Just 247 cars were built at Ford’s Halewood plant (plus six pre-production cars) during November and December 1973, and it soon became clear that the car was going to be a difficult sell, despite its motorsport links.
Discounting was an inevitable consequence but, even then, the last 50 cars had to be packed off to Australia after the well ran dry in Britain.
Chris Griffiths has owned his Modena Green RS 3100 since 1986, before which it had spent time as a hillclimb and sprint car.
The overbored Essex V6 engine benefits from a triple-carb conversion on this example
The most obvious upgrade is the addition of a ‘Cologne’ bodykit, a period option that replicated the looks of the RS 2600 racers.
It sets the car off perfectly – especially when complemented by the fat, non-standard 7½in-wide four-spoke wheels – looking like a racing refugee for the road.
Chris’ Capri was also fitted with Ford’s triple-carb conversion in the ’70s, and since then its keeper has had the cylinder heads ported and higher-lift Ric Wood camshafts installed, upping power to 235bhp.
Given that the RS 3100 weighs little more than 1100kg (based on GXL data), that should make for an enthralling drive.
Belting yourself into the well-padded vinyl bucket seats, apart from an aftermarket four-point harness you could be in any regular Capri.
The Ford Capri RS 3100’s quad lamps add aggression
Ahead is a large slab of an instrument binnacle containing two main clocks for revs (reading up to 7000rpm) and speed, with ancillary dials on either side.
The bland, two-spoke steering wheel is an incongruous item for a homologation special, and looks as if it’s been plucked from a 1300L.
But, lack of cabin ambience aside, the RS 3100 redeems itself with a turn of the key.
The Essex V6 is deep-throated and gloriously old-school, compared with the note of the more anodyne-sounding Cologne unit fitted to later Capris.
As you accelerate down the track, peering over the expansive bonnet with its provocative central bulge, the RS 3100 starts to fulfil its racer-for-the-road remit.
The RS 3100’s ‘ducktail’ spoiler was developed to improve the racer’s stability
There’s lots of torque, so no need to constantly bother the redline (in my experience, Essex V6s sound quite tappety in their upper reaches), and, allied to a quite long-throw but precise gearshift, the big Ford can be rowed along effortlessly.
The brakes are strong and progressive but, while dry grip is prodigious from those 235-section tyres, on our test track’s tighter bends the Capri’s steering is its Achilles’ heel.
It’s relentlessly heavy and, for a manual rack-and-pinion system, transmits little feel through the wheel.
But if we were at a track day at Spa, yomping through the fast, flowing bends, you could see the RS 3100’s blend of secure handling and big-hearted performance coming in to its own.
You’d just need a CSL in tow to keep it honest.
Until recently, the fastest Ford Focus wore the RS badge © Haymarket Automotive
Rallye Sport set
There were only two official RS (Rallye Sport) Capris developed (RS 2600 and 3100), with all of the other RS-badged models until 1983 coming from the various Escort ranges.
The first of these, created by Ford’s Advanced Vehicle Operations, was the 1970 RS 1600, with its Cosworth-developed 16-valve cylinder head, followed by the Pinto-engined RS 2000.
In competition forms, the Mk1 and Mk2 set the rally world alight in the 1970s.
During the ’80s, many of the RS line were fitted with Cosworth power units, including the mid-engined RS 200 rally car, and were sometimes badged as such, – including the Sierra RS Cosworth – though many RS models simply used tuned versions of standard Ford engines.
In the 1990s two RS Fiestas arrived, the RS Turbo and the RS 1800, then after a hiatus of five years the RS name returned with the ’02 Focus RS – and the model has been the standard-bearer of the badge ever since.
Ford Sierra XR4i
‘Where the XR2 and XR3 were rough, ready and rambunctious, the XR4i is a more refined experience’
As Ford’s RS range became faster, more advanced and more expensive throughout the 1970s, Dagenham needed to fill the growing gap between its mainstream range and the hardcore sports models.
There were examples of this before the XRs arrived, namely the Escort Mexico and Fiesta Supersport, but these were sporadic.
With the ‘Experimental Racing’ moniker, Ford found a reliable formula for its value sporting line-up.
The Escort XR3 was the first to arrive, part of new Ford of Europe chief Bob Lutz’s drive to add “perceived value” to his cars in the face of Japanese competition he knew Ford couldn’t beat on price or quality.
Where the Fiesta Supersport had appeared to have ram-raided a Ripspeed branch and kept whatever randomly stuck to it, the XR3 looked to the Continent for its styling cues.
The aero equipment would be more subtle, the alloy wheels a classy teledial style, the interior cloth designed by Patrick le Quément and the stickers optional.
The Sierra XR4i’s injected Cologne V6 engine
The next XR, the Fiesta XR2, was developed by Ford’s new Special Vehicle Engineering team in response to the XR3’s dynamic inferiority to the Golf GTI.
SVE’s first job had been the highly successful Capri 2.8 injection, and the new XR2 proved popular, too.
Picking up where the Supersport left off, the XR2 was the only Mk1 Fiesta offered with a 1.6-litre engine, repelling any criticism that it was a mere trim level, and, with 83bhp in such a compact package, it was a hoot.
At its peak, 25% of all Fiesta sales were XR2s, and the model was twice as profitable as a 1.1L.
