"It was only ever owned by two people: the original owner, and the guy I bought it off. They would sell it to one another and buy it back every couple of years ..."
1973 Ford Escort MkI
Name: Mark Dunkley
Location: Waitakere, Auckland
Occupation: Panel beater
NZ Performance Car: Hi, Mark. It’s great to see an old MkI Escort that gets beaten on at the track — how long have you owned it for?
Mark: Hey. I bought it about six years ago now — I was at the track crewing on an F5000 that my brother was driving, and I saw our family friend, Ivan Selak, racing his one. After seeing that, I thought it would be good fun to race with that sort of group, so I started looking for something to buy. This one popped up down the line, and we went to look at it three times before finally buying it. The first owner built it as a weekend track car back in the early ’80s. He swapped a MkI Cortina engine into it and had the roll cage done — it mainly only saw the likes of Taupo down those ways until I brought it up to Auckland.
Always cool to see the old battlers still kicking around. What have you done to it since you bought it?
I widened out the front guards to match the steel widebody rear (bubble shape) and to fit the big steel wheels and slicks a bit better. I also scored a Quaife LSD to help accommodate the grippier set-up. The carbs needed a bit of a tickle-up when I got it, so I’ve rebuilt those, and the boot, bonnet, and front lip have been swapped for fibreglass equivalents to keep the weight down. Other than that, it’s remained relatively the same as when it was built back in the day. I’m getting what I can, done, when money permits it.
Along the way, did you find anything interesting inside the car?
Nothing in the car itself, as the guy was pretty spot on with his description, and we gave it a good look-over, but I did find out that it was only ever owned by two people: the original owner, and the guy I bought it off. They would sell it to one another and buy it back every couple of years, so the car ownership went back and forth whenever they needed a bit of cash or got sick of it, I suppose. Technically, there have been only three owners, including me, but the first two got more than their fair share of it.
"I had baked up the tyres to make sure they were nice and sticky, as it had just started to drizzle, when I took off and slapped it into third the diff went bang, and it was all over."
We bet you’re itching to get on the track whenever you can. What was the last event you hit?
I try to get out there as much as I can, the last event was Chrome 2015. That was a fun few days, which included a mishap during one of the drop-flag drag races. I had baked up the tyres to make sure they were nice and sticky, as it had just started to drizzle, when I took off and slapped it into third the diff went bang, and it was all over. Rushed it home, locked up the spare I had, and put it back in to have it on track the next day.
That’s not a bad effort. Do you have much planned for the future?
Yeah, I want to change the suspension to something a bit more hearty, and there’s a fully-built 2.3-litre Pinto engine sitting at the back of the shed that only needs a few things finished to get it back in; that will help chirp it up and keep it how it was in the olden days.
Engine: Ford Cortina MkI 2000cc, four-cylinder, twin Weber 40-DCOE carburettors
Drivetrain: Toyota Celica five-speed gearbox, English axle, Quaife LSD
Interior: Autosport seats; Autogauge tachometer, water-temp, and oil-pressure gauges
Exterior: Fibreglass bonnet, boot, and front lip; custom steel rear widebody (bubble shape), stretched front guards, Lexan windows
Wheels/tyres: 13x8-inch widened-steel; Michelin slick
Suspension: Bilstein shocks, leaf springs, three-inch rear blocks
Power: Never enough
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 238. To get your hands on a print copy or digital copy, follow the links below: