Glenn Grant’s twice-resurrected Ford Escort panel van finally gets its place in the sun
This article on Glenn’s Escort Sundowner was originally published in the April 2016 issue of Street Machine
Building a car on a budget can be a challenge, but Glenn Grant has twice resurrected a sweet piece of Aussie motoring history with nothing but patience, tenacity and a few mates.
“The Sundowner was my first decent car,” explains Glenn of his love for Ford’s diminutive Escort panel van, as he beckons me into his immaculate shed. “I loved Escorts, and I needed something to carry my bikes.” He’s not kidding; any wall not covered in vintage Ford memorabilia has a pushie leant against it.
Glenn bought this van for $1200 as a roller back in 1999. “It was Monza Red and looked pretty good,” he says. “So my mate Graham Watson of Boss Automotive encouraged me to get a motor to match.” Glenn scraped together enough dough for an exchange 2.0L Pinto four-cylinder long motor fro API, and then cruised the Sundowner as a stocker daily for around eight years, before retiring it to weekend duties for another two.
But in 2010 he conceded it needed a resto. Glenn had spent his teenage years knocking around in mate Greg Lambert’s shed with his crew, so it seemed appropriate to strip the Escort there in preparation for a new lick of paint. “The body was actually pretty good, but the floors were cactus,” he says.
Glenn took it to a workshop across the road from Boss Automotive for a quote to get the floors fixed, the body cleaned up, some engine bay holdes filled and the paint done. “I can’t tell you the name [of the business], except that the owner was ‘Karl’,” he says.
While the shop quoted up the job, Graham, his son Jeff and Glenn retreated to the Lonsdale Hotel for a schnitzel. “Over dinner, I told them that if this guy came back with seven grand plus, I was out.” Fortunately the rare Sundowner received a stay of execution; ‘Karl’ quoted a relatively paltry $5500. Glenn couldn’t get on it quick enough.
“I know of only five or six of these left; I wanted it to come back from the dead,” he says.
With that in mind, he tasked Jeff with giving the 2.0 a refresh. “It didn’t really need much; mainly new rings, a rebuilt head and a decompression plate,” Glenn says. He also splurged on a Kent turbo-grind camshaft – the only truly aftermarket performance bit in the donk.
“We’re pretty old-school, none of us were really across EFI systems at that stage, but Jeff is pretty handy with a blow-through set-up,” he says. Sure that they could make it work, Glenn hit up eBay, scoring a TO4E turbo, a Holley 390 four-barrel and an Offenhauser three-plane manifold.
A bulk portion of Glenn’s mates are also into their small Fords, with their group containing plenty of Escorts, Capris and Cortinas, so help and expertise were never far away during the build. “The best thing about this car is that it’s been built with my mates,” Glenn says with pride. “Both the first time ’round when I bought it as a roller and again this time.”
Although the ‘three-month’ paintjob took over a year, Glenn and his mates threw plenty of hard yards, shed beers and folding stuff at the Sundowner in the meantime. They couldn’t get the turbo/390/Offy combo running properly, but nonetheless got the car to Adelaide’s Old Skool ‘n’ New Age show – four years to the day since it came off the road.
“You should have seen me roll in there,” Glenn says. “It was running pig-rich and hideous to drive, running seven pounds of boost through a borrowed 575 four-barrel carb, but I was just the happiest guy on the planet! It didn’t even have rear bumpers,” he laughs.
“The first guy who saw it came running over yelling; ‘Escort Sundowner! I haven’t seen one in years!” Then on the way out, another bloke said: ‘Why would you put those shit graphics on it?’ I guess not everyone remembers them!”
With the Sundowner’s first show out of the way, Glenn knew it needed some critical finishing touches. The bumpers were fitted and the troublesome carb and manifold were binned in favour of a Holley 350 running through a modified stock intake.
Glenn and his mates were finally ready to get cruising. Adelaide’s southern suburbs are a gateway to some awesome backroads, so Glenn and friends made full use of the twisties. or a while, at least. “I was flogging along in the middle of nowhere running 14 pounds of boost, when the engine light came on and the thing died in the arse.”
Opening the bonnet, Glenn started fiddling with some wires, but his mate Davor Pribicevic noticed the cam belt was sitting crooked. He looked at Glenn gravely and said: “Mate, this is not good.”
That was an understatement; pulling off the rocker cover, Glenn discovered the newly installed Kent cam had snapped clean in half. “I emailed Kent straight away; they checked their records and declaired it had been five years to the day since I’d bought it. I directed them to my build thread on classic-ford.org; it clearly shows the cam had only just gone in; it had less than a thousand clicks on it.”
Glenn also drew their attention to a bunch of daggy casting marks on the supplied rocker kit; one false move had seen the cam jam solid against one, and torque did the rest. “Kent were good about it’ they hooked me up with a new one at wholesale price; not a bad outcome seeing how long I’d had it.”
And did Glenn check the replacement equipment for dodgy casting marks? “Ferkin’ oath, mate!”