Rounding off a manic first two years, SVE then polished the XR3 into the much-improved XR3i.
Such was the success of the two junior XR models that the incoming Sierra was conceived with an XR4 version from the start, though its arrival lagged six months behind the rest of the range because of a late-in-the-day decision to fit the Capri injection’s 148bhp, 2.8-litre V6, rather than a smaller, 2.3-litre engine.
The Ford Sierra XR4i’s standard 14in pepperpot alloys looked small, so some dealers offered these optional 15s
The changes from standard Sierra to XR4i are of another magnitude to the XR2 and XR3, however.
Plastic cladding around the lower third of the Sierra, complete with red striping, gives it a much more purposeful stance and, crucially, adds visual texture to a car mocked in standard form as a ‘jellymould’.
Then there’s the famous double-plane rear wing and futuristic horizontal-bar graphics on both the badging and the C-pillar window.
And not only was this the only Sierra model to be fitted with the 2.8 V6 (until replaced by the XR4x4), but it also had its own unique bodyshell – all other two-door Sierras made use of a four-light body, rather than the quirky six-light.
On the road, big brother feels very different in character from the XR2 and XR3 that came before.
Where those cars were rough, ready and rambunctious, the XR4i is a much more refined experience.
Inside, the Ford Sierra XR4i got a red-accented two-spoke steering wheel
The springing is fairly soft, giving a comfortable ride but a fair amount of roll in corners – and that’s despite stiffer anti-roll bars over a standard Sierra.
The engine is no doubt the sportiest part of the XR4i, the familiar 2.8-litre Cologne V6 being muscular enough to feel quick – even when stepping straight from the Escort RS Cosworth – thanks to its impressive low-down grunt.
Because of that slightly wallowy feeling, many suggested that it missed the trick of the preceding XRs, which provided greater handling precision by virtue of their lightness.
Yet today it’s one of the most accessibly fun cars here. With the lusty, gruff-sounding engine, it behaves much like a European take on a pony car.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about its handling, but it is well balanced, the gearshift is satisfying and it has an entertaining tendency to step out at the rear when provoked.
The same comfort-orientated focus that prevents it from pinging from corner to corner like a Fiesta also removes any hesitation to jump into the Sierra for a long, cross-country drive, or one down poorly surfaced roads.
The twin-plane spoiler and black lower panels add purpose to the Ford Sierra’s two-door shell
The XR4i was a far more grown-up performance car than had previously been seen from XR, but as a budget sporting GT it was a remarkably capable effort that today transports you back to a time of red-pinstriped dashboards and neon-green digital status displays.
‘Our’ 1984 XR4i, looked after by Allen Patch, is a rare, low-mileage survivor that’s been recommissioned over the past five years.
It’s an XR4i that was loaded with extras from new, too, reflecting Ford dealers’ desperation to get Sierras out the door in the model’s early days.
The 15in alloy wheels, identical in design to those later seen on the Capri 280, are actually a dealer-fit extra that predated the special-edition Capri, and to the correct Sierra offset.
The XR4i’s white pinstripe, another dealer option and again taken from the Capri, features cursive ‘Injection’ script that looks incongruous alongside the futuristic ‘Sierra’ and ‘XR4i’ typeface on the rest of the car.
Both details demonstrate the biggest single problem the XR4i faced, and what stopped it from being an unqualified success: that the Capri 2.8i still existed, was cheaper, and was beloved by British buyers in particular.
Ford’s Sierra XR4i was a more grown-up car than the Fiesta XR2 that came before it
Ford’s XR factor
Special Vehicle Engineering was drafted in to improve another XR model as the XR4i was replaced after three years by the four-wheel-drive XR4x4 in ’85, which attracted dynamic praise but became considerably plainer-looking.
At the same time, Ford of South Africa built the rarest of all the XRs, the Mustang 5-litre V8-powered Sierra XR8 homologation special.
The XR4i had a second wind in North America, where it was fitted with a 2.3-litre turbo ‘four’ and sold as the Merkur XR4Ti from 1984-’89.
After the XR4x4, the badge never returned to a Ford larger than the Escort in Europe, but the XR2 and XR3 (later XR2i and XR3i) continued on subsequent Fiestas and Escorts until 1992 and ’95 respectively, after which Ford returned to a disparate naming and styling policy for its budget sporting models.
The XR nameplate continued in other world markets for much longer, however, last seen on the Australian Falcon XR6 and XR8 in 2016.
Ford Escort RS Cosworth
The Karmann-bodied RS Cosworth shares little with the standard Ford Escort
Ford and Cosworth had an established relationship long before the famous name appeared on a road car, with many of the ’70s RS models featuring engines with varying degrees of Cosworth involvement.
When Ford finally decided to put the name on a car, however, it was reserved for the most potent model in the line-up, guaranteeing a full-fat motor under the bonnet.
The ‘Cossie’ legend was born.
First came the Sierra RS Cosworth, giving a debut to the YB engine that would power all RS Cosworths.
Based on the 2-litre, all-iron Pinto unit, Cosworth first developed a twin-cam version, the YAA, which was then turbocharged to create the YB.
The Frank Stephenson-penned rear wing became optional towards the end of production, but few chose not to have it