Bodie and Doyle were best known for driving Ford Capris in The Professionals, but it was the latter’s white Escort RS2000 that captured the imagination of a teenage Peter Wood.
It may have taken him the best part of 10 years, but Peter finally bought the car of his dreams in 1988, and has held on to the 1977 Escort ever since.
That the car he paid £1,400 for is now worth nearer £30,000 is a happy coincidence – for Peter, it’s never been about the money. If it was, he’d have sold it when prices began to rocket.
“I won’t get rid of it now, I’ve had it too long,” he says, in the garden of his home in Clacton-on-Sea.
No matter that his wife, Sandra, gets embarrassed by all the attention the ‘signal orange’ Escort attracts on the road – that just goes with the territory of owning a legendary Ford.
“She normally puts her sunglasses on to hide, complaining that ‘they keep looking and asking questions’,” he laughs. “She gets a bit embarrassed, but I’m used to it.
“The car is just part of our marriage now – it’s part of us.”
Growing up in Barking, just a couple of miles from Dagenham’s famous factory, Fords dominated the local roads throughout Peter’s childhood.
When he belatedly passed his driving test aged 24, it was to Uncle Henry he turned and a 1977 mark IV Cortina.
“My youngest brother, Steven, was a toolmaker at Fords, so I used to get a discount,” he says. “I could go into the parts department and get his discount on any parts so it was always worth buying Fords for us local boys.”
Within a few months of buying the Cortina, the search for an RS2000 was on, spurred on by his brother, John, who had bought a white example.
After three or four months scouring classified adverts, Peter and John crossed north London to Golders Green to look at a left hand drive car imported from Belgium by the owner.
“I went with John because he had one of these and he likes American cars so he was used to left hand drive cars,” says Peter, 58.
“You’ve got to buy it”
“When the guy opened the garage and it came out like that I thought ‘ooh’. I asked John what he thought and he said ‘yeah, you’ve got to buy it, it’s lovely’.
“I’d never driven a left hand drive car before so he took it out with the fella and came back and said ‘yeah, it’s nice’.
“He then drove it home and I’m following him in my Cortina thinking ‘‘what happens if I can’t drive it?’ I’d paid for it and everything but hadn’t even driven it – I took John’s word for it.
“It was weird at first but after about half an hour of driving you get used to it. Because I really enjoyed driving it, it made it easier to adapt. Now I don’t take any notice of it.”
Peter’s car was manufactured at Ford’s Saarlouis plant in Germany, where the Focus and Kuga are still made today, before crossing the border into Belgium and finally ending up in London.
The RS2000 was marked out from the standard saloon by its slanted, polyurethane “droop snoot” nose housing twin headlamps and undercut by a front chin spoiler.
It gave the otherwise boxy mark II Escort a more aggressive outlook, with alloy wheels and a rubber boot spoiler completing the external makeover.
Under the bonnet, Ford’s 2-litre SOHC four-cylinder Pinto engine produced 110bhp and, neatly, a top speed of 110mph, with 0-60mph achieved in about 9 seconds.
That’s no slouch even by today’s standards, and at the time it was competitive against much more expensive vehicles like the BMW 320i and only a shade slower than a Saab Turbo.
The little Ford punched well above its weight.
Peter’s Escort was in daily use for about seven years from 1988, a commuter car for the 20-mile round trip to his work as a painter and decorator. Once there, he’d hop into a company van and travel all over London.
This was the era of rampant car theft, and fast Fords were heavily targeted, partly because they were incredibly easy to get into.
“They used to say you can get into one of these with your door key,” he says, and John’s white RS was, indeed, stolen and never recovered soon after Peter had bought his. “I thought ‘oh no’, I’m going to have to be careful.”
Nevertheless, within a few years he had suffered the same fate, but with a rather different outcome straight out of a scene from The Professionals.
Leaving for work one morning, Peter’s car was nowhere to be seen, so he reported it stolen to the police, phoned his boss to tell him he’d be late for work, and set off on foot for the train station.
“As I turned the corner, there it was,” he says. “They’d pushed it up the road, but the steering lock had gone on and they couldn’t get it off.
“They took all my tools out the back, and my radio, but had to leave the car. I phoned the police back to say I’d found it, phoned my guvnor and set off for work.”
That was far from the end of the matter though…
“About six months later I was on my way to pick my brother up on my way to work early one Saturday morning,” he remembers. “I went to get petrol near his house and a police car was following me.
“I got my petrol and went down his road and I was suddenly surrounded by police. I was like ‘what’s going on? I haven’t done anything wrong – is this for me?’
“There were about six police cars – it was a bit frightening I must admit. One of them said ‘get out’, searched me and searched the car and asked me ‘is this your car?’
