Duratec-powered Restomod Mk1 Ford Escort

Adam Smith's Mk1 Escort has gone from tidy track car to neat streeter thanks to some modern mumbo


Adam Smith didn’t exactly plan to hit the streets in an Escort. That said, the path that led him to this point did begin with another small British corner-carver. “I’ve always been into cars,” Adam says. “I had Minis in England when I was younger, and when I came out here, I really got into four-wheel-drives. I went looking for another Mini, but when I drove one, I found out that I’m a lot bigger than I used to be!”

First published in the May 2023 issue of Street Machine

While on the hunt for some classic Aussie muscle to play with instead, Adam was directed to this snazzy little two-door Esky by his brother-in-law, and he fell in love with it on the spot. Unlike many of the machines that grace these pages, the Escort was actually complete, running and in great condition. Adam even managed to drive it for a couple of months before the lack of shove provided by the Pinto motor became an issue too big to ignore.

“Jason, the previous owner, did a beautiful job of building the car, but it was going to cost me 10 grand to make another 10hp,” Adam says. “He told me he’d planned to Duratec-swap it, so I started speaking to guys in America and England about how to go about it.” The Pinto and gearbox were soon yanked and sold off to make way for a much healthier powertrain.

With work and life leaving Adam little spare time, he entrusted the engine build and tuning to someone else. Sadly, the result was far from optimal: “It was running on three cylinders, backfiring through the intake, there were 68 error codes in the ECU, and the clutch was destroyed,” Adam says.

“Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t let them work on my wheelbarrow.” Thankfully, a chance call to the crew at Chequered Tuning and a lot of yakka resulted in the Esky running like a dream.

The Duratec family of engines mostly consists of Ford’s pedestrian inline fours and V6s from 1993 onwards, but there are a few diamonds in the rough – the wicked turbo Volvo inline five-cylinder found in weapons like the Mk2 Focus RS springs to mind.

The angry 2.4L aspirated four-cylinder in Adam’s Escort is the unholy combination of the block and head from a 2008 2.5L turbo Mazda CX-9 and the forged crank from an EcoBoost Mustang, with the main journals turned down to fit. Wössner H-beam rods swing 89mm-oversized Wössner pistons; these, combined with the lightly worked head, make for a meaty 13:1 squish. Cat Cams stage three bumpsticks command the valves, and the variable cam timing has been retained for some extra low-down grunt to help the Esky rocket out of corners.

Gone are the heavy factory balance shaft and sump, with a far more compact Retroford fabricated wet sump in their place to allow the Duratec to sit nice and low in the bay and clear the steering components. Nothing says ‘aggro aspirated awesomeness’ like individual throttlebodies, and the Escort’s Jenvey set-up lets the mill breathe freely all the way up to the 8500rpm redline.

Simpson extractors evacuate the burnt brontosauruses, and Warragul Exhaust Centre knocked up a single 2.5-inch exhaust that gives enough note without destroying the eardrums. The spicy four-cylinder is controlled by an Emtron ECU, with an ED7 display delivering the important info to Adam’s eyeballs.

Behind the tasty Duratec is the five-speed ’box from a UK-spec MX-5, and a new custom clutch from Australian Clutch Services handles the power nicely while behaving like a stocker. A custom shaft from GJ Drivelines sends drive to the shortened HiLux diff, filled with 3.7:1 gears and a HiLux LSD.

The bum of the Esky is supported by factory leaf springs with height adjustment and Koni shocks. Up the front, GAZ coil-overs matched to adjustable lower arms control the cornering, while R32 GT-R brakes at both ends wash off speed with haste.

You may be wondering what inspired the pastel green paint, but I bet you wouldn’t have guessed that it’s from a treadlie! The colour is Celeste, the classic hue of Bianchi bicycles, and it covers every surface of the Esky that isn’t black or carbonfibre. There are plenty of body mods to spot too, from the obvious guard extensions to the far more subtle recessed firewall and frenched tail-lights.

Inside the cockpit, Matt at Seamless Motor Trimming knocked up the custom centre console and wrapped everything in a combination of leather and Alcantara, with pale green stitching to match the paint.

With the gremlins sorted, Adam’s been enjoying cruising around with his family, and is planning to punt the Esky around Phillip Island, Sandown and the quarter-mile. However, like all good project cars, the Escort is far from finished.

“This winter I’m going to pull it apart and refine the body – it was good enough for a race car, but I want it to be mint,” Adam says. “I plan to fit electric power steering and air con, too – I can put a jacket on [when it’s cold], but I think driving nude is frowned upon!”


Block:2.4L Mazda CX-9 four-cylinder
Head:Mazda CX-9 VVT
Cams:Cat Cams 2291608
Crank:Mustang EcoBoost
Rods:Wössner H-beam
Pistons:Wössner 13:1
Intake:Jenvey 50mm ITB
Engine management:Emtron
Injectors:Bosch 1000cc
Fuel pump:Raceworks in-tank
Exhaust:Simpson extractors, 2.5in single system
Gearbox:Mazda NC7
Clutch:Australian Clutch Services
Tailshaft:GJ Drivelines
Diff:Modified HiLux, 3.7:1 gears, LSD
Front:GAZ coil-overs
Rear:Koni adjustable shocks, reset standard leaf springs
Brakes:R32 GT-R (f & r)
Rims:Simmons V5; 15×7 (f), 15×10 (r)
Rubber:Yokohama A050; 205/50R15 (f), 225/50R15 (r)

Trent at Chequered Tuning; Matt at Seamless Motor Trimming; Paul at Seductive Detail’n; Russell Lord; Aaron Deane; Jason Baldwin; my wife Shelley for all her support