Blast from the past

Three race-prepared RS500s at Donington Park, with a brace of road-going homologation versions on the right. Photo by Chris Teagle

THIRTY years ago, Ford decided it might be fun to turn the humble Sierra hatchback into a racing car. Five hundred units were required before the car could be homologated for competition and the Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 was born.

Visually, the RS500 road cars looked little different from the already-startlingly fast “standard” turbocharged Sierra Cosworths and on paper were barely any quicker either. They had 227bhp, just 23 additional horsepower, worth a scant tenth of a second off the 0-60mph time.

But changes there were, to the engine, suspension and aerodynamics — all with racing in mind. On track the formula was a success. A tarmac-ripping, record-busting success. From the UK all the way to Australia, if you wanted to win touring car races, you needed to get your hands on an RS500.

One statistic tells it all. In the British Touring Car Championship, the most hotly contested series of its kind in the world, RS500s didn’t just win 40 races — they did so in succession. No one else even got a sniff of the top step of the podium. No other car has come close to repeating the feat, before or since.

So what was the secret of their success? A quick run in one of the most famous of all, the car in which Andy Rouse won nine out of the 12 BTCC rounds he entered in 1988, provides the answer in an instant.

The RS500 might look frighteningly fast, with its bodykit and striking rear spoiler, but upon first acquaintance it feels worryingly slow.

It dawdles along in second gear, the revs rising, then there is a strange whistling noise as the huge turbocharger awakes and total mayhem is unleashed.

The road car had 227bhp but race versions boasted up to 560bhp. Some claimed 600bhp. The real issue is the way the engine goes from nothing to absolutely everything, like someone switching on the floodlights at Wembley stadium.

The RS500 will spin its wheels in every single gear and still possess a sufficiently big kick up its sleeve to slew the car sideways under power in top gear. What an RS500 must be like to race defies imagining, though I wouldd guess it would be glorious fun and utterly terrifying in approximately equal measure.

What is rather easier to estimate is the skill and courage of the professional racing drivers who climbed aboard and got the most out of these beasts.

Thirty years ago I thought they were pretty brave, now I know they were simply heroic. – Andrew Franknel, Telegraph UK

THIRTY years ago, Ford decided it might be fun to turn the humble Sierra hatchback into a racing car. Five hundred units were required before the car could be homologated for competition and the Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 was born.

Visually, the RS500 road cars looked little different from the already-startlingly fast “standard” turbocharged Sierra Cosworths and on paper were barely any quicker either. They had 227bhp, just 23 additional horsepower, worth a scant tenth of a second off the 0-60mph time.

But changes there were, to the engine, suspension and aerodynamics — all with racing in mind. On track the formula was a success. A tarmac-ripping, record-busting success. From the UK all the way to Australia, if you wanted to win touring car races, you needed to get your hands on an RS500.

One statistic tells it all. In the British Touring Car Championship, the most hotly contested series of its kind in the world, RS500s didn’t just win 40 races — they did so in succession. No one else even got a sniff of the top step of the podium. No other car has come close to repeating the feat, before or since.

So what was the secret of their success? A quick run in one of the most famous of all, the car in which Andy Rouse won nine out of the 12 BTCC rounds he entered in 1988, provides the answer in an instant.

The RS500 might look frighteningly fast, with its bodykit and striking rear spoiler, but upon first acquaintance it feels worryingly slow.

It dawdles along in second gear, the revs rising, then there is a strange whistling noise as the huge turbocharger awakes and total mayhem is unleashed.

The road car had 227bhp but race versions boasted up to 560bhp. Some claimed 600bhp. The real issue is the way the engine goes from nothing to absolutely everything, like someone switching on the floodlights at Wembley stadium.

The RS500 will spin its wheels in every single gear and still possess a sufficiently big kick up its sleeve to slew the car sideways under power in top gear. What an RS500 must be like to race defies imagining, though I wouldd guess it would be glorious fun and utterly terrifying in approximately equal measure.

What is rather easier to estimate is the skill and courage of the professional racing drivers who climbed aboard and got the most out of these beasts.

Thirty years ago I thought they were pretty brave, now I know they were simply heroic. – Andrew Franknel, Telegraph UK

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