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Ford Escort Mk2 Minilight

belonged to an elderly lady in Sandton, sharing a garage with a Jaguar XK150 and a 1930s Rolls Royce. And he picked that one up for R11 000! To give you an idea of what these things cost ex-UK, the block alone goes for R40 000!

The blue Mk II RS2000 re-creation is of a different spec altogether. It was built by two Ford enthusiasts, Dan Prins and Johnny van Wyk, and these guys spared no expense in the build-up. Laurie says they showed him receipts totalling R150 000 for all the exotic bits. The most notable features are genuine aluminium wheel arch extensions and front and rear spoilers that are identical to those supplied by Ford's Advanced Vehicle Operations in the late '70s and early '80s.

Once again the wheels used are genuine Minilight magnesium examples of the correct period.

The MK I features coil-over adjustable Bilstein suspension up front, special Ford Motorsport slider shackles for the rear leaf springs, rose-joints all round, an LS differential, four-link trailing arms for the rear suspension, a fly-off quick-release handbrake and a bias-adjustable pedal box. The only bit that is not overly exotic is the five-speed Sierra gearbox.

The engine in the RS2000 is the Cologne-Pinto unit bored to 2,1 litres and uses Acrolite pistons, Carillo Conrods, a steel crank, Burton Power head and cam and a set of snorting Weber 45 DCOE carbs. Oh yes, and as I was about to get behind the wheel, Laurie told me about the quick-rack steering, ideal for catching 160 km/h tail slides.

It sounds rough, like an old boozer gargling at the basin

The RS2000 has an innate balance about it even at low speeds, but my feeling was you would have to break through its veneer of docility, fling it sideways before a corner, and then drift it through in a power slide to really experience its potential.

As for me, I punched it when there were no kerbs around to hurt it, and in the main contented myself with the wonderful noise from its Weber-fed engine.

Aah, the noise. On early-morning start up it sounds rough, like an old boozer gargling at the basin after a particularly heavy night. Garrr-rarr-rarr it goes, as the four intake trumpets suck in an air and fuel mixture that is too much for the engine to cope with until the revs are eased up above the 2 500 mark.

Once it's warmed a little, you crack the throttle wide open and there's a "blatt" sound so sharp it's almost like an explosion and then the little motor soars close to its red line in a tone not unlike that of a Ferrari V8. And all of this before you've even pulled away.

Once you are going there is that ever-present sound of sucking Webers and an engine that comes onto its power-band surprisingly early and then wants to rev. But driving somebody else's thirty-something-year-old car, you don't want to find out where the ultimate rev limit is. Tooling around the surrounding back-roads in the Kyalami area, it was neat following Laurie as he drove his BDA-engined RS1600, watching him pitch it fast into a corner, and at once enjoying the tight-fitting Escort cockpit in the RS2000 I was driving.

For me, it's the simplicity of the car that appeals - front engine, rear-wheel drive, carbs that you can tune, a no-nonsense dashboard, and a chassis balance that, probably more by good luck than formula, was just about perfect for its time.

To illustrate its perfection, one last foot-note on the Escort BDA. In 2001, Sarel was once again behind the wheel in an Escort BDA on South African soil, driving in an historic class that was tagged onto a SA National Championship rally in the Cape. Running near the tail of the field, he was driving that car just the way he used to, before he unfortunately clipped a bank and put the car out of the event.

"I was servicing for one of the tail-enders on that event," says Laurie, "and Sarel was running close to our starting order. The times were simply amazing. Sarel was doing stage times just four or five seconds off the times set by the leader of that rally, Jannie Habig, who was driving a works two-litre Volkswagen Golf. And he reckoned if he could have been running with modern tyres he could have been right there, because he was driving on tiny 13-inch wheels...

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