Gordon Murray is possibly best known for his work as a Formula 1 designer and the main brain behind the McLaren F1 road car. Probably not many of you know that he started his engineering career by building and racing his own car in the second half of the 1960s when he was still living in South Africa.
The so-called IGM Ford was Murray’s first major attempt at automotive engineering after he graduated from the Natal Technical College in the city of Durban in the African country. Even to this day, Murray admits that Ford was his first love in the automotive world.
That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Murray recently commissioned the UK’s restomodding workshop Retro Power to build a brilliantly restored and modified Ford Escort from the first generation of the hatchback. The Late Brake Show on YouTube got an invitation to film the white Escort at a special place where Murray keeps the vehicle hidden from the sunlight in the company of several other classic and what he describes as heritage vehicles. All these machines have been on his personal wish list since he was a teenager and now he is slowly working towards purchasing his dream list.
But what made Murray want the first-gen Escort? The fact that it was compact and successful as both a volume car and in motorsport, he explains. His initial plan was to buy an example with a twin-cam engine and simply fix it where it needed to be fixed without going into a complete restoration. However, once he learned what the folks from Retro Power could do with the car and its mill – and literally almost everything was possible – the strategy changed drastically.
One thing lead to another and the project evolved into a full restomod build based on the Escort MK1. A more powerful engine needs more rugged axles, a new and stiffer suspension, and better brakes and handling, of course. Overall, “it was a very, very enjoyable experience,” Murray says, adding that he eventually decided to keep the stock design of the car with white colour and steel wheels with hubcaps. The only giveaways that this is indeed a heavily modified vehicle with a Cosworth-sourced heart are the larger brakes, the Cosworth badge, and the wider tyres.