Curtis: This is one Escort to love
Palmerston North is not quite Monte Carlo but Dean Curtis' Ford Escort MK2 is very much so.
Down to the tiniest detail, Hannu Mikkola would be hard pressed to pick the difference between the Finn's 1979 world championship works rally car and this replica 1975 Escort.
Having been built to exact specifications, from the works car's blue wheels used in the Monte Carlo rally, Mikkola's name and that of co-driver Arne Hertz on the side and even the number plate, Curtis estimates it has set him back about $100,000.
"They do hold their value," Curtis said. "I would get my money back in the UK.
"This one is to keep until I'm ready to get out of it. Its value will go up in time."
The resurgence in historic rallying and racing worldwide will attest to that.
Curtis, Palmfeild Motors' parts manager, took three years to build his pride and joy.
He has been in the motor industry since he left school in 1988 and a Manawatu Car Club member and rally driver for 20 years. He has always been an Escort buff.
He previously owned a Mark 2 RS1800 gravel rally car, which he sold to fund the latest project, and before that in the 1980s his first car was another Escort.
"I have carried on my passion for them," he said.
"The Escort has been given the title of the rally car of all time because they were so successful.
"I decided I wanted to build a tarmac Escort, a works replica car based on the 1979 Monte Carlo rally car."
So he bought a body shell off a road car from an English company, Gartrac Motorsport, who converted it. Gartrac had built them for the Ford works team in the 1970s.
A 2.5 litre YB Cosworth naturally aspirated engine was fitted in Christchurch by Will Jones, who specialised in building them and has since returned to England. It was painted and also fitted out in Palmerston North.
"It is basically like a brand new car," Curtis said.
There are only a handful of similar Escorts in New Zealand. Palmerston North's Kevin Blackley uses one in gravel rallies.
But you won't see Curtis muddying his machine.
It is "too mint" to risk being dirtied or damaged, but he loves using it and racing it, on the hard circuits.
It is only a year old. He raced it at the MG Classics meeting at Manfeild last year and will be competing in the Fujitsu classic races at the NZ Grand Prix meeting this weekend.
Among the rear-wheel non-turbo cars, it has been one of the top three cars in its class.