We’d imagine that being asked to build a car by none other than F1 icon Gordon Murray would be enough to send even the most dedicated auto engineering company packing. But not the team at Retropower. This UK-based firm produces some of the highest quality bespoke vehicles we’ve ever seen, and to such high standards that it’s impossible to tell where the original car ends and the new one begins.
What’s more is that Retropower captures its builds in exquisite detail for the rest of us to enjoy on YouTube. And for anyone who has followed the Gordon Murray project from the start will attest, it’s a production that is not only relatable, but inspiring as well.
The hours of content trace the project from go to whoa and capture the trials and tribulations many of us have experienced when building a classic car. Where this series differs is in the level and complexity of engineering and fabrication that has gone into making an extremely sophisticated Escort Mark I look entirely unremarkable – and believe us when we say that’s a compliment.
The Retropower crew admitted to being excited by the prospect of working with Murray to build his dream Escort Mark I. Murray knew exactly what he wanted from the car, including a custom-built independent rear suspension arrangement that took its inspiration from the Lotus Elan E2.
The Escort’s back axle used a variety of components from ‘donor’ cars to come together, including Ford Focus RS CV joints, Mondeo hubs, and Land Rover Freelander uprights and bearings. Retropower admits it’s an odd mix, but one that works well with the bespoke components of its one-off rear-end.
And the supporting elements of the Escort’s chassis were given just as much thought. Nitron coilovers (developed specifically for this car alone) and four-piston AP brakes are braced by custom bushings designed in part with Murray himself. He wanted the car to be useable in day-to-day traffic but equally crisp on patchwork backroads, and knew from the outset what was required to make this happen.
Of course a car that’s setup to perform needs a great engine, and as good as it was in its heyday, the 1600 fitted to the original car was just not going to cut it in Murray’s Mk1. Murray expressed his desire to retain a naturally-aspirated engine from the get-go, the Retropower crew sourcing a rev-happy 2.3-litre Duratec engine personalised by Cosworth to fit beneath the Escort’s carbon-fibre bonnet.
The engine was mated to a six-speed manual transmission from an NC MX-5 and a seven-inch Ford Sierra differential. It was given independent throttle bodies for that unmistakeable, off-the-era induction sound. The team says it boasts “razor sharp throttle response” and makes a “whisker over 240bhp”, or 178kW in the new money.
One of the overarching parameters Murray stipulated when tasking the Retropower crew to build his Mk1 Escort was that it had to be subtle to look at. He cited Ford’s Twin Cam Escort as his core inspiration and asked that body modification be kept to a minimum.
That said, there’s far more to the Escort’s body than meets the eye, and as the series plays out, you’ll get to see the sheer volume of post-repair metal work that makes this car such a brilliant piece of custom engineering – in particular the enlarged grille apertures, rear end, bonnet panels, carbon fibre bonnet and even custom badges!
The theme continues inside the cabin which Murray had made-to-measure around his towering 6’4” frame. Audio and rear seats were felt to be an extravagance and will Murray’s seat set deep behind the B-pillar, there was little space left to accommodate a back seat anyway.
Custom gauges and a bespoke HVAC system with vents from an Audi A3 mean the Escort is at home on modern motorways as it is being rowed down a country lane. The dashboard is entirely made to measure and houses a ton of technology behind its simple façade – it’s a true credit to the Retropower team.
If you have a spare 17 or so hours up your sleeve, we’d strongly recommend checking out the build series on YouTube. It’s one of the best series of its kind we’ve ever had the privilege to watch and shows just how much talent there is working away in garages and workshops around the globe. The final episode and handover to Gordon Murray is expected to be released by the end of 2021.