“I said ‘yeah, what’s the matter?’ He said ‘this car is reported stolen’. I said ‘no, it’s not, I got it back straight away and phoned you up’.
“Apparently they’d never taken it off their database of stolen cars, but I’d been driving it around for six months with no problem, which is a bit worrying!”
It wasn’t the only run-in Peter had with the police, stopped three times in a week in his early days driving the car.
“Nicked all the time”
“Back in the day they were a bit of a boy racer’s car, and they did get nicked all the time,” he says. “When I first bought it I got pulled over a lot, not for any reason – just because of my age and the car.
“One week I got pulled over three times. On the third time, I said to him ‘the first time I was pleased because you checked my car out, checked all the numbers and it was all legit. The second time was a coincidence, but now this is a bit much’. He said ‘go on then, you can go’.”
Peter’s employers ceased trading in the mid 90s, so he set up on his own and bought a van, while the arrival of two sons – Martin and Michael – saw the RS2000 joined by a Sierra Estate.
“Once you have a family things change – you need something more practical, more comfortable and more modern,” he says.
While the Sierra carried the family around, the RS2000, showing one or two signs of wear, was consigned to the garage for several years.
“It just sat there doing nothing,” says Peter, until Sandra gave him an ultimatum when they were thinking of moving out of Barking in 2000.
“She said to me ‘what are you going to do about your car?’ and I said ‘I might get it done’. She said ‘if you don’t get it done you’ve got to sell it’. ‘Right, I’ll get it done then’.
“I didn’t want to sell it because I’d already had it for so long then. And what do you get to take its place without spending silly money?”
Back to showroom condition
So, even though their prospective house move fell through at the time, Peter set to work bringing the car back up to showroom condition.
The engine was rebuilt and converted to run on unleaded, a K&N air filter helped it breathe a little easier, a new clutch was fitted, and electronic ignition improved the temperamental starting.
“The problem was I’d leave it in the garage and turn it over every month, but in the winter it was getting harder and harder to start,” he says.
“I’d end up filling all the plugs up with petrol, have to clean them all up, put them back in and start again.
“Everything’s electronic now and it does make a difference. It starts on the button every time.”
By 2006, the bodywork had been seen to, with two new front wings and a door skin to replace one dented by a wayward garage door.
A full respray in its original orange completed the exterior renovation while, more recently, two new front seats replaced the tired originals.
Closer inspection also reveals additional deadbolts on the doors for some added protection against thieves.
“You get a bit paranoid”
“Even now I don’t really like going out too far and leaving it anywhere in case somebody does try to nick it,” he says. “I’ve got the garage, got it locked, crooklocked, and I back my van up to the garage door. You do get a bit paranoid.”
Peter and Sandra finally moved, to Clacton-on-Sea, in 2010, and there has been no more talk of selling the Escort since.
“She knew I wouldn’t get rid of it, I think it was a way of getting me to get it done up,” says Peter. “She likes it really, and enjoys it. Yesterday it was a nice afternoon so we had a nice drive out through the country lanes.
“We don’t go far because after an hour or two driving it you’ve had enough. It’s a bit of a boneshaker, as my wife says.”
The Escort is generally restricted to such local runs and the odd car show, but even away from its Barking and Dagenham heartlands, it attracts plenty of attention from people of a certain age.
“Last year I took it for a drive and a fella was following me,” says Peter. “I pulled into a petrol garage to pump my tyres up and he pulled in behind me. I thought ‘what does he want?’.
“I thought it was mine”
“He said ‘do you mind me having a look at your car? To be honest I thought it was mine, so I followed you! I’ve got the same car, but mine’s right hand drive’.
“He must have thought I’d nicked it, but once he got out he could see it was left hand drive. I had quite a good chat with him.
“Then a couple of weeks ago I took it to get some petrol, and I’m filling up when a lady about the same age as me came up to me and said ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I remember I had one of these, a red one, aren’t they nice? I wish I still had mine’.
“The number of people that stop and ask about it is incredible.”
Sons Martin and Michael have grown up with the car in their lives, attending shows with their father in their childhood and helping to tinker with it – and push it when it’s broken down.
Days out with the boys
But, while they like cars, he doesn’t think either will take it on and look after it when he’s gone.
“They used to love coming out for the day to the shows,” he says. “They’ve helped me clean it and do different bits on it.
“One has a Jag and the other has a Golf GTi, but they can’t do with working on cars, so I think the Escort stops with me.
“I’ll only sell it if I’m not able to drive it, and then I’d probably give the money to the boys.”
That day is a long way off, however, with plenty of miles left in a car that still only has 66,000 on the clock.
“I’ve never abused it,” says Peter, “And I’ve always looked after it.”
That much is clear just looking at this glorious piece of Ford’s sporting history.
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