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June 2006
Classic Ford June 2006
XE Beast
Not all classic Fords smoke their tyres to the blue oval heat. It'll cause a few frowns, but right now Vauxhall XE power makes good, cost effective sense. Here's how to fit one in a Mk1 Cortina.
Words and photos: Jon Hill
There's a strong argument for keeping your classic Ford in an all-Ford state of tune, but ignoring the rest of the pack and denying the wealth of other powerplants out there, is sheer folly. That's because you could easily get your doors blown off by something that was cheaper to fit than yours. Now, we're not dismissing the mighty Cosworth YB, not the Zetec and Duratec I-4 but there really is a very, very strong case for fitting a twin cam from the land of the Griffin. For a start, the Vauxhall XE's deed cheap right now, plus, get the right engine and they're not difficult to wring cost-effective power from either - particularly when you compare the price of converting a YB to normally-aspirated form.

On top of that, the XE is basically a Cosworth engine anyway. Those with narrow minds might take the piss but all you have to do is ask them what a Cosworth KBA is and they'll shut up quicker than welding their lips closed with a blowtorch. In effect, all that matters is producing a car that's quick, handles right and sound awesome - in essence who care what the badge says on the rocker cover? Even if it is Vauxhall!

Despite its fame for making rear-wheel-drive Zetecs, and lately Duratec installations so easy that even Dale Winton could do it, Dave Colledge at Retro Ford knows a bargain when he sees one. So this is how we came to follow along as Dave fitted an XE into a customer's Mk1 Cortina. Here it is in complete details so that the less blinkered can also scream to the Vauxhall beat.

Retro Ford Ltd 07813 436514
Old Ford Auto Services 01344 422731
SB Developments 020 8391 0121

An XE means more power, leaving your Mk1's steering box in trouble. So while the engine's out, it's time to up rate to rack-and-pinion.
1. If it's in top condition, a steering box can be a pain - not only does the box need keeping on top of, but the drag links and rod ends too. Upgrading to a nice, tight rack-and-pinion set-up's the way to go.
2. The nearest suitable Ford set-up is from an Escort MkI/II but this also means swapping all the struts and TCAs since the Cortina ones can't be mated with the Escort crossmember.
3. In standard form, the Escort crossmember bolts to the underside of the Escort's chassis rails, which are parallel. However, since that car has different dimensions to the Cortina, which has tapered chassis rails, it isn't a simple swap. You could use an Old Ford Auto Services crossmember system but Dave wanted to move it form its ideal, meaning modification, so decided to start from scratch.
4. So, the crossmember needs to be modified to fit, which means aligning it about the original datum points of the MkI's front suspension; then temporarily fixing it in place while mounts are fabricated.
5. Dave's removed the original Escort fitting from the crossmember ends and fabricated new mounts from L-section sheet steel and welded them in place. Note the triangulated bracing adding strength plus the design means the crossmember can still be bolted in place.
6. Further boxing on the back of the brackets is added for more strength and to close the box sections too.

Classic Ford June 2006
7. To couple up the steering, Dave's used universal joints from Old Ford, connected with hexagonal steel bar section. This mates to the Escort steering column's end, converted to take Cortina brackets.
8. You can fit Escort struts to a MkI using alloy eccentric top mounts to sort the discrepancy in strut alignment. Ours needed replacing anyway, so Dave cut the strut tops out, replacing them with ones similar to Escort. This brings them in closer together since the strut inclination angle's different between Escort and Cortina and better restores geometry. Note too that Dave's fitted his own flush-mounted ally roller top mounts - very neat and very trick.

Since it's intended for front-wheel-drive use, the Astra GTE's sump isn't really suitable, which means swapping to something that is. The problem we have is that the MkI Cortina uses a steering box and a front-bowl sump. This can be retained but it means fabricating a similar format sump for the XE from scratch. Doing this, though means you've still got a vague steering box, which isn't ideal.

A better way is to convert to rack-and pinion, which Dave did by swapping to an Escort system at the front (see above). This means that you can then take advantage of rear-drive Opel Manta parts. This car has a block essentially identical to the XE's and uses a big-wing cast-alloy sump, with he bowl at the back, making it ideal for use with an Escort crossmember.

Classic Ford June 2006
Classic Ford June 2006 VAUXHALL XE - THE BASICS

In standard form, the XE is of course s front-wheel-drive engine and the ideal plant is an Astra GTE unit, which carries a Coscast head and is less prone to porosity problems. These are common to the psot-1992 engines, when GM downgraded the material and cast the heads itself.

'Front-wheel-drive' means just that - when it's turned round the 'right' way the distributor is mounted at the back of the head. This of course means it will clout the bulkhead and needs converting, ideally to distributorless operation. Later engines have this done, but they don't have the Coscast head nor the GTE's pistons, meaning that to get the ideal combination you'll have to mix and match.

