Schoolyard dreams: 1980 Ford Escort Mk2

Posted in Cars
When James’ dad bought the car as a do up for him to drive to school, neither of them could foresee how far the project would go

Every kid at high school bragged about their first car, in fact many of us swore we would do big things to them and eventually turn it into that dream car we envisaged. But for the most part that never eventuated and they were on-sold. 

James Christie had a different idea. James recalls his dad finding the car when he was just 13 years old, “My dad came across this particular Ford Escort Mk2 for sale for $150 as a 1300 automatic with a blown engine. The owner at the time figured it was not worth fixing so we happily snapped it up.” From there the journey began, and by the time James had obtained his licence the car was ready to be daily driven. Running a modest 1600cc crossflow and a five-speed Sierra gearbox, the Escort made for a neat little daily driver to school and back every day. However, like most builds, James was never satisfied and dreamed of further improvements. After finishing high school he landed a job and purchased another Mk2 Escort with the intention of keeping and modifying his original one. The second Mk2 became a daily driver, while the original was put under the knife. Over the next four years James would continue to modify and enhance the little four door, while being ridiculed as to why he modified a four door and not a coupe, which he simply put down to wanting to modify and keep his first car — something we’ve all wanted to do, and done. 

Starting off in the original Ford ‘Stark White’ hue, the car was always meant to be a daily driver and a means of A-to-B transport, but much like many builds, the snowball effect happened and contagiousness set in. Gaining inspiration from the UK Escort scene, James removed the original 1600 crossflow motor from the car and refitted the Escort with a Zetec engine, most commonly found in Ford Focus and Mondeo models. James told us that he wanted to keep it Ford in the engine bay and keep some cultural integrity for the Escort, “Everyone in New Zealand seems to put SR20 motors in these cars, but I wanted to keep it Ford.” Purchasing a set of engine mounts from the UK and a custom big winged/gated sump, the two-litre Zetec engine was fitted in a north–south configuration, rather than its factory east–west layout. Ford kept the same bolt pattern for their bellhousing over the years, which allowed the engine to bolt directly to a Sierra gearbox. James decided that he wanted some more power and increased displacement to 2100cc. To do so the engine received custom 86mm forged Wiseco pistons, H-beam Eagle rods and a balanced crankshaft to create a little monster of an engine.

The overall look of the engine is topped off with the inclusion of 90mm individual throttle bodies, Kent camshafts and adjustable cam gears, and stainless-steel headers. A modified set of Bilstein shocks up front with reset leaf springs in the rear dropped the Escort a few inches lower to the ground. James, who is a huge fan of the classic Simmons, managed to source an untouched and unused set of three-piece Simmons F90 wheels from a person who was building a Lotus 7 kit car. The wheels had been custom made to fit the Lotus 7 which happened to be the same stud pattern as the Escort. The F90s were then shod with 205/45R16 Dunlop Direzza tyres to keep it thoroughly glued down. 

James says he’s just about happy with the car overall, although admitting that a project is never finished. Cleaning up the interior a little bit more with the addition of new carpet is next on the list for James and then he’ll move on to the next project car. Although not sure exactly where to next, James is looking to the V8 or BMW turbo as an option, also keeping an eye out for other projects to bring to life. No doubt whatever it is, we’ll be keeping a close eye on its progress. 

1980 Ford Escort Mk2


  • Model: Ford 2100cc, Zetec
  • Block: Custom 86mm forged Wiseco pistons, Lightweight H-Beam Eagle rods, ARP bolts, Shot peened, balanced crankshaft, Custom big winged/gated sump
  • Head: Stage 3 CNC Ported full-race big-valve Dunnell head, 11.7:1 Compression Ratio, Secret Dunnell cam profile, custom valve springs/retainers, heavy-duty lifters, Kent camshafts, adjustable cam gears
  • Intake: Port matched Jenvey intake manifold, Jenvey 45mm throttle bodies, 90mm intake trumpets, K&N filters
  • Exhaust: Stainless steel exhaust manifold, Tuned length primaries 4-2-1, 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system, AdrenalinR resonator, Flowmaster muffler
  • Fuel: Deatschwerks DW200 Fuel pump, Fuel collector, Facet low-pressure supply pump, Aeromotive fuel filters, Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, DeatschWerks 410cc injectors.
  • Ignition: NGK Platinum Plugs, Custom 10mm Eagle Leads 
  • ECU: Link G4+ 
  • Cooling: Alloy radiator, Samco hoses, Raceline water rail, Electric fan, Evans waterless coolant


  • Gearbox: Type 9 gearbox, Quaife alloy main case, alloy bell housing, Quaife close-ratio gearset, uprated layshaft, Brise high-torque starter, Quaife quick shift
  • Clutch: AP Clutch, Heavy duty pressure plate
  • Flywheel: Billet lightweight 
  • Diff: 4.1 Quaife plate type LSD diff head, Quaife 16-tooth half Shafts


  • Struts: Bilstein GRP4 adjustable front struts, RS strut tops, Bilstein rear shocks, 300lb front springs, reset leaf springs, one-inch lowering blocks
  • Other: Nolathane bushes throughout, anti-dive kit, rose-jointed adjustable-track control arms, anti-tramp bars, GRP4 steering joint, RS rod ends, World Cup cross member
  • Brakes: (F) Alloy four-pot front calipers, race pads, braided brake lines, adjustable bias pedal box (R) Standard rear brakes, braided lines


  • Paint: Ford Stark White


  • Seats: (F) Sparco front seats, retrimmed rear seats
  • Steering wheel: Sparco steering wheel, Quaife gear knob
  • Instrumentation: Autometer Tachometer, speedo, fuel, voltage, oil pressure, and water temperature gauges; Innovate air/fuel-ratio gauge
  • Power: Unknown


  • Wheels: 16x7.5-inch Simmons F90
  • Tyres: 205/45/R16 Dunlop Direzza

This article was originally featured in a previous issue of NZ Performance Car. Pick up a copy of the edition here:

Chris Smith

Coming from a background of Freshly Whipped car photography and blogging, I'm here to take you through my angle and perspective on cars and events. Keep an eye out for my Whipped Up series.