Now I attend a huge amount of motorsport events, ranging from grassroots car club level autocross to the comparitive glitz and glamour associated with International level circuit racing. A massive range of automotive treasures have graced my lens, but not too many vehicles make me screech to a halt dead in my tracks and leave me piecing my shattered mind back together the following evening. At the recent New Zealand Festival of Motor Racing (celebrating that perennial German sporting marque BMW, I must add) one such vehicle stood head and shoulders above the crop of this country’s elite Historic racing machinery. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Gary Wilkinson’s 1977 Group 5 Spec Zakspeed Escort Mark II.

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Based upon the boxy Mark II Escort, maybe better known for it’s rampant World Rally successes, this car was initially built by Zakspeed in 1975 as a Group 2 – improved Touring car – racer to contest the DRM (German Racing Championship) series in Germany. It ran a couple of seasons in this guise, but for 1977 the wilder Group 5 regulations were introduced and lacking a competitive vehicle, Zakspeed set to work converting the venerable Escort to these specs. Famed German racing driver Hans Heyer piloted this car throughout the 1977 and 78 seasons, after which it made it’s way to Asia and was raced competitively until 1991 in a variation of guises. Following a period of inactivity, the car was purchased by Gary Wilkinson and brought over to New Zealand for a thorough restoration to it’s Group 5 specification.

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The most immediately striking feature of these early Group 5 touring cars were the massive boxed arches grafted onto modified standard sheetmetal. Topping off the package were wings and spoilers that appeared to be straight out of a schoolboy automotive fantasy. Pure purpose, this retro aero provided a spectacle far beyond what the humble family sedan was ever intended.

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So you think super wide BBS wheels are a new thing? Think again. Zakspeed endowed the Escort with massive feet to fill those cavernous arches, classic BBS motorsport mesh wheels measuring 16×11″ at the steering end, and 16×13″ at the skidding end. The Zakspeed boys’ class-act pit transport in the form of a vintage Raleigh Sports bicycle is also worthy of mention here!

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Beneath the fibreglass bonnet, lurks screamer of a powerplant. What you see before you is a DOHC Cosworth BDG powerplant, the largest evolution of Cosworth’s BDA series of engines at 2 litres. Breathing through a gaping quadruplet of slide throttles, this engine produced 296hp at 9000rpm… that’s right, TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY SIX horsepower from a 35 year old 2 litre four. Using ropey old Lucas mechanical fuel injection to boot (you can see the drive to the metering unit at the top of the cam cover). Accompanying the impressive power output is an astonishing aural experience, to be expected from a highly strung small capacity race engine.

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Inside, the Escort is all business. A classic 3 spoke suede RS style steering wheel provides direction, while important data is monitored via an array of beautiful 70’s spec chrome bezelled gauges.

To conclude, a montage of images taken from the track outings over the weekend – arguably, this car looks even better when it’s being punished on the tarmac. Huge props to Gary for having the conviction and dedication to the cause by taking this museum piece out and racing doorhandle to doorhandle with other valuable and exotic pieces of machinery. The calibre of old racecars that end up in New Zealand never ceases to enthrall me.

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