we're not talking about the American thriller, but instead Declan Munnelly's
freshly completed Mk1 Escort.
With a 2.0-litre XE lurking under the bonnet, 7x13" Ronal RS four-spokes,
simple looks and VW-esque under-bonnet styling - this is one cool Escort.
|Words James Photos wwwsmcphotography.co.uk
Munnelly is no stranger to the pages of Retro Ford. Famed for
his balls-out, on the rack-stop, drifting heroics, he featured on our
October 2008 cover. But Declan is perhaps better known for sliding his
2.4-litre XE powered Mk2 Escort at crazy angles throughout the UK and
Southern Ireland. When he isn't competing in a drift championship or
working laboriously in his garage he can be found playing out on the
lanes in his immaculately-prepared Mk1 Escort, which thanks to an epic
eight-year restoration is now a perfect, unassuming car that also packs
quite a punch!
bought the 1973 Mk1 Escort about eight years ago; it was a running project
that featured a 1600 Crossflow, 2000e 'box, plus a few other choice
parts," explains Declan. "It originally started out as an
1100L shell that had been painted in a not-so-nice yellow colour and
the dash had been cut and shut to house a six-clock item, which rattled
no end." You see, Declan's original intention was to strip down
the Escort, give it a cheap blow-over and eventually fit the pushrod
with a set of twin 40s but things didn't exactly go to plan.. "When
I started stripping down the car I realised that although it needed
all the usual repairs such as the rear arches and sill sections, the
upper half of the shell was actually in great condition," he says.
Recognising the shell's potential, Declan soon set to work sourcing
a plethora of bits including rear arches, door sills, a front panel
and a slam panel. "I also purchased some mint second-hand Mexico
front wings for £350 - those were the days," he chuckles.
"The further I progressed with the project the less I wanted to
build a usable road car; instead I pined for something a bit more special."
the ethos of the project changing direction, Declan began to evaluate
his engine options, which is what bought him to Vauxhall's C20XE.
"I decided to take things a step further and it was back
in 2003 that I starting looking into the pros and cons of fitting
a 2.0-litre XE uimp, which back then, was mostly seen in rally
cars. After weighing up all my options and having sourced some
conversion parts for the right money, I decided to go with it,"
explains an eager Declan. "I fitted most of the engine and
ancillaries while was repairing some of the smaller rust-affected
areas, including the sill and arches, but I left the fitment of
the Mexico wings, front panel and final prep to my bodywork specialist
- who did an excellent job."
taken inspiration from the VW scene, Declan set his heart on having
a smoothed, clutter-free engine bay, which only meant one thing;
hidden wiring. Adamant that he wasn't going to drill any holes
in to a freshly-painted shell, Declan set about fitting every
thing he'd sourced for the project before its imminent trip to
the paint shop. This included a hidden hydraulic handbrake cylinder,
which is situated in the gearbox tunnel just clearing the propshaft;
this kept things looking completely standard inside the Mk1 to
retain the sleeper look. "I though a strut brace would spoil
the look of my 'clean' engine bay so I fabricated a hidden strut
brace system. which runs out from the kick panels, picks up on
the strut top pans under the wings and runs across underneath the front slam panel. It's all linked by flanges, too," grins
a proud Declan - clever stuff. This innovative touch works nicely
alongside the 2.25" front Leda coilovers, adjustable TCAs
and modified anti-roll bars to pull the wheels a few millimetres
forward, producing more castor.
ensure everything fitted like a glove, Declan also fitted the rear suspension
setup that included de-cambered single rear leaf springs, Spax adjustable
dampers, one-inch lowering block and an anti-tramp kit. A six-clock
dash panel was then sourced from a decidedly rotten Mexico shell to
replace the gouged and rather noisy item. Satisfied he'd drilled all
his holes and that everything worked as it should, Declan took 4145
ZJ to pieces in preparation for his local bodyshop, A.R.C. (Accident
Repair Centre). "Every evening was spent sanding down the panels
in preparation for a fresh lick of paint - it finally seemed like there
was light at the end of the tunnel," he smiles. "The colour
I opted for is a glossy blue but the funny thing it's not even listed
for a car, I just picked it from a colour card at the bodyshop."
