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April 2010
Retro Ford April 2010
No, 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
Declan 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!

"I 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."

With 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."

Having 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.

Retro Ford April 2010
To 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."

So, 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.

Initially, 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.

At 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.

"Meanwhile, 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.

Retro Ford April 2010
He really 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.

Being 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.

It might 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!

Tech Spec
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 brace.
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.

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 way!

If that has got you thinking.....

If 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 doing it...

Retro Ford April 2010 Fitting it
You 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
Making it work
You 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.
Anything else
You'll 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.
Fabrication work required
If 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 tap.
What we think
We 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 lump.
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