Ford has had many cool cars that never officially made it to the US.
Living here in the US, it's easy to forget that the automaker is as big in Europe as it is in North America. That means Ford's European divisions, and we're counting the UK, design and build cars separately from the US. Ford of Europe was formed in Cork, Ireland, in 1967 when the separate subsidiaries were merged. The company is mainly headquartered in Cologne, Germany but splits its research and development between Germany and the UK. That's not the most exciting introduction, but it sets the scene and tells us there have been decades of Ford cars that either haven't made it to the US or did so in limited quantities.
More commonly known as the Lotus Cortina, the homologation car came about because Colin Chapman had Cosworth develop a Ford engine for the Elan. When Ford asked if he would put the engine in 1,000 two-door Cortina models in 1963, he accepted. Chapman also installed the same close-ratio gearbox as the Elan, altered the suspension, and painted them white with a green stripe. A few cars made it to the road with a different stripe, but the color scheme became iconic in the UK. As a result of the homologation effort, the Lotus Cortina was successful worldwide in racing, including in the US-based Trans Am Series. Nowadays, Mark I Lotus Cortina models compete with great success in historic racing series and events.
Ford tried to replicate the Mustang's formula of an affordable rear-wheel-drive pony car in Europe via the Capri. The basic Capri first went into production late in 1968 as a collaboration between Ford's German and British divisions. Like the Mustang, it was based on a more practical platform and embraced by enthusiasts for modification. The Capri remained in production until 1986 and peaked with the homologation RS3100 model. Again, 1,000 road models of the race car had to be built to sell. It used a de-tuned version of the race car's 3.1-litre Essex V6 engine, but, in reality, only around 250 were built. In the meantime, the Cosworth-powered race car locked horns with the BMW 3.0 CSL "Batmobile" and won the European Touring Car Championship.
The Ford Escort was a small family car that ran from 1968 until 2000 and was everywhere. The first and second generations were rear-wheel drive, which lent them particularly well to modification for the street and racing. That bred legendary versions such as the Escort Mexico (named for its win of the 16,000- mile London to Mexico rally of 1970) and the sport-based Ford Escort RS Turbo model. The RS1800 was bred for rallying and resulted in consistent campaigning in the sport. It ranks as one of Ford's most successful motorsport cars although the company never disclosed exactly how many homologation models it built. It's thought to be around 110, and finding one with the original engine is damn near impossible now. The RS1800 was superseded by the 2.0-liter Cosworth-powered slant-nose RS2000, but it was a straightforward swap to upgrade the original 1.8-liter Cosworth engine.
If you were into fast cars in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the UK, you wanted a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. The Ford Sierra was common to the point of boredom on the road throughout Europe, but Ford Motorsport decided that was the car it would use to dominate the FIA Group A classes in rallying and touring car racing. Cosworth developed a turbocharged version of the 2.0-liter Pinto engine with spectacular results and built a road-going model. The RS500 was a UK-only homologation of the evolution model, with the competition engine making just over 220 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 204 lb-ft of torque. Only 500 were built, most of them black, but somewhere between 50 and 60 models left the line in other colors.
The US got a lesser road-going version of the original RS Cosworth in the form of the Merkur XR4Ti, but the racing versions campaigned by Roush in IMSA classes particularly helped develop the suspension on the European race cars.
What's often forgotten about the legendary Ferrari-beating GT40 is that it's based on the Lola Mk6 race car chassis and developed in the first year with the British race car company. A lot of Brits were involved in developing the GT40 at the Ford Advanced Vehicles facility set up for the project in Slough, UK. The first chassis was built by Abbey Panels of Coventry, while the bodywork was done by Fibre Glass Engineering Ltd of Farnham. The engines were tuned Detroit iron in the form of the 4.7-liter V8 engine from the Ford Fairlane, and power was delivered through an Italian transaxle. When the car was handed over to Carroll Shelby, with help from British driver and engineer Ken Miles, it was developed into the car Henry Ford II wanted to embarrass Enzo Ferrari with. The Mk1 GT40 below is one of 30 street-legal 1966 models built for the road.
The front-wheel-drive Ford Focus replaced the Escort and came to America, as did the all-wheel-drive Focus RS Mk3, but the first- and second-generation Focus RS models didn't. The first-generation RS used a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with tuned suspension, Brembo brakes, and a Quaife ATB limited-slip differential. The Focus RS Mk2 kept its hot-hatch roots with front-wheel drive but strayed by using a modified Volvo turbocharged inline-five engine as it had with the lesser ST version. The Focus RS Mk2 arrived in 2009 with around 300 hp, which was bananas in a FWD car in 2009, even with extra aero, modified front suspension, and a Quaife diff to help alleviate torque steer.
Ford then produced a limited run of Focus RS500 models with just over 340 hp that had to be shipped to 3M in Germany for the matte black body finish. There was no other change in the running gear, and the Focus RS500 made the same horsepower figure as the AWD Focus RS Mk3 available in America until recently.
The now legendary Escort RS Cosworth is another homologation model, this time specifically for the World Rally Championship (WRC) and the direct precursor of the Focus RS. Ford made the Escort RS Cosworth a production car, so only the first 2,500 are true homologation specials. It looks like an Escort with a whale tail, but the chassis and mechanicals are based on the Sierra Cosworth, and the bodywork is stamped to resemble the Mk5 Ford Escort. Ford upgraded the Sierra Cosworth's engine management system, fit a new turbo, and worked on the transmission. The all-wheel-drive system gave a permanent front/rear split of 34 and 66 percent, respectively. While not much more than 7,000 were built, the Escort RS Cosworth was the first mass-production car to use front and rear downforce aerodynamics together. The road-going versions made just over 220 hp, which seems low now, but in 1992 it had plenty of room left for tuning.
In the world of Ford homologation models, the 1984 to 1986 RS200 is the rarest beast of all. And it is a beast. It was a supercar designed purely for Group B rallying, and the 200 road-going homologation versions reflected that. The RS200 is a mid-engined, all-wheel-drive, turbocharged monster with a plastic-fiberglass composite body. The drivetrain is complex, and to get the proper weight distribution, the RS200 was engineered using a front-mounted transmission that causes power to go to the front wheels first. Stock, the four-cylinder engine made around 250 hp, but upgrade kits were made available to boost power to anywhere between 350 and 450 hp.
The RS200 was difficult to drive and unbalanced to start with but was never developed properly as it was involved in the devastating WRC crash that started the snowball rolling that would lead to the end of Group B racing. Ford had planned an Evolution version with power coming in anywhere between 500 and a little over 800 hp. 24 of the original cars were converted to Evolution spec for homologation purposes.