But Declan's decision wasn't an easy one , with many sleepless nights
having been spent worrying about it, though he's pleased with the final
outcome, as he's explains: "I feel the colour really suits the
Mk1 Escort, especially considering I wasn't going to run any stripes
on it; I was after an unassuming look leaving people guessing what was
underneath the bonnet."
with the car fully painted by Spring '05, the project lost momentum
when Declan concentrated his efforts, time and money on building his
new workshop and later, as he described, a ropey Mk2 RS2000. But this
acted as the perfect stopgap until the Mk1 was on the road but as with
most projects, this one spiralled out of control.
Declan spent much of his time partaking in drift and track events, but
as he improved, so did the car. He explains: "I started to get
carried away bolting bits on, which was closely followed by an XE conversion
robbing Mk1 of some of its parts. "With his heart set on drifting,
the original Mk2 was then tidied up, flat-fronted, painted and eventually
re-shelled into his current beast, which was 'completed' in 2008. "Don't
get me wrong, I did feel guilty about the Mk1 and there were times I
started work on the old gal again - such as during Christmas holiday
period - but the one thing I never did was rush it; it had to be perfect,
he justifies, and rightly so.
the end of the 2008 drift season Declan decided it was finally
time to get on with the build and his goal was the Irish Escort
Club's run in March 2009. "I'd already refitted the suspension
along with a Mk2 Escort column switch setup so I had the wiper
and light switches at hand on the column rather than in the awkward
original positions. A whole new front wiring loom section was
fabricated and then fitted to tie up with the new fuse box and
switch locations and run out under the wings to lights, which
was carried out by my mate Michael.
I bolted on a four-pot Wilwood front brake kit with 260mm vented
discs. I wanted to hide everything, including items such as the
brake fluid reservoir (from Mazda), which has been located inside
the bulkhead over the pedal box. I mounted the dry cell battery
inside the passenger bulkhead along with the fuse box, which moved
inside the car. I even hid the fuel pump and filter king inside
the boot," laughed Declan."I
got really stuck into the build during the winter of 2008 and
the early part of 2009; it was a tight push to have it complete
for the Escort club run in March," he remembers, but armed
with his tools and bundles of enthusiasm Declan put in the hours:
"I had most of the bits set aside for the project, as there
was one massive advantage to doing a long-tem project; I could
pick up bargains as and when they appeared." This included
some genuine 7x13" Ronal RS four-spoke wheels that were sourced
via German eBay that were later treated to a full refurb.
came up trumps on the interior through which was acquired when he
was vi si tied the UK. Declan was keen to fit a set of black leather
trimmed fishnet Recaros into the car so while he was over here on
a trip he stumbled across a four-door Mk2 Escort for sale. This featured
a complete RS running gear, including that all-important part of retrimmed
fishnet Recaros in need of a bit of work.
the wheeler-dealer that he is, Declan removed the seats, replacing
them with a standard pair and then sold the car on for more money
- top work. "The week leading up to the event was manic,"
he laughs. "I fitted the bonnet and took it to the rolling road
just the night before the run." At this point we should probably
point out that Declan doesn't do standard, so the 2.0-litre XE under
the bonnet had also been treated to an 1800 Manta sump (to clear the
crossmember), ARP rods, Newman 270 fast-road camshafts, SBD exhaust
manifold, twin 45 Dellortos and MBE ignition. "It made 200.6bhp
at the flywheel on the rollers, with 176lb ft of torque - very respectable,"
smiles Declan. Thankfully, the tour went very well and, aside from
a few teething problems including the exhaust catching on the ground
and a small oil leak, the car performed faultlessly.
have taken an eight-year slog,but thanks to Declan's perseverance
he's managed to build himself the Mk1 Escort he envisaged all those
years ago. Picking up bargains here and there and only settling the
best has allowed him to build one of the best-prepared Mk1 Escorts
on the scene. Admittedly it's nothing ground-breaking, and to the
untrained eye, this could just be a well-finished Mk1 Escort, but
it works, very well. And it's all the clever bespoke touches that
speak volumes. And that's what a project car is all about. For Declan
and his Mk1 Escort, distance has certainly made the heart grow fonder
and the results are clear for all to see!
2.0-litre 16v Vauxhall C20XE, fully rebuilt,
1800 Manta sump, ARP rod bolts, Newman 270 fast road camshafts, twin
45 Dellorto carbs, MBE ignition, SBD exhaust manifold, Ashley exhaust
system, smoothed engine bay with hidden wiring and coil pack, GRP4
fabrications alloy radiator, electric fan.
Type-9 five-speed 'box, SBD bellhousing, rose-jointed
gear lever, single piece prop, 3.54:1 Tran-X plate-type LSD
Front: 2.25" Leda coilovers, adjustable
TCAs, roller top mounts, modified anti-roll bar, custom hidden strut
Rear: Spax adjustable dampers, de-cambered single rear leaf springs,
1" lowering blocks, anti-tramp bars.
Front: Wilwood Superlite four-pot calipers,
260mm discs, Wilwood pads, BIAS pedal box with inboard mounted Mazda
reservoir, hidden hydraulic hand brake.
Rear: Mk3 Escort front calipers and discs, braided brake lines throughout.
WHEELS AND TYRES
7x13" Ronal RS four-spoke wheels shod in
175/50/13 Dunlop tyres.
Retrimmed leather fishnet Recaros, black vinyl
rear seat, black door and rear quarter cards, black Mexico-style head
lining, new carpet, RS2000 centre console.
Full Royal Blue respray, new window rubbers
and seals, NOS chrome bumpers
Ken Henderson (HASS), Sheridan Gilmartin (bodywork
and paint), Michael Loughney (wiring), GRP4 Fabrications, Mark for
the help with the headlining and anyone who's helped me along the
that has got you thinking.....
you've seen Declan's Escort and fancy slotting an XE into yours, here's
a quick look at what you'll need , who to speak to and how to go about
will need the following parts: a C20XE Vauxhall engine from an Astra
GTE 16v, a Cavalier or an early Calibra 2.0 16v. Ensure that it's
a red top not an Ecotec (red top should have red, L-shaped, plug
cover, Ecotec will have straight black one), engines (by far the
best option is to use chassis mounts), a suitable sump (either find
a rare 1.8 Manta sump like Declan has, or get a specially made tin
sump from Yukspeed), a distributor blanking plate or the rear of
the cylinder head machining flush (the camshaft will also need to
be shorted and bunged), a bellhousing (either upright or seven-degree
incline) and a Type-9 five-speed or a Type-E four-speed gearbox
will need the following: Declan has used an MBE ECU to control the
ignition due to the distributor having to be removed. This is in
conjunction with twin Dellorto carbs and a throttle position sensor
to give the 2D mapping facilities. An exhaust manifold of which
there are two different types available from SBD, a special clutch
kit to convert drive to the Ford gearbox and a spigot bearing.
need a bias pedal box to move the brake cylinders inside the car
and allow room for the inlet manifold and carbs. You'll also have
to put ARP bolts in the con rods.
you've already got a 2.0-litre Pinto in there, the only work that
will need doing is that the gearbox tunnel may need lifting in order
to stop the engine pointing uphill, although this is down to personal
choice. If you've machined the back of the cylinder head, you won't
need to do anything else. If you've just blanked the distributor
housing, you may also find that the heater bubble might need a little
like this engine. While it may not be a Ford, it was one of the best aspirated
engines to have come out of the '80s and with Cosworth design heritage,
there a tenuous link there if you look hard for it enough! While it is
starting to get on a bit, it's by no means over the hill as an engine
conversion. A set of carbs, decent management and exhaust manifold will
have this engine pushing 180bhp without too much trouble. Thanks to the
hard work that the likes of SBD did in this engine's heyday, 210bhp isn't
far way and you could mad and see 300bhp from it if you wanted to. As
a unit, it sounds awesome, it tuns an Escort into a flying machine but
it just all depends upon whether you can get over if not being a Ford
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