Synonymous with high performance, Ford’s RS models span over 50 years and are famous for their success in motorsport – we pick our top five road going versions
Ford’s ‘RS’ badge stands for ‘Rallye Sport’, the famous Blue Oval brand first associating its performance machines with the world of rallying in 1968 with the sedately styled ‘15M RS’ model.
Fast forward five decades and the RS badge is nailed to tyre-shredding, be-winged hatchbacks, the rallying pedigree less heavily promoted than before despite the adoption of four-wheel drive for the last two RS models.
Such is the sheer appeal of the Ford RS cars, they boasts fans across the globe, from all walks of life. They are true everyman’s supercars. And that’s not surprising when you consider there are over 30 different models graced with those two iconic letters, with most based on family cruisers.
Below, we have picked our five favourite Ford RS cars, although narrowing down the list was difficult to say the least!
Read on to find out what makes our cut, and don’t forget to share your favourites in the comments section below.
1) Ford RS1600 – 1970
How could the RS1600 not be included in our list? Sitting above the similarly iconic Escort Mexico, the RS1600 was equipped with a 1.6-litre, twin-cam engine featuring robust belt-driven valve gear that made the unit practically bombproof.
This little pocket rocket also boasted a 16-valve cylinder head developed by Cosworth, and the resulting 120bhp and 112lb ft torque, coupled with rear-wheel drive, made for incredibly lively dynamics.
That’s one of the reasons rally drivers loved them at the time, and still do today. Practically every rally event in the 1970s had a Ford Escort on the running list, and they weren’t there to just make up the numbers. They often won.
Only 1,137 RS1600s were built, and most have since been killed off by poor driver judgement or the dreaded tin worm, meaning those that survive today are incredibly sought-after. A Le Mans Green example (pictured above) fetched just over £70,000 at auction in October 2018!
Giving its best at high revs, the RS1600 is a raw driver’s car that rewards the committed. It helped Ford establish itself in the world of motorsport, and set the RS mould for the ensuing 20 years. What a car.
2) Ford RS200 – 1984
A successor to the beloved Escort rally cars, the four-wheel RS200 was developed to compete in rallying’s relatively new, top flight ‘Group B’ category.
For that to happen, Ford had to build at least 200 road-going versions. The Blue Oval managed a few more than that despite an incredibly frustrating development period, and the car’s unconventional, Ghia-designed plastic-glassfibre bodywork.
Exotic in many regards, the RS200’s turbocharged, Ford-Cosworth engine (1.8L) was mounted directly behind the cockpit, and produced 250bhp. That was substantial for a road car weighing a smidgeon under 1,200kg, but Group B versions pushed out as much as 450bhp!
The road car’s sprint to 60mph was over in 6.1 seconds, and you’d see 140mph if you had the guts to keep the throttle pinned long enough. But the RS200 will be remembered most for its spiky handling and striking appearance.
Group B rallying was banned from 1987, forcing Ford’s rallying program down a new avenue and leaving the RS200 without a victory to its name. It didn’t seem to matter, though. Cult status was already well on the way to being achieved.
3) Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth – 1987
The Ford Sierra was many things to many people – a large and comfortably family car, a fire-breathing circuit racer, a be-winged 4WD rally star. It was a Jack of all trades, and master of the lot.
The first RS Cosworth arrived in 1986, but the one that tickles our fancy most is the rear-wheel drive RS500 Cosworth version, circa 1987.
Why? Not only does it boast a turbocharged Cosworth engine, just 500 were created – or rather, converted – by UK company Tickford, the vast majority in menacing black.
Distinguishing features include an enormous ‘whale tail’ spoiler, RS500 badges on the wings, and reprofiled bumpers to improve air flow. Your average Sierra this was not…
The Garrett T04 turbo helped generate 224bhp with 204lb ft torque. Thus, traction was at something of a premium – the 0-62mph time in the region of six seconds, and the top speed 150mph.
4) Ford Focus RS – 2002
The Mk1 Focus was a huge hit for Ford, not least in the UK. So you’d think the RS model was just as well received. Well, not quite.
As front-wheel drive cars were becoming more powerful, so-called torque steer was a growing concern for engineers and owners alike. The solution put forward in this case was a Quaife limited-slip differential.
However, the way this fast Ford aggressively transferred its entire 212bhp to the road came under scrutiny, given how much it affected the direction of travel. Such unruly behaviour earned the Focus RS the reputation of being something of an animal.
Nevertheless, this was a seriously good car – and still brilliantly subtle despite the RS styling and OZ wheels. The turbocharged, two-litre, four-cylinder Duratec motor mustered a chunky 229lb ft torque, which helped crack 62mph in 5.9 seconds on the way to 143mph.
Now considered a modern classic, the original Focus RS is proof that flawed diamonds can still shine brightly.
5) Ford Focus RS – 2016
It should come as no surprise this model makes our top five, given the fact we own one! But even if we didn’t, the 2016 Focus RS would still make our shortlist thanks to its huge range of talents.
Unveiled in early 2016, power was now up to 350bhp with torque maxing out at 324lb ft. Clearly, the 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine under the bonnet was no shrinking violet despite its four-cylinder configuration.
A special launch control function delivered a 0-62mph time of just 4.7 seconds, and the car wouldn’t stop accelerating until it hit 165mph. Four-wheel drive was once again a key feature, but the system’s rearward bias when in its new Drift mode catered for drivers wanting to achieve proper oversteer.
Such was the excitement around Ford’s new super hatch, the company racked up well over 2,300 orders in the UK before a single test drive had been undertaken.
Needless to say, customers – including us – and indeed the motoring press were not disappointed once the super hatchback arrived. The awards that followed cemented the Focus’ reputation as a force to be reckoned with.
Video: Ford RS history