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November 2008
Kevin Jenkins - Escort Mk1
Classic Ford November 2008
Scene It, Done It
Old school Ford is just that — we speak to Kevin Jenkins, a wellknown classic Ford drag racer who’s seen the scene evolve and hasn’t been afraid to move with it.
Words Blakey Photos Jon Hill
Name: Kevin Jenkins
Age: 47
Job: Plant machinery contractor
Own: XE-powered MkI Escort, MkI Escort Nimbus Camper (destined for tow-car duties with a 2-litre DOHC Sierra motor)
Previous classic Fords: Anglia 105E, MkII Cortina, 13-second Escort MkI V6, Rover V8-powered Popular and 100E, MkI Escort Mexico
Favourite classic Ford: “Too many to choose but as a road car it’d be a two-door V8 Corsair, low and mean. As a race car, Mark Pointer’s Fordson ‘Hooligan’
With the classic Ford scene getting more popular by the day it’s all to easy to forget it’s been around for donkey’s. And few have stayed with it as long as Kevin Jenkins, serial blue oval owner and the keeper of what is arguably the fastest accelerating street-legal naturally-aspirated MkI Escort in the UK. Likewise, few are able to comment on what it’s been like to be part of the scene for 25 years and also demonstrate how they’ve moved with the times when it comes to fettling classic Fords. So who better then to ask for an overview on how our favourite hobby has evolved and the best and worst aspects of being a bona fide classic Ford enthusiast? Over to Kevin then for the lowdown on why old Fords really are a way of life...

Classic Ford: So when and why did you get into the classic Ford scene?
Kevin Jenkins: “I started with an Anglia 105E in 1982. This was followed by a MkII Cortina which had a hurried auto ‘box conversion so that Ali, who’s now my wife, could learn to drive after I picked up a ban.
“The first classic Ford I drag raced was ‘Mr Six’, an Essex V6-powered MkI Escort that I built in 1984 and which ran 13-second quarters with the help of slicks and a bit of gas. At the time, choosing Fords was obvious as they just seemed so available and I never really considered anything else.”

CF: You’ve been into classic Fords for over 25 years, what’s the appeal?
KJ: “I’ve found them easy to work on, but what’s appealing is the support that the cars enjoy. “So many people appreciate them and it’s hard to imagine a more friendly or enthusiastic bunch, especially when you’re racing. In the past I’ve done karting and sprinting, but everyone pretty much kept themselves to themselves and the atmosphere was a bit odd, it just didn’t feel like there was much camaraderie.”

CF: How has the scene changed over the years?
KJ: “The quarter-mile times have got a whole lot quicker! I was out of it for eight years before I built my current Escort and the cars are now so much faster. “There’s a much bigger following too and classic Fords now have a really high profile thanks to the dedicated magazines. The advent of the Internet has also been a major factor, highlighting the availability of cars and spares and the rise of dedicated classic Ford websites like Old Skool Ford.

CF: What are its best and worst aspects?
KJ: “The people make the scene, in the main being friendly and quick to offer advice. We have made a lot of new friends through owning a classic Ford that we wouldn’t normally have associated with!
“On the downside, theft is always a risk, and like quite a few classic Ford owners down my way, I’ve recently had a knock on the door from a chap who’s thought to be up to no good. It’s always been a problem though, it’s just that when anything does go missing it’s now a lot easier to spread the word.”

CF: Out of all the memories, what’s the highlight of your time with classic Fords?
KJ: “I’ve raced quicker Fords but I’ve had the most fun with this Escort. Most of the others have had Powerglide transmissions but this one’s running a five-speed manual and you really have to drive it — when you’re out of shape and trying to shift it’s a bit of a handful. “Competing in the Rover V8 Challenge was really good, both in terms of racing and the banter and startline wind ups. I’ll always remember going head-to-head with Steve Green’s Cortina, Ian Hampstead’s Escort and Paula Atkin’s 100E. One race with Ian was a particularly good laugh. “Budweiser was sponsoring the Round and we’d been given a crate of beer when we signed on. The night before the main event we’d all had a couple and started talking about racing. Ian mentioned that he got quite nervous when it came to staging and his leg would start shaking
if it went on too long. The next day, I left him in stage for as long as I could...
“On the road, Chelsea was always fun and it was good to get along to the recent reunion on the bridge.”

CF: And your lowest point?
KJ: “Wrapping my MkI Mexico round a tree! “Back in the day, getting invited to race by a promoter and then being stuck in some shoddy pits was pretty grim. Although I took a break when my son Kieran was born, I’ve never considered selling up and calling it a day, or swapping to another marque .”

CF: You’re quite into your drag racing, is this a key part of the scene in your eyes?
KJ: “For me, it definitely is and I like the adrenaline rush that happens in such a short space of time. “I’ve raced since the mid ‘80s and the atmosphere and people are great. Drag racing appeals to me as you can race against someone else in a proper competition or just for fun. “I think it’s always been part of the scene and especially now as there’s the Old Skool Ford Drag Challenge. I’ve taken on more of an organiser role in this year’s Challenge and have used my experience to help come up with a handicap system that is based around a 13-second quarter.
“Because we’re running handicaps everyone has a chance of winning and coupled with the relaxed nature of the series, this means we’re seeing more and more younger members having a go at racing.”

CF: Your Escort uses a Vauxhall XE. Have you always been keen to try new things, and what bearing have such developments had?
KJ: “I actually bought the XE before I got the Escort, as I got it for a silly price from a mate who was breaking a hot rod. It’s the smallest engine I’ve ever had in a race car but I could see its power potential. “I’ve always tried new things as they’ve come about though, such as the G-Force gearbox and the NASCAR twin-plate sintered clutch, and I’m planning a more serious XE that I think will be the first to feature Pro-Charger induction with a bespoke manifold. It’s a natural progression I suppose and I think any classic Ford owner looks to evolve their car, you do something and then you’ve got to do something else. “The scene’s certainly good for ideas and really benefits as a result, there’s always someone trying something different and the Maltese cars are having quite an influence at the moment.”

CF: How does the XE stack up, and how have you managed to get the Escort to run so quick?
KJ: “The XE works really well and for performance per pound it’s very good. “When racing it runs with slicks and different ignition map and exhaust system, but getting it to go like it does is really down to using the right bits and understanding the ET and terminal speed.

Classic Ford November 2008
CF: Talking about the Escort, it’s got a reputation for launching hard and lifting a wheel. What’s the secret of getting it to hook up so well?
KJ: “It’s something I’m actually looking to improve as there’s too much squat and I need it to rise. “Using slicks helps, but traction is always a problem and it can get out of shape at any time and in any gear. I was on for a 10.7-second pass once but had to come off it when it started to break loose in fifth! “Off the line I use 60 hp of nitrous and, depending on where I’m racing and if the surface has been prepared, drop the clutch at 7000 or 5500 rpm.”

CF: How do you think the classic Ford scene will evolve?
KJ: “It’s difficult to visualise but I never thought it would ever get this big and I can’t see it declining. “I don’t think later models will become acceptable though, as to me a classic Ford will always be rear-wheel-drive, but there’s sure to be more developments, especially now we’re seeing the alternative ways and tricks that enthusiasts in other countries are altering their classic Fords.”

Kevin, Ali, Kieran, Old Skool Ford, Dave and Avon Park Raceway
Having pulled a 10.6 quarter @ 122 mph, Kevin’s 1973 two-door is without doubt one of the UK’s quickest naturally aspirated Escorts.
Sporting fresh Olympic Blue paint, plastic windows and Maltese-style dash for this season, it’s also one of the best presented. However, when Kevin bought it four years ago the subtle saloon was more scrapper than racer.
Allegedly restored, the front end told a different story and its rotten state prompted Kevin to chop it all off and hang the dry-sumped Vauxhall XE motor, trick suspension and Dzus-fastened front panels off a lightweight tube frame.
The aforementioned XE benefits from such bits as twin 48s, 87.5 mm Omega pistons and steel rods, and despite a relatively standard head kicked out 194 bhp @ 7500 rpm before it spat out the prop on Kevin’s one and only visit to the dyno. An extra 100 bhp is injected via a progressive, direct-port fogger nitrous kit and tasked with the job of putting it all down goes to a G-Force five-speed manual, an 8.8 inch Ford rear end and, ultimately, 8x13 inch Compomotive MLs.
Best of all though, the Escort’s a bona fide street car. Yep, Kevin’s Escort is all legal but before you get too jealous at the prospect of driving a 10-second classic Ford on the street, you might want to bear in mind his thoughts on piloting the Escort down Sutton High Street: “It’s bloody ‘orrible, the clutch is just a switch!”
Classic Ford November 2008
Kevin Jenkins SBD webpage
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