear, single leaf springs, 2” lowering blocks, RS2000 vented front discs with AP Racing four-pot calipers, RS2000 rear drums, Goodridge hoses, lines relocated to run inside car, GRP4 Engineering adjustable brake bias pedalbox, brake servo relocated to boot
Fully seam welded and strengthened shell, full X-Pack wide-arch body kit, RS rear boot spoiler, fibreglass front quarter bumpers, bonnet pins, full respray in Leyland DAF blue
Six-point bolt-in roll-cage including door bars, blue Cobra Monaco S bucket seats, three-point harnesses, RS dashboard, RS2000 custom gauge pod, three-spoke steering wheel, stripped interior including carpets, sound proofing, trim and rear seats, alloy firewall, alloy door and rear quarter panels, alloy pedals, water temperature, oil temperature and oil pressure gauges
Nick at ‘the barn’ for the paint, Dave at ‘Henstead Motorsport’ for the rolling road, Sparky for selling it, Carrie for putting up with my obsession!
Dave Barber SBD Webpage
Ignition Only Kits | Vauxhall Kits & Components
SBD Press Coverage | Customer Press Coverage

Home | Price List | Site Map | Contact Us
Events | Press Coverage | Meet the Staff | Frequently Asked Questions | Distributors, Dealers & Links | Sponsorship | Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy
SBD Motorsport Ltd, Unit 15, Red Lion Business Park, Red Lion Road, Surbiton, Surrey. KT6 7QD. Tel: 0208 391 0121.
Email Contact Details | Follow us on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter