For more than four decades, Ford's European arm has been taking otherwise mild-mannered models and turning them into performance monsters. Operating free of the constraints that bound pure production cars, RS has variously employed a variety of means including multi-valve heads, turbocharging, and all-wheel drive, to list just a few, in the name of squeezing out more power. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. have largely been left out of the RS fun—until now, as is a true world car. In celebration, we present a look back at all the RS models that paved the way.
Although the RS tag wouldn't carry real clout until the arrival of the British-built Escort RS, Escort Mexico, and Capri RS, the RS story actually begins in Germany with a trio of RS (Rally Sport) models. Powered by a V-4 engine, Ford of Germany's front-wheel-drive 15M served as the basis for the first RS model in 1968.
The slightly larger Ford 17M also got the RS treatment. Sitting between the 15M and 22M, it packed a Cologne-built 2.0-liter V-6 and rear-wheel drive.
The Ford 20M, a more luxe version of the 17M, also was RS'd. Power came from a 2.3-liter V-6.
Most RS fans consider the 1970 Ford Escort RS as the true genesis of the breed. Equipped with a 1.6-liter four engineered by Cosworth, it was one of the first roadgoing cars to employ a four-valve-per-cylinder head. (1971 model pictured)
Having debuted at the 1970 Swiss motor show, production of the lightweight Capri RS2600 was limited to 50 units to meet homologation requirements. Production of the streetable RS2600 started later in the year, and it was the first Ford vehicle in Europe to employ fuel injection. In 1971, Ford would sell regular Capris in the U.S as the Mercury Capri.
Inspired by Hannu Mikkola's Escort-based rally car that won the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally, the Escort Mexico relied on the tried-and-true 1598-cc Kent overhead-valve engine in place of the 16-valve Cosworth unit that powered its RS1600 brother. Production of the Mexico was handled at Ford's A.V.O. (Advanced Vehicle Operations) factory in South Ockendon, Essex, England.
In 1973, Ford created the Capri RS3100. Powered by the maker's Essex V-6, production was limited to 250 copies.
The Escort RS2000 also made the scene in 1973. Powered by Ford's durable and long-lived "Pinto" 2.0-liter four-cylinder, it offered an alternative to the reportedly temperamental 1600 four-valve in the RS1600.
Production of the Mark I Escort ended in December of 1974, and the first Mark II Escort to receive the RS treatment was the 115-hp RS1800.(Competition version pictured)
The Ford Escort RS Mexico also joined the pack in 1975. Powered by an OHV 1.6-liter four, it offered a slightly tamer alternative to the higher-strung RS2000 that came a bit later.
Shortly after the 1975 RS1800 hit the streets, Ford launched the Escort RS2000 with a 2.0-liter SOHC four-cylinder with 110 horsepower. (1978 model pictured)
In late 1980, Ford produced the Escort RS1700T prototype. As you might've guessed, the "T" stands for turbo, Ford applying forced induction to the 1.7-liter four for evaluation purposes. The project was reportedly killed after production of just 17 examples, due in part to the arrival of four-wheel drive on the rally scene as well as development difficulties.
In the fall of 1981, Ford RS unleashes the Capri Turbo. Created by force-feeding air to the Blue Oval's ubiquitous 2.8-liter V-6 by means of a turbocharger, the 187-hp car is said to have been limited to 200 units.
Previewed in the fall of 1981, left-hand-drive versions of the 115-hp Escort RS1600i went on sale shortly thereafter. Right-hand-drive examples went on sale in the U.K. in the spring of 1982. Power windows and locks were among the features bundled into an option package.
When the 1.6-liter, turbocharged Escort RS Turbo arrived in late 1984, it featured a viscous-coupling limited-slip differential to help eliminate torque steer. According to Ford, it was the first use of the technology in a FWD production car.
This is when things got batshit crazy at the RS skunkworks. A homologation special, the RS200 was built as a mid-engined, all-wheel-drive assault on the extreme Group B class of rally racing. Only 200 were built between 1983 and 1985—the minimum required for series certification—before the wild Group B was canceled after 1986 due to competitor deaths. Although race-tuned versions of the composite-bodied RS200 were reported to make in excess of 450 horsepower, detuned versions fitted with a 1.8-liter engine continued to compete for several years after the demise of Group B competition.
Powered by a turbocharged and fuel-injected 2.0-liter four good for more than 200 horsepower, the Sierra RS Cosworth focused on pioneering aerodynamics for high-speed stability.
The RS Turbo continued for 1986, incorporating aesthetic changes made to the Escort line that year. It also received mechanical and chassis tweaks that made it more suitable for piloting on the street.
The Sierra RS500 Cosworth (Yanks may recognize it as a relative of the tragically misunderstood Merkur XR4Ti) took over in 1987 for the previous year's Sierra RS Cosworth. Power came from a 2.0-liter turbo four making approximately 220 horsepower.
In 1988, Ford introduced a Sierra RS Cosworth sedan, referred to as the "Sapphire" in some markets. (1991 model pictured)
In 1990, a four-wheel-drive version of the Sierra Cosworth/Sapphire sedan became available.
The Fiesta got in on the RS fun for 1990, packing a turbocharged 1.6-liter four making just over 130 horsepower under its tiny hood.
The Escort RS2000 goes on sale with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four.
Outfitted with Ford's latest all-wheel-drive technology, the 1992 Escort RS Cosworth combined a 227-hp 2.0-liter turbo four with a ridiculously large (and righteously weird) rear wing.
On sale in 1992, the Fiesta RS1800 replaced the previous car's turbo engine with a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four making roughly the same power.
The Escort RS2000 adds four-wheel drive and standard four-wheel disc brakes to its bag of tricks for 1993 and is built through 1995. When the Escort Cosworth disappears one year later, the RS brand doesn't produce another car for half a decade.
Previewed by a concept at the 1998 Geneva motor show, the first-generation Focus RS makes its official production debut in 2001 at the same event. Cars start rolling off assembly lines in 2002, completing the return of the RS car. Although Ford displays a Fiesta RS concept in 2004, the RS badge goes into hibernation until the 2009 Focus RS.
Packing a 300-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-five, is glorious. It's also equipped with , which tames the tendency for high-powered front-wheel-drive cars to head for the nearest roadside ditch under hard acceleration.
In 2010, Ford busts out the mega-bad-ass, as a swan song for the second-gen Focus RS. All 500 examples of the 345-hp model rather quickly.
Behold: The 315--hp, AWD , which will be sold in America. It sports a , dynamics, and a version of the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four that's also installed in the current Mustang. Pardon our drool, won't you?