Since the distributor is driven by the exhaust cam, which is longer, it needs shortening and the back of the cam box sealing up. Plenty lop the end of the cam off and plug the resulting hole shut with Loctite, plus a bung. However the easiest way is to buy an aftermarket cam kit, which already has it done for you. Distributor drives can be rigged up but plenty use the later GM trigger wheel (the steel type) and fit carbs and managed ignition, of full engine management along with throttle bodies, which is the system our car uses.


1. A Cortina's standard Kent engine is located on rubber mounts, which are an integral part of the front crossmember. Standard XE mounting practise is to remove the mounts - in our case from a modified Escort crossmember we've used in place of the Cortina's - and chassis mount the engine using an SB Developments kit.
2. The SBD kit is very competitively priced and contains everything you need. The actual block mounts are the only bits that need fabricating, although the chassis mount sections are already made up (3).
4. These simply fit over the top of the rails and are trimmed and welded in place.
5. Before Dave starts welding though, the engine position needs to be determined. With the front crossmember fitted, the engine and gearbox are lowered into place. Basically, the engine needs to sit as far back and low down as possible for better weight distribution - ideally, you need to have the first spark plug hole as near as you can to the centre line of the front struts, this obviously isn't always possible without removing the bulkhead. Height is usually determined by sump-to-crossmember clearance.
6. The XE will go a long way back in the engine bay, but the main problem is the heater bowl on the bulkhead. It sticks out further than the bulkhead lip and hits the cam cover.

Classic Ford June 2006
7. Dave cuts and re-shapes this area to loose the paunch before re-painted it. Clearance around this area should be about the thickness of you hand - roughly 12-15mm.
8. Gearbox position needs to be determined before final welding (see the next section). Once that's done the block-to-chassis mounts can be made. Dave begins by bolting the provided plate to the block and welding the provided spacer to make the plate sit flat. Next is the chassis-mount the bush, then the provided section of steel tube can be trimmed to length and welded in place.

View our engine mounting kit MNT-ENG1


1. You can use a Manta gearbox, which has an integral bellhousing, but a four-speed with dodgy ratios is common, while five-speeds are less so. The best bet is to mate the XE to a Ford Type-9 five-speed mounted on an SBD bellhousing. This one's from a 2.8i Capri, which is the heavier -duty type, although the input shaft does need shortening by 12mm.
2. There are two bellhousings available, which either cant the engine over by seven degrees or mount the engine upright.
3. The bellhousing that mount the engine upright can be used but it's intended for use with more conventional sumps, plus dry-sump systems.
4. This is the bellhousing we want, which allow the use of a Manta sump and cant the engine over by seven degrees. Otherwise, the sump sit at the wrong angle - flat sumps are available fro SBD but obviously at extra cost.
5. Dave uses a hybrid clutch that he had made up by Helix - basically; it has a centre plate with the correct 23-spline inner, to mate to the T9 box. The pressure plate is Vauxhall.
6. To make life easy and give a smooth clutch, we're using a Retro Ford concentric hydraulic release bearing fitted inside the bellhousing.
7. This connects to the gearbox via a machined front housing, which replaces the original T9 front plate and oil seal. The adapter and bolts to the gearbox, picking up on the original T9 fixing threads.
8. The hydraulic slave cylinder bolts to this and the connection pipes/bleed fittings are directed though the hole intended for the release arm.


1. The MK1's gearbox tunnel is tiny but it doesn't need completely removing to fit a T9. Instead, Dave's cut a section fro the top with a lot of educated guesswork/experience.
2. In conjunction with mocking the engine in place, Dave can fit the gearbox and block it up on a jack. This is so it fits in the hole and aligns with the rear axle flange, getting both faces as parallel as possible. You can shift the box around until the engine's in the ideal position.
3. Only when the position of the engine is sorted and the mounts made and fitted, does Dave adapt the gearbox crossmember to fit.
4. Dave's mocked the box up as close to final position as possible. The crossmember's from a Sierra, which has been shortened to fit.
5. As the ends of the crossmember have been narrowed, Dave fabricates some steel sheet to close them up and regain some strength.
6. Once properly mounted, Dave fabricates a new gearbox tunnel to cover the top of the original.
7. Dave fabricates this steel hoop section, with integral lip for the gear lever gaiter from an Escort to fit over.
8. These are original gearbox mounts, which are redundant and get in the way, so Dave removes them altogether.
9. You can see from inside the new tunnel that the centre crossmember, which runs around the inside of the standard Cortina gearbox tunnel, gets in the way of bigger boxes. So, its top section's removed and the ends of the crossmember welded shut.
10. Dave then adds strength to the area by fabricating sections of box section steel, which fit on the sides of the new gearbox tunnel and restore reinforcement to the area.


This is an SBD kit-car exhaust manifold, which comes very close to fitting the Mk1, although it does need some modifying for the Cortina, Dave cuts and shuts the pipes, then mates this to a fabricated exhaust system. Exhaust manifold EX-M-RDS1


Retro Ford has made fitting a radiator with the correct inlet and outlet pipes into the original Cortina position dead easy - it's available along with the hoses to fit.

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