Escort RS2000 too pricey for royalty

For years, Steve Hardy was too embarrassed to take his Ford Escort RS2000 to car shows, the result of a bodged respray not long after he bought it in 1982.

He used the car for work, shopping and visits to his parents’ near Epping, but the Escort spent long spells hidden away under a cover in a council garage in East London.

“A little while after it was painted, splits and cracks started showing,” says Steve, a retired lorry driver who now lives in Canvey Island.

“I remember we went to an RS owners club meeting and when people were looking at it they were pointing to these cracks. Some of the cars there were lovely and I thought, ‘no, it’s an embarrassment’. It was awful to see it like that, so it went in the garage for years, and I didn’t use it much.”

Happily, a second respray in the summer of 2023 returned the Ford to its former glory, and now the car attracts attention for all the right reasons.

For our photoshoot, Steve is parked near Canvey’s seafront, where contractors are working on a £75million project to boost the town’s flood defences.

“She’s a stunner,” says one, while several others stop to chat and admire this ‘70s icon.

Steve recalls a post-respray trip to the Dick Turpin pub at Wickford for an RS meet.

“This guy couldn’t stop taking photos of it, he loved it,” he says. “People were asking questions, how long have you had it, where did you get it from? It restored my pride in it.”

A veteran biker – there are two big beasts in his garage – Steve’s first car was a three-wheeled Bond Bug, bought because he could learn to drive in it on his motorcycle licence.


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He took wife Margaret out in the Bug (an example pictured) on their first date in 1977, and owned the tiny wedge-shaped motor for several years before a trip to Cornwall in a hired Ford Escort Mk2 convinced them it was no longer fit for purpose.

“It was fun for a while, but it was a bit of a bone shaker,” laughs Steve, 70.

“When we got back from Cornwall and back into the Bug, we really noticed the difference, and that was the turning point,” adds Margaret.

They bought a far more practical 1100cc Escort Popular Mk2 before fate intervened one day when Steve was waiting to pick up Margaret from work.

“A guy turned up to pick his wife up in a navy blue RS2000,” he says. “I got speaking to him and the inside of the car was lovely, the seats were different to mine. Plus it had a 2-litre engine, which made it a lot better. And the search was on!”

After passing over a canary yellow example, which was not to his taste, he saw a venetian red car for sale at a garage in Seven Kings, Ilford.

“I ran into the shop, but it had already been sold so I started looking in magazines like Auto Trader and found this one in Ruislip,” he says. “I just fell in love with the thing.”

Steve paid £3,100 for the 1977 car (receipt pictured), which had 55,000 miles on the clock.

“It had much more power, and you didn’t have to change gear so quickly or rev the engine so much,” he adds. “It was so nice.”

The Escort RS2000’s slanted, polyurethane “droop snoot” nose gave it a racier look compared with the standard, otherwise somewhat boxy, saloon.

The nose houses twin headlamps, with a chin spoiler joined by a subtle boot spoiler, pin stripes along the side and distinctive RS2000 boot lettering.

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Power was provided by Ford’s 2-litre SOHC four-cylinder Pinto engine, which produced 110bhp and a top speed of 110mph, hitting 60mph on the way in about nine seconds.

Back in 1977, this was pretty rapid, and the Escort could hold its own against pricier cars like the BMW 320i. It was only a touch slower than the mighty Saab Turbo.

Having bought the car at the start of March 1982, Steve was desperate for somewhere safe to keep it.

Margaret remembers it standing outside their flat in Canning Town for the first two weeks before Steve secured a rented council garage.

“He was awake all night to see if the car was still there,” she smiles, “because he couldn’t get it insured for theft if it was left in the street overnight. We were lucky we got a garage as quickly as we did.”

“I used to take the battery off in the evening, and run down early in the morning and put it back on,” adds Steve.

“The E13 and E16 postcodes were awful at the time. Margaret had a Mk2 Escort, and that was stolen. They jigged the door open, bent the steering wheel to get the crook lock off, and did the barrel.”

It was a time of rampant car theft, with most cars incredibly easy to break into.

“Where I used to work a young guy used to park his Capri next to me,” says Steve. “We were out on the lorries, and when we got back to the yard one night his Capri’s not there. He said to me ‘they’re going to come back for yours’.”

Even when the RS2000 was tucked away in the garage, Steve was paranoid it would be stolen.

“There was a big tower block next to the garage, with people watching you put it away or get it out thinking ‘ooh, look at that’,” he says.


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“They tried to break the garage open once, and three out of the four padlocks gave way, but they couldn’t get the last one off.

“I was frightened of everybody seeing where it was, and I always covered it up so if the door was open no-one would know what it was.”

These days, Yale locks, an immobiliser and a heated and insulated garage attached to his home provide some extra layers of security.

Soon after he bought the Escort, Steve added a personal touch with a set of American Appliance four-spoke chromed wheels bought from someone in Chiswick.

“I do like chrome,” he says, with his own method of keeping them in good nick. “In winter, I used to get some gear oil off the lorries – it’s really thick stuff – and give it a coat. Then in the summer, jet wash it off and it’s as good as gold underneath.

“They’ve kept pretty well, considering they’re 40 years old.”

Mechanically, the Ford has been pretty reliable, only requiring a new condenser and a fix to the gearstick to stop it popping out of second and fourth gears.

Steve’s problems with the car began when he wanted to have a scrape on one of the doors repaired.

“It was there when I bought it,” he says, “someone had obviously scuffed it, and I wanted it to look nice.

“I took it to this guy, and he promised me the earth. He said he’d get the whole lot done to make it look good. So it was painted and after a little while the splits and cracks started showing.

“I went round to see him and he said ‘there’s too much paint on the car’. He then went out of business.”

Steve stopped using the car as often – in one year it covered just two miles to the MoT testing station and back.

The RS2000 moved with Steve and Margaret to Canvey Island in 2013, and 10 years later he decided it was time to do something about its cracking paintwork.

“I just wanted it to look nice, because I love the car,” he says. “I got some quotes from a couple of garages for between £8,000 and £10,000. Lorry drivers are on ordinary money, so you haven’t got 10 grand to spend on a car respray.

“But then I was talking to the guy who owns the place where Margaret takes her car to be MoTd.

“He had a look at it and gave me the number of a local crash repair garage. I took it round there and he quoted me £4,000 to have it painted from bare metal. I was thinking, ‘once bitten twice shy’, because this guy could be a cowboy like the first one.

“But he reassured me he’d been working at the same garage for 30 years, and he seemed to know what he was talking about.

“Six weeks later it came back the way it is. He was glad to see the back of it in the end – he said there was so much paint on the car it was awful.”

With the Escort now back in top condition, Steve is looking forward to attending a few more car meet-ups but, more than anything, he’s just delighted that the car that means so much is no longer an embarrassment to him.

“It means everything to me,” he says. “When our daughter, Sarah, was born in August 1983 we brought her home from the hospital in it, and it’s been part of the family ever since.

“I’ll never sell it – the Royal Family haven’t got enough money to buy that car, no-one has. They’re going to bury me in it, so they say